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Sewell, Byrne react to Trump’s State of Emergency

Brandon Moseley

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The White House has indicated that President Donald Trump — after three months of negotiations with Congress and a 35-day partial government shutdown yielded only 55 miles of border wall — will issue a State of Emergency in order to build the border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border unilaterally with emergency powers.

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, released a statement on the possibility of Trump declaring a national emergency.

“The President is pounding his fists after failing to secure billions of dollars for a wasteful, ineffective brick-and-mortar wall that the vast majority of Americans do not support,” Sewell said. “His actions are a clear abuse of power and set a dangerous precedent. Instead, the President should be focused on addressing some of the real emergencies facing our country – gun violence, the opioid crisis, crumbling infrastructure and poverty.”

Republicans are generally more supportive of the president’s position.

Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, issued his own statement in response to Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency regarding the situation at the southern border.

“I wish it hadn’t come to this point, but the Democrats have left President Trump with no choice,” Byrne said. “There is a true crisis at the southern border, and I support President Trump 100% in this decision because border security is national security.”

The White House announced on Twitter, “President Trump will sign the government funding bill, and as he has stated before, he will also take other executive action—including a national emergency—to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border.”

The White House continued, “The President is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border, and secure our great country.”

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Chairman of the Democratic National Committee Tom Perez responded, “The White House just confirmed Donald Trump will declare a national emergency because Congress didn’t give him the money he demanded for his ineffective border wall.”

“In doing so, not only will he violate hundreds of years of constitutional norms, he will once again choose to put families at risk with his unsound immigration policies,” Perez continued. “This declaration is an affront to our values as a nation — and further proof that we simply cannot risk four more years under Trump.”

Ultimately, the voters will decide whether they want the wall or not when they go to vote in the 2020 presidential election.

Sewell represents the 7th Congressional District of Alabama, and Byrne represents Alabama’s 1st Congressional District.

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Congress

Alabama municipalities may be left out of $2 trillion stimulus package

Bill Britt

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As the largest economic stimulus in American history flows to states and municipalities around the nation, stipulations in the two-trillion dollar emergency fund may leave Alabama cities out altogether.

As enacted, the third stimulus bill, the CARE Act, directs funding for states, and local governments, the catch is that the act only allocates funds for municipalities with a population of 500,000 or more.

No city in Alabama has a population of 500,000, leaving an unanswered question as to who gets what and who gets nothing?

The state has 463 municipalities spread out over 67 counties. Not one has a population nearing half a million yet each one is experiencing the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are working with Treasury and the Governor’s office to understand what municipalities can expect,” said Greg Cochran, deputy director of the Alabama League of Municipalities.

Alabama will receive $1.9 billion from the stimulus package, as a block grant, which could be allocated in a 55-45 split, according to the League’s estimation with around $1.04 billion to the state and $856 million going to local governments.

“Currently, there is little guidance on how those shared resources are to be distributed to local governments,” said Cochran. “Nor is there clear directive that those resources are to be shared with local governments with less than 500,000 populations.”

The National League of Cities is also seeking clarification from Treasury Department on these questions and guidelines to ensure funds are shared with local governments.

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“Congress is working on a fourth stimulus bill, and we are working diligently with our Congressional delegation, NLC and other stakeholders to have all cities and towns are recognized for federal funding assistance,” Cochran said.

However, on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cast doubt on a fourth package, saying that Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s needed to “stand down” on passing another rescue bill. “She needs to stand down on the notion that we’re going to go along with taking advantage of the crisis to do things that are unrelated to the crisis,” as reported by The Washington Post.

Alabama’s biggest cites, Birmingham, Montgomery, Huntsville, Mobile and Tuscaloosa, are already facing strain under the weight of the COVID-19 outbreak.

But so are smaller cities like Auburn, Hoover, Madison, Opelika and others. Lee County and Chambers County have far more cases of the virus per capita than the state’s more populous counties.

In addition to health and welfare concerns for residents during the COVID-19 calamity, cites are dealing with what is certain to be a downward spiral on tax revenue and other sources of income and a subsequent rise in costs. The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that at least 90,000 people have applied for unemployment compensation in the state over the last two weeks.

“Knowing that our municipalities will experience a loss in revenue because they rely on sales, motor fuel and lodgings taxes, we are urging our state Legislature to be mindful of actions they take when they return regarding unfunded mandates/preemptions,” said Cochran. “Additionally, we are concerned about the adverse impact this could have on 2021 business licenses, which are based on sales from 2020.”

The combined population of the state’s two biggest cities, Birmingham and Montgomery, do not equal 500,000, the threshold for receiving funds under the Care Act.

Cochran says that the League is working tirelessly to find answers as to how local governments can participate in Congress’s emergency funding.

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Aerospace and Defense

Brooks releases road map for completing defense appropriations bill despite coronavirus crisis

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, on Wednesday released the House Armed Services Committee road map for completing the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

“National defense is the #1 priority of the federal government. Despite the once-in-a-century COVID-19 pandemic, the House Armed Services Committee stands fully committed to passing the annual National Defense Authorization Act,” Brooks said. “The NDAA has passed Congress 59 consecutive years. I will work to ensure FY 2021 is no different. I thank Chairman Smith and Ranking Member Thornberry for their leadership and commitment to passing the FY21 NDAA in the face of COVID-19 challenges. While the process will be different, I am confident the final House Armed Services Committee product will be no less effective at securing America.”

Committee Chairman Adam Smith and Ranking Member Mac Thornberry’s attached the March 31, 2020 letter providing HASC’s plan to have the NDAA ready for committee debate by May 1st.

The letter was addressed to Members of the Committee on Armed Services, including Brooks.

“We want to update HASC members and staff on plans for our committee during the month of April, given the nationwide disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Smith and Thornberry wrote. “One challenge is deciding how to handle meetings of the committee and subcommittees since all such meetings for April will have to be held by conference call or video conference.”

“We must continue to exercise our oversight responsibilities and prepare to pass the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) out of committee and off the House floor,” the letter continued. “Our goal is to have the bill ready to go by May 1st, and we will schedule the date of the mark up once the House schedule for the next few months becomes clear.”

“First, we want you all to understand that because of House rules we cannot hold public hearings or classified briefings in the formal sense like in normal circumstances,” they explained. “We will have to do what can best be called, informal events.”

“Public hearings are required to be open to the public,” the leaders of the HASC committee wrote. “They also require a quorum, involving the physical presence of members. Neither of these things are possible to achieve in conference calls or video conferences. Obviously, we also cannot have classified briefings over the phone or on video. There is no way to set up secure connections amongst the number of people that would have to be involved.”

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“Informal events, therefore, would take the form of the full committee or the subcommittees doing video or phone conferences and linking up the necessary members, staff, and witnesses,” the letter continued. “We have one such informal event, set for April 1st with Department of Defense officials to discuss their response to the pandemic. This will be a conference call.”

“We believe that future informal events like this for the month of April make sense, and welcome any suggestions from members on appropriate topics and witnesses,” Smith and Thornberry continued. “But, we hope members will keep in mind some of the responsibilities that will need to be balanced in deciding when to pull together such informal events. We face three significant limitations during the month of April when it comes to setting up these informal events. First, HASC staff and members, as they always are in the month leading up to finalizing full and subcommittee marks, are spending an enormous amount of time doing the work necessary to get the mark done. In fact, we did not plan on having a significant number of public hearings or briefings in April even before the shutdown happened due to this staff workload. Second, these are not normal times. As we’re sure all of you have been doing, we and the HASC staff and everyone at the Department have been fully engaged on managing the pandemic crisis. It is a complex problem and the Department plays a crucial role. We are all working countless angles to address the crisis and that crucial work must be given priority. Finally, efforts to prevent the spread of the virus among Department personnel and others will without question limit the ability of the Department and other witnesses to be available at times in the coming month.”

Smith and Thornberry wrote that these informal events are needed for to get the bill done, while exercising the necessary oversight of the Department.

The informal events are meant to substitute for normal public hearings and briefings and are not the only or even the main thing that the committee is doing.

Social distancing and the prohibition on meeting with more than ten present has made it difficult for Congress to fulfill many of its duties.

Congressman Mo Brooks is serving in his fifth term representing Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District. Brooks recently won the Republican primary. Since he has no Democratic opponent this means that Brooks has been effectively re-elected to his sixth term in Congress.

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National

As cases surpass 1,100 in Alabama, still no “stay-at-home” order

Chip Brownlee

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The number of positive novel coronavirus cases in Alabama rocketed past a thousand Wednesday, but the state still has no shelter-in-place order — and Gov. Kay Ivey’s office says she is not ready to implement one.

“The governor remains committed to exploring all options and has not ruled anything out, but she hopes that we do not need to take this approach,” Ivey’s spokesperson said Wednesday.

By 6 p.m., there were 1,108 confirmed cases of the virus and at least 28 deaths statewide related to COVID-19. Cases grew by triple digits again after a brief lull in new cases Tuesday. But the infections are also widespread. Cases have been reported in 62 of the state’s 67 counties — and not just in the more urban ones.

Only one city in the state, Birmingham, has issued a shelter-in-place order. The city is in Jefferson County, which, in coordination with the city, has taken a stricter approach to handling the coronavirus outbreak because it has the most cases in the state.

The cities of Montgomery and Tuscaloosa have also implemented curfews, but they have far fewer cases per capita than many other areas of the state. (No. 30 and 31 out of 67 counties in per capita cases.)

But some of the hardest-hit counties in the state are outside of Jefferson County, and the health departments in those counties do not have as much authority to issue their own directives as Jefferson County and Mobile County do. They’re the only two health departments in the state that are independent with the legal authority to act autonomously from the state health department.

Cities and counties in some of the hardest-hit areas like Lee and Chambers counties have also not issued shelter-in-place orders by municipal ordinance as has been the case in Jefferson County.

Lee County and Chambers County in East Alabama have the highest infection rates in the state, and the highest per capita number of cases, yet the cities and counties there are following a statewide order that is less restrictive than the measures in place in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa or Montgomery.

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Lee County has 83 cases, and Chambers County has 45. But per capita, Chambers County has 135 cases per 100,000. (For comparison, Jefferson County, where there are 302 cases, has only 46 cases per 100,000 people.) Chambers County also has the highest number of deaths per capita in the state, at 12 per 100,000 people.

The hospital that serves Lee, Chambers and the surrounding counties — East Alabama Medical Center — is currently treating 30 patients with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19. It has already discharged 16 other COVID-19 patients, and there are 12 more in the hospital with suspected cases of the virus.

While the hospital says it is currently stable in the number of ventilators and other equipment it has available, it is still asking for donations of some needed supplies like latex-free gloves and bleach wipes.

Aside from UAB in Birmingham, EAMC is currently treating the most COVID-19 patients, according to data APR collected over the past two days. As the state continues to avoid issuing a statewide stay-at-home or shelter-in-place order, East Alabama Medical Center is urging the residents in the area to act as if there has been an order issued.

“While there is not yet a mandate to shelter in place, EAMC encourages it as the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19,” the hospital said. “Community leaders, city officials and the media have shared this important message, but there are still reports of groups gathering, children playing in neighborhood parks, dinner parties, bible studies and other events.”

All of Alabama’s neighboring states have issued shelter-in-place orders. Mississippi, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana have done so. The governors of Mississippi, Florida and Georgia all decided to issue orders today after balking at the idea for weeks.

Ivey has taken steps to curb the spread of the virus. She and the Alabama Department of Health issued an order on March 19 that closed the state’s beaches and limited gatherings of 25 or more people. She’s also closed schools for the remainder of the academic year.

On Friday, March 27, Ivey ordered closed a number of different types of businesses including athletic events, entertainment venues, non-essential retail shops and service establishments with close contact. The state has also tightened its prohibition on social gatherings by limiting non-work related gatherings of 10 people or more.

Ivey’s order Friday is not that far off from a shelter-in-place order, but it lacks the force of telling the state’s residents to stay home if at all possible. A number of businesses and manufacturing facilities are also allowed to keep operating, though they have been encouraged to abide by social-distancing guidelines as much as possible.

But Ivey has said she doesn’t want to issue a shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order because she doesn’t want to put more stress on the economy.

“You have to consider all the factors, such as the importance of keeping businesses and companies open and the economy going as much as possible,” Ivey said on Friday.

Ivey’s spokesperson Wednesday said the governor has taken appropriate action thus far.

“In consultation with the Coronavirus Task Force, the governor and the Alabama Department of Public Health have taken aggressive measures to combat COVID-19,” her spokesperson, Gina Maiola, said. “The governor’s priority is protecting the health, safety and well-being of all Alabamians, and their well-being also relies on being able to have a job and provide for themselves and their families. Many factors surround a statewide shelter-in-place, and Alabama is not at a place where we are ready to make this call.”

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Governor

The behind-the-scenes efforts to combat COVID-19

Bill Britt

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Some days it seems the only visible action state government is taking is to update the public on the number of COVID-19 cases and those who have died from the disease.

But in these times of dire public uncertainty, Gov. Kay Ivey’s team is working diligently to solve a myriad of problems facing the state.

In fact, the governor’s Capitol office suites are a hive of activity solely aimed at protecting Alabamians.

Ivey has established three groups to assess and address the various situations facing every sector of state healthcare and emergency needs, as well as the economic concerns of individuals and businesses.

The groups are led by former C.E.O.s, health professionals, or military officers who have volunteered in this time of crisis.

Strategic Asset Team or S.A.T. is tasked with finding and vetting supplies ranging from Personal Protective Equipment (P.P.E.) to gloves, ventilators and more items needed by healthcare workers on the frontline of fighting the novel coronavirus.

Sourcing and procuring vital medical equipment is not easy and is made harder by scam artists and price gaugers who seek to profit from the calamity. The governor’s office estimates for every legitimate offer there are some 80 to 90 fraudulent ones.

S.A.T., along with government personnel, evaluates every possibility to obtain goods and equipment. Once a legitimate outlet is identified, the team moves quickly to test and acquire the needed supplies.

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The governor’s office has streamlined purchasing methods so that once a supplier is identified and the goods are proven worthy, the purchase can be made swiftly.

Another group led by Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield is called the Business and Manufacturing Alliance, B.A.M.A., which is sourcing supplies from existing manufacturers in the state.

“From our perspective, we’re trying to do everything we can to identify and utilize the asset that we have in the state that is going to provide us with or produce the medical equipment and medical supplies that are needed,” said Canfield. From Toyota to Alabama Power and smaller companies like Mobile’s Calagaz Printing, the state is working to meet the challenges. “We are in talks with Hyundai about providing a connection to bring supplies out of Korea because they might be able to find alternate solutions for medical supplies,” said Canfield.

Global auto parts supplier Bolta with a facility at the Tuscaloosa County Airport Industrial Park is retooling its operation to produce plastics shields and goggles that doctors and nurses need in the emergency room.

Alabama-based research groups are pushing for breakthroughs in testing and vaccines.

BioGX Inc., a molecular diagnostics company, based at Innovation Depot, has joined B.D., a global medical technology company, to develop a new diagnostics tests that would increase the potential capacity to screen for COVID-19 by thousands of tests per day.

Birmingham-based Southern Research is collaborating with Tonix Pharmaceuticals Holding Group, a New York-based biopharmaceutical company, to test a potential COVID-19 vaccine.

Canfield and the B.A.M.A. group are daily finding other Alabama-based companies to battle the effects of the pathogen.

A third group known as Renewal is comprised of retired C.E.O.s whose goal is to make sure that those in need can cut through bureaucratic red-tape. They are charged with finding the best ways to streamline the government’s processes so that individuals and companies are not waiting for a government bureaucrat somewhere to press a button.

The Governor’s office is working in partnership with the state’s universities, businesses and others in an ongoing battle to curb the COVID-19 outbreak in the state.

In times of crisis governments always stumble getting out of the gate; that’s what happens.

The work presently being coordinated by the Governor’s staff and volunteers is not currently seen by the general public, but the efforts of these groups will affect the state now and in the future.

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