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Veteran UA system trustee named interim chancellor

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Finis E. St. John, IV, a veteran member of the Board of Trustees of The University of Alabama System, will become Interim Chancellor of the three-campus UA System effective August 1. He will succeed C. Ray Hayes, who announced his plans in June to transition his responsibilities to a Systemwide behavioral health initiative and other administrative priorities. 

A member of one of Alabama’s oldest and most established law firms, St. John will take an unpaid leave of absence from St. John & St. John, LLC in Cullman and will serve without compensation in the interim System position. His wife and law partner Gaynor, who has been with the firm for more than a quarter century, will continue to practice law in Cullman.

Alabama Senator Richard Shelby issued a statement Monday afternoon describing St. John as “one of the most influential people” in Alabama. “Finis St. John is ideally positioned to lead the UA System as Interim Chancellor, advancing its mission and bringing higher education and health care to a new level,” Sen. Shelby said. “I am thrilled that Fess has been selected for this role and look forward to witnessing the tremendous impact he will have in every area of the UA System.” 

The Interim Chancellor’s appointment was among several items considered today in a called meeting of the UA System Board. Calling St. John’s academic and professional credentials impeccable, Trustee Joe Espy also cited his leadership in helping manage more than 450 significant capital projects, well in excess of $3 billion, and his valuable role on the UAB Health System Board, which has been crucial to the turnaround in rankings and research funding at UAB.

“The fact that Finis St. John is willing to serve as our Interim Chancellor without compensation is a tremendous public service,” Espy said. “We are extremely grateful that he is willing to step in and take on these complex administrative duties at a critical time for our campuses and the UAB Health System. As the state’s single largest employer and a proven leader in building Alabama’s economy, our System will be able to maintain our positive momentum without missing a beat.”

UA System Chancellor Emeritus Dr. Robert Witt strongly endorsed the decision. “Finis St. John is the perfect choice for Interim Chancellor,” said Witt. “He and I have worked side-by-side since I arrived in 2003, and the impact of his leadership is measured by strong academic programs on our campuses, the physical growth of facilities and student resources, and the global reputation of the UAB Health System. We are extremely fortunate to have him in this new role.”

President pro tem Ronald Gray thanked St. John for committing the time and energy to serve the System as Interim Chancellor: “Because Finis has agreed to accept this position, the Board can move in a deliberate and thorough fashion to evaluate all possibilities and secure the best possible candidate for the permanent role at the most opportune time for the System.”

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Pro Tem Gray said the Board’s top leadership recruitment priority will be the search for a successor to UAH President Robert Altenkirch, who announced his plans to retire after the next president of the Huntsville campus is in place.

In making the nomination, past President pro tempore Karen Brooks referenced multiple occasions when Trustees have been asked to fill the Chancellorship on an interim basis. In 1989, Emeritus Trustee Sam Earle Hobbs of Selma filled the Chancellorship, and John T. Oliver, Jr., who was a sitting Trustee from Jasper, was Interim Chancellor in 1996-97.

Originally elected to the Board in 2002, St. John was President pro tem from 2008-2011, during a period of exponential growth for the campuses and the UAB Health System. He has chaired numerous standing committees and played a key role in recruiting senior campus leadership, including UAH President Robert Altenkirch. 

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St. John, who will continue to serve as a Trustee, currently serves on the five-member Executive Committee, the Physical Properties Committee and the UAB Health System Board Liaison Committee. He chairs the Athletics Committee and co-chairs the Legal Affairs Committee. St. John has been a member of the UAB Health System Board of Directors since 2008 and serves on both the UAB Athletic Foundation and the Crimson Tide Foundation Board.

A cum laude graduate of The University of Alabama in 1978, he was inducted to Phi Beta Kappa, Omicron Delta Kappa and Jasons. He received his law degree in 1982 from The University of Virginia School of Law and was chair of the Moot Court Board. Five generations of family members have served the state of Alabama in public service roles, and his late mother Juliet St. John was the first woman attorney in Cullman.

Finis St. John is a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, which is comprised of the best of the trial bar from the United States and Canada. Fellowship in the College is by invitation only. He is also a Fellow of the American Board of Trial Advocates and has been recognized as an Alabama Super Lawyer since 2007. He is the long-time chairman of the board of First Community Bank of Cullman.

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National

Lawmaker files bill to ban treatments for transgender kids

Jessa Reid Bolling

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Republican Wes Allen, R-Troy, filed a bill to prevent doctors from providing hormone replacement therapy or puberty suppressing drugs to people younger than 19 who identify as transgender.

HB303, the Alabama Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act,  would make it a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for doctors to prescribe puberty-blocking medications or opposite gender hormones to minors. Allen’s legislation would also ban hysterectomy, mastectomy or castration surgeries from being performed on minors.

“I was shocked when I found out doctors in Alabama were prescribing these types of drugs to children,” Allen said in a news release. “This is something you hear about happening in California or New York but it is happening right here in Alabama and it’s time we put a stop to that practice.”

Allen said that children experiencing gender dysphoria are struggling with a psychological disorder and that they need therapeutic treatment from mental health professionals instead of medical intervention that would leave their bodies “permanently mutilated.” 

“These children are suffering from a psychological disorder, just as someone who is suffering with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia but we treat those patients and try to help them. We should treat these psychological disorders as well.”

In 2018, a policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) said that:

  • “Transgender identities and diverse gender expressions do not constitute a mental disorder; 
  • Variations in gender identity and expression are normal aspects of human diversity, and binary definitions of gender do not always reflect emerging gender identities; 
  • Gender identity evolves as an interplay of biology, development, socialization, and culture; and
  • If a mental health issue exists, it most often stems from stigma and negative experiences rather than being intrinsic to the child”

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced in 2018 that it was removing “gender identity disorder” from its global manual of diagnoses and reclassify “gender identity disorder” as “gender incongruence,” which is now listed under the sexual health chapter rather than the mental disorders chapter. 

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In a 2018 interview, Dr. Lale Say, a reproductive health expert at the WHO, said that gender incongruence was removed from the list of mental health disorders because “we had a better understanding that this was not actually a mental health condition and leaving it there was causing stigma. So in order to reduce the stigma, while also ensuring access to necessary health interventions, this was placed in a different chapter.”

In 2012, the American Psychiatric Association revised the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to remove the term “gender identity disorder” from the manual and add the term “gender dysphoria.”

Allen’s bill will be considered by the Alabama House of Representatives in the coming weeks.

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Elections

Doug Jones raises $2.4 million in first fundraising period of 2020

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, raised $2.4 million in the first fundraising period of 2020, according to his reelection campaign, which was $500,000 more than he raised during the fourth quarter of 2019. 

Jones has $7.4 million cash at hand, according to his campaign, which released the totals on Thursday. Jones’s latest campaign finance reports weren’t yet posted to the Federal Election Commission website on Thursday. 

“Alabamians across the state are showing their commitment to Doug’s message of One Alabama and his proven track record of standing up for all Alabamians,” said Doug Turner, Senior Advisor for Jones’s campaign, in a statement Thursday. Doug’s work to support working families, fund our HBCUs, modernize our military and expand and protect our health care is resonating with folks throughout Alabama. We are well-positioned to continue to grow our grassroots support and win in November.” 

Jones ended 2019 leading all of his Republican contenders in fundraising, ending the year with $5 million in cash.

 

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Courts

Alabama Democratic Party lawsuit was back in court on Thursday

Josh Moon

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The dispute goes on forever and the lawsuit never ends. 

A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge on Thursday delayed a decision on whether he has the standing to settle an internal dispute within the Alabama Democratic Party but indicated that he’s leaning towards ruling that he does. 

Judge Greg Griffin said he would rule soon on the matter, but made no promise that the decision would come before Alabama’s primary elections on March 3. 

Thursday’s hearing was the latest in the seemingly endless fight over control of the ADP and was the next step in a lawsuit brought by former ADP chairwoman Nancy Worley. Worley and her supporters, which have proven to be a decided minority of the State Democratic Executive Committee, filed the lawsuit late last year after the Democratic National Committee invalidated her re-election as chair and forced the party to change its bylaws and hold new elections. 

Those new elections resulted in Rep. Chris England being elected as party chairman and former Rep. Patricia Todd being elected vice-chair. The new party leadership has the backing of the national party, which pulled funding from ADP because Worley and others refused to rewrite the state party’s bylaws to be more inclusive. 

Worley filed her initial lawsuit prior to the elections in which she was booted out of her position, and Griffin, who was widely criticized for his handling of the case, granted a temporary restraining order that prevented the Reform Caucus of the ADP from meeting. That decision by Griffin was immediately overturned by the Alabama Supreme Court, in a rare, late-Friday evening emergency ruling. 

However, the ALSC did not rule on whether Griffin had standing to settle a dispute within the state party. The court left that question up to Griffin, which was why Thursday’s hearing was held. 

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The entire thing seems to be an exercise in futility at this point. 

The ADP has moved on, with England certifying candidates and DNC officials clearly recognizing him as the rightful party chair. The DNC has no desire to work with Worley, who was stripped of her credentials for failing to follow directives and bylaws of the party. 

Even if Griffin creates a reason to invalidate England’s election, it doesn’t seem to matter much. The DNC has validated it, and it accepted the ADP’s new bylaws and changes to leadership structure. 

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If Worley were to prevail in court, it’s unclear exactly what she would win.

 

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House

House passes landfill bill allowing alternative materials as temporary cover

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday to change the statutory definition so that temporary “cover” in landfills can be a material other than “earth.”

House Bill 140 is sponsored by State Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton.

The bill allows landfills to use alternative daily covers in place of earth to cover landfills until the next business day. “The EPA has allowed this since 1979,” Baker said. It would save landfills the cost of using earth for daily cover.

“This does not change anything in the operating rules for landfills,” Baker said.

A number of members from both parties expressed concerns about this bill on Tuesday, so the bill was carried over until Thursday.

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon told reporters, “Sometimes in a debate you can see that the debate is not a filibuster or anti-debate; but rather is an honest effort by members to understand a bill.”

“There was a lot of misinformation out there,” McCutcheon said. The Environmental Services Agency and ADEM were brought in to explain the members and address their concerns.

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McCutcheon said that human biosolids is a separate issue and that Rep. Tommy Hanes has introduced legislation dealing with that issue.

Alternative daily cover is often described as cover material other than earthen material placed on the surface of the active face of a municipal solid waste landfill at the end of each operating day. It is utilized to control vectors, fires, odors, blowing litter, and scavenging. Federal and various state regulations require landfill operators to use such earthen material unless other materials are allowed as alternatives. (Mitchell Williams writing on Oct 31 in JDSUPRA)

Soil cover can use valuable air space. Further, it can generate the need to excavate and haul soil to the facility. Alternative daily covers are often advocated to be a more efficient and cost-effective means of cover. (Williams)

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Baker said that it would be up to ADEM (the Alabama Department of Environmental Management) in the permit whether to allow a proposed alternative cover or not.

Baker said, “This bill does not change any of the materials used as cover.” “This would keep us from having to use that good earth in landfills when other materials are available. If it becomes a nuisance ADEM can revoke a cover on the permit. Daily cover has to be approved at the discretion of ADEM.”

Baker said that only materials not constituted as a risk to health or are not a hazard can be used.

An environmental attorney shared the list of ADEM alternative covers with the Alabama Political Reporter. The list includes: auto fluff, excavated waste, synthetic tarps, coal ash, petroleum contaminated soil, automotive shredder residue, shredder fluff, wiring insulation, contaminated soils, paper mill (including wood debris, ash shaker grit, clarifier sludge, dregs, lime), 50% on-site soil and 50% tire chips, spray-on polymer-based materials, reusable geosynthetic cover, automobile shredder fluff, tarps, foundry sand, clay emulsion known as USA Cover Top clay emulsion, non-hazardous contaminated soil, non-hazardous solid waste clarifier sludge, steckle dust all generated from Nucor Steel Tuscaloosa Inc., non-coal ash from Kimberly Clark operations, lagoon sludge from Armstrong World Industries operations, meltshop refractory material from Outokumpu Stainless USA operations, paper mill waste (non-coal ash, slaker grits, dregs, and lime), biodegradable synthetic film, fly ash, residue from wood chipper or paper, slurry with a fire retardant and tactifierl,Posi Shell Cover System, waste Cover, foundry waste, 50% soil and 50% automobile shredder fluff, incinerator ash, green waste to soil
Sure Clay Emulsion Coating, alternative cover materials (manufactured), compost produced by IREP Montgomery-MRF, LLC, 50% saw dust mixed with 50% soil, and waste soils considered to be special waste.

McCutcheon said that members did not understand that these were just temporary covers. That was explained to them.

Alabama landfills have used alternative covers for years; but three people sued saying that this was not allowed under Alabama law and that ADEM had exceeded its mandate by permitting alternate covers. On October 11, 2019 the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals found in favor of the plaintiffs.

HB140, if passed, would address this oversight in the Alabama legal code so that ADEM and the landfills can legally continue to use alternate covers and not have the added expense of quarrying dirt for daily cover.

A Senate version of the same bill received a favorable report last week from the Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee.

HB140 now goes to the Alabama Senate.

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