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Ivey announces McFarland Boulevard expansion in Tuscaloosa

Brandon Moseley

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Gov. Kay Ivey announced Monday that the Alabama Department of Transportation is purchasing the right of way for the expansion of McFarland Boulevard in Tuscaloosa from State Route 69 to Rice Mine Road, as part of the Rebuild Alabama First Year Plan 2020.

“Enhancing this particular section of US 82 will provide safer and more efficient travel on one of Alabama’s busiest four-lane roads,” Ivey said. “Tuscaloosa is a city known for how it has rebuilt itself, and with these necessary infrastructure projects, we will see this area thrive even more. Tuscaloosa and the surrounding areas will certainly have a better future for it.”

Each day, more than 50,000 trips are made on the main east/west corridor through the growing college town. Expanding McFarland Boulevard is another step in the cooperative effort between the Tuscaloosa County Road Improvement Commission and ALDOT to meet the transportation needs of Tuscaloosa. This is a two-phase project. Following the acquisition in the first year, construction will begin in the second year.

“I would like to thank Gov. Ivey for her leadership to help our state improve its public safety, offer a better quality of life for our citizens and provide opportunities for future prosperity,” said State Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa. “This infrastructure investment will have a positive impact for not only ourselves, but also our children and grandchildren. Tuscaloosa and the surroundings areas will benefit greatly from this project on Highway 82.”

Bill Poole was the sponsor of the Rebuild Alabama Act.

At the urging of Ivey, the state Legislature passed a massive increase in fuel taxes that will go into effect over three years, beginning on Oct.r 1. The Rebuild Alabama Act received overwhelming bipartisan support in the Alabama Legislature.

“Gov. Ivey’s Rebuild Alabama Act passed with bipartisan support because job creation requires roads and bridges with the capacity to connect the present to the future,” said Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox. “Tuscaloosa appreciates the governor’s leadership in securing this critical investment in the First Year Plan, and we look forward to working with her in strengthening our city.”

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Beginning in January, state, county and municipal governments in Alabama will begin to see the additional revenue from the fuel tax increase, which will raise the price of fuel across Alabama 6 cents per gallon. Once the 10-cent increase is fully implemented in 2021, Tuscaloosa County will receive an additional $2.28 million, on top of what they already receive, to be used for various transportation infrastructure projects.

Spending more money on road and bridge projects and building new prisons has been the focus of the Ivey administration following her inauguration to her own term in January.

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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Bill Britt

Opinion | Prisons, justice reform and the art of the possible

Politics is bound by the art of what’s possible. It is also true that those who never dare the impossible rarely achieve even the possible.

Bill Britt

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(STOCK PHOTO)

For years, prison reform advocates, media outlets and even a few public officials have called for new correctional facilities to address Alabama’s dangerously overcrowded prisons.

Now that it’s happening, some aren’t happy with how Gov. Kay Ivey is addressing the problem.

Is the Ivey Administration’s plan perfect? No. But building new facilities along with criminal justice reform — while all imperfect — is the last best hope to correct generations of cruel treatment, endangered correctional officers and corrupt practices.

German chancellor and statesman Otto von Bismarck said “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best,” this is the state of a workable solution to Alabama’s prison needs and criminal justice reform.

Yet, there is a concerted effort underway to stop the Ivey Administration from acquiring three new men’s prisons under a build-lease agreement.

Some lawmakers want another crack at financing additional facilities through a bond issue, and others want more say in the process. Still, the fact is that Ivey’s actions are the result of decades of legislative indifference and inaction to adequately address the appalling conditions at Alabama’s correctional facilities.

Even some advocates are working against the prison plan and while their intentions may be good it seem to their hand wringing is almost as disingenuous as lawmakers whining.

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What’s worse are those who spread disinformation to discredit process.

Many good people have worked hard to bring about an end to the state’s barbaric prison system and unfair justice, but lately it seems there is an outright movement to derail much needed change— simply because it’s not enough. As the saying goes, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

There have been so many false claims and sly manipulations of facts about the prison plan as to make even a hardened journalist want to cry “fake news.”

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But as for Ivey, frankly, my dears, I don’t think she gives a damn.

Here’s the hard truth. The Ivey Administration is building three new men’s prisons, and nothing will stop it. The fact is that three prisons are not enough; the administration should move forward to build a new women’s facility as soon as practicable.

Politics is bound by the art of what’s possible. It is also true that those who never dare the impossible rarely achieve even the possible.

Failing to recognize when the once impossible is coming to fruition is a sad reality. Still, in politics, as in life, good things happen while most people are navel-gazing or complaining.

Having visited three state prisons, St. Clair, Elmore, and Tutwiler, I can say without a doubt, the conditions in those places are a living hell.

A report from the U.S. Department of Justice released in April 2019, found “reasonable cause to believe that Alabama fails to provide constitutionally adequate conditions and that prisoners experience serious harm, including deadly harm, as a result.”

DOJ’s investigation revealed that prisoners were susceptible to “an enormous breath” of sexual abuse and assault but other types of violence as well, including gruesome murder and beatings that went without intervention.

When the state incarcerates a criminal, it assumes custodial care for that individual. No matter how heinous the crime or foul the person, the state has an obligation to feed, clothe, house and provide essential human services for their care and welfare. Another element is often overlooked; when a person is committed to prison, they lose their freedom, not their humanity. Therefore, under the law, they cannot be subject to cruel and unusual punishment.

Building three new men’s prisons is just the start; it must be accompanied by criminal justice reform.

“We are able to have a serious discussion about prison reform in Alabama because we have a governor who is serious about putting solutions into place,” Ivey’s press secretary Gina Maiola recently told APR. “Prison infrastructure is a key part of the equation, but criminal justice reform is also needed,” Maiola said.

By executive order on July 18, 2019, Ivey established the Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy. The Study Group released its findings on Jan 31, 2020.

The Study Group entered its mission with one pressing question; “What policies and programs can the State of Alabama implement to ensure the long-term sustainability of our prison system without jeopardizing public safety?” according to Supernumerary Associate Supreme Court Justice Champ Lyons, Jr., who led the effort.

In a letter to Ivey on the Study Groups finding, Lyons wrote [T]he challenges facing our prison system are exceedingly complex—ranging from the elimination of contraband weapons and drugs to the recruitment, retention, and training of correctional staff to the size of the inmate population and to the physical condition of an aging and far-flung prison infrastructure.” He further wrote, “But having thought through many of these issues with my Study Group colleagues, especially our legislative members, I can report to you that some meaningful answers to this question are not just possible; they are within our grasp.”

Prisons without justice reform is a hollow victory, and the Ivey Administration is committed to bringing about reasonable reforms.

“Prison infrastructure is a key part of the equation,” said Maiola, “but criminal justice reform is also needed.”

The issues facing Alabama’s prisons and criminal justice system are complex, and generations in the making; therefore, arriving at a universally acceptable solution is not imaginable for the moment if ever. But what once seemed impossible is soon to be realized.

No one gets everything they want, but it’s a great step toward getting what is needed simply because it’s possible.

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Federal judge refuses to temporarily block governor’s mask order

Following the issuing of those orders, the state saw noticeable drops in both COVID-19 positive cases and deaths.

Josh Moon

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Gov. Kay Ivey held a Coronavirus update Press Conference Wednesday September 30, 2020 in Montgomery, Ala. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

A federal judge on Wednesday denied a petition for a temporary restraining order that would have blocked Gov. Kay Ivey’s statewide mask ordinance and a prohibition on large, non-work gatherings.

U.S District Court Judge Keith Watkins said, essentially, that the plaintiffs in the case had waited too long to file the request. In his order, Watkins said that a key component in determining the necessity of a TRO is “a need for speedy and urgent action to protect a plaintiff’s rights” while the case as a whole works its way through the legal system. 

The seven plaintiffs in this case, Watkins noted, didn’t file their complaint until late last month — some five months after the initial ban on large gatherings was issued in May and two months after Ivey, along with State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, issued the mask ordinance. 

The time discrepancy, Watkins said, indicated that there was no “imminent irreparable harm” that could come to the plaintiffs without immediate action. 

“Plaintiffs waited an impermissible amount of time to seek … a temporary restraining order,” Watkins wrote. 

The lawsuit specifically challenges Ivey’s and Harris’s authority to issue health orders that ban all non-work gatherings of more than 25 people, order certain businesses and houses of worship temporarily closed and require that people in public areas in the state wear facial coverings. The plaintiffs claim the orders violate their constitutional rights, specifically their First, Fifth and 14th Amendment rights.

Following the issuing of those orders, the state saw noticeable drops in both COVID-19 positive cases and deaths. So far, the state has more than 140,000 cases and nearly 2,500 deaths.  

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The lawsuit will move forward, with attorneys for Ivey and Harris expected to file a motion to dismiss in the coming days. 

Former Alabama chief justice Roy Moore is representing the plaintiffs.

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Gov. Kay Ivey didn’t cave

Ivey stood her ground on Wednesday, refusing to cave to those who want to end the mask order.

Bill Britt

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Gov. Kay Ivey held a Coronavirus update Press Conference Wednesday September 30, 2020 in Montgomery, Ala. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

Gov. Kay Ivey extended the statewide mandatory mask ordinance on Wednesday despite pressure from her party’s right-wing. Nationally and here in Alabama, many Republicans have complained that any restrictions on their behavior during the COVID-19 outbreak is a violation of their individual liberty.

Ivey stood her ground on Wednesday, refusing to cave to those who want to end the mask order. For most of the COVID-19 pandemic here in the state, Ivey has followed health experts’ advice rather than politicos. Standing up to the Republican Party’s right-wing is not an easy task even in the best of times, but these days, with the party more radicalized than ever, Ivey is taking a huge political risk.

But like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, she hasn’t bowed, she hasn’t bent, and she hasn’t burned.

These are divisive times when even the best of people seem to be at war over the nation’s direction.

“Give me liberty or give me death” may have been a great rallying cry in 1776; it’s less persuasive as a public health policy.

Lately, some Alabama conservatives sound more like the John Birch Society members than the Republican Party of just a few years ago.

“In the name of fighting the coronavirus, more and more state governors are ruling by decree, curtailing freedoms and ordering residents to stay at home,” says the Birch website.

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The Republican Party in the 1960s deemed Birchers dangerous and severed ties with the group. But like 60s racism, Red-baiting and a fear that socialist are lurking behind every corner, all that’s old is new again.

Not surprisingly, former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore is one of the leading voices in the fight to discredit the Ivey administration’s COVID orders.

Senate President Pro Tem Republican Del Marsh is part of the anti-masker movement and has suggested he’d like to see more people become infected to build the state’s overall immunity to the virus.

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Marsh is certainly not alone; there is a motivated mop of miscreants who sees any restriction as an affront to them doing anything they please. Perhaps they can refuse to wear a seatbelt or maybe light up a cigar the next time they are dinning at the county club and show some real radical resistance.

The truth is many of those who condemn masks as an intrusion on personal freedom would happily compel their fellow citizens to pray at school and stand for the national anthem. They are more than willing to regulate liberties when it contradicts their opinion of what is good and wholesome. But heaven forbid they wear a mask to protect others—that is one regulation too far.

Like a pubescent boy, they live in a fantasy world; without consequences.

Anti-maskers are given to a form of herd mentality, which is part of a broader movement to discredit science for political purposes.

Perhaps the most critical job of a governor or lawmaker is the heath and safety of the public.

Masks protect others more than the wearer, and where the “Golden rule” should apply, it is trampled on just like Jesus’ admonition to love our neighbors as ourselves.

But I suspect that many of those who continuously espouse conspiracies, apocalyptic nightmares, and end time prophecies actually don’t like themselves very much and therefore don’t really care about the shared responsibilities we have toward others.

Writing for Business Insider, George Pearkes explains the four different types of liberty, according to David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed to explain mandatory mask orders.

“Efforts to require masks are a straightforward expression of ordered liberty,” writes Pearkes. “The concept of ordered liberty argues that without structure and a set of rules which are enforced for the common good, society would devolve into chaos.” He further concludes that “Mask orders are quite literally saving society from itself, so that we can be more free than we would if COVID spread even further and faster.”

Ordered liberty can be seen at the heart of Ivey’s policies during the coronavirus plague.

But for anti-maskers, “Live Free or Die” means they are free to do what they want, even if it kills you.

Ivey is putting people ahead of politics. We should wish more would follow her example.

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Governor issues apology to surviving victim of 1963 Birmingham church bombing

The victims “most certainly deserve a sincere, heartfelt apology — an apology that I extend today without hesitation or reservation,” Ivey wrote.  

Eddie Burkhalter

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Sarah Collins Rudolph

Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday sent a written apology to the surviving victim of the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, and agreed to have the state’s attorneys meet with the survivor’s attorney to discuss their desire for compensation. 

The surviving victim, Sarah Collins Rudolph, and those who died, including Rudolph’s sister, Addie Mae, and Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carole Denise McNair, suffered an egregious injustice that has yielded untold pain and suffering over the ensuing decades, Ivey wrote in her letter to Rudolph’s attorney, Ishan Bhaba. 

“For that, they most certainly deserve a sincere, heartfelt apology — an apology that I extend today without hesitation or reservation,” Ivey wrote.  

“It would seem to me that beginning these conversations — without prejudice for what any final outcome might produce but with a goal of finding mutual accord — would be a natural extension of my Administration’s ongoing efforts to foster fruitful conversations about the all-too-difficult — and sometimes painful — topic of race, a conversation occurring not only in Alabama but throughout America,” Ivey continued. 

The explosion set off by Klansman on Sunday, Sept. 15, 1963, that killed the four young Black girls left Rudolph blind in her right eye. Bhaba wrote to Ivey earlier this month and asked on behalf of Rudolph for an apology and compensation for her lifelong injury. Her injury ended her dream of becoming a nurse, and so she’s worked odd jobs throughout her life to survive, Rudolph has said in several news accounts. 

Ivey in her response Wednesday wrote that many would question whether the state was legally responsible for the bombing, but that “the racist, segregationist rhetoric used by some of our leaders during that time was wrong and would be utterly unacceptable in today’s Alabama.” 

The deaths of the young girls came at a time when Alabama politicians were fighting against desegregation of the state’s public schools. Then Alabama Gov. George Wallace in May, just more than a week before the bombings, told The New York Times that “what this country needs is a few first-class funerals.” 

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Twelve years after the bombing, one of the Klansmen responsible was convicted of killing one of the girls and sentenced to life in prison. 

Then-U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, 24 years later, secured convictions of two other Klansmen involved in the bombing. 

Jones, now a U.S. Senator for Alabama, met with Rudolph’s attorneys in December, according to The Montgomery Advertiser, which quoted Jones as saying in a statement at the time that he didn’t feel it was in his place to offer her legal advice. 

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“I did, however, confirm my belief based on my own research for the trials of two of the four Klansmen responsible for the bombing, that the State of Alabama, through George Wallace and others, and the city of Birmingham through Bull Connor and others, engaged in the kind of dog-whistle political rhetoric that promoted violence and led to the bombing,” Jones said in the statement, according to the newspaper.

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