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Prisons, pay raises and pre-K: Gov. Kay Ivey’s ambitious agenda

Chip Brownlee

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Gov. Kay Ivey delivers the 2019 state of the state address before a joint session of the Alabama Legislature in the Old House Chambers of the Alabama State Capitol on March 5, 2019. (Chip Brownlee/APR)

From prison construction to pay raises for teachers and state employees, Gov. Kay Ivey pitched a wide-ranging and ambitious agenda to members of the Legislature gathered in the Old House Chambers of the State Capitol Tuesday for her second State of the State address.

Ivey’s main priorities are raising the state’s motor fuels tax and building new prisons to replace Alabama’s aging correctional facilities, but her speech covered much more and her plan is far more aggressive than just those two issues.

The governor has little power in the legislative process other than her political sway and her ability to propose budgets. But in a state where practical policy largely relies on appropriations from the state’s two budgets, Ivey does have power.

Pay Raises

This is the second year Ivey will propose pay raises for public school teachers and state employees. Teachers received a 2.5 percent salary increase last year, and state employees received a 3 percent salary increase.

Raises this year are proposed to be higher for teachers and a bit lower for state employees.

Under Ivey’s plan, state employees would get a 2 percent pay raise, and public school teachers would receive a 4 percent pay raise.

“Alabama’s teachers are vital to our students throughout every step of their learning journeys, and they deserve to be the highest paid public employees in our state,” Ivey said.

The pay raises for public school teachers would cost upward of $140 million, but a growing Education Trust Fund can support the adjustment. Pay raises for state employees would cost between $12 million and $14 million.

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The raises for teachers would benefit teachers from pre-K through community college, Ivey said.

The chairs of the House and Senate budget committees told The Montgomery Advertiser Tuesday that they support the raises.

Corrections

She is proposing a $31 million funding increase for the Alabama Department of Corrections. Ivey said the funding would allow the department to hire 500 new correction officers and increase the pay scale for all security personnel to make their salaries competitive.

The proposed funding increase comes after a string of legal complications for the state’s prisons in federal court.

A lawsuit over mental health care in Alabama’s prisons brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center ended with Federal Judge Myron Thompson ruling conditions to be “horrendously” and constitutionally “inadequate.”

Thompson ordered the state to nearly double the number of correctional officers over the next two years. Ivey’s funding push would help alleviate that requirement. Ivey floated this proposal earlier this year when she unveiled her prison plan.

The Legislature last year provided $86 million in additional funding to the department over two years to retain new staff for medical and mental health services and to reduce the rate of turnover among correctional staffing.

“Alabama is currently under a federal court order requiring the state to roughly double the number of corrections officers over the next two years. If we fail to resolve the apparent issue of understaffing in our prisons, federal courts will dictate what needs to happen in our own state,” Ivey said.

Ivey spoke only in passing about her prison plan in the State of the State address. She is proposing spending $900 million to build three new men’s prisons. A similar plan died in the Legislature in 2016 and 2017.

“Another problem that has gone unaddressed for years and years is that of the horrendous conditions of our prisons,” Ivey said.

Mental Health

Ivey proposed an additional $7 million for the Alabama Department of Mental Health to fund what she called “important programs.”

Public Safety

The governor’s proposed General Fund budget includes funding to hire and train an additional 50 State Troopers. Since the Great Recession, State Trooper ranks have dwindled. Some funding increases in the last few years have hired additional troopers, but numbers are still far below pre-recession levels.

Law Enforcement Secretary Hal Taylor said recently ALEA is having trouble hiring qualified state troops. ALEA currently only has 370 officers on the road, but that it does have a new class of troopers being trained now. Twenty-three are expected to graduate and be on the road in March.

Taylor said that his eventual goal was to have 670 officers on the road. That would be enough to have an officer on the road in every county 24 hours a day, 365 days out of the year. Currently, there are times where one trooper is patrolling three counties.

Pre-K Education

Ivey’s budget would provide an additional $25 million for the state’s First Class Pre-K Program, which has been recognized as one of the best pre-K programs in the country.

“It will be the largest investment in Alabama First Class Pre-K to date and takes us even closer to providing more of Alabama’s youngest learners a strong start,” Ivey said.

Though it is a high-quality program, it’s only available to about 30 percent of age-eligible kids.

Ivey’s proposal would expand the program by 193 classrooms.

The Legislature approved an $18.5 million funding increase last year after Ivey proposed a $23 million increase. With that money, the state added 107 classrooms in 33 counties.

The Alabama School Readiness Alliance has estimated that the program would need $144 million to provide every Alabama family access to the voluntary program. The pre-K program got $96 million last year and would get about $121 million should Ivey’s proposal pass the Legislature.

Higher Ed

Ivey is proposing a $75 million funding increase for the state’s higher education institutions.

“Alabama’s institutions of higher education are making major research contributions,” Ivey said. “They generate significant revenue for our state. They serve as a major part of our identity in Alabama. Most importantly, they are preparing hundreds of thousands of students to enter the workforce.”

Universities received $1.12 billion in funding last year, a $42 million increase over the previous year.

Ivey also called on legislators to appropriate money to support a new co-op program for Alabama’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

The program is geared toward HBCU students interested in pursuing careers in STEM fields.

“It is not only a win for these students; it’s a win for these colleges and universities,” Ivey said. “And it’s a win for our employers who are gaining qualified individuals to strengthen the work of their company.”

 

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Governor authorizes use of National Guard after violent protests in Birmingham

Eddie Burkhalter

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Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday said she supports the right for people to protest peacefully in the wake of the death of a Minneapolis man at the hands of police, but cautioned against the sort of violent protest and looting that occurred in Birmingham early Monday morning. 

Ivey also authorized the Alabama National Guard to active up to 1,000 guardsmen as a “preparedness measure” but said there was no immediate need to deploy them. 

In her statement, Ivey hints at outsiders from other states who seek to ratchet up the violence, but she doesn’t outright say that’s what happened in Birmingham early Monday morning, when some burned businesses, attempted to tear down one Confederate monument, tore down another and attacked several reporters. There has been no publicized evidence that the violence was caused by people from outside Alabama, however. 

“Like so many others throughout the country and around the world, I, too, was shocked and angered by the tragic actions that led to the senseless death of George Floyd last week in Minneapolis. It is a death that should have never happened, and it is a tragedy for which that too many people, especially African Americans, are all too familiar,” Ivey said in a statement. “Regretfully, the natural anger and frustration of Mr. Floyd’s death has now spread to our state and what started out as peaceful protests in some of our cities yesterday afternoon turned ugly last night.” 

“While no state has a richer history than Alabama in terms of using peaceful protests to lead the country – and the world – to positive change, I agree with Alabama native, Congressman John Lewis, who this weekend said ‘rioting, looting and burning is not the way,’” Ivey continued. “Congressman Lewis marched alongside other Alabamians who would go on to become heroes of the movement.  They were young, brave and determined.  Many were beaten, arrested and jailed.  But they all — Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. Ralph David Abernathy, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, attorney and civil rights activist Fred Gray and others – led the fight for change in a peaceful way.” 

“I will always support the right of the people of Alabama to peacefully lift your voices in anger and frustration. After all, our great country was born out of the desire to be free and the desire for freedom has repeatedly led to making positive change for the betterment of society,” Ivey said. “However, we will not allow our cities to become a target for those, especially from other states, who choose to use violence and destruction to make their point. What I saw happen last night in Birmingham was unbecoming of all those who have worked to make Birmingham the great city it is.  Going forward, this cannot be tolerated. State assets are available to any local government that makes the request. We will show respect to ourselves and to each other through this process.”

A separate press release from Ivey’s office states that the authorization to activate Alabama National Guardsmen “serves as a preparedness measure, should local and state law enforcement need additional support.” 

“While there is no immediate need for us to deploy our Guard, I have given authorization to Adjutant General Sheryl Gordon to be on standby, should our local and state law enforcement need additional support,” Ivey said in a statement. 

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“The Alabama National Guard stands ready to assist when peaceful protests become violent and dangerous to our public safety,” Ivey continues. “I will always support the right of the people of Alabama to peacefully lift your voices in anger and frustration. However, we will not allow our cities to become a target for those, especially from other states, who choose to use violence and destruction to make their point.”

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin on Monday declared a state of emergency and announced a citywide curfew in response to the violence hours before. He said Birmingham police will be enforcing the curfew beginning Monday, but said there was no immediate need for additional assistance from the Alabama National Guard. 

“I’ve been in constant contact with the governor’s chief of staff. As of now, there will be no activating the National Guard,” Woodfin told reporters during a press conference Monday.

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Governor

Governor awards grants for bulletproof vests

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Gov. Kay Ivey has awarded grants totaling $46,960 to help state law enforcement agencies and the University of Alabama Police Department equip officers with new bulletproof vests. 

“Making sure our state’s law enforcement officers have updated protective equipment is vital to increasing officer safety,” Gov. Ivey said. “I am pleased to assist these agencies in their efforts to provide up-to-date models of protective vests.”

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is using $27,783 to purchase new bulletproof vests for state troopers across Alabama.

Grant funds of $12,490 will enable the Alabama Department of Corrections to purchase bulletproof vests for officers in the department’s K-9 Unit.

The University of Alabama is using a $6,687 grant to purchase new bulletproof vests for university police.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the grants from funds made available by the U.S. Department of Justice. “ADECA joins Gov. Ivey in support of our state’s police and corrections officers,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said. “These grants will assist these three groups in their efforts to make the jobs of our law enforcement officers safer.”

ADECA manages a wide range of programs that support law enforcement, economic development, infrastructure upgrades, recreation, energy conservation, water resources management and career development.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Marsh hurls accusations at Gov. Ivey. Is he barking mad?

Bill Britt

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Appearing on the latest edition of Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” Sen. President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, blamed Gov. Kay Ivey for the loss of some 450,000 jobs in Alabama.

It’s an absurd accusation that any thinking Alabamian knows is a lie. But Marsh wants to hurt Ivey because she exposed him as little more than a petty, greedy-gut politico.

Still stinging from the public humiliation he suffered after Ivey revealed his “wish list” — which included taking $200 million in COVID-19 relief money to build a new State House — Marsh is leveling a cascade of recriminations against the popular governor.

However, what is astonishing is that he would spew brazen lies about Ivey during raging loss and uncertainty caused by a worldwide pandemic. This latest fiction about Ivey creating widespread economic calamity is the unseemly work of a hollow man without empathy, wisdom or decency.

This insane assertion that Ivey is somehow responsible for thousands suffering is as cravenly evil as it is politically stupid.

“The policies that have been put in place by the [Ivey] administration have 450,000 people out of work,” Marsh told show host Don Daily.

Only a fool, a nutjob or a politician would blame Ivey for losing some 450,000 jobs, but there was Marsh, on public television, showing he is perhaps all three.

In the middle of his barking-mad comments, Marsh somehow forgot to mention that he was a member of Ivey’s Executive Committee on the COVID-19 task force and helped make the very policies he now claims led to joblessness and financial ruin for many Alabamians.

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Marsh is merely making it up as he goes because his fragile ego, pompous character and rank inhumanity suddenly became fully displayed for every Alabamian to see when he doubled down on building a new State House.

And so, like a guy caught with his pants down, Marsh is pointing his finger at Ivey to distract from his naked indifference toward the struggles of his fellow Alabamians.

Marsh’s plan to spend the CARES Act funds on a State House and other pet projects ignored the sufferings of hundreds of thousands of the state’s most vulnerable citizens and businesses.

Ivey wanted the nearly $1.9 billion in CARES funds to go to help those individuals, businesses and institutions affected by COVID-19. Marsh wanted it as a Senate piggybank, so, he lashes out at her rather than reflect on how he and the State Senate could do better in the future.

Anyone who blames others for their failings is a weakling, not a leader.

Marsh came to power under a scheme hatched around 2008, by then-Gov. Bob Riley. The plan was to make Mike Hubbard the speaker of the House, Marsh as pro tem and Bradley Byrne as governor. Riley would act as the shadow puppet master pulling the strings of power from behind a thin curtain of secrecy, allowing him to make untold riches without public accountability.

Byrne losing the governor’s race to the hapless State Rep. Dr. Doctor Robert Bentley was the first glitch in the plan (yes, during the 2010 campaign for governor, Bentley changed his name to Doctor Robert Julian Bentley so the title Doctor would appear next to his name on the primary ballot).

The second problem for the venture was Hubbard’s avarice, which landed him on the wrong side of the ethics laws he, Riley, Byrne and Marsh championed. Of course, the ethics laws were never meant to apply to them. They were designed to trap Democrats.

Marsh has floundered since Hubbard’s grand departure and with Riley sinking further into the background, it is now apparent that Riley was the brains, Hubbard the muscle and Marsh the errand boy, picking up bags of cash to finance the operation.

Gofers rarely rise to power without the public noticing they’re not quite up for the job, and so it is with Marsh that his office has shown the limits of his abilities.

Marsh wanted to control the COVID-19 relief money to spend on pork projects as he’d done in the past, but Ivey didn’t allow it. To be outsmarted is one thing, but to be beaten by a woman is too much for a guy like Marsh.

Ivey burned Marsh like a girl scout roasting marshmallows over a campfire.

Senator Marshmallow, anyone?

Poor Marsh, with his political career in turmoil, picked the wrong target in Ivey.

Some look at Ivey and see a kind, grandmotherly figure. Ivey is as tough as a junkyard dog, and now Marsh knows what her bite feels like.

Ivey didn’t cause massive job losses. COVID-19 did that. But Marsh got his feelings hurt, bless his heart, so he wants to take Ivey down.

Just like his scheme to commandeer the COVID-19 funds from the people didn’t work, his attack on Ivey won’t either.

People see Marsh for what he is, and it’s neither strong nor competent; it’s weak and ineffectual.

Marsh stood behind Ivey when she announced the state’s health orders wearing an American flag style mask.

He voted for her executive amendment.

And now he lies.

In times of real crisis, true leaders emerge while others of lesser abilities whine. Marsh is complaining. Ivey is leading.

And so the public watches as The Masked Marshmallow takes on Iron-jawed Ivey. It’s not tricky to see how this cage match turns out.

Marshmallow, down in three.

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Alabama AG warns against nursing homes taking stimulus checks

Eddie Burkhalter

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Alabama’s top law enforcement officer on Friday warned against nursing homes intercepting federal stimulus payments to long-term care residents who are Medicaid recipients, but the state’s Nursing Home Association says it’s not aware that is happening, and it hasn’t been contacted by the Alabama Attorney General’s Office over the matter. 

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall in a press release Friday said that federal stimulus checks from the CARES Act cannot be seized by nursing homes to pay for care. 

“We are now beginning to receive a few reports of concern that some Alabama nursing homes may be attempting to take stimulus checks from residents who are Medicaid recipients. If this is happening, it needs to stop now,” Marshall said in a statement. “These stimulus checks are rightfully and legally the property of the residents and must be returned. Confiscation of these checks is unlawful and should be reported to my office.”

Mike Lewis, spokesman for the state Attorney General’s Office, in a message to APR on Friday said that all concerns reported to the office will be reviewed and investigated.

“There have been four such reports thus far,” Lewis said in the message.

Alabama Nursing Home Association President Brandon Farmer in a separate press release Friday said that since the federal government’s announcement of the stimulus payment, the association advised members that any stimulus payment deposited to the accounts of nursing home residents was not to be used to reimburse the facility “and is the sole property of the residents.”

“We urge Attorney General Steve Marshall to let us know if he has any reports of diversion of residents’ stimulus payments so that we may clarify any misunderstanding that may exist,” Farmer said. “At this time, we are unaware of any facility where such diversion is occurring.

Farmer said the association has encouraged Marshall to contact them any time he has a concern about nursing homes, or has information he wants to pass along to our members.

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“As we have done throughout this pandemic, we stand ready to work with local, state and federal leaders to support Alabama’s nursing home residents and employees,” Farmer said.

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