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House passes funding bill for programs critical to health care, education and defense

Jessa Reid Bolling

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The House of Representatives approved the Fiscal Year 2020 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education funding bill that will secure funding for important health, labor and education programs.

Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, announced the legislation includes several provisions for Alabama that she secured for programs critical to health care, education and defense.

Sewell said the passage of the funding bill is a win for Alabamians living in District 7.

“The overall bill passed today includes $190 billion for the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Education to help expand Alabamians’ access to a competitive education, a good job and quality, affordable health care,” Sewell said. “I am proud that I was able to secure funding for several provisions critical to Alabamians, including increased capital for programs that strengthen health care delivery and access, and prepare Americans to be competitive in the workforce.”

In addition to the various provisions the funding bill secures, the bill provides a total of $41.1 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including $3.2 billion for HIV/AIDS research,  $1.9 billion for Job Corps and $11.9 billion for Head Start, an increase of $1.5 billion.

 

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Jessa Reid Bolling is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter and graduate of The University of Alabama with a B.A. in journalism and political science.

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AFL-CIO endorses Adia Winfrey for Congress

Brandon Moseley

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Congressional candidate Adia Winfrey. (VIA WINFREY CAMPAIGN)

Monday, the Dr. Adia Winfrey for Congress campaign announces that she has received the endorsement of the Alabama AFL-CIO in her campaign for Congress.

At their annual convention last week, union leaders from across the state recognized Dr. Winfrey’s passion, ability to lead, and attentiveness to the issues affecting working men and women, as reasons to endorse Dr. Winfrey, the Democratic challenger, in Alabama’s Third Congressional District race.

“Labor unions have long been a leading force in our nation’s economy,” Dr. Winfrey wrote. “Workplace safety standards, employee benefits, equal pay for women, non-discrimination policies, and so much more can be attributed to directly to union members who were willing to speak up for what is right. I look forward to being a voice for Alabama’s hard working men and women in Congress.”

Dr. Winfrey is challenging nine term incumbent Mike Rogers (R-Saks) in the November 3 general election. During his 18 years in Congress, Mike Rogers has earned only a 16 percent lifetime rating by the AFL-CIO for his votes.

“For 7 generations my family has called Talladega, Alabama home,” Winfrey said. “I am the mother of four amazing children, a Doctor of Psychology, author, founder of the H.Y.P.E. (Healing Young People thru Empowerment) Movement, and…I am running for Congress in Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District! I believe in the future of our beautiful state and nation. It is time for leadership with a new vision which is #FocusedOnAlabama.”

Winfrey has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Wilberforce University and a doctorate of clinical psychology degree from the Wright State University School of Professional Psychology. She is the founder of the H.Y.P.E. (Healing Young People thru Empowerment) Movement.

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Saban tries to save the college football season

Brandon Moseley

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University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban.

University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban said Monday that he wants to play the 2020 season for the players.

“I want to play, but I want to play for the players’ sake, the value they can create for themselves,” Saban told ESPN. “I know I’ll be criticized no matter what I say, that I don’t care about player safety. Look, players are a lot safer with us than they are running around at home. We have around a 2 percent positive ratio on our team since the Fourth of July. It’s a lot higher than that in society. We act like these guys can’t get this unless they play football. They can get it anywhere, whether they’re in a bar or just hanging out.”

Saban’s comments came on a day when the very future of the 2020 season was on the brink.

The Mountain West Conference announced that it was suspending all sports indefinitely due to the coronavirus. Hundreds of college football players have taken to Twitter and social media begging the powers that be not to kill this season. They were joined by Saban and other prominent figures in the sport including Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and even President Donald Trump.

“The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled. #WeWantToPlay,” Trump said on Twitter supporting a statement by Lawrence.

Some conferences had already made up their minds to punt on the season.

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“Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our students, student-athletes, coaches, faculty, staff and overall communities,” said Dr. Mary Papazian, chair of the MWC board of directors. “Through the hard work of many over the past several months, the conference made every effort to create an opportunity for our student-athletes to compete, and we empathize with the disappointment this creates for everyone associated with our programs. The best interests of our students and student-athletes remain our focus and we will persist in our efforts to forge a viable and responsible path forward.”

A decision to postpone or cancel the 2020 college football season could come as early as this week. A growing tide of voices are calling for the cancelation or postponement of the college football season.

ESPN’s Heather Dinich reports that this is based on what the athletic conferences are hearing from their medical advisory boards about the long term effects of COVID-19.

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College presidents are very concerned that COVID-19, while rarely fatal in college students, can leave survivors with heart issues that may well be long-lasting. The mother of one Indiana player reported that her football player son contracted coronavirus while on campus for pre-season for strength and conditioning training. Her son developed symptomatic COVID-19 that included breathing difficulties. Now he is over COVID-19 but has heart inflammation that jeopardizes his playing career and perhaps even his long-term health.

There is a similar situation with a Major League Baseball player who had COVID-19 and now has heart inflammation, which doctors say can be a side effect of contracting COVID-19. More than half of college football players are Black, a demographic that has seen the highest rate of severe outcomes from COVID-19 including death.

The University of Louisville recently had to cancel all football activities on campus when a group of football players, in violation of the coronavirus social distancing protocols, attended a party on campus and 30 players tested positive for the coronavirus.

A number of college football players have contracted the virus including at the University of Alabama, Auburn University and Clemson.

The presidents are concerned about the long-term health effects of COVID-19 on college athletes as well as the rest of the student body, faculty and staff. They are also concerned about the schools’ legal liability if they don’t do everything in their power to fight the spread of the virus — and canceling fall sports is arguably necessary to fight the spread of the virus.

Congress failed to pass legislation that would have given schools and employers liability protection from COVID-related lawsuits.

The Mid-American Conference (MAC) and South West Athletic Conferences (SWAC) — which includes Alabama A&M and Alabama State — have already voted to postpone fall sports to Spring. The MAC decision puts pressure on the other Division 1 Football Bowl Series schools to also postpone or cancel the season. The University of Connecticut has already canceled its 2020 football season, the first Division 1 school to make that decision. Others could follow.

On Tuesday, the Big 10 Conference presidents will meet on possibly postponing the 2020 season to December or later. The PAC 12 conference college Presidents will also meet to discuss the possibility of postponing or canceling all fall sports. A number of PAC 12 players have come out vocally expressing concerns about the safety of playing the sport during the global pandemic.

The Big 10 and PAC 12 are two of the “Power Five” conferences along with the SEC, the Big 12 and the ACC. If either the Big 10 or PAC 12 were to postpone or cancel the football season, it would be difficult for the other schools to continue without them, though most conferences have already adopted a 10-game, conference-only season.

Alabama and Auburn are members of the SEC.

The Power Five conference commissioners met on a conference call Sunday night to prepare a recommendation on how to proceed if the presidents decide that playing sports in the fall is an unnecessary risk. They were unable to reach a decision on whether that recommendation should be to play the 2020 fall sports in the spring or to cancel fall sports altogether as spring sports, including baseball and softball, were canceled last spring.

The commissioners of the SEC and ACC both released statements saying that they are moving forward to play. It is highly possible that some of the Power Five conferences will play this fall and some will play in the spring. How this would affect the college postseason is still unclear.

“The college football season should be canceled; it should be canceled today,” said ESPN sports commentator Stephen A Smith on Monday. Smith cited a lack of leadership looking out for the health of college athletes in college football.

ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit had already predicted that the sport could not be played this year due to athlete safety. There is a growing consensus in both the medical and academic community that this may be the case.

A decision by the PAC 12 on Tuesday could start a domino effect that will lead to the cancelation or postponement of all fall sports.

Some analysts have expressed skepticism that the 2020 and 2021 football seasons could both be played in the 2021 calendar year and even that the COVID risk will be less in the spring than it is now.

The SEC had already reduced the season from 12 games to 10 and postponed the start of the football season to Sept. 26. SEC football players were already supposed to be in camp preparing for the fall season, but the conference has postponed the start of football practices to August 17.

The Alabama High School Athletic Association at this point still plans to play high school fall sports including football.

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Plaintiffs ask for panel of judges to reconsider ruling on Alabama voter ID law

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Plaintiffs suing Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill alleging the state’s voter ID law discriminates against minorities on Monday asked a panel of judges to reconsider an appeals court decision that affirmed the law. 

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund on Monday filed a petition Monday asking that all of the judges on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reconsider the July 21 decision by a panel of three judges that fell 2-1 in favor of the state’s voter ID law. 

The 2011 law requires voters in Alabama to show a valid, government-issued photo ID to vote. The NAACP, Greater Birmingham Ministries and several minority voters sued, arguing that lawmakers knowingly crafted the law to prevent Black people and other minorities, who are less likely to have such photo IDs, from voting. 

The three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in its July 21 opinion found that the burden of Alabama’s voter ID law is minimal, and does not“violate the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the Constitution, nor does it violate the Voting Rights Act.”

Merrill has argued that the state’s voter ID law is meant to deter in-person voting fraud and that the state makes available mobile photo ID units able to provide voters with the necessary IDs.

District Judge Darrin Gayles in his dissenting opinion wrote that voter fraud in Alabama is rare, and that “while there have been some limited cases of absentee voter fraud, in-person voter fraud is virtually non-existent.”

Gayles wrote that Merrill presented evidence of just two instances of in-person voter fraud in Alabama’s history.

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“Despite the lack of in-person voter fraud, Secretary Merrill claims Alabama enacted the Photo ID Law to combat voter fraud and to restore confidence in elections — a dubious position in light of the facts,” Gayles wrote.

Gayles noted that former State Sen. Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery, before his retirement in 2010, sponsored similar voter ID bills.

“During this time, Senator Dixon made repeated comments linking photo identification legislation to race, including ‘the fact you don’t have to show an ID is very beneficial to the Black power structure and the rest of the Democrats’ and that voting without photo identification ‘benefits Black elected leaders, and that’s why they’re opposed to it,'” Gayles wrote in his dissenting opinion.

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“It is clear from the statements of the legislators who enacted Alabama’s photo ID law that they passed it for the unconstitutional purpose of discriminating against voters of color,” said LDF senior counsel Natasha Merle in a statement Monday. “As long as this law is intact, Black and Latinx Alabamians will continue to be disproportionately excluded from the state’s electoral process.”

Attorneys in the filing Monday told the court that “roughly 118,000 Alabamians lack qualifying photo ID, and Black and Latinx voters are twice as likely to lack qualifying ID as compared to white voters. Given this evidence, a trial was required to determine whether HB19 violates the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.”

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Jones: Trump executive orders are “more for show than actual help for the Americans people”

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones during a livestreamed press briefing. (OFFICE OF SEN. DOUG JONES/FACEBOOK)

Democratic Alabama Sen. Doug Jones had harsh words for recent executive orders that President Donald Trump signed in lieu of continuing to pursue a bipartisan legislative COVID relief package. Jones said that Trump’s executive orders extending coronavirus relief are “more for show than actual help for the American people.”

“While the President is attempting to give the appearance that he is leading the cavalry coming to the rescue of the American people, these executive orders are anything but that,” Jones said. “The executive order to extend the now-lapsed emergency unemployment assistance will cut benefits by $200 a week or more for Alabamians and asks states, whose budgets have already been burdened by the pandemic, to foot part of the bill. The payroll tax collection moratorium is a way for President Trump to follow through with his promise to defund Medicare and privatize social security by putting the solvency of these programs at risk while still leaving open the possibility that those taxes may need to be paid in a lump sum next year.”

“By signing these executive orders that are more for show than actual help for the American people, President Trump has confirmed that his administration has not acted in good faith and had no intention of reaching bipartisan agreement on legislation that would benefit all Americans,” Jones said. “The Senate, which absolutely should not have recessed without passing a relief package, needs to immediately return to Washington to pass legislation that provides adequate support for the Americans who are suffering as a result of this virus as well as our economy. We need to come to a bipartisan compromise that deals with the full slate of urgent issues facing our country: we need a national strategy for COVID testing and contact tracing, to extend federal eviction moratoriums, to provide much-needed funding for state and local governments, and to ensure schools have the resources they need to reopen safely — among so many other needs.”

Both parties wanted a fifth coronavirus aid package passed before Congress broke for August recess, but negotiations broke down between Democrats and the White House over the size of the aid package.

“It’s completely inexcusable that Mitch McConnell waited over two months after the House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act to begin negotiations on this relief package, knowing full well that many of the programs that Americans have relied on during this crisis would expire at the end of July,” Jones continued. “The failure to negotiate an adequate bipartisan deal speaks to a broader breakdown in leadership in Washington, and I strongly urge my colleagues to put partisanship aside to come together to pass a relief bill as soon as possible. Lives and livelihoods are at stake, and each day we spend arguing over politics is another day that our institution fails the American people.”

Some Democrats have threatened to challenge the president’s executive actions in court. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that Democrats would have a lot of explaining to do if they challenged the White House’s efforts to get enhanced unemployment benefits to Americans.

“We’ve cleared with the Office of Legal Counsel all these actions,” Mnuchin said on “Fox News Sunday.” “If the Democrats want to challenge us in court and hold up unemployment benefits to those hardworking Americans that are out of a job because of COVID, they’re going to have a lot of explaining to do.”

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The president’s executive actions would provide $400 in increased federal unemployment benefits, which is down $200 from the $600 enhancement that they were getting.

“We thought $400 was a fair compromise. We offered to continue to pay $600 while we negotiate, and the Democrats turned that down,” Mnuchin said.

The Democratic proposal that passed the House, the HEROES Act, would have added $3.4 trillion to the national debt.

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Jones is trailing Republican candidate Tommy Tuberville in the race for U.S. Senate according to a poll released last week.

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