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Sewell, Leahy introduce the Voting Rights Advancement Act

Brandon Moseley

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Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, introduced legislation Tuesday to help address what they called “the most egregious forms of recent voter suppression” by developing a process to determine which states and localities with a recent history of voting rights violations must pre-clear election changes with the Department of Justice.

“In my hometown of Selma and throughout Alabama’s 7th Congressional District, Americans bled, marched and died for the right to vote, but the modern-day voter suppression we saw in the 2018 mid-term elections shows that old battles have become new again,” Sewell said. “Since the Supreme Court’s Shelby v. Holder decision, many states have enacted more restrictive voting laws that have led us in the wrong direction. The Voting Rights Advancement Act helps protect and advance the legacy of those brave foot soldiers of the civil rights movement by restoring key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and empowering the Justice Department to stop voter suppression tactics before they go into place.”

“Nearly 54 years ago next week, on March 7, a courageous band of civil rights activists – including my friend and hero, Congressman John Lewis – began a march for the right to vote from Selma to Montgomery,” Leahy said. “They marched non-violently in the face of unspeakable violence. On that Bloody Sunday, they shed their blood for the ballot. But, we gather today for much more than a vital history lesson. We assemble today for a call to action. Voter suppression efforts are unacceptable and un-American. But because of a disastrous Supreme Court decision, they are almost impossible to stop. The Voting Rights Advancement Act we are introducing today would restore and bolster the Voting Rights Act and undo the damage done by the Shelby County decision.”

“The election of 2016 was a wakeup call. Voters were threatened and given false information,” Lewis said. “Hundreds of thousands of voters were purged from the rolls all over the country. People who had voted for decades were turned away from the polls. What happened? It was the first election in over 50 years without the protection of the Voting Rights Act. We must repair what the Supreme Court damaged. We must pass this bill to ensure that every American has equal freedom to participate in our democracy.”

“The right to vote is one of the most sacred and fundamental tenets of our democracy,” said Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama. “Despite the progress we have made as a nation since the passage of the Voting Rights Act, there are far too many examples of those in power working to make it harder for folks to vote. Efforts to restrict access to the ballot box disproportionately affect people of color, the elderly and people with disabilities. It’s just plain wrong. That’s why I am proud to once again join Congresswoman Sewell and our colleagues in introducing this important legislation and carrying on the legacy of all those who fought tirelessly to extend the right to vote to every American.”

“Voting is the basis of our democracy, and yet, a privilege still denied to many,” said Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joaquin Castro. “While we’ve seen state leaders in places like Texas challenge voting rights and actively suppress turnout, we can and must do more to break down barriers that keep Americans, and disproportionately minority communities, from the polls. I’m proud to support HR4, which would restore a critical Voting Rights Act protection by requiring states with recent history of voter discrimination seek federal pre-clearance for election charges, and in doing so, prevent voter suppression, make elections more transparent and ensure all Americans, regardless of their zip code or skin color, have a voice in our democracy. This is not a partisan issue. As Americans, we must ensure the integrity of the robust democracy our Founding Fathers envisioned for our nation.”

In 2011, the city of Calera sued Barack Obama’s U.S. Justice Department after the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division rejected the city council districts drawn for the City of Calera. Calera and Shelby County claiming that the pre-clearance clause in the 1965 Civil Rights Act that requirement that the U.S. Department of Justice provide pre-clearance for any redistricting in southern states was unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed in the landmark 2013 Shelby County versus Holder ruling which struck down Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Since the Shelby decision, nearly two dozen states have implemented voter ID laws and previously-covered states have closed or consolidated polling places, shortened early voting and imposed other measures that Democrats claim restricts voting.

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The Voting Rights Advancement Act (seeks to restore the VRA by developing a process to determine which states must pre-clear election changes with the Department of Justice. It will also require a nationwide, practice-based pre-clearance of known discriminatory practices, including the creation of at-large districts, inadequate multilingual voting materials and cuts to polling places.

In addition to Reps. Sewell, Lewis and Castro the bill was introduced by 207 representatives. In addition to Sens. Leahy and Jones, the bill was introduced by 46 senators.

The Voting Rights Advancement Act is endorsed by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Human Rights Campaign, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, National Association of Latino Elected Officials Educational Fund, Native American Rights Fund, National Education Association, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

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National

Mobile removes Confederate monument overnight

Chip Brownlee

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The city of Mobile removed a Confederate monument from downtown overnight following days of protest in Mobile and nationwide over police brutality and systemic racism.

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson said he ordered the statue removed from its prominent location in downtown Mobile overnight.

“Moving this statue will not change the past,” Stimpson said in a statement on Twitter. “It is about removing a potential distraction so we may focus clearly on the future of our city. That conversation, and the mission to create One Mobile, continues today.”

The 120-year-old statue of Admiral Raphael Semmes, a Confederate Navy admiral, is the second Confederate monument removed in Alabama since protests gripped the nation over the police killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“To be clear: This decision is not about Raphael Semmes, it is not about a monument and it is not an attempt to rewrite history,” Stimpson said.

Stimpson said the statue has been placed in a secure location.

Last week, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin ordered a Confederate monument in Linn Park removed. That statue had been at the center of a years-long legal battle between the city of Birmingham and the Alabama Legislature, and Attorney General Steve Marshall has since sued the city a second time seeking a $25,000 fine for removing the monument.

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It is likely that Mobile will also face a similar fine.

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Economy

Survey shows small businesses are concerned about lawsuits over COVID-19

Brandon Moseley

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A majority of Alabama small business owners surveyed by the National Federation of Independent Business said that they are concerned about the possibility of lawsuits related to the COVID-19 outbreak, according to the NFIB.

Sixty-nine percent of owners who responded to the online survey say that they are very or moderately concerned about increased liability. Twenty-one percent say they’re not too concerned, while just nine percent say they aren’t concerned at all.

“Even in the best of times, small businesses are often the target of opportunists trying to make a buck by filing a frivolous lawsuit,” NFIB State Director Rosemary Elebash said. “It’s clear from the survey that Alabama small business owners are concerned about the potential for lawsuits to try to exploit the already devastating effects of the coronavirus.”

“During the regular session of the legislature, Sen. Arthur Orr introduced a bill that would provide civil immunity for businesses, healthcare providers, churches, schools, and other organizations in connection with the novel coronavirus during a declared state of emergency,” Elebash said.

“The reasonable measures provided in Senator Orr’s bill would protect businesses struggling to keep their doors open from the risk and expense of lawsuits associated with COVID-19,” Elebash said. “If the legislature is called back for a special session, Senator Orr’s bill will be one of NFIB’s top priorities.”

The Senate wanted to address the Orr bill; but the leadership in the House of Representatives demanded that the legislature deal solely with the budgets, the school buildings bond issue, supplemental appropriations, and local legislation. The legislature left for spring break on March 12; but returned two weeks later on March 31 to a different world. Fears of contracting the virus turned the remainder of the 2020 legislative session into a much abbreviated limited affair more concerned with social distancing than passing legislation.

In other results, the survey respondents said: 70 percent say they’re very or moderately concerned about getting customers back; 69 percent are concerned about managing the health and safety of their customers; 66% are concerned about managing the health and safety of employees; 69 percent are concerned with having to comply with new regulations related to the coronavirus; and 68 percent are concerned about finding an adequate supply of supplies such as hand sanitizer and disinfectant.

“This has been a challenging spring for Alabama’s small businesses,” Elebash said. “NFIB is committed to working closely with elected officials to develop strategies that allow more businesses to reopen fully so people can get back to work.”

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The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the U.S. economy lost $8 trillion in projected economic growth moving forward due to the COVID-19 crisis and the forced economic shutdowns to fight the spread of the virus and that is could take until 2030 for the economy to fully recover.

The federal government released the May jobs report and unemployment was 13.3 percent which is an unexpected improvement from April’s 14.7 percent

Many businesses are still closed down by government order in states that are reopening more slowly than Alabama. Other businesses can not reopen economically due to social distancing guidelines in place limiting their occupancy and the liability issue only adds another fear that is holding some business owners back, further slowing the economic recovery.

The National Federation of Independent Business is the nation’s leading small business advocacy organization. The NFIB was founded in 1943. 110,173 Americans have died from COVID-19.

To learn more visit their website: www.NFIB.com.

(Original reporting by the Wall Street Journal and CNBC contributed to this post.)

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National

Marshall “satisfied” actions taken by police in Huntsville were “reasonable”

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) voiced his support Thursday for law enforcement in Huntsville.

As has been widely reported, the Huntsville Police Department used tear gas Wednesday evening to disperse a crowd of protesters. Given the infrequency with which this tool is employed, the attorney general said he believed that it was his duty to examine what necessitated its use.

“The appropriateness of police actions must always be judged by the circumstances in which they occur,” Marshall said. “After talking with the Huntsville Police Department and the Madison County Sheriff’s Department, I am well-satisfied that the actions taken by police were reasonable under the circumstances.”

“After a peaceful protest, hosted by the local chapter of the NAACP — which abided by the law and should not be blamed for what came after — hundreds of hostile demonstrators ignored multiple requests by law enforcement to leave the area,” Marshall said. “Rather than leaving, those demonstrators put on gear and readied for battle.”

“After an hour and a half of warnings and with daylight dwindling, law enforcement dispersed the crowd with the least amount of force possible and using no lethal weapons,” Marshall said. “This, despite the fact that the crowd was found to have backpacks full of weapons and spray paint, and which attacked officers with rocks and bottles full of frozen water.”

“Alabama is fortunate in that most protests taking place in recent days have been conducted peacefully,” Marshall said. “At the same time, over the last 10 days—and even as we speak—law enforcement intelligence from around our state indicates the intent of some to infiltrate protests with violence, property damage, and targeting of law enforcement officers.”

Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray defended the tactics employed by his department and Madison County Sheriff Kevin Turner against the protestors.

“They set the precedent,” McMurray said. “They set the guidelines. They wanted to go hand to hand at that time. We do not want to go hand to hand with any citizen.”

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McMurray said that he and the Madison County sheriff acted within their authority to declare the gathering an unlawful assembly.

“We showed patience for 90 minutes, and we knew dark was coming,” Turner said. “We didn’t want anything to happen to our downtown area. We did not want anything happening to that courthouse.”

McMurray blamed “outside anarchists” for needing to use tear gas, though all of the arrests made Wednesday were of Madison County residents.

“The anarchists who came prepared and armed, they’re now going to another city to do the exact same thing,” the chief said. “They know how not to get arrested.”

“You could tell there was a fine line of the people that was in that park and the people that was on the square,” Sheriff Turner said.

McMurray said that two officers were hurt with minor injuries but were back to work on Thursday.

Authorities claim that by acting decisively they were able to avoid a riots or destruction.

The Attorney General’s Office announced that it has zero tolerance for aggressive acts against law enforcement and that taking the life of a law enforcement officer carries the penalty of death in Alabama.

Attempting to take the life of a law enforcement officer will guarantee prolonged incarceration of up to 99 years. Marshall promised to personally oversee the prosecution of any such perpetrator, in any judicial circuit of this state, if necessary, to ensure maximum punishment.

(Original reporting by WHNT TV News contributed to this report.)

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Governor

Ivey announces development of coronavirus relief fund expenditure request form

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) announced a Coronavirus Relief Fund Expenditure Request Form has been developed for the public to submit for reimbursement for expenses incurred from the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

“As your governor, input from Alabama citizens is something I value and take into consideration each and every day,” Governor Ivey said. “I encourage anyone to submit your ideas on how our portion of the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund monies should be spent – anything that falls within the guidelines will be considered. Together, with the partnership of the people of our state, I am committed to making sure that Alabama is made as whole as possible from responding to this virus.”

On March 27, 2020, President Donald Trump signed the congressionally approved Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act into law. Among other provisions, the CARES Act established the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund, of which roughly $1.8 billion has been allotted to the State of Alabama.

The CARES Act requires that the payments from the Coronavirus Relief Fund only be used to cover expenses that: are necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to COVID–19; were not accounted for in the budget most recently approved as of March 27, 2020 (the date of enactment of the CARES Act) for the State or government; and were incurred during the period that begins on March 1, 2020 and ends on December 30, 2020.

In addition to federal guidelines, Alabama ACT 2020-199 (SB161) requires the State to only spend federal Coronavirus Relief Fund monies in one of the following categories: Reimburse state agencies for expenditures directly related to the coronavirus pandemic; Reimburse local governments for expenditures directly related to the coronavirus pandemic; Support the delivery of healthcare and related services to citizens of the Alabama related to the coronavirus pandemic; Support citizens, businesses, and non-profits and faith-based organizations of the state directly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic; Reimbursement of equipment and infrastructure necessary for remote work and public access to the functions of state government directly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, including the Legislature; Expenditures related to technology and infrastructure related to remote instruction and learning; Reimbursement of costs necessary to address the coronavirus pandemic by the Department of Corrections; Reimbursement of costs necessary to ensure access to the courts during the coronavirus pandemic; Reimburse the State General Fund for supplemental appropriations to the Alabama Department of Public Health; and/or For any lawful purpose as provided by the United States Congress, the United States Treasury Department, or any other federal entity of competent jurisdiction.

All information will be processed by Governor’s Office.

The Coronavirus Relief Fund Expenditure Request Form is available here.

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The legislature had sought appropriations control over the $1.8 billion, requiring the governor to call a special session to appropriate the money. Senate leadership even went so far as to produce a wish list that included $200 million for a new Statehouse. Ivey rejected those demands and threatened to veto the state budgets if the legislature did not amend those demands, which had been added to a supplemental appropriations bill.

The coronavirus crisis and the economic shutdown to fight the spread of the coronavirus has done enormous damage to the economy. The Congressional Budget Office recently released a report claiming that it will take a decade for the economy to fully recover from the virus and the forced economic shutdown. Since February 27, 110,173 Americans have died from COVID-19, including 651 Alabamians. Globally the death toll from the global pandemic has reached 393,316. Many states and some nations are still under economic lockdown orders.

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