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Coalition commends passage of bill to lower the age of truck drivers

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The Business Council of Alabama along with the Alabama Beverage Association, the Alabama Farmers Federation, the Alabama Retail Association, the Alabama Rural Electric Association of Cooperatives (AREA), the Alabama Trucking Association, Alabama’s chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), and Manufacture Alabama praised the members of the Alabama Legislature today for passage of legislation to lower the age to 18 to obtain a commercial driver’s license.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Dexter Grimsley, R-Abbeville, will create thousands of new jobs and will allow Alabama businesses that rely on trucks to move their goods or equipment to better compete with surrounding states that do not have the same age restrictions. Sen. Donnie Chesteen, R-Geneva, carried the companion bill in the Senate.

“It is a workforce development bill, plain and simple,” said BCA President and CEO Katie Boyd Britt. This commonsense legislation will open the door of opportunity for young adults who are looking to find a good paying job, and at the same time, it addresses a dire need for Alabama businesses that rely on trucks to move their products. I applaud Rep. Grimsley and Sen. Chesteen for their leadership in this effort.”

The current age restriction bars anyone under the age of 21 from operating the standard tractor-trailer combination in Alabama. Many are lost to other industries by the time they reach the age of 21. Currently, Alabama is one of only two states that restricts a Class A commercial driver’s license to those who are 21 years or older.

“Alabama’s beverage industry relies heavily upon able CDL drivers to deliver our products to customers across the state,” said Alabama Beverage Association Executive Director Virginia Banister. “The shortage of these drivers continues to be a challenge to our business, and we are hopeful that this new law will create a pathway to qualify more drivers and broaden the pool of eligible hires for some very good paying jobs in the state of Alabama.”

All new drivers must meet training and testing guidelines set forth by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, and drivers ages 18-21 may not operate a commercial motor vehicle transporting hazardous material.

“Our country is facing a severe shortage of truckers,” said Federation President Jimmy Parnell. “This impacts the ability of farmers and forest landowners to get equipment and supplies in a timely manner as well as market their products. This legislation is a step in the right direction and will benefit all families, businesses and industries.”

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 24-0 on Wednesday. The House previously had passed the bill by a vote of 96-1.

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“This legislation will give highly trained utility workers who don’t meet an arbitrary age requirement to be able to perform vital services on our electric grid,” said Sean Strickler, vice president of public affairs for AREA. “Alabama’s electric cooperatives strive to keep the power on all the time but unfortunately in rare instances it goes out and this legislation will get it restored even faster than we do now.”

“This legislation is a win-win for motor carriers, shippers and consumers,” said Alabama Trucking Association President and CEO Frank Filgo. “The ongoing truck driver shortage, now estimated to be more than 60,000 nationally, is a burden to the economy. With the passage of this bill, additional drivers will help advance long-term, sustainable profitability for Alabama motor carriers and suppliers.”

“One of the greatest challenges facing Alabama’s small businesses today is finding qualified workers,” said Rosemary Elebash, NFIB’s state director for Alabama. “This legislation is going to help small businesses fill critical jobs and create new opportunities for young adults just entering the workforce. It’s a win-win.”

“The shortage of truck drivers has become increasingly challenging for manufacturers,” said Manufacture Alabama President George Clark. “It costs manufacturers a lot of money every time a shipment of raw materials is not delivered and every time a product does not leave the plant on time. This is a commonsense measure that is good for industry in Alabama.”

 

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Alabama exploring empty hotels to bolster hospital bed capacity

Chip Brownlee

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Gov. Kay Ivey said on a conference with lawmakers and state officials Monday that the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are considering using hotels, especially in Alabama’s large metro areas, to expand hospital bed capacity.

The discussions come as public health experts warn that hospitals could face a surge in patients as the coronavirus pandemic spreads in Alabama and hospitals begin reporting more hospitalizations.

“The governor continues to explore all options to combat COVID-19,” the governor’s press secretary, Gina Maiola, said when APR asked about the plans. “A decision has not been finalized, but her priority remains focused on the health, safety and well-being of all Alabamians.”

On the conference call Monday, Ivey told lawmakers that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is visiting the city’s major metro areas to study facilities that could be used to provide extra hospital bed capacity if a surge in patients materializes, according to several lawmakers and elected officials who were on the call.

Ivey said on the call that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is looking at ways it can contract with empty hotels to expand hospital bed capacity quickly to avoid an overwhelming of the state’s medical facilities with COVID-19 patients.

The Corps of Engineers is surveying potential sites in Tuscaloosa County, Lee County, Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery and Huntsville. The discussions seem to mirror a nationwide plan being discussed by leaders of the Army Corps of Engineers.

It’s not clear when any of these popup hospitals could be functional in Alabama. More information or some kind of report on the possibility of using the hotels is expected by the end of the week, lawmakers who listened to the call said. But that would only be the first step of the process.

States across the country are looking at hotels — largely empty during the economic shutdown — as potential venues to bolster bed capacity. Washington purchased motels to add bed capacity early on its outbreak. The Army Corps of Engineers, according to McClatchy, explored using hotels in New York City.

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The Corps then played a large role in New York, setting up a number of temporary hospitals at convention centers, colleges and other sites in the city, which is now the epicenter of a national outbreak.

The commanding general of the Army Corps of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, told Fox News that residents of other parts of the country can expect to see pop-up field hospitals like those appearing in New York City.

The hotels, officials said, would be the easiest to convert into extra hospital bed capacity because there are already individual bathrooms for each room and often air conditioning and heat for each individual room.

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Health

State health department confirms 13 COVID-19 deaths

Chip Brownlee

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The Alabama Department of Public Health, after investigations into causes of death, has confirmed 13 COVID-19 deaths in the state. The department reported the deaths Tuesday morning.

Three deaths have been confirmed in Chambers County, two in Lee, two in Shelby, one in Jackson, one in Lauderdale, one in Mobile, one in Madison, one in Montgomery and one in Tallapoosa.

The department will continue investigating deaths to determine the primary cause of death.

East Alabama Medical Center over the weekend and on Monday reported seven deaths, including five in Chambers County and two in Lee County. Most of those, but not all, appear to have been confirmed by the state health department.

“In public health, we have to all make sure that we’re counting things the same way from state to state and we have fairly precise processes and definitions so that we all make sure that we are counting the same things,” state health officer Scott Harris said last week when asked about the state’s process for reporting deaths.

People might sometimes die from acute respiratory distress or cardiac arrest, but the primary cause of death must be determined before the state will report the death.

“It does take a little bit of time to review medical records to talk to people who were caring for that patient,” Harris said.

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Health

Department of Public Health says employee has tested positive for COVID-19

Chip Brownlee

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The Alabama Department of Public Health says that an employee at the state’s Bureau of Clinical Laboratories in Montgomery has tested positive for the virus.

The BCL is the main lab working on testing for the virus in the state, but ADPH says the individual had no interaction with others on the job and was not working on COVID-19 testing.

The ADPH said the employee tested positive after a laboratory test.

“The employee and staff working in close contact with the employee have been sent home for isolation,” the ADPH said in a statement. “In addition to the area where the employee worked, the entire building is being cleaned and disinfected according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regulations.”

ADPH has been taking proactive steps to reduce the risk of infection among its workforce, the department said in a statement.

“These steps have included encouraging sick employees to stay home, increasing the frequency of cleaning facilities, canceling meetings and staff travel, increasing the use of teleworking among staff, and encouraging social distancing and other preventive measures,” the department’s statement read.

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Opinion | The “mainstream media” has been right all along

Josh Moon

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The mainstream media is just blowing this whole coronavirus thing out of proportion!

Have you heard that one? Possibly from a guy standing behind a podium that has the presidential seal attached to it? Or from one of your friends or family members? Or maybe you believe it yourself. 

It’s all “the mainstream media,” the story goes. 

They’re the ones sensationalizing this virus that kills less people than car wrecks and seasonal flu. “The mainstream media” is whipping everyone into a frenzy, causing people to go buy up all the toilet paper and bottled water — all over a virus that has a 99-percent recovery rate. It’s the mainstream media’s fault that businesses are being closed and shelter-in-place orders are being needlessly issued by kneejerk politicians. 

Pfft. Stupid mainstream media. 

Except, one small thing: “The mainstream media” — whatever faceless, unidentifiable group of journalists to which you have assigned that designation — have been right. 

The mainstream folks who work for your local newspapers and TV stations and online news outlets, and for the major national outlets, such as the New York Times, Washington Post and others, have provided the public with incredibly accurate information about this virus. 

I don’t want to spend too much time singing our praises here, but APR is a perfect example of this. The collection of information compiled by our reporters has been better, more informative and far more accurate than even the information supplied by the Alabama Department of Public Health. I’ve heard personally from several lawmakers who check what they’re being told by the governor’s office and ADPH against what we’re reporting. 

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Other outlets in this state are doing similar work and providing their local communities with relevant, specific information and tells the story of this crisis in the places they live. 

The reason mainstream outlets have been so successful and accurate in telling this story is mostly because we’ve done nothing but quote and cite the comments and work of reputable, respected doctors and scientists. We have presented you with their projections, their analyses, their breakdowns and their advice. 

Back in early February, when President Pompous was telling everyone not to worry, that all is well and that soon we’d be “down to zero cases,” the mainstream media, citing doctors and health experts, told you that was crazy talk and that a real crisis was approaching this country. That soon we should expect a new normal. 

I think we know who was right about that one.  

As President My Uncle Was A Super-Genius was telling you that one day this will just disappear, the mainstream media was telling you to wash your hands, stay inside and avoid crowds. Because doing so could prevent a scenario in which American hospitals were overrun with patients, depleting our limited supply of ventilators. (The first ventilator story I can find came way back in January.)

And it was the mainstream media that first told you to expect a death toll that reaches into the six figures, and possibly beyond. 

Of course, like all things, the reality of the crisis — and the facts and verifiable information — was lost in the political fight, and in the disinformation campaign required to prop up the dumbest presidential administration in history. 

Because the president took, per usual, such an anti-science, anti-facts position from the outset, any confirmation of the facts that were long ago predicted by the doctors and scientists, and adopted by the mainstream media and most progressive politicians, had to be debunked or reframed in a manner that undercut the severity of the virus or the potential for death. 

And so, on everyone’s favorite phony news network, there came an endless stream of false equivalencies and partial information — all of which were adopted by most Republicans and spread throughout their social media worlds — to the point that those who live within the conservative news bubble have been left believing that the entire country has been shut down by a simple, flu-like virus that is less deadly than seasonal flu and could probably be treated with aquarium cleaner. 

And that the shutdown is being carried out, of course, to tear down the economy (that Obama built and Trump takes credit for) in the hopes of defeating an incumbent president (that had the worst approval ratings in history and trailed by double digits in the polls — including in swing states — to the presumptive Democratic nominee). 

It’s so stupid it hurts. And that’s actually true this time. 

The love that half of America has for being told what they want to hear instead of the actual news is now literally causing death and illness. And it’s going to get worse. 

Even ol’ President Open By Easter is now conceding that this virus will likely kill upwards of 100,000 Americans in the short term, and maybe many more. Somehow, in his mind, that is a victory for him. 

In reality, there are no victories. Not for the people of this country. Not for the mainstream media. And certainly not for the buffoons who have again discounted science and doctors to adopt and espouse a viewpoint built around political advantage and personal ignorance.  

In the coming months, as the reality of this unprecedented disaster unfolds, it should not be lost that so much of it could have been avoided if the American president had relied on facts and science and if many in the American public hadn’t been so quick to choose political preference over hard news. 

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