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Trump approves Emergency Disaster Declaration for Alabama counties impacted by Hurricane Michael

Brandon Moseley

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President Donald Trump approved an Emergency Disaster Declaration for the state of Alabama in response to Gov. Kay Ivey’s request on Oct. 11. The Federal Emergency Management Agency Public Assistance Program will provide assistance under category B to Alabama counties impacted by Hurricane Michael.

“I greatly appreciate President Trump approving our request for federal assistance,” Ivey said. “Alabama has suffered damage, but we have also stepped in to help our neighbors. This assistance will help us recover some of the cost of response and recovery efforts conducted by the state and local governments. This will be a huge benefit to the smaller communities in Alabama that have been affected.”

Alabama has received a Federal Emergency Declaration for the state and the following counties: Dale, Geneva, Henry, and Houston. The Emergency Declaration is to help local and state governments cover costs associated with preparing and responding to Hurricane Michael.
Under the Public Assistance Program, assistance will be provided at 75 percent federal funding for approved costs related to the storm.

“Working together with our federal partners is an important part of helping Alabamians move back to some sense of normalcy when impacted by a storm like Hurricane Michael,” Alabama EMA Director Brian Hastings said. “We are extremely thankful that although Hurricane Michael was a historic storm our state did not encounter any loss of life.”

The Alabama Emergency Management Agency is working with all impacted areas to assess damages in order to possibly qualify for additional assistance to aid in the repairs to infrastructure and the collection and disposal of debris.

Hurricane Michael came ashore at Mexico Beach, Florida as a very strong Category Four Hurricane, the strongest storm to ever impact the Florida panhandle. The storm surge destroyed beach front homes while the winds which reached 155 miles per hour destroyed homes and businesses across Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas.

The storm also devastated many farms and ranches where barns were destroyed, fences knocked down, livestock killed, and crops, particularly cotton, was flattened and ruined. The disaster declaration means that farmers and ranchers in Barbour, Dale, Geneva, Henry, and Houston counties may be eligible for assistances through the NRCS.
USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) State Conservationist for Alabama Ben Malone announced the special financial assistance sign up for Alabama farmers and ranchers who suffered damage to working lands and livestock mortality because of Hurricane Michael.

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Affected producers can sign up for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The first batching period will end on October 26, 2018. A second signup period will end on November 9, 2018.

This assistance is available to individual farmers and ranchers to aid in recovery efforts on their properties and does not apply to local governments or other entities. Farmers can apply for assistance including: Emergency Animal Mortality Management, Clearing and Snagging, and Obstruction Removal. The NRCS recommends that farmers seeking assistance for any mass mortality event immediately notify the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries if they haven’t already done so.

Socially disadvantaged, veteran, limited resource, and beginning farmers and ranchers can receive up to 50 percent advanced payment for purchasing materials or contracting.

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For more information about NRCS and its programs, visit your local USDA Service Center to determine eligibility. Individuals are not eligible for USDA programs until they have completed the Farm Bill eligibility requirements.

Be sure to notify your crop insurer of Hurricane Michael losses. Inform your home and/or home insurers about any claims. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) may also provide some assistance to homeowners and business owners.

The Alabama Farmers Federation has established a relief fund to directly benefit farmers and ranchers.

“Farmers in south Alabama have received an outpouring of support from neighbors and people across the country,” said Federation President Jimmy Parnell. “Many have asked where they can donate to help farmers who’ve lost their crops and barns, so we have created a special fund within the Alabama Farmers Agriculture Foundation to accept these gifts.”

Donations are tax deductible and may be made at AlabamaFarmersFoundation.org or send checks payable to Alabama Farmers Agriculture Foundation to P.O. Box 11000, Montgomery, AL 36191.

“Hurricane Michael devastated crops, homes, barns and livelihoods in the Wiregrass,” said Parnell, who is also president of the foundation. “Farmers are resilient, but recovery takes time and money. Alabama producers are grateful for financial help from friends and supporters — and covet your thoughts and prayers during the rebuilding process.”

(Original reporting by ALFA’s Brandon McCray contributed to this report.)

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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U.S. Supreme Court rules Alabama can ban curbside voting

“The District Court’s modest injunction is a reasonable accommodation, given the short time before the election,” the three dissenting justices wrote. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Supreme Court, in a 5-3 decision, allowed Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill to ban curbside voting, staying a district court injunction that had allowed some counties to offer curbside voting in the Nov. 3 election amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Supreme Court’s majority in its order declined to write an opinion, but Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonya Sotomayor’s five-page dissent is included.

The lawsuit — filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Alabama and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program — was brought on behalf of several older Alabamians with underlying medical conditions.

“The District Court’s modest injunction is a reasonable accommodation, given the short time before the election,” the three dissenting justices wrote. 

Sotomayor, who wrote the dissent, closed using the words of one of the plaintiffs in the case. 

“Plaintiff Howard Porter Jr., a Black man in his seventies with asthma and Parkinson’s disease, told the District Court, ‘[So] many of my [ancestors] even died to vote. And while I don’t mind dying to vote, I think we’re past that – We’re past that time,’” Sotomayor wrote. 

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill on Wednesday applauded the Supreme Court’s decision. 

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“I am proud to report the U.S. Supreme Court has now blocked a lower court’s order allowing the fraudulent practice of curbside voting in the State of Alabama,” Merrill said in a statement. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have worked diligently with local election officials in all 67 counties to offer safe and secure voting methods – including through the in-person and mail-in processes. I am glad the Supreme Court has recognized our actions to expand absentee voting, while also maintaining the safeguards put into place by the state Legislature.”

“The fact that we have already shattered voter participation records with the election still being 13 days away is proof that our current voting options are easy, efficient, and accessible for all of Alabama’s voters,” Merrill continued. “Tonight’s ruling in favor of election integrity and security is once again a win for the people of Alabama.”

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, expressed frustration after the ruling in a tweet.

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“Another devastating loss for voters and a blow for our team fighting to ensure safe voting for Black and disabled voters in Alabama. With no explanation, the SCOTUS allows Alabama to continue making it as hard as possible for COVID-vulnerable voters,” Ifill wrote.

Curbside voting is not explicitly banned by state law in Alabama, but Merrill has argued that because the practice is not addressed in the law, he believes it to be illegal. 

A panel of federal appeals court judges on Oct. 13 reversed parts of U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon’s Sept. 30 order ruling regarding absentee voting in the upcoming Nov. 3 elections, but the judges let the previous ruling allowing curbside voting to stand. 

In his Sept. 30 ruling, Kallon wrote that “the plaintiffs have proved that their fears are justified” and the voting provisions challenged in the lawsuit “unduly burden the fundamental Constitutional rights of Alabama’s most vulnerable voters and violate federal laws designed to protect America’s most marginalized citizens.”

Caren Short, SPLC’s senior staff attorney, in a statement said the Supreme Court’s decision has curtailed the voting rights of vulnerable Alabamians.

“Once again, the Supreme Court’s ‘shadow docket’ – where orders are issued without written explanation – has curtailed the voting rights of vulnerable citizens amidst a once-in-a-century public health crisis. After a two-week trial, a federal judge allowed counties in Alabama to implement curbside voting so that high-risk voters could avoid crowded polling locations,” Short said. “Tonight’s order prevents Alabama counties from even making that decision for themselves. Already common in states across the South and the country before 2020, curbside voting is a practice now encouraged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It should be a no-brainer to implement everywhere during a pandemic; the Alabama Secretary of State unfortunately disagrees, as does the Supreme Court of the United States.”

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Last presidential debate is tonight

The debate will be on from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. CT and will be televised on ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and C-SPAN.

Brandon Moseley

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President Donald Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden, right, are running for president in 2020.

The last presidential debate between Democratic nominee Joe Biden and Republican incumbent Donald Trump is scheduled for tonight.

The debate will be on from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. CT and will be televised on ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and C-SPAN. It will also be streamed live on YouTube via CBS News and other services like C-SPAN. The debate will also be streamed via Twitter’s U.S. election hub in the “Explore” tab and on CBSN, CNNgo, the CBS News App and the Fox News App.

Game three of the Major League Baseball World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays is Friday night so will not conflict with the presidential debate. There is, however, a football game tonight on Fox between the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants.

The moderator will be NBC News’s Kristen Welker.

The topics for the second presidential debate have been announced by Welker. Welker has selected: Fighting COVID-19, American Families, Race in America, Climate Change, National Security, and Leadership, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced.

The original plan was to hold three debates, but Trump, the first lady and many members of the president’s team tested positive for the coronavirus immediately following the first debate. Trump recovered from his bout with COVID-19, but when the Presidential Debates Commission announced that the second debate would be virtual, the Trump campaign refused to participate, leading to the cancelation of the original second debate.

“I am not going to do a virtual debate,” which Trump called a waste of time in comments to the Fox Business Channel.

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Trump and Biden held competing town hall events last week instead. Biden’s town hall drew higher TV ratings. The final presidential debate before Election Day will be at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. The debate format will be six segments of approximately 15 minutes each on the six pre-selected topics.

There will be no interrupting by the candidates in this debate after the raucous behavior in the first debate.

Both Trump and Biden will have their microphones cut off in Thursday’s debate while their rival delivers their opening two-minute answer to each of the debate topics. The open discussion portion of the debate will not feature a mute button, but interruptions by either candidate will count toward their time.

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The nonpartisan commission announced the rule changes on Monday. As late as Wednesday night, the parties were still arguing whether Trump will be allowed to bring up allegations that Biden assisted his son, Hunter Biden, in the junior Biden’s business interests in China, Russia, the Ukraine and other countries. Many Republicans, including former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee are urging the President to focus on the issues instead.

Election day will be on Nov. 3.

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Former Sen. Brewbaker supports Montgomery tax referendum 

If we want Montgomery to change for the better, we are all going to have to start living in our community rather than off of it.

Dick L. Brewbaker

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(STOCK PHOTO)

I am in full support of the property tax referendum on the ballot this November. That may surprise some people because I have been critical of the performance of the Montgomery County Public School System in the past.

Until recently, student performance has generally been poor, financial management has been historically problematic, and there have been real and persistent problems with transparency. New Board leadership has worked hard to address these issues in a real way, but there is still work to be done.

However, whether we are talking about cars or public education, there is such a thing as trying to buy too cheap. Montgomery has been paying the legal minimum in property tax support for decades. It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone that our schools’ quality reflects our financial commitment to them.

Yes, it’s true that more money isn’t always the answer, but it’s also true that money is part of the answer. Sometimes the bare minimum isn’t enough, and this is one of those times.

Most people who vote on this referendum will not have children currently attending MPS. If you are one of those people, vote yes anyway.

Our public school population is declining because many young couples with children are leaving our city because they know their children can get a better education elsewhere.

This loss of young parents will eventually kill this city. We have got to turn the schools around before Montgomery’s tax base is eroded beyond repair. Whether you have kids in the system or not, if you care about your local tax burden or the value of your property, it’s time to vote ‘yes.’

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Need another reason to vote yes? Ok, here’s one:  Montgomery will eventually lose both our USAF bases if we don’t show the Air Force we are serious about improving our failing schools. Already less than half of the airmen stationed in Montgomery bring their families with them.

Many military families view MPS as so low quality that they won’t subject their children to them. If we don’t fix our schools, sooner or later we will lose Maxwell and Gunter. If you don’t believe that would be an economic nightmare for our city, ask around.

At the end of the day, passing this referendum is not only a vote to help children succeed, but also a vote to save the city in which we all live. It’s ok to be hopeful, it’s ok to be optimistic even about the future of Montgomery and its schools.

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If we want Montgomery to change for the better, we are all going to have to start living in our community rather than off of it.

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National

Alabama Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth tests positive for COVID-19

Ainsworth is the only state constitutional officer in Alabama known to have contracted the coronavirus to this point in the public health crisis.

Brandon Moseley

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Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth speaks during a video message. (LT. GOV.'S OFFICE)

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth on Wednesday said that he has tested positive for COVID-19.

“After being notified this afternoon that a member of my Sunday school church group had acquired the coronavirus, I was tested out of an abundance of caution and received notice that the results proved positive,” Ainsworth said in a statement. “Because I follow social distancing rules and wear a mask both in church and in my daily interactions, the positive result shows that even those of us who are the most cautious can be at risk.”

“State Public Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris has been informed about the results, and my office is taking the necessary steps,” Ainsworth said. “Though no symptoms have yet appeared, I will quarantine for the appropriate period and seek follow-up tests to ensure the virus has run its course before resuming public activities.”

“I appreciate the words of support that have already begun to be extended and am thankful for the prayers that are being offered for my recovery,” Ainsworth said.

To this point 174,528 Alabamians have tested positive for the novel strain of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, including 1,043 on Tuesday. At least 859 Alabamians were hospitalized on Tuesday with COVID-19, and 1,265,575 tests have been given across the state since March. Some 74,238 Alabamians have recovered from their illness, and 2,805 Alabamians have died from the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Ainsworth is the only state constitutional officer in Alabama known to have contracted the coronavirus to this point in the public health crisis.

The state remains under a “safer-at-home” order, including a mask mandate, through Nov. 8. That is likely to be extended into December given the recent uptake in coronavirus cases. Citizens are urged to continue social distancing, wear their masks, wash hands and avoid shaking hands and hugging.

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