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Ivey signs Education Budget, legislation creating Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering

Brandon Moseley

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Gov. Kay Ivey speaks at her first State of the State Adress on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Montgomery, Ala. (Adam Brasher/The Auburn Plainsman)

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey was in Huntsville on Monday to sign into law SB212 and HB175.

SB212 was sponsored by State Senator Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, and State Representative Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville. It creates the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering in Huntsville. Ivey also signed HB175, the state’s Education Budget. The Education Budget was sponsored by State Representative Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, and Orr.

“The Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering will prepare some of our state’s highest-achieving students to enter the growing fields of cyber technology and engineering,” Ivey said. “Just as Huntsville has always been on the leading edge of the rocket and aerospace industries, the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering will ensure that Alabama students are at the forefront of today’s emerging technologies. I commend Senator Orr and Representative Daniels for carrying this bill through the legislative process and making this school a reality. To the members of Cyber Huntsville and the Alabama School of Cyber and Engineering Foundation, thank you for working so hard with your representatives to make sure the groundwork is laid to get this school operational by 2020.”

“I am grateful for Governor Ivey’s vision in recognizing the value of such a new institution,” Orr said. “I see the school as a real magnet for gifted students not only from all over the state, but also from across the country who may want to relocate here to be able to access such a world class, cutting-edge education in the fields of cyber and engineering. The graduates of the school will be long term contributors to this state’s growth in these emerging areas.”

“Today is an important day for Huntsville, our state and, most importantly, our young people,” Daniels said. “In addition to continuing to grow our reputation as an emerging hub in the tech and cybersecurity industry, this school will provide our students the opportunity to become the next generation of innovators by giving them a jump-start on careers in technology, engineering, and protecting our nation’s cyber-infrastructure.”

Daniels is the chairman of the House Minority Caucus.

According to the Governor’s Office, the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering “will be an independent, residential school that is established for academically-motivated and gifted Alabama students with educational opportunities and experiences in the rapidly growing fields of cyber technology and engineering. The school will also assist teachers, administrators, and superintendents across the state in replicating cyber technology and engineering studies in their own schools.”

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The Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce was instrumental in coordinating efforts between the Chamber, Cyber Huntsville and the Alabama School of Cyber and Engineering Foundation.

“We are pleased that the vision for an Alabama cyber technology and engineering magnet school has been acted upon by our state leaders,” Alicia Ryan, Vice President of the Cyber Huntsville Board and President of the Alabama School of Cyber and Engineering Foundation, said. “This school will provide a wonderful opportunity for students from across Alabama to get early exposure to new STEM-based curriculum that will prepare them for exciting cyber and engineering career paths. By enabling unique educational opportunities today, we are building our workforce for the future.”

Huntsville-based Economic Developer Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter that the bills were “historic.”

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“The future Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering (Senate Bill 212) demonstrates Alabama’s commitment to workforce development,” Jones said. “Economic development requires partnerships and a willingness to invest in our future. If we continue following these principles, we will continue to witness success stories in Alabama.”

“The Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering will help prepare high school students for success in competitive technological markets,” Jones added. “We have incredible brainpower in Huntsville, Alabama and a history of technological innovations developed here that have changed the world. The school will help continue the momentum recognized nationally and globally as well as foster the skills students need for future careers in the public and private sector.”

A location for the school has yet to be selected. The legislation allows for the school to open and formally begin operation during the fall semester of 2020.

Ivey also signed SB175, the Education Budget. The 2019 budget provides a historic level of funding for all aspects of the state’s education system.

“I am proud to have worked closely with the Legislature to pass a historic Education Budget which gives a raise to our teachers and school employees, increases funding for our voluntary First-Class Pre-K Program and provides more opportunities for higher-education students across Alabama,” Ivey said. “I am committed to improving education in Alabama for everyone, regardless of where they live or the economic resources available to them. This budget is the largest investment in education in a decade and an investment in the future of our children and our state.”

The Education Trust Fund Budget was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. As a governor focused on education, Ivey prioritized expanded funding for Pre-K, the Alabama Reading Initiative and increased funding for higher-education, all of which were incorporated in the final version of the budget. The budget all includes a 2.5 percent raise for all education employees. The budget includes an incredible $6.63 billion in total appropriations.

“Alabama’s teachers and education support staff have an important task – educating our children – our children who are the key to our state’s success,” Ivey added. “It is important that we attract the best people possible to work in our education system and this pay raise will help us do that. I am proud to have advocated for a raise for education employees in my State of the State address, and I appreciate the Legislature’s following my lead in making it a reality.”

Former Gov. Robert Bentley once bluntly told a room full of economic developers that “Our schools suck.”

Ivey has made announced her intentions to improve the quality of Alabama’s education system from the earliest age through the workforce.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Economy

Gov. Kay Ivey announces creation of “Innovate Alabama”

Eddie Burkhalter

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Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday announced the creation of a first-of-its kind statewide commission on entrepreneurship and innovation, meant to promote innovation across the state and cut red tape for those seeking to start new businesses.

The 15-member Alabama Innovation Commission, to be known as Innovate Alabama, will allow innovators to “engage policymakers, exchange ideas and identify policies that promote innovation in the state,” according to a press release from Ivey’s office Thursday.

Ivey’s executive order also creates a six-member advisory council made up of innovators with Alabama ties.

“Through the establishment of the Alabama Innovation Commission, I look forward to collaborating with our state’s leading innovators to develop a long-term strategy to create a more resilient, inclusive and robust economy,” Ivey said in a statement. “Alabama has always had a rich tradition of developing technologies to move our state forward. Now more than ever, we must capitalize on future opportunities by engaging our state’s trailblazers to discuss new ideas and policies that support entrepreneurship, economic development and jobs.”

Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, will serve as chair of the commission and Senator Greg Reed, R-Jasper, will serve as vice-chair.

“I’m inspired by the potential for future growth in our state’s innovation community and look forward to continued momentum and growth in this sector. The Alabama Incentives Modernization Act set into motion a new set of incentives that will help grow, attract and retain startups and technology companies in the state,” Poole said in a statement. “Forming the Alabama Innovation Commission is a critical step to further create policies that will ensure Alabama’s competitiveness in the technology and startup sector.”

“Through this commission, we hope to tap into the potential for the state to become a hub for startups and technology-based companies,” Reed said in the release. “I look forward to working with the Alabama Innovation Commission to encourage collaboration, public-private partnerships and smart policies that promote access to opportunity and create a pipeline for success in all corners of the state.”

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According to Ivey’s office, the commission will look at policies to increase entrepreneurship, spur innovation and address the challenges and red tape startups often face. Commissioner members are also tasked with crafting and presenting a “comprehensive innovation policy agenda” for Ivey’s office and the state Legislature.

Alabama Power Executive Vice President  Zeke Smith will serve as president of the advisory council, and former U.S. Secretary of State and incoming director of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, will also serve on the advisory council.

“Alabama is home to me, and I am honored to serve on the advisory council for the Alabama Innovation Commission,” Dr. Rice said in a statement. “While our country currently faces many challenges, this is an opportunity to create forward-thinking ideas and policies that will inspire the next generation of innovators. By focusing on knowledge-based skills and education, technology growth and entrepreneurship, we unlock the potential for future success across the state.”

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“The Alabama Innovation Commission will provide a tremendous opportunity to partner with leaders from the public and private sectors to grow our great state,” said Greg Barker, president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, in a statement. “The focus on innovation to deliver sustainable growth will benefit our entire state through new solutions and more job opportunities. I am excited to play an important role in building Alabama’s future.”

The commission will virtually convene for the first time on August 13.

Commission Members:

  • Rep. Bill Poole – State Representative (Chair) Representative Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, serves in the Alabama House of Representatives. A native of Marengo County, Poole was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2010 and serves as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Education Budget Committee and the Tuscaloosa County Legislation Committee. Poole was the sponsor of the Alabama Incentives Modernization Act, a critical law focused upon making the state more attractive to tech-based companies and entrepreneurs.
  • Sen. Greg Reed – State Senator (Vice Chair) Senator Greg Reed, R-Jasper, was first elected to the Alabama State Senate in 2010 and serves as the Senate Majority Leader. Reed is a native of Jasper and is a member of the Rules, Jefferson County Legislation, Confirmations, Transportation and Energy, Healthcare and Local Legislation committees. Reed served as the senate sponsor of the Alabama Incentives Modernization Act.
  • Scott Adams – Executive Vice President and Chief Digital & Innovation Officer, Protective Life Corporation Scott Adams leads Protective’s community engagement and Corporate Social Responsibility activities as well as oversees several corporate functions, including the Protective Life Foundation, brand and social engagement and corporate communications. In addition, he works with executive leadership on the development of strategy and innovation in support of our growth initiatives.
  • Sen. Malika Sanders-Fortier – Senator Sanders-Fortier is a Selma, Ala. native and has served in the Alabama State Senate since 2018. She is a member of the Finance and Taxation Education, Judiciary, Governmental Affairs, Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development, Children Youth and Human Services and Veterans and Military Affairs committees.
  • Rep. Jeremy Gray — State Representative Jeremy Gray has served in the Alabama House of Representatives since 2018 representing District 83. A native of Opelika, Ala., Gray serves on the Commerce and Small Business, Health, Lee County, and Public Safety and Homeland Security committees.
  • Greg Barker – President, Economic Development Partnership of Alabama. In his role at EDPA, Barker supports business recruitment and expansion efforts in Alabama and promotes innovative and emerging startup companies through its Alabama Launchpad program. A veteran in economic development, he has more than 35 years of experience leading recruitment, expansion and innovation efforts in the Southeast. Prior to joining EDPA, served in various leadership roles at Alabama Power in economic development, most recently serving as executive vice president of customer services. Barker serves on the board of directors for numerous business and economic development organizations, including the Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Opportunity Alabama and Innovation Depot.
  • Lindsay Rane Carter – Associate General Counsel, Great Southern Wood Preserving Lindsay Rane Carter is an associate general counsel at Great Southern Wood Preserving, makers of YellaWood®. An alumna of Auburn University and Jones School of Law, Carter now represents one of the most profitable businesses to come out of Alabama.
  • Rick Clementz – General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, Mercedes-Benz US International, Inc. Trained as an engineer, Clementz manages employment, liability defense, patent defense, all contracts and international law for Mercedes-Benz International in Vance, Alabama. MBUSI exports more than $1 billion in finished product. Located in Tuscaloosa County, MBUSI employees 3,800 Alabamians and is the sole distribution site for the GLE, GLS, GLE Coupe models, sold in 135 countries.
  • Miller Girvin – CEO, Alabama Capital Network Miller Girvin is the CEO of the Alabama Capital Network (ACN), a community economic development organization whose mission is to facilitate the growth of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Alabama. Girvin connects Alabama-based companies with valuable resources and connections and facilitates relationships with venture capital to continue upward trajectory.
  • Abe Harper – CEO, Harper Technologies Abe Harper is the president and CEO of Harper Technologies, a comprehensive IT support and consulting firm based in Mobile. Harper has been working in the IT industry since he was a teenager and has expanded his business from serving residential clients to now serving small-to medium-sized businesses, nonprofits and local government entities throughout Mobile and Baldwin counties, as well as surrounding counties in neighboring states.
  • Shegun Otulana – Founder, TheraNest Shegun Otulana is the Founder of TheraNest and its parent company Therapy Brands, the leading provider of software technology solutions for mental, behavioral, and rehab health providers and organizations. In 2020, he stepped down as CEO and currently serves as Vice Chairman of the board. Prior to Therapy Brands, Shegun founded Zertis Technologies, a computer software consultancy company. He currently serves as Founder/CEO of HVL, an idea and growth studio that owns and operates a family of technology companies.
  • Peggy Sammon – CEO, GeneCapture, Inc. Peggy Sammon is an experienced entrepreneur with a background in multiple high-tech start-ups in environmental monitoring, wireless, and biotech. Sammon serves as CEO of GeneCapture, a start-up medical device company at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.
  • Sen. Malika Sanders-Fortier –Senator Sanders-Fortier is a Selma, Ala. native and has served in the Alabama State Senate since 2018. She is a member of the Finance and Taxation Education, Judiciary, Governmental Affairs, Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development, Children Youth and Human Services and Veterans and Military Affairs committees.
  • Arndt Siepmann – Deputy Director of Economic Development, City of Auburn Arndt Siepmann is the Deputy Director of Economic Development at the City of Auburn. In his career, has worked in various economic development corporations, including on a regional and state level. He started the Entrepreneurship and Technology Program for the City of Auburn and leads the Auburn Regional Launchpad competition. Siepmmann also works with the Auburn University Harbert College of Business to support student entrepreneurship efforts.
  • Charisse Stokes – Executive Director, TechMGM Charisse Stokes serves as Executive Director of TechMGM, the collaboration of local, industry, educational and governmental entities working to leverage Montgomery’s technology assets to focus on economic, workforce and community development. Over the past 20 years, Stokes has held numerous IT and programming positions across the Department of Defense, industry and nonprofit organizations.
  • Neill Wright – President, Bronze Valley Neill Wright is a co-founder and executive director of Bronze Valley, a non-profit, early stage venture investment platform that supports high growth, innovation and technology-enabled companies created by diverse, underrepresented and underestimated founders. He has more than 25 years of experience as an investor, entrepreneur and operating executive.

Advisory Council Members:

  • Zeke Smith – Executive Vice President, Alabama Power (President) With more than 35 years of service with the utility, Zeke Smith is responsible for the company’s Environmental Affairs, Charitable Giving, Corporate Affairs, Governmental Relations, Public Relations and Regulatory Affairs functions. Smith also serves as chairman of the Alabama Power Foundation’s Board of Directors, in addition to serving on the boards of numerous external organizations.
  • Greg Canfield – Secretary, Alabama Department of Commerce As Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, Greg Canfield works closely with the governor’s office to organize economic development efforts that shape sustainable growth strategies and drive dynamic job creation across the state. His primary responsibilities include increasing business recruitment and expansion activity, expanding export opportunities for Alabama companies, improving workforce development initiatives, enhancing small business growth, and providing avenues for job creation in the film and entertainment industry.
  • Chris Moody – Partner, Foundry Group  Chris Moody is a partner at the venture capital firm, Foundry Group, focusing on investments in technology companies. He has worked closely with some of Silicon Valley’s fastest growing technology companies to help them formulate and execute their platform strategies. Prior to joining Foundry Group, Moody was GM & VP of Twitter’s Data & Enterprise Solutions business.
  • Dr. Condoleezza Rice – Incoming Director of the Hoover Institution Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has vast experience in the technology sector and is the incoming Tad and Dianne Taube Director of the Hoover Institution. The Hoover Institution at Stanford University is the nation’s preeminent research center dedicated to generating policy ideas that promote economic prosperity, national security and democratic governance. Dr. Rice is also a founding partner at Rice|Hadley|Gates, LLC, an international strategic consulting firm based in Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C.
  • Bill Smith – Founder, Smith Ventures Bill Smith is CEO of Smith Ventures and the founder and former CEO of Shipt, a membership-based marketplace, enabling same-day delivery of fresh foods and household essentials across the US. Shipt was acquired by Target in December 2017 for $550 million and operates as an independent subsidiary serving multiple retailers. He recently launched Landing, a startup offering flexible leasing memberships for long-term living
  • Jared Weinstein – General Partner, Thrive Capital Jared Weinstein is a native of Birmingham and is currently a partner at Thrive Capital, a New Yorkbased venture capital firm. In 2013, he founded the Overton Project, a social investment platform that has focused on scaling national best-in-class impact organizations to Birmingham – specifically Breakthrough Collaborative, Venture for America, and Microsoft’s TEALS computer science program. Prior to Thrive, Weinstein spent seven years at the White House in various roles.

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Josh Moon

Opinion | Who is K.B. Forbes? The answer isn’t hard to find or all that unexpected

Forbes appears to be that guy who hangs around the periphery of politics and business. That guy who makes his money in mysterious ways. Who is aligned with this person or group one day, their sworn enemy the next. 

Josh Moon

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K.B. Forbes appears on the show "BorderLine" in 1996. (YOUTUBE)

You probably don’t know K.B. Forbes, but you know who he is. Unless you’re a journalist in the state of Alabama — or maybe Florida or California or Colorado — you’ve likely never dealt with Forbes, who serves as the executive director of Consejo de Latinos Unidos and as the publisher of the “BanBalch” blog. 

If you do happen to be a journalist — or just someone with a camera and a website that attracts a few eyeballs — you probably do know Forbes, or at least have read through one of his many emails, maybe even ventured over to the blog to read through the various allegations of corruption and horrors against the Balch & Bingham law firm. 

I like that blog. Mainly because I’ve never been a big Balch & Bingham fan, and generally believe that firm is a blight upon the state. So, that blog, on which Forbes writes and writes about the nefarious practices of Balch attorneys in a supposed effort to defend his attorney friend, is a fun read for me. 

But the other day, following a lengthy story written by my boss and APR publisher Bill Britt that questioned the funding behind Forbes and his website, I started to wonder: Just who is this guy? Well, that wasn’t hard to figure out. There’s plenty of information on him out there, readily available through a simple Google search of his name. 

And as it turns out, I knew exactly who Forbes was. And you do too. 

Forbes appears to be that guy who hangs around the periphery of politics and business. That guy who makes his money in mysterious ways. Who is aligned with this person or group one day, their sworn enemy the next. 

A piece of political putty, apparently completely devoid of deeply held beliefs, and willing to be molded into whatever form best fits his next clients.

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He’s a guy who one year is working on the anti-immigration campaign of rightwinger Pat Buchanan and a few years later is running a nonprofit allegedly devoted to protecting the rights of Latino immigrants. 

He’s the guy fighting for minorities and tackling racial injustices in Alabama, while at the same time publishing arguably racist, doctored images of a black lawmaker and his wife. 

He’s the guy who is allegedly running a nonprofit that goes after hospitals for overcharging uninsured immigrants, but who, numerous publications and critics have alleged publicly, is possibly using that nonprofit to aid himself and the insurance company owner he used to work for. 

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Forbes, of course, likely denies this. I don’t know that for certain. I sent him a lengthy email explaining exactly what I found through the Internet searches and quite bluntly telling him what those findings led me to believe — that his “BanBalch” website looked like a shakedown attempt. He didn’t respond. 

But being accused of shakedowns isn’t new for Forbes — primarily for the benefit of his former boss, J. Patrick Rooney, an insurance company owner. 

According to numerous stories over the years in a variety of publications, it is generally believed that Forbes started CDLU as a front operation. With Rooney’s initial financial backing — which Forbes has admitted in the past — CDLU started in 2001 targeting hospitals for their overcharging of uninsured patients and demanding that patients be charged equally. 

Noble work, right? Well, certainly, except that work also just happened to benefit the insurance company operated by Rooney, driving down costs and raking in millions for the multi-millionaire.

For example, Rooney’s relatively small insurance company allegedly owed Tenet Health millions of dollars in unpaid bills for clients. According to Business Week, CDLU went after Tenet in 2003 over the hospital’s collections practices, filing 10 lawsuits. However, according to the Business Week story, when Tenet agreed to forgive Rooney’s debt, CDLU dropped every lawsuit. 

Forbes, of course, has denied the connection between CDLU and Rooney, saying that Rooney provided him the startup money for CDLU — some $100,000 — and nothing more. But an investigation by Roll Call in 2005 found that Rooney had registered the domains for numerous websites that CDLU set up to attack hospitals, including two that were attempting to obtain back payments from Rooney’s insurance company. 

Forbes said that was all just a simple mistake. A “programmer” entered the wrong registrant when creating the websites, he told Roll Call. 

But there’s more. 

In 2005, when a U.S. House committee began looking into the practice of hospitals overcharging the uninsured, a list of questions was sent by the committee chair to the CEO of Tenet. Among the questions, the committee wanted to know about Tenet’s specific settlement with CDLU and Forbes. In a response, Tenet CEO Trevor Fetter acknowledged that it essentially paid Forbes, setting up a system in which it paid him for speaking engagements and funded his travel. 

That setup is suspiciously similar to what Forbes seems to be doing now with his Ban Balch website, as he pushes embarrassing stories and attacks the law firm’s clients. He has bragged about driving business away and has openly asked if it wouldn’t be better for Balch to pay him to go away. 

In a response to several questions I sent him, Forbes denied that he could be paid to shut down his website and said he refused alleged attempts by Balch attorneys to include CDLU and the website in negotiations with attorney Burt Newsome.  

Newsome’s grievance with Balch, which appears to be a legit complaint that highlights Balch’s notoriously awful tactics, is Forbes’ stated reason for starting his blog and going so heavily after Balch. He claims he met Newsome when their wives started participating in the same online moms’ group and became friends. He heard Newsome’s tale of how he was wronged by Balch and decided to devote CDLU’s resources to exposing the law firm. 

Which sounds nice, except, CDLU’s stated purpose is to advocate for the uninsured and Latinos facing wrongs. All of its previous work has been in those areas. 

The sudden shift to taking on a law firm over one man’s grievance seems … a convenient pivot that has allowed Forbes to use the media connections and resources of CDLU to apply pressure on Balch and its clients. 

And in the process, Forbes has seemingly abandoned the organization’s goal of protecting minorities. In a series of posts about an alleged “star chamber” hearing set up for Balch by Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Carole Smitherman, Forbes attacked Smitherman, wife of state Sen. Rodger Smitherman, calling her “corrupt,” “worthless” and “stupid.” 

Accompanying one post on the blog was a doctored photo of Carole and Rodger Smitherman that can only be described as racist. It depicts the Smithermans wearing striped jail uniforms.

A screenshot from Forbes’s “BanBalch” blog.

But then, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that Forbes would have such a blindspot, given his work prior to starting CDLU. 

Serving as a spokesman for the presidential campaigns of Pat Buchanan and Steve Forbes (no relation), one of Forbes’ pet projects and his area of emphasis in dozens of interviews was on the dangers of illegal immigration and the threats that immigrants pose. 

Less than five years before starting an organization allegedly focused on ensuring the health care of immigrants, Forbes was actively fighting against those same immigrants receiving benefits. A clip of Forbes’ appearance on a TV show shows him criticizing then-presidential candidate Bob Dole for not hitting illegal immigration harder or making it a bigger issue in the campaign. 

Prior to that, Forbes’ rhetoric on immigration was even stronger. As a young advocate in the late 1980s in his hometown of San Marino, California, Forbes attempted to get the city council to pass an ordinance making English the city’s official language — an ordinance he openly acknowledged was aimed at the city’s growing Asian immigrant population. 

At the meeting, according to a Los Angeles Times story, Forbes exclaimed that the city was being “overrun by foreigners.” He was shouted down by attendees. 

But Forbes would be back. And later, he would be pushing anti-immigrant rhetoric focused on Hispanics, because that’s what he was paid to do. And then pushing for immigrant welfare, because that’s what he was paid to do. And then pushing for hospital pricing reform that just so happened to benefit his former boss, because that’s what he was paid to do. 

And really, after all the questions about Forbes, there’s probably only one that matters. Because, as I said at the start, we all have a pretty good idea who Forbes is. 

The only question is who’s paying him.

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Health

Alabama coalition pushes for Medicaid expansion amid COVID-19 pandemic

The Washington D.C.-based nonprofit research organization Families USA released a report Monday that shows that in Alabama, job losses during the coronavirus pandemic resulted in 69,000 Alabamians losing health insurance between February and May.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

A coalition of Alabama organizations pushing for an expansion of Medicaid in the state says that the expansion should have happened before the COVID-19 pandemic, but is all the more needed now, as thousands of Alabamians have lost health insurance during the crisis. 

Jane Adams, Alabama Arise campaign director, said in a statement Wednesday that even before COVID-19 , the state’s failure to expand Medicaid left more than 220,000 adults uninsured. Adams directs Cover Alabama, which is a coalition of more than 90 groups pushing for Medicaid expansion in the state. Arise is a founding member of the coalition.

“Further coverage losses during the recession will bring health and financial suffering for even more families across our state,” Adams said. “More people will go without needed health care. More hospital bills will go unpaid. And all Alabamians will bear the additional strain on our health care system. This report’s findings should be a blaring emergency siren for our state leaders.”

The Washington D.C.-based nonprofit research organization Families USA released a report Monday that shows that in Alabama, job losses during the coronavirus pandemic resulted in 69,000 Alabamians losing health insurance between February and May. Those uninsured adults raised Alabama’s uninsured rate to 19 percent, which is the ninth highest rate in the country, and 3 percentage points higher than in 2018, according to the report. 

“As workers and their families lose comprehensive health insurance, their risk of delayed care and complications from the virus increases. So does their risk of financial devastation,” Alabama Arise’s press release states. 

Across the country 5.4 million more Americans lost health insurance between February and May, the report notes, which was a 39 percent higher increase in uninsured than any annual increase on record. States with high numbers of uninsured are also seeing more increases in COVID-19 cases, according to the report, which ranks Alabama as having the seven highest rate of new COVID-19 cases among the 15 states with large numbers of uninsured. 

“COVID-19 is putting lives, livelihoods and economic security at risk for thousands of Alabama workers. And many communities face long-term challenges for health care capacity and economic recovery,” Adams said. “Alabama Arise and Cover Alabama urge Gov. Kay Ivey to save lives and stabilize our local hospitals by expanding Medicaid. We ask the Legislature to provide the needed state share of this pro-family, pro-health, pro-community investment in our future. And we ask Congress to strengthen Medicaid funding and help Alabama shore up our health care infrastructure.”

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Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, told reporters during a press conference Tuesday that expanding Medicaid “is critically important.”

“We see clear data now that infant mortality rates are lowered in states that have expanded Medicaid, because women have better access to prenatal care,” Williamson said. “We see breast cancer diagnosed earlier, hence reducing the death rate due to breast cancer. We see diabetes being diagnosed earlier. We just see a general improvement in life expectancy and health outcomes associated with people having access to health care.”

In states that have expanded Medicaid there’s evidence that peoples’ credit scores improve, bankruptcies decline and jobs are created, Williamson said.

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“It seems to us like the right thing to do for our citizens, and it seems the right thing to do for the state, and that was all before COVID,” Williamson said. “And COVID has simply highlighted that there are thousands of people now who end up coming to hospitals and not having insurance.”

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, who hosted Williamson in the Tuesday press conference, has been a longtime proponent of expanding Medicaid in Alabama, and said he continues to work to try and get incentives approved to help reduce the cost to Alabama and other states for an expansion of the program.

“Going into this pandemic we had over 300,000 Alabamians it would have benefited,” Jones said of a Medicaid expansion. “Today, it’s probably closer to 500,000.”

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Governor

State Rep. Will Dismukes says mask order is “a ridiculous crock”

Brandon Moseley

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State Rep. Will Dismukes.

Several Republican lawmakers have not taken kindly to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s decision to issue a statewide mask order. This is being done to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which is ravaging the state, but State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, dismissed the idea as “the dumbest thing that could be done.”

“The statewide mask implementation is the dumbest thing that could be done besides shutting the state down,” Dismukes claimed. “Here is just a couple reasons why,” Dismukes wrote on social media. “As I have been watching people wear their mask, a vast majority do not wear them correctly. So that makes it pointless.”

“One of the main things we are told is, wash your hands and don’t touch your face,” Dismukes continued. “The majority of people who wear a mask are touching their face far more than if they didn’t wear one at all.”

Dismukes said the mask requirement is a “ridiculous crock.”

Former State Rep. Mack Butler, R-Rainbow City, also questioned whether the governor has the legal authority to even issue the order.

“While it may be a smart move, in my opinion anything not passed by the legislature is only a suggestion and does not have the weight of law,” Butler said. “You can not force healthy people to wear a mask, and in my opinion if this were passed by the legislature, they can really only control state property and not private property.”

“Also the government cannot decide what goods, services, venues etc. are essential,” Butler added. “Only we the people can do such and we have had that right since 1776.”

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“I’m always against overreach of any kind even when it’s a good idea,” Butler said. “Government is supposed to protect your rights. Private property owners (businesses) are well within their rights to require you to wear a mask while on their property. I would have no issue had she stood up there and strongly requested everyone to wear a mask but to invent a law is never right. I predict a judge would quickly drop any charges. We have 3 branches of government for a reason.”

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth similarly expressed reservations with the statewide mask order.

“Issuing a statewide face mask mandate, however, is an overstep that infringes upon the property rights of business owners and the ability of individuals to make their own health decisions,” Ainsworth said. “In addition, it imposes a one-size-fits-all, big government requirement on counties that currently have low to moderate infection rates and little need for such a mandate.”

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“Masks should be worn to combat further outbreaks, and while I admire Gov. Ivey’s leadership and her on-going efforts, I also believe a statewide order is the wrong way to go about encouraging their use,” Ainsworth said.

In March, the Governor shut down the Alabama economy to slow the spread of the coronavirus. By April 30, a growing number of people were panicked about the economic impact of the shutdowns, so the governor ordered the gradual reopening of the economy.

Since Memorial Day weekend, the number of coronavirus cases has grown tremendously. From March 20 to May 10, the state of Alabama had diagnosed a total of 9,889 COVID-19 cases (52 days). The next ten thousand cases were diagnosed between May 9 and June 7 (28 days).

The state broke 30,000 cases on June 22 (15 days), 40,000 cases on July 1 (9 days) and 50,000 cases on July 11 (10 days). On Wednesday, the Alabama Department of Public Health announced that the state had reached 58,225 cases. 32,073 of those cases are still active.

ADPH reports that 1,183 Alabamians have died from COVID-19 already and the department is investigating another 28 probable COVID-19 deaths. More than half of Alabama’s COVID-19 deaths have come since that Memorial Day weekend and the reopening of the Alabama economy.

Despite the risk, the state plans on reopening schools next month.

The state remains under a statewide “safer-at-home” order. Citizens are advised to please stay home whenever possible, wash hands frequently, wear a mask or a cloth face covering when out in public, avoid situations where you might be in crowds or within six feet of other people not in your immediate household, and to be aware of the symptoms of COVID-19.

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