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Byrne introduces Trump education plan

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, announced the introduction of the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act.

This legislation will give students and parents in Alabama and around the country the freedom to make educational decisions that are right for them.

The legislation was developed in consultation with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, as the Trump Administration’s school choice proposal.

It responds to President Trump’s State of the Union call for school choice and builds upon the Scholarship Granting Organization model that has already been introduced in the state of Alabama as introduced by Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, in the Alabama Accountability Act.

Byrne joined DeVos and Cruz to announce details about the bill.

“Every student in America should have the opportunity to receive a high quality education, and we can help accomplish that goal through a new federal tax credit,” Byrne said. “This model has succeeded at creating opportunity for students in Alabama, and I am hopeful through this legislation we can create similar opportunities for students around the country. I applaud the leadership of President Trump and Secretary DeVos to expand choice and freedom in education, and I am committed to working with them and Senator Cruz to see this legislation across the finish line.”

“Every student in America deserves to learn in an engaging, meaningful and personalized way,” DeVos said. “No student should be denied that opportunity simply because of where they live or their family income. Education Freedom Scholarships will make a historic investment in our students and their futures, finally putting the individual needs of students above all else. I want to thank Congressman Byrne for his commitment to education freedom and for his continued leadership in Congress on this important issue.”

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Congressman Byrne also joined DeVos and Cruz in writing an opinion piece that appeared in USA Today to outline the importance of this bill.

The Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act will: create an non-refundable federal tax credit for contributions from individuals and businesses to state-identified nonprofits called scholarship granting organizations (SGOs); Provide for the granting of scholarships to expand students’ access to a variety of educational opportunities, from advanced or remedial courses to private and home schooling to CTE opportunities; increase opportunity for families to make informed decisions that work for them and their individual needs; and allow states to control their SGO programs, not the federal government.

The Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act is supported by a variety of stakeholders, including the United State Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Catholic Education, Agudath Israel of America, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, American Association of Christian Schools, Association of Christian Schools International, American Federation for Children, ExcelinEd, Americans for Tax Reform, & EdChoice.

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Trump has made expanding school choice part of his education agenda.

Teachers unions and many local school boards have opposed efforts to expand SGOs, vouchers, charter schools, and similar efforts to expand school choices for parents.

Byrne represents the Alabama’s 1st Congressional District and is a candidate for U.S. Senate challenging incumbent Sen. Doug Jones.

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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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National

Jones introduces bipartisan bill to protect children from human trafficking

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones has introduced a bill that would help prevent exploitation by providing grants for training and resources.

The bipartisan Human Trafficking and Exploitation Prevention Training Act of 2020 would help prevent the trafficking and exploitation of children by providing grants to train students, parents, teachers, and school personnel to recognize and respond to signs of human trafficking.

Jones introduced the bill along with his colleagues: Sens, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska and Tina Smith, D-Minnesota. While trafficking victims come from all walks of life and do not fit a particular profile, young people with certain risk factors may be more vulnerable to trafficking. For example, children in the child welfare or juvenile justice system, are homeless or ran away from home, or are unaccompanied or were forced to leave their home by their caregivers are much more at risk of becoming trafficking victims.

“Every year, thousands of people, mostly women and children, are trafficked across the state of Alabama,” Jones said. “The battle against human trafficking is one that we have to wage on all fronts, but our teachers and school personnel are on the front lines. With additional training and resources, we can continue to raise awareness about the signs of trafficking and hopefully prevent this systemic exploitation of children and other vulnerable people.”

Pat McCay Chairs the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force.

“Alabama has been fighting sex trafficking and exploitation since 2009,” McCay said. “We continue to see more and more cases each year affecting school-aged children and even children as young as four years old. The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Prevention Training Act of 2020 will enable us to target the appropriate demographic with much-needed prevention training and education in schools and equip our children, along with their teachers, parents, and other school employees, to know the signs and dangers of trafficking and exploitation and how to avoid becoming a victim. Thank you, Senator Jones, for sponsoring this very important prevention bill.”

This legislation would Authorize the Director of the Office of Trafficking in Persons in the Administration of Children and Families (ACF) to establish a demonstration project to issue grants to non-profit organizations and schools to develop and implement age-appropriate, culturally competent, and gender-responsive curriculum for training students, parents, teachers, and school personnel to understand, recognize, prevent, and respond to signs of human trafficking.

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The bill instructs the Director to give priority to eligible entities serving geographic areas with the highest prevalence of human trafficking, and areas with the highest prevalence of at-risk, vulnerable, or underserved populations including homeless youth, foster youth, youth involved in the child welfare system and runaways.

It would also set forth important data collection on the human trafficking / exploitation of children and strict, privacy-protected reporting requirements for the program.

Jones is a former U.S. Attorney. That experience helped Senator Jones have a deeper understanding of the complexity of human trafficking. In the Senate, he has championed legislation that would prevent the targeting of vulnerable people. He is an original cosponsor of the bipartisan ILLICIT Cash Act (S.2563), which helps law enforcement to combat illicit financial activity being carried out by human traffickers. Corporate secrecy can fuel human trafficking, protecting traffickers from law enforcement and prosecution, and this legislation will help increase transparency and expose bad actors. Senator Jones has also supported renewal of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which includes important anti-trafficking provisions, and has encouraged the Office of Management and Budget to provide robust funding for VAWA grants.

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In 2018, Senator Jones also cosponsored the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), which allowed law enforcement and civil litigants to target web platforms harboring and hosting sex trafficking activity. The House of Representatives version of the bill passed both chambers of Congress and was signed into law in April 2018.

The internet has made trafficking much more lucrative because buyers can shop online to connect with pimps to arrange delivery.

Senator Doug Jones, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

Jones was elected in 2017.

 

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Aerospace and Defense

Blue Origin opens rocket engine factory in Huntsville

Brandon Moseley

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Blue Origin has opened its sprawling factory in Huntsville, Alabama’s “Rocket City.”

The massive new factory will allow the spaceflight company to accelerate the production of its heavy-lift BE-4 rocket engine. The move creates hundreds of jobs.

The BE-4, which is under development, will power both Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket and the United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan rocket, which is being produced at ULA’s factory in nearby Decatur.

Huntsville was an ideal location for the new factory, not only for its highly skilled workforce; but also for its proximity to ULA’s assembly pant and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center where the new Alabama-built engine will be tested. Marshall’s historic test stand 4670 is where the Saturn V moon rocket’s engines were tested.

Blue Origin is upgrading and refurbishing the test stand.

“This community is absolutely terrific to be a part of,” Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said. “It has the kind of spirit that you want when developing this kind of technology and actually has the history that you can be feel proud about.”

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“Enjoyed speaking at the ribbon cutting ceremony for Blue Origin’s new rocket engine production facility in Cummings Research Park,” Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, said. “This top-notch facility will be used to conduct production of the BE-4 and BE-3U engines. These engines will undergo testing at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center on the historic Test Stand 4670. I joined Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith, Congressman Robert Aderholt, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and several others this afternoon to discuss the impact Blue Origin is making in the Tennessee Valley!”

Alabama Commerce Sec. Greg Canfield was at the ceremony making the opening of the spaceflight company’s rocket engine factory.

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “In addition to the economic boost resulting from hundreds of new jobs in north Alabama, the Blue Origin BE-4 rocket engine production facility will allow the United States – the state of Alabama – to take astronauts once again into space without dependence on other nations. Methods of warfare have changed, and maintaining our dominance in the current space race is therefore a critical element in national security.”

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Blue Origin was founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Blue Origin’s 350,000-square-foot facility is located in Cummings Research Park and will employ more than 300 people. Smith said that around 200 jobs should be created over the next year.

The factory was a $200 million investment in the state and announced on June 2017, with construction beginning in Huntsville a little over a year ago.

 

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