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Alabama expected to become 29th state to require backseat seat belts

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, the Alabama House of Representatives Thursday passed a bill that will require all occupants of a vehicle to wear a seat belt, even those in the back seat.

Senate Bill 254 was sponsored by Sen. David Burkette (D-Montgomery).

It was carried in the House by State Representative Chris Sells (R-Greenville) who also carried the House version.

The bill was named after Roderic Deshaun Scott. Scott was a Robert E. Lee High School basketball star from Montgomery who died after a car crash on I-65 in 2016. Scott was thrown from the vehicle across the interstate in the crash.

“National data show us that seat belt use and compliance with seat belt laws may be the most effective safety measure we can take,” Sells said in a statement. “Now Alabama’s seat belt law will truly reflect the importance of seat belts in highway safety.”

“It is my hope that voluntary compliance with this new law will save thousands of lives in the years to come,” Sen. Burkette said. “I am saddened that it took such a tragedy to serve as the impetus for passing this law, but honoring Roderic Scott is an appropriate way to preserve the memory of this special young man.”

State Representative Kirk Hatcher (D-Montgomery) said, “The Roderic Deshaun Scott Seat Belt Safety Act puts a human face on an issue that’s long overdue to be addressed. This is an important step in strengthening the safety culture in Alabama by requiring seat belt use by back seat passengers.”

“The Alabama Legislature is to be commended for amending Alabama’s seat belt law to include rear seat passengers,” said Tony Harris, Government Relations Manager at the Alabama Department of Transportation. “Sixty percent of the people dying on Alabama’s roadways are not wearing a seat belt, especially those riding in rear seats. Many crashes are survivable with the use of a seat belt.”

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Alabama becomes the 29th state to require seat belt use by rear seat vehicle occupants.

Alabama has had a seat belt law since 2000 requiring the use of seat belts by front seat vehicle occupants. The law had not addressed seat belt use in rear seats by occupants over the age of 15. Children are already required to be buckled up or in an age-appropriate car seat.

Rear seat passengers in a vehicle are three times more likely to die in a crash if they are not wearing a seat belt, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The Alabama Department of Transportation’s mission is to provide a safe, efficient, environmentally and economically sound transportation network across Alabama.

Drive Safe Alabama is ALDOT’s traffic safety marketing campaign. The goal of Drive Safe Alabama is to strengthen Alabama’s highway safety culture. By providing safe driving information through online resources and educational opportunities, ALDOT aims to reduce crash-related injuries and fatalities on Alabama’s roadways.

To learn more visit their website, click here.

SB254 passed the House 76 to 17, and now goes to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey for her consideration.

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Governor awards $9.5 million in grants to expand internet access

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Gov. Kay Ivey has awarded 20 grants totaling more than $9.5 million to provide high-speed internet access to numerous communities throughout Alabama.

The grants, part of the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund, were awarded to nine broadband providers to fund multiple projects in their coverage areas.

“Availability of high-speed internet has always been vital, but the events of the past several weeks magnify just how imperative it is that all Alabamians have access to broadband,” Gov. Ivey said. “I am pleased to support these projects and look forward to the day when every household, school, healthcare facility, emergency service and business throughout Alabama is afforded broadband availability.”

The fund, which is being administered through the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, was created by the Alabama Legislature in 2018 to provide high-speed internet to rural and underserved areas of the state.

“As our day-to-day way of living has been impacted over the past few weeks, it has underscored the value and necessity of high-speed broadband services. That is something that Governor Ivey, the Legislature and ADECA have been working to address through the Broadband Accessibility Fund,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said. “ADECA takes its role in administering this program seriously and is honored to be entrusted with the responsibility.”

This latest round of Broadband Accessibility grants came from applications submitted in late December 2019. Additional awards from this round of applications could also be announced.

Grants awarded and coverage areas are:

  • Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $224,175 to provide broadband services in north Lowndes County including 301 households and 15 businesses.
  • Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $289,100 for service in southwest Autauga and southeast Dallas counties including 343 households and 38 businesses.
  • Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $480,200 for service in northwest Autauga, northeast Dallas and south Chilton counties including nearly 500 households and 31 businesses.
  • Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $682,325 for service adjacent to the town of Billingsley in Autauga County which includes 656 households and 45 businesses.
  • Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $1.06 million for service in Chilton County south of the city of Clanton and north of the town of Billingsley which is in neighboring Autauga County. The project will offer service to 1,093 households and 41 businesses.
  • Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $557,987 for service in north-central Autauga County and parts of south-central Chilton County to include service offerings to 743 households and 21 businesses.
  • Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $531,650 for service in southeast Chilton County, northeast Autauga County and northwest Elmore County including 509 households and 17 businesses.
  • Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $279,300 for service in northwest Chilton County and east Bibb County including 409 households and 12 businesses.
  • Charter Communications – $336,830 for service in the town of Autaugaville in Autauga County including 641 household and 14 businesses.
  • Comcast of Alabama – $820,750 to service the Town of Dauphin Island in Mobile County including 2,500 households and 24 businesses.
  • Hayneville Telephone Co. – $205,705 for service in Lowndes County’s Black Belt and Hicks Hill communities including 258 households and four businesses.
  • Hayneville Telephone Co. – $125,671 for service in an area southeast of the town of Hayneville including 187 households and one business.
  • Hayneville Telephone Co. – $143,265 for service southwest of the town of Hayneville including 191 households and two businesses.
  • Hayneville Fiber Transport Inc. (Camellia Communications) – $90,072 for service in the Butler County community of Poorhouse community northeast of the city of Greenville.
  • JTM Broadband – $404,414 for service in Lauderdale County east of the town of Killen including 1,303 households and 247 businesses.
  • Mon-Cre Telephone Cooperative – $529,707 for service in north Crenshaw County and south Montgomery County including 350 households.
  • National Telephone of Alabama – $357,171 for service in the Red Rock community in Colbert County including 205 households and six businesses.
  • Roanoke Telephone Co. – $308,882 – for service in an area of south Randolph County between the municipalities of Roanoke and Wadley including 269 households and four businesses.
  • Troy Cablevision – $1.38 million for service in parts of Coffee, Covington, Geneva and Houston counties including 1,190 households and 80 businesses.
  • Troy Cablevision – $750,625 for service in parts of Coffee, Crenshaw and Pike counties including 603 households and 38 businesses.

ADECA administers a wide range of programs that support law enforcement, victim programs, economic development, water resource management, energy conservation and recreation.

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Legislature returns to a much different Statehouse

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama Legislature will return from their spring break vacation Tuesday, but nothing is the same as it was two weeks ago.

Monday, the press was informed that the corps will be removed from the press rooms behind the chambers. Those rooms are being given to the legislators so that they can sit the necessary six feet apart. The press will move to the gallery looking down on the House Chambers. That will be our space exclusively as the public and the lobbyists are barred. The additional space will allow members of the press to also stay a minimum of six feet apart to avoid transmission of the coronavirus.

The Alabama Political Reporter asked if we would still have access to the fifth-floor lobby where citizens and lobbyists regularly met with members of the legislature who stepped off of the House floor. APR was told that we would not have access to any part of the fifth floor except by appointment and that extended to the entire Statehouse building.

Legislators were told in a conference call that if they feel sick, are showing symptoms of anything that they should just stay away from today’s meeting which is not essential. Legislators will gavel in and set April 17 as their next meeting date.

The reason they have to gavel in is that if they do not the session would automatically end and the constitutionally mandated budgets for the 2021 fiscal year beginning on October 1 have not been passed yet.

State Rep. Tim Wadsworth, R-Arley, said that the legislator spoke with Gov. Kay Ivey and her team as well as legislative leaders.

Wadsworth said that they were told that conference calls are helpful and that members will receive a letter detailing the procedures to be followed by the members for the rest of this legislative year. There will be no visitors in the State House and all voting will be by voice so there will be no touching of voting machines.

The governor was to participate in a conference call with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence later that day.

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Ivey told them that Alabama will test for counterfeit supplies and watch for coronavirus scams and that the state will have an advance web site operating later this week. The state is, “Working with various Alabama companies to manufacture and produce various medical safety products.”

Wadsworth said that they were told that the state had had 831 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 15 reported deaths, though not all had been confirmed by the Alabama Department of Public Health, by that morning and that there were over 2500 deaths already in the United States.

Wadsworth said that the subject of hospitals came up. Hospitals are looking at expanding their ICU (intensive care unit) areas to deal with the demand for intensive care beds by COVID-19 patients. Hospital rooms are freeing up due to the elimination of elective procedures.

Wadsworth said also that the Apple Company, through President Tim Cook, is delivered 100,000 N-95 masks and surgical masks, the schools will not reopen physically this year, and teachers, workers and aides will practice social distancing when they go back into the school buildings on April 6,

Wadsworth said that State Superintendent Eric Mackey told them that the focus will be on graduating and getting students ready for this year. The State Board of Education building is being cleaned.

Legislators were informed that the Alabama National Guard is ready for when they are needed.

Wadsworth said that they were told that teletherapy will be used for mental health patients except for extreme patients. A 24/7 mental health help telephone lines available and that mental health patients are only being discharged when teletherapy is available at home.

Wadsworth said that State Finance Director Kelly Butler assured them that, “All vendors are being paid.” In the first six months of the fiscal year revenue held up good; but that he anticipates a decline though in revenues for the last six months of the current fiscal year. Butler did not anticipate calling for proration due to the strong first six months of the year. $300 million is being moved from the stabilization fund to the education trust fund (ETF) to ensure stable budget.

The 2020 legislative session will end by May 18.

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Census could cost Alabama a congressional seat

Jessa Reid Bolling

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With the 2020 Census underway, Alabama could be at risk of losing a congressional seat due to a slowly growing population.

Census data also determines the number of seats each state has in the House of Representatives. Congressional and state legislative districts are also drawn using census data. 

The census results will also show what communities need certain services like roads, schools, clinics and more.

The results will also determine the amount of federal funds that will be allocated to programs like Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Head Start and others. 

Projections from The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) indicate the loss of a Congressional seat and that Alabama is vulnerable to be the state that loses that seat due to a low growing population. 

PARCA found that Alabama’s population grew 2.3 percent since 2010 and that every other southeastern state, except Mississippi, has outpaced Alabama’s population growth rate. Nationally, 34 states grew their population faster than Alabama did between 2010 and 2018. 

As of March 25, Alabama’s self-participation rate is slightly ahead of the nation at 27.7 percent compared to 26.2 percent. For comparison, the state’s final self-response rate in 2010 was 62.5%. Within Alabama, Autauga County leads all counties at 33.4 percent. 

“An accurate Census count is now more important than ever as state and local governments will be coping with a very different post-pandemic reality,” a statement from PARCA read. 

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To ensure all Alabamians are counted in the 2020 Census, an advisory group called Alabama Counts! was formed to promote the census at the state and local level. 

“Even if the efforts of Alabama Counts! Are exceedingly successful, Alabama may well lose a congressional seat,” PARCA’s projection read. “Census workers simply cannot count people who are not here. And Alabama is simply not growing as fast as other states.”

Click here to begin filling out the 2020 Census questionnaire. 

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State ramping up for COVID-19 fight

Brandon Moseley and Nicole Jones

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, State Health Officer Scott Harris, Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield, Public Health Commissioner Lynn Beshear and Alabama National Guard Major General Sheryl Gordon briefed state legislators Monday about how the state intends to address the looming wave of COVID-19 cases as the virus spread across the state of Alabama virtually unchecked.

Ivey said that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a team in the Montgomery area currently visiting the six major metro areas in our state studying existing facilities that can be used to provide additional hospital beds. The new hospitals would be in the greater Huntsville, Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile, Tuscaloosa and Auburn areas.

U.S. Army Major General Diana Holland, who commands the South Atlantic Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will be working with the Alabama Department of Public Health on this effort and will provide a report on their findings later this week.

It was explained that hotels provide the easiest conversion to hospitals as they already have bathrooms connected to each room and are built to handle large numbers of guests and staff.

Harris told the legislators that there were 831 cases of COVID-19 in Alabama as Monday morning, that number has risen now to nearly 1,000, and that there already have been 15 deaths reported, though the ADPH has publicly acknowledged 13 because not all have been officially investigated yet. The United States is up to 2,500 deaths nationwide.

Harris said that clinics are opening in Macon and Dallas counties on Monday, in Wilcox County Wednesday, and Houston on Thursday to provide more testing in the Wiregrass and Blackbelt. There are now 30 pop-up sites in these areas.

Harris said that hospitals are using available space to add additional ICU areas and that hospital unnecessary capacity has been diminished due to a recent health order prohibiting elective procedures.

Harris said that the ADPH has received its third and final shipment of personal protection equipment from our strategic national stockpile allocation. A certain amount of that is going to hotspot hospitals in crisis right now using the same formula based on the size and reported needs of the counties.

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Canfield said that his Department is working diligently to identify companies across Alabama that can manufacture PPE or who can quickly learn how to make the items we are most in need of. Canfield said that they have identified 30 companies so far.

Gordon said that the Alabama National Guard is assisting with logistics and warehousing of vital supplies. The Guard’s 12,000 soldiers and airmen are ready to serve. Gordon said that the Guard is abiding by CDC guidelines for the safety of the soldiers and airmen.

State Finance Director Kelly Butler said that his Department’s goal is to continue operations with social distancing and ensure that payments are made to health providers, Medicaid, and vendors that provide services.

Butler said that they implemented plans that allow them to do remote work with employees working at home continuing to process payments and transactions. “All vendors are being paid,” Butler said.

Butler warned that the revenues that are coming in for the 2020 budget will decline; but we have not seen a decline in the first six months of the fiscal year.

“We think that March receipts are based on February economic activity and expect to see sales and income tax decline in April’s numbers,” Butler said.

Butler said that because of the strong first six months, we do not expect to call for proration in the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.

Ivey included changes to normal purchasing rules so Alabama can acquire the PPE we need.

Beshear said that the community mental health centers are using telemedicine. Home visits are required only in extreme cases.

President Donald Trump has extended his social distancing order to 30 April, Ivey said.

“Remember the 6-foot rule,” she said.

The U.S. is confronted with an unparalleled health threat.

On Sunday, noted Trump coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN’s Jake Tapper that a lot of Americans are going to die.

“I mean, looking at what we’re seeing now, I would say between 100,000 and 200,000,” Fauci said. “We’re going to have millions of cases.”

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