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Leaders react to tornados in Lee County

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey stands at a press conference at Beauregard High School on March 4, 2019, one day after a tornado killed 23 people in the area. (Chip Brownlee/APR)

On Sunday, Alabama was struck by devastating tornados. Several counties were hit; but nowhere was the damage more severe than in rural Lee County where dozens of people were killed. Leaders from across that state and country offered their condolences to the families impacted by the severe weather.

President Donald J. Trump (R) said on Twitter, “FEMA has been told directly by me to give the A Plus treatment to the Great State of Alabama and the wonderful people who have been so devastated by the Tornadoes. @GovernorKayIvey, one of the best in our Country, has been so informed. She is working closely with FEMA (and me!).”

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) said, “Yesterday, multiple tornadoes ravaged through parts of Alabama, leaving behind trails of devastation and the loss of human life. To know Alabama, is to know that we are a tightly-knit community of people. Today, each one of us mourns the loss of our fellow Alabamians. To folks across the country, please know that all of us in Alabama appreciate the outpouring of support you have shown us. We will overcome this loss. Alabama has done it before, and we will do it again, together. Alabama Emergency Management Agency Lee County, Alabama Emergency Management Agency FEMA Federal Emergency Management Agency.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel, R-Kentucky said, “I know the entire Senate joins me today in offering deep sympathies to the communities affected by yesterday’s spate of tornadoes in east Alabama and Georgia. As first responders continue to search for survivors in the rubble, we know that at least 23 innocent lives were lost to this disaster, all in Lee County, Alabama. Our condolences are especially with their loved ones — and our gratitude is with the emergency personnel and local officials who have spearheaded evacuation and rescue efforts.”

“The people of Alabama are all too familiar with the pain caused by devastating storms like yesterday’s,” McConnel continued. “The entire region has been hit hard in recent years, seemingly by one disaster after another. And they continue to brace against the threat of hurricanes and the flooding that so often impacts communities in my state of Kentucky. But at every step of the way — from response and recovery to resilient achievement — Alabama has benefited from the devoted leadership of Senator Richard Shelby. On the specific issue of disaster recovery, his hard work and steady hand have helped lead the charge. When supplemental funding for natural disaster relief receives floor time here in the Senate, it will be thanks to the hard work of our colleagues like Senator Perdue, Senator Isakson and others, and Chairman Shelby.”

Congresswoman Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, said in an email to constituents, “Yesterday, Alabama was hit with devastating severe weather. Crews are working around the clock to assess the full scale of damage and return power. If you are in the Second District and need assistance, please contact my local offices. We are here to work through this with you, and we stand with all who have been impacted. As recovery efforts begin, please join me in praying for those in neighboring counties who lost loved ones yesterday. This is a time of unspeakable tragedy for many throughout Southeast Alabama, especially our friends in Lee County.”

Congressman Mike Rogers said, “Our prayers are with all those affected by the severe weather today.”

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U.S. Senator Doug Jones, D-Alabama, said, “My heart goes out to all the folks who have lost loved ones and who have suffered damage to their homes and their businesses, and I ask that everyone pray for their comfort and healing. I also want to thank the courageous first responders who put their lives on the line time and time again to help folks in need.”

“In the days ahead, I’m going to be working closely with colleagues here in the Senate to secure federal disaster funding that includes Lee County, Alabama….We have also been in touch with Governor Ivey and other local officials about how we in the Senate can best help,” Sen. Jones said. “And as the dust settles, we will be down there to make sure that our offices do what is necessary to help those fine people.”

State Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said, “Please join me in sending prayers to all of those affected by the horrific storms today.”

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State Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said, “On behalf of the Senate Minority Caucus, I would like to express our sincerest condolences to the families who are dealing with the loss of a loved one and the loss of property. We are working with Gov. Kay Ivey’s office and urging her to seek federal funds to help make these communities whole.”

Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Montrose, said, “Today was a difficult day for our state as serious storms hit Alabama, including right here in Washington County. My prayers are with those in that community, as well as those in Lee County where people were tragically killed by a tornado. Tonight, join me in praying that God will wrap his arms around all those impacted by these horrific storms.”

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, said, “There has been devastation throughout our state, especially in East Alabama. In my home county of Barber County, the area near the Eufaula Municipal Airport received extensive damage, and there was massive devastation to an area that I previously represented in Lee County. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who lost their lives and with those who lost their property. However, I know that Alabama is a strong state with strong people and we will work together to rebuild these communities.”

State Representative Jeremy Gray, D-Opelika, said, “My thoughts and prayers go out to the Beauregard and Lee County community. I am working with the Lee County Sheriff’s Department and the Lee County Emergency Management Agency to collectively coordinate all of our resources. I went to the hospital last night and I was expecting trauma, but when you see those injured first-hand and talk to those looking for loved ones, I was overwhelmed by the devastation. Being on site when some of those deaths occurred was unbelievable. But people came together as one community praying for one another and helping each other. It is a tough day for Lee County, but I feel like there are better days ahead and we can pull together and become a stronger community because of this.

I am working to do all that I can to get resources for this community and to make sure people have a place to stay.”
Since 1945, when accurate statistics were kept, no state has more tornado fatalities than Alabama.

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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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