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Governor Ivey awards $1.89 million to help victims of domestic violence and elder abuse

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) announced awards of $1.89 million in grants to support organizations and programs that help victims of domestic violence and elder abuse throughout the state.

“No one should ever have to experience the horrors of domestic violence or elder abuse, but there is hope for those who unfortunately do become victims,” Governor Ivey said. “The programs supported by these grants will help ensure that professional assistance is available and that justice is obtained for the survivors.”

Ivey announced a $1.56 million grant awarded to the Alabama Department of Human Resources to support their Adult Protective Services division. DHR’s Adult Protective Division provides emergency in-home services and temporary placement option for victims of abuse, neglect or exploitation.

Two grants totaling $250,781, were given to support the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The Coalition serves their member programs and shelters throughout the state. The organization provides training, education and outreach on domestic violence issues, and their member shelters provide counseling, support groups and other vital services.

A grant of $80,000 was also allotted to help the Alabama Office of Prosecution Services to train law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, domestic violence shelter staff and other criminal justice agencies that investigate and prosecute abusers or assist victims of domestic violence.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) is administering the grants from multiple funding sources, including the U.S. Department of Justice, the state of Alabama General Fund and the Domestic Violence Trust Fund, which was created through the state marriage license fee. Those funds are used to provide shelter for victims and to conduct educational and prevention programs.

“Gov. Ivey understands the important roles these agencies play in helping domestic violence and elder abuse victims,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said. “ADECA is pleased to join her in supporting these programs that provide important assistance to victims at a time they need it the most.”

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ADECA manages a wide range of programs that support law enforcement, economic development, water resource management, energy conservation and recreation development.

In 2013, there were 2,872 domestic violence aggravated assaults and 32,587 domestic violence simple assaults in Alabama. Nationally there are ten million domestic violence assaults annually.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey is seeking her own term as Governor, after being elevated to the position from Lieutenant Governor in April 2017. Ivey is being challenged by Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter “Walt” Maddox (D).

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Josh Moon

How Alabama’s government stays broken

Josh Moon

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It doesn’t take a rocket scientist — or even any kind of scientist — to figure out that Alabama’s state government is broken. 

I mean, really, just look around. At the poverty, the poor education, the racism, the arrested public officials, the in-your-face public corruption and the complete disregard for the welfare of the majority of the people in the state. 

But, while the overall awfulness of Alabama’s governance might be easy to diagnose, the underlying causes — the daily examples that explain just how it stays so broken — are far harder to put your finger on. Because they are mostly wrapped up in mundane occurrences that take place within the walls of the State House or the capitol or the Supreme Court chambers or some other government building. 

Things like SB117/HB140. 

Those are the official names for a bill in both the senate and house that will “clarify existing law relating to disposal of solid waste.” 

Sounds innocent enough, right? Just gonna get this minor landfill situation straightened out. No biggie. 

Ah, but see, SB117/HB140 is the prime example of Alabama’s broken government. 

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It is the prime example of how your lawmakers aren’t working for you. It is the perfect encapsulation of everything that is wrong in this state.

Basically this landfill bill would make it OK to cover existing landfills with artificial covers, instead of the six inches of earth that is currently required. 

Now, this still doesn’t sound like a big deal. And it won’t be one if you don’t mind third-world diseases, the smell of rotting meat, frequent fires, coyotes and feral dogs roaming your streets and rats. Lots and lots of rats. 

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Applying six inches of earth each day to cover the garbage dumped at landfills prevents those things, the EPA figured out long ago. And it set those parameters in the rules it recommends to states. Alabama agreed, and the state adopted that rule, along with others, into law several years ago. 

Regular landfills have to cover with six inches of earth every day. Construction landfills have to do so once per week. 

This is a simple law. 

But if you operate a landfill, it’s an expensive one. And a time consuming one. 

Ah, but luckily, those laws are environmental laws. And in Alabama, we figured out long ago that environmental laws can be cumbersome and expensive, so we set up a bit of a … let’s just call it a workaround. 

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management. 

You’ll find we do this a lot — set up an entity that lies somewhere between the laws and the enforcement of the laws whose only job it seems is to give free passes to the bigwigs and corporations who violate those specific laws. 

We do it with the Ethics Commission. With the Public Service Commission. And with ADEM. 

It’s genius, really. The laws are still on the books and no one has to overtly roll back protections that would lead to rotting garbage attracting disease carrying rodents by the thousands. 

Instead, just get ADEM to quietly stop enforcing the law. 

Which is exactly what ADEM has done in this case. It was allowing landfills all over the state to cover garbage with tarps and various other materials. The tarps and other covers inevitably got holes in them, and a Noah’s Ark-level of animals descended upon the landfills to dine and spread the garbage all over adjoining neighborhoods. 

The neighbors, tired of the smell and the disease and the roaming animals, sued, citing in their legal filing horror stories of living near these maggot farms that smelled like death. 

They sued ADEM for failing to do its job, and for essentially rewriting the law to allow businesses to do whatever they wanted to do. 

And lo and behold, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals agreed with them. In a lengthy, detailed decision entered last October, the five-judge panel noted that ADEM didn’t have the authority to rewrite the law. 

The case is now before the Alabama Supreme Court, but everyone knows that the Appeals Court judges are correct. 

But why bother with trying to win over judges when you can instead just change the laws through the crooks in the Alabama Legislature? 

And so, here we are, with a handful of lawmakers in both chambers of the legislature willing to attach their names to legislation that will allow businesses to ignore the standards imposed by the EPA, ignore the standards that are commonplace in most other states and change Alabama law to benefit a handful of landfill owners at the expense of thousands of Alabama citizens. 

And this, kids, is how Alabama’s government stays broken. 

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House

House votes to outlaw smoking, vaping in automobiles with children present

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, the Alabama House of Representatives voted for legislation to be smoking and vaping in motor vehicles if there is a child under 14 years of age.

House Bill 46 is sponsored by State Representatives Rolanda Hollis (D-Birmingham).

HB46 as introduced by Hollis would have banned smoking with children in automobiles/

State Representative John Rogers (D-Birmingham) asked, “Would this give a police officer the ability to stop a car anytime that a police wants to stop them and say I stopped you because I thought you were smoking.”

Rogers warned that this would give the police an, “Excuse to stop a person of color or anyone else.”

Hollis said, “An amendment will address this.”

Rogers said that this would be like, “Bloomberg’s stop and frisk.”

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Rep. Scott Stadthagen (R-Hartselle) said, “Thank you for bringing this bill. There is nothing more disturbing than to be at a red light and see someone smoking with a baby in the car.”

Rep. Neil Rafferty (D-Birmingham) introduced an amendment that establishes this as a secondary infraction. Police could not stop someone for smoking with children in the car; but if they were stopped for another reason, then the officer could then cite them for this infraction.

Hollis agreed to accept Rafferty’s amendment as a friendly amendment and the House voted to add the amendment to the bill.

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Rep. Brett Easterbrook (R-Fruitdale) said, “I agree with the idea that it is ridiculous that an adult smokes with children in the car; but It is also ridiculous to tell a family everything that they can do in a car that they paid for.”

Rep. Bob Fincher (R-Woodland) said, “When I was a child both of my parents smoked in the car and I survived, and I am 76 years old now.”

“When we come to the point of telling people what they can do in their own cars, at some point we will tell them that they can’t smoke in their own home,” Fincher warned. “If you don’t have the right to do the wrong thing then we don’t have any rights at all.”

Hollis replied, “This bill does not tell you that you can not smoke. Smoke all you want to. This is about the health of children.”

Rep. Victor Gaston (R-Mobile) said, “I am Pro-Life and Pro-Life for a six-year old is not having to ride in a car with smokers and the windows up.”

Rep. Barbara Drummond (D-Mobile) proposed an amendment to also ban vaping in cars with children present.

Hollis refused and said, “Bring your own bill.”

Rep. Jim Hill (R-Odenville) said, “If we are not going to let people smoke in cars we should not let them vape in cars with children present. If we deny one, we ought to deny both.”

Rep. Chris Blackshear (R-Phenix City) said, “Thank you for bringing this bill. I am one hundred percent behind the amendment as well.”

Drummond brought her amendment anyway.

Hollis said, “I look at tobacco smoking and vaping differently. How are they the same?”

Drummond said, “The effects are the same.”

Hollis eventually relented and accepted Drummond’s vaping amendment. The amendment passed 71 to 8.

The House passed HB46 on a vote of 78 to 19. It now goes to the Alabama Senate for their consideration.

Tuesday was day five of the 2020 Alabama regular legislative session. Neither budget committee has introduced a budget yet and Gov. Ivey’s gambling commission has not released any legislation proposals yet. The legislature can meet for a maximum of thirty days in a regular session.

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Education

Alabama voters will decide whether to fire the state school board

Jessa Reid Bolling

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The fate of the state school board will be decided by Alabama voters on March 3. 

A proposed constitutional amendment, Amendment One, asks if voters want to change how the folks in charge of education at the state level are selected. 

A yes vote would abolish the elected State Board of Education and the Board-appointed position of State Superintendent of Education. Instead, there will be a Governor-appointed Commission, the Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education. The Commission would appoint a Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education, to replace the existing state Superintendent’s position.

A no vote would leave the current system in place, meaning school board members would still be elected by voters based on districts. 

The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) conducted an analysis of the amendment, highlighting both strengths and weaknesses of the amendment. 

“Proponents say elected boards are more responsive to the public will. As elected officials, board members have their rightful place and, ideally, are only responsible to the people who elected them. They should be more empowered to oppose what they believe is not in the interests of the state’s schools and children.

At the same time, as elected officials, re-election is an important goal, if not the central goal. Thus elected board members may find themselves where the interests and desires of voters conflict with policies, programs and practices that best serve children. 

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Conversely, proponents of appointed boards cite the strength of the vetting process in creating boards with knowledgeable, skilled, effective board members. An appointment process allows the governor to consider the needs of the board and the qualities different candidates would bring. 

Others cite that governor-appointed boards and appointed superintendents create a more efficient, aligned, and harmonious system for setting and implementing education priorities. Ambitious and substantive changes to a state’s school system are more feasible in a more efficient system that encourages collaboration and strengthens the governor’s capacity to effect change. However, while somewhat insulated, appointed boards are not immune from political pressure.”

Earlier this month, Governor Kay Ivey addressed PARCA at the annual Albert Brewer Legacy lunch at the Harbert Center in Birmingham, asking the council to support Amendment One.

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“Alabama is at the bottom in about every education category that can be found,” Ivey said. “Too many of our third graders cannot read and too many of our high school graduates are not ready for a career or college.”

“Vote yes on amendment one when you go to the polls on March 3,” Ivey said. “We have had three superintendents in five years. We can do better.”

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Courts

Legislation would limit death penalty appeals

Eddie Burkhalter

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Alabama Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth on Tuesday discussed legislation that would reduce the length of some death penalty appeals. 

“Over the last 13 month, seven Alabama law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty by violent criminals, which is a new record and obviously not one the state of Alabama is proud of,” Ainsworth said during the press conference at the Alabama State House on Tuesday. “Back the blue has got to be more than just a slogan. Actions must follow words.” 

Ainsworth said that death row inmates in Alabama serve approximately 14 years on average before executions are carried out, and that there needs to be a “fair but expedited process in Alabama.” 

The proposed legislation would prevent the Alabama Supreme Court from hearing death row appeals in capital murder cases, and would stop all such appeals at the state Court of Criminal Appeals level. 

The bills would also require the criminal appeals court to expedite death row appeals when possible, and would reduce the amount of time a person has to appeal such convictions to the U.S. Supreme Court, Ainsworth said. 

“This legislation still affords a thorough appeals process, and all the protections guaranteed to them under the U.S. Constitution,” Ainsworth said. “It has been designed to provide both equal justice to inmates, and swifter justice to their victims.” 

State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, a candidate for a seat on the state Supreme Court and sponsor of the senate’s version of the bill, said during the press conference that while overall crime rates have been declining, murders in Alabama have increased 25 percent over the last three years. 

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“I’ve always been an advocate for criminal justice reform, but let me tell you something, public safety is first and foremost, Ward said. “…I think this is a reasonable bill. It still provides for due process.” 

State Rep. Connie Row,R-Jasper, is sponsoring the bill in the House and said that as a former police chief she recognizes the value of the lives of those who serve the public. She also worked with crime victims in capital cases, she said, and in “capital cases it’s seeing if you can live long enough to see justice served in a death penalty case.” 

The bills also add language that would allow the Alabama Department of Corrections to conduct executions at facilities other than the Holman Correctional Facility near Atmore, where the state’s death chamber is currently located. 

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ADOC commissioner Jeff Dunn said in January that all death row inmates were being moved to Holman, while the majority of the prison’s areas for other incarcerated men was being closed due to concerns over maintenance problems in a tunnel that carries utilities to those portions of the prison. The death row section of Holman was to remain open, Dunn said. 

There are 175 people serving on the state’s death row, according to Alabama Department of Corrections statistics

Attempts Tuesday to reach staff at the Equal Justice Initiative for comment on the legislation were unsuccessful. The Montgomery legal aid nonprofit works to exonerate death row inmates, among its other initiatives. 

According to the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center 167 incarcerated people on death row in the U.S. have been exonerated and released from prison since 1973. Among those formerly on death row, six were scheduled to die by execution in Alabama. 

The last Alabama death row inmate exonerated was Anthony Hinton, freed in April 2015 after spending 30 years on death row for the 1985 murders of two fast food supervisors in Birmingham. 

The only evidence presented at Hinton’s trial was ballistics testing state prosecutors said proved the bullets that killed the two men came from a gun Hinton’s mother owned. 

Hinton lost appeals for a decade before the Equal Justice Initiative took up his case. Subsequent ballistics testing by the nonprofit in 2002 proved that the bullets weren’t a match for the firearm, but the state declined to re-examine the case. 

It took another 12 years for Hinton’s appeal to reach the U.S. Supreme Court, which reversed the lower court’s ruling and granted a new trial. 

The judge in his new trial dismissed the charges after the state’s prosecutors determined through additional testing that the bullets could not have come from Hinton’s mother’s gun. 

A 2009 study by professors at the University of Colorado and published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology found that 88 percent of the leading criminologists in the U.S. polled did not believe the death penalty effectively deters crime.

Of the leading criminologists polled in the study, 87 percent said that speeding up executions would not add a deterrent effect on crime.

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