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A mother fights for hands free legislation

Brandon Moseley

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Wednesday, Michelle Lunsford was at the Alabama Statehouse to urge legislators to pass legislation that would make it illegal to operate a motor vehicle with a cell phone in your hands.

“On February 22, 2018, my daughter, Camryn Callaway, was driving on I-65,” Mrs. Lunsford told the Alabama Political Reporter. “She was on her phone recording a happy birthday message to her friend. An eighteen wheeler (truck) stopped in front of her. She slammed on her brakes too late. She went right underneath it. She was my only child.”

“Since then I have been speaking about the dangers of distracted driving,” Lunsford said. “I have purchased a billboard on I-65 to bring awareness. If there had been more awareness, maybe she would be alive today.”

“All of her friends said that she did not text and drive,” Lunsford said. I went through her messages and I found this unusual google activity and saw the happy birthday message that was recorded. It was the last thing she ever did.

APR asked, “If this had been in effect, would your daughter have followed the law?”

“She was following the laws,” Lunsford said. “It is currently weak and unenforceable,” Lunsford said.

Lunsford spoke before the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee urging them to pass House Bill 6. HB6 is sponsored by state Representative Allen Farley, R-McCalla. It would make it illegal to drive the vehicle while holding your phone. You would still be able to have phone conversations while you drive, but it would require a handsfree device.

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Lunsford said that the law would be, “A step for our roads to be safer.”
State Senator Jim McClendon, R-Springville, is sponsoring similar legislation in the Senate, SB1.

The bills do include exceptions for law enforcement and first responders, and for using your phone as a navigational device.

“Under this proposed new law, drivers may make calls, but must use voice activation, and CANNOT touch their phone,” Sen. McClendon said on social media. “Georgia law went into effect last July and are reporting a reduction in crashes.”

McClendon fought for years to get the legislature to ban texting and driving, but now feels that that law is too difficult to enforce and has not been as effective as he would have liked.

“The problem with the current no-texting law is enforcement,” Sen. McClendon said. “Texting illegal; entering phone number legal. Hard for law enforcement to know the difference. With this bill, if they have the phone in their hand, they are breaking the law. As currently written, $100 first offense, $150 second, $200 third. Plus points that will be reported to the insurance carrier, and court costs. First offense is forgiven if proof of purchase of proper equipment is presented to a judge. It will not be cheap, and should be much easier to enforce.”

In May of last year, the Georgia legislature passed legislation making it illegal for motorists to hold their phones while driving in the state of Georgia. The sweeping hands-free law went into effect in July also banned even reading from a phone or using it to record video, which is what killed Miss Callaway. Those caught breaking the rules in Georgia, even tapping “play” on a Spotify playlist while not parked, face a $50 fine, which doubles upon their second offense.

The Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee gave a favorable report for HB6.

The bill can now be considered by the full House. There was no opposition.
Several members of law enforcement spoke in favor of the bill.

The Senate version, SB1, is still awaiting action by the Senate Judiciary committee.

Rep. Farley said that Camryn’s tragic death is what motivated him to sponsor the bill. Farley’s grandchildren knew Camryn.

Farley amended the bill to name if for Camryn Callaway.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Senate pro tem requests general fund committee begin hearings in July

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Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, announced today that he has asked Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee Chairman Greg Albritton, R-Range, to begin holding General Fund Committee meetings in preparation for the next session.

In an effort to be better prepared because of uncertainty in state revenue as a result of COVID-19 pandemic Senator Albritton has agreed with Senator Marsh and has invited Legislative Services, the Department of Finance, Pardons and Paroles, Corrections and the Personnel Department to provide updates to the committee.

“Typically, we begin this process closer to sessions however because of uncertainty about state income and possibility of special sessions, we felt like it was important to get started much earlier than usual in this process,” Senator Albritton said. “The Legislature has done an excellent job managing our budgets over the past few years. So much so that Alabama was able to weather the storm of the COVID-19 shutdown this year with little impact to our vital state services. We understand that we will not have final revenue projections until after July 15th, but we must continue to do our due diligence and ensure that we use taxpayer money sensibly.”

“We want to make sure that all public money is being used wisely, now and in the future,” Senator Marsh said. “We have many pressing issues facing the state such as a potential $2 billion-dollar prison reform proposal and a stunning lack of rural broadband investment which need to be addressed whenever the Legislature is back in session and it is our duty to make sure we are prepared and kept up to speed on these matters. Furthermore, the taxpayers deserve a clear and transparent view of how their money is being used.”

The hearings are scheduled to begin July 9 in the Alabama State House.

 

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Part-time employee in lieutenant governor’s office tests positive for COVID-19

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A part-time employee in Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth’s office, who the office said works only a handful of hours each week, tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, according to a press statement.

The employee, whose work area is separated from the rest of the staff, last worked in the office on the morning of Thursday, June 18.

All members of the office staff have been tested or are in the process of being tested for COVID-19 in response, and, thus far, no additional positive results have been reported.

In addition, the State House suite has been thoroughly cleaned and will remain closed until all employees’ test results have been returned.

Employees are working remotely from home, and phones are being answered in order to continue providing services to the citizens who need them.

 

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Three workers at ADOC headquarters among latest to test positive for COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter

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Sixteen more Alabama Department of Corrections employees, including three at the department’s headquarters in Montgomery, have tested positive for COVID-19. 

The department’s latest update, released Monday evening, puts the total of confirmed cases among employees at 99, with 73 cases still active. 

Five more inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 as well, including inmates at the Donaldson Correctional Facility, the Easterling Correctional Facility, the Kilby Correctional Facility, the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women and the St. Clair Correctional Facility.

18 of 27 confirmed cases among inmates remained active as of Monday, according to ADOC. 

Of the department’s 28 facilities, there have been confirmed COVID-19 cases among staff or inmates in 21. Of the state’s approximately 22,000 inmates, 214 had been tested as of Friday. 

Areas inside numerous state prisons are under quarantine, with ADOC staff either limiting inmate movements to those areas or checking for symptoms regularly and conducting twice daily temperature checks, according to the department.

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Still work to be done on an Alabama gambling deal

Josh Moon

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A grand deal on gambling is possible in Alabama, but there’s still a long way to go. 

That was essentially the message that representatives from the Poarch Creek Indians and owners of non-Indian casinos around the state gave Friday to Gov. Kay Ivey’s Study Group on Gambling Policy. The 12-member group heard presentations, via Zoom, from representatives from all the tracks and casinos in the state, as it continues in its quest to put together a proposal that Ivey and state lawmakers can use to hopefully craft future gambling legislation. 

To move forward with almost any legislation will require an agreement of some sort between PCI, Lewis Benefield, who operates VictoryLand and the Birmingham Race Course, and Nat Winn, the CEO of GreeneTrack. The owners of smaller electronic bingo halls in Greene and Lowndes Counties will also have some input. 

The tug of war between these various entities has, over the last several years, prevented an expansion of gambling. It also has left the state in a weird situation in which casinos are operating on a daily basis but there are numerous legal questions and the state is making very little in the way of tax dollars from any of them. 

But with public support for lotteries, sportsbooks and even full casino gambling at all-time highs (even a majority of Republican voters surveyed said they support full casinos in the state), and with neighboring states rapidly expanding offerings, state lawmakers seem ready to push through legislation to make it happen. 

And now, it seems, the two sides in this fight — PCI and the track owners — are ready to make a deal. 

“I feel like there’s a plan out there that would benefit all of us,” said Benefield, who is the son-in-law of Milton McGregor, who passed away in 2018. “I’d like to see us put together something that gets these customers back from surrounding states. I just really feel like we can work together.”

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Benefield wasn’t alone in those feelings. 

“We stand ready to sit down and talk (about a grand deal) with anyone,” said Arthur Mothershed, who, as vice president of business development for PCI, handled the tribe’s presentation on Friday. 

Mothershed and Benefield have each said previously, and APR has reported, that the tribe and the non-Indian entities have held several discussions over the last few months in a quest to work out a deal. 

There is a new, old player involved, however. 

Former Gov. Jim Folsom, now a lobbyist, represented several Greene County electronic bingo entities, including GreeneTrack, during the conference. Folsom and others representing the bingo casinos told the group that bingo is essentially the financial lifeblood for their county, and that without it multiple county services could go unfunded. 

Ivey’s study group has met four times with the goal of providing state lawmakers with clear answers on questions of revenue, risks and options for gaming types. Any legislation approved by lawmakers would have to be approved by voters.

 

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