Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday announced that she has awarded more than $1.14 million in grants to provide access to high-speed internet in several Alabama communities.
The six grants are the second round of awards presented by Ivey under the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund. In the latest round, some providers were awarded more than one grant to provide service in different areas.
“Alabama’s rural residents not only want but need to be on a super highway when it comes to technology,” Ivey said. “Access to high-speed internet in our rural areas will open the way to improved educational opportunities, economic development projects and better health-care services. I am very proud to award these grants to expand access to affordable high-speed internet in these communities.”
The fund was created by the Alabama Legislature and signed into law by Ivey in March 2018, to provide high-speed internet in underserved communities.
The Broadband Accessibility Fund provides grants for service providers to supply high-speed internet services in unincorporated areas or communities with 25,000 people or less. Under the law, the awards cannot exceed 20 percent of the total cost of a project.
“Gov. Ivey has led the way to improve rural Alabama on many issues, none more important than connectivity to technology. Alabama is committed to improving our rural areas,” said Rep. Randall Shedd.
“Access to broadband is a request that almost every large-scale employer makes when choosing a site within our state,” said Economic developer Nicole Jones. “As a response to the growing need for connectivity, in March 2018, Gov. Kay Ivey signed the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act into law, which authorized the creation of a broadband accessibility grant program. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Clay Scofield and Rep. Donnie Chesteen, created the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund. This is a great start to achieving the goal of accessibility in all areas of Alabama.”
The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is responsible for administering the Broadband Accessibility Fund.
“Like public water and sewer services, high-speed internet is an important piece of infrastructure that people, especially in urban areas, can take for granted,” said ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell. “Providing these services in rural communities improves lives, and ADECA is proud to be a part of this important process.”
“Many rural counties do not initially have the tax base or level of population to fund the infrastructure needed for high-speed internet,” Jones said. “The Broadband Accessibility Fund provides financial assistance in the form of grants for service providers to supply high-speed internet services in rural areas with 25,000 residents or less. Under the law, awards shall not exceed 20 percent of the total project cost.”
Roanoke Telephone Co. Inc. was awarded $79,239 for coverage in the Five Points community in Chambers County. The project will involve more than three square miles and will include 176 households.
R.M. Greene Inc. of Phenix City was awarded $4,320 for coverage in the Pittsview community and in Russell County. Twenty-three households are included in the coverage area.
R.M. Greene Inc. of Phenix City was awarded a second grant, this time for $50,712, to provide coverage in the Dixie area in Russell County. The area includes 215 residences, two businesses and a school.
Troy Cablevision Inc. received an award of $575,115 for connectivity in multiple areas in Houston County, near Cottonwood and Gordon and between Webb and Columbia, and Geneva County, near Slocomb, Coffee Springs, Geneva and Samson. The project will cover 79 miles and provide connectivity for 878 residences, 76 businesses and three community locations such as schools, libraries, fire stations and community centers.
Troy Cablevision Inc. also received $348,885 for service in Crenshaw County, near Rutledge and Luverne; Pike County, near Brundidge Banks and Goshen; and northeast Coffee County. The project will cover 52 miles and provide connectivity for 405 households, 33 businesses and two community and public safety locations.
Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative Inc. of Rainsville was awarded $88,668 to provide service in the Fabius and Maxwell communities near Stevenson in Jackson County, serving 47 households and one business.
“A team effort is needed to help achieve the goal of broadband accessibility, which includes state assistance for the infrastructure administered by ADECA, federal assistance through the USDA and private sector investments,” Jones said. “High-speed internet is needed for jobs, health care, public safety and education — all which are integral to Alabamians’ quality of life.”
The state passed legislation, carried by Shedd, during this past session to advance rural broadband, and more money was appropriated for the grants in the 2020 budget that goes into effect on Oct. 1.
Lieutenant governor calls for end to mask order
“Masks should be voluntary, not mandatory. We have to Make America Great Again,” Ainsworth said.
During the presidential debate Tuesday, President Donald Trump argued for opening up the economy and a loosening of coronavirus restrictions. His opponent, Vice President Joe Biden, has said that he favors stronger measures to bring the virus under control. Alabama Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth seized on the moment to support the president and added that Alabama’s mask mandate should not be extended.
“I agree with President Trump,” Ainsworth said. “Shutdowns don’t work. People want their schools open, their businesses operating, and their jobs protected. Masks should be voluntary, not mandatory. We have to Make America Great Again.”
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, with the support of Alabama State Health Office Dr. Scott Harris, imposed a statewide mask order on July 15 when the state’s coronavirus cases were peaking, hospitals were reaching a breaking point and COVID-19 deaths were soaring.
The governor has since extended that mandatory mask order. It is currently in place through Friday, Oct. 2,
The mask order is being credited by public health officials with improving the coronavirus situation in the state, allowing the state to open its universities and play both high school and college football seasons.
It is not known, at this point, whether Ivey will further extend the mask order.
White House Coronavirus Task Force Member Dr. Deborah Birx came to Alabama just last week and urged Ivey to extend the mask order. A number of epidemiologists and doctors in the state have come forward to echo that call to extend the mandate.
Ainsworth was one of the first public officials to call for an economic shutdown to combat the coronavirus. He was also one of the first public officials to call for reopening the economy after the governor actually did order an economic shutdown.
The Alabama Department of Public Health announced 16 more COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday to take the state’s total death toll to 2,517. Alabama currently has 86,854 active cases of the virus.
The state remains under a statewide “safer-at-home” order. Citizens who don’t have to leave their home are urged not to leave their homes and practice social distancing and wear a mask when they do have to go out.
At least 1,013,469 people worldwide have already died in the COVID-19 pandemic including 210,797 Americans.
Coronavirus task force’s Dr. Deborah Birx says Alabama should extend statewide mask order
Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, said Thursday that Gov. Kay Ivey should extend her statewide mask order, set to expire on Oct. 2. She also responded to a CNN report that cited those close to her as saying she’s “distressed” with the direction the White House coronavirus task force is taking and is unhappy with what she sees as her diminished role in the group.
Birx, speaking at Auburn University, said she met with Ivey and Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris earlier in the day to discuss COVID-19 and how the state is responding.
“So we really talked about the importance of continuing mitigation,” Birx said of her talk with Ivey and state officials earlier on Thursday, adding that Ivey was one of the first governors in the South to enact a statewide mask mandate, which she said clearly decreased the spread of the disease.
Birx pointed to numbers, such as the test positivity rate, that have improved since July, but said “we’ve got to do even more.” Asked if the statewide mask mandate was one of the mitigation efforts she suggests continuing into the fall, Birx said she does. “Because if you look at what happened within two weeks of the mask mandate you can see the dramatic decline in cases here in Alabama,” Birx said.
Birx said that when she last visited Alabama in July, the state was suffering from too many new cases of COVID-19.
“I think when I was last here at the beginning of July, it was a very difficult time in general for Alabama. We saw nearly 95 to 100 percent of every county in Alabama, rural or urban, that had more than 10 percent test positivity to COVID-19,” Birx said, adding that today, around 20 percent of the state’s counties have positivity rates above 10 percent.
Public health experts believe positivity rates above 5 percent mean that there isn’t enough COVID-19 testing being done and cases are likely going undetected.
In a statement to APR on Thursday, a spokeswoman for Ivey said Ivey and Dr. Scott Harris would provide an update on the statewide mask order ahead of its Oct. 2 expiration date.
“It is evident that Alabamians are doing considerably well in modifying their behaviors to take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously, and we all remain optimistic that a successful vaccine will be coming soon,” said Gina Maiola, Ivey’s press secretary, in a statement to APR on Thursday. “Our state’s success is largely in part to Alabamians stepping up to the plate when it comes to cooperating with the mask ordinance.”
Maiola said Ivey is leading the way on several fronts “including getting students and teachers back in the classroom, college students returning to campus and businesses remaining open — in fact, Alabama has one of the country’s lowest unemployment rates.”
“This success is a reality because Alabamians are wearing their masks and maintaining social distancing precautions. Governor Ivey and Dr. Scott Harris will continue closely monitoring our progress and provide an update ahead of the October 2nd expiration,” Maiola continued.
Speaking to reporters at Auburn, Birx was also asked about a CNN report on Wednesday that cited sources close to Birx as saying she is unhappy with what she sees as her diminished role on the White House coronavirus task force, that she’s not certain how long she can serve in her position and that she is “distressed” with the direction the task force is taking.
CNN also reported that Birx, who is no longer a fixture at White House coronavirus briefings, views Dr. Scott Atlas, a recent addition to the task force, as an unhealthy influence on President Donald Trump.
Atlas, a neuroradiologist with little experience in public health or epidemiology, has expressed support for the so-called herd immunity “strategy,” which infectious disease expert roundly dismiss as unattainable and a move that would cost millions more lives.
Instead of being a regular presence at White House coronavirus briefings, Birx has spent recent months traveling the country and speaking with governors and university administrators about coronavirus.
Asked Thursday about CNN’s reporting, Birx pushed back.
“Because they wrote that without even speaking to me,” Birx said. “Do I look like a person that’s diminished?”
CNN reported Wednesday that Birx had not responded to requests for comment on the story.
“Yes, I have been on the road. I’ve been on the road not as a spokesperson, but on the road to really understand what’s happening across the country, to be in deep dialogue with mayors, with communities, with governors, with administration school and faculty,” Birx said.
“I’m asked here because I am supposed to be here,” Birx said. “I haven’t been in Washington, and nor was I asked about that, but I’ve actually never been called diminished.”
Asked if she was planning to leave the task force, Birx said, “I have strong tenacity, and I’m very resilient, and we’re in the middle of a pandemic that’s affecting Americans, and as an American, I think I can do the best service to my country right now by serving in this role, working across the agencies, because that’s the experience that I have.”
Asked to clarify whether she planned to step down from the task force, Birx said “no.”
Asked if she was distressed about the direction the task force is taking, Birx said, “well that would be on me, if I was distressed, right, because I’m supposed to be coordinating the groups.”
“So that would be an indication that I’m not doing my job, and I believe that I do my job pretty well every day. I can always learn to do better,” Birx said.
Governor announces the Alabama STEM Council
Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday announced that she has signed Executive Order No. 721 establishing the Alabama STEM Council. The council will advise state leadership on ways to improve STEM-related education, career awareness and workforce development opportunities across the state.
“Alabama has continued to grow into an advanced manufacturing, aerospace engineering and cybertechnology center of excellence and as a result, the demand for qualified labor in these sectors has skyrocketed,” Ivey said. “The Alabama STEM Council will play a vital role in ensuring that our state’s future leaders have the opportunity to learn STEM-based skills that will help them transition into successful career pathways upon graduation.”
Science, technology, engineering and mathematics workers play a key role in the sustained growth and stability of Alabama’s economy. As companies continue to relocate or expand in Alabama, the state must develop an adept workforce that is prepared to adequately meet growing labor demands.
Ivey has appointed Dr. Neil Lamb, vice president for educational outreach at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, as chairman of the council.
“Our great state is home to several quality STEM-focused education and workforce initiatives. However, we lack a common system to weave these initiatives together into a network that reaches all learners across the state and expands the workforce pipeline,” Lamb said. “Establishing a statewide Council was a key recommendation from the Governor’s Advisory Council on Excellence on STEM, and I am thrilled to see that recommendation become reality through the Alabama STEM Council.”
State Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, who chairs the House Education Policy Committee, sponsored a bill in the 2020 Regular Legislative Session that sought to create the Alabama STEM Council as an independent state entity within the Alabama Department of Commerce. Although HB293 passed in the house with unanimous consent, it failed to advance in the Alabama Senate due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m extremely pleased the governor is taking the lead with the Executive Order to form the STEM Council,” Collins said. “Having the math and science experts from Alabama set high quality standards and guiding student growth in achievement will make a positive difference. Thank you, Governor Ivey, for prioritizing education!”
Deputy Commerce Secretary Ed Castile, who also serves as the director of the Alabama Industrial Development Training Agency, has played a substantial role in the development of the council.
“The state of Alabama is rapidly evolving in science and technology with new job opportunities developing daily that require a STEM education as a basic foundation. So, STEM education is rapidly becoming the new ‘basic education’ that Alabama jobs require,” Castile said. “With new tech companies developing, manufacturing moving to digital ‘smart factories’ and numerous job opportunities that support these businesses, we must have a workforce that will meet the demands. The STEM Council will be crucial in working with K-12 education as they develop their STEM programs to align with Community Colleges and Universities to assist students move along the STEM pathways needed by our developing businesses. We, in the Department of Commerce are excited to assist with administrative support of the STEM Council and will be a natural link to the business and commerce of our state.”
The council will hold an initial organizational meeting within 90 days after the issuance of this order.
Members of the council include:
- Dr. Neil Lamb, Vice President for Educational Outreach, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology
- Dr. Charles Nash, University of Alabama System
- Terry Burkle, Baldwin County Education Foundation
- Dawn Morrison, Alabama State Department of Education
- Charisse Stokes, Montgomery Chamber of Commerce
- Dr. Vicky Karolewics, President, Wallace State Community College
- Sheila Holt, AMSTI Director, University of Alabama in Huntsville
- Liz Huntley, Lightfoot, Franklin & White
- RaSheda Workman, Stillman College
- Dr. Eric Mackey, State Superintendent of Education
- Dr. Barbara Cooper, Secretary, Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education
- Jimmy Baker, Chancellor, Alabama Community College System
- Dr. Jim Purcell, Executive Director, Alabama Commission on Higher Education
- Fitzgerald Washington, Secretary, Alabama Department of Labor
- Greg Canfield, Secretary, Alabama Department of Commerce
- Tim McCartney, Chairman, Alabama Workforce Council
- George Clark, President, Manufacture Alabama
- Dr. Ken Tucker, President, University of West Alabama
- Dr. Kathryn Lanier, STEM Education Outreach Director, Southern Research
- Dr. Tina Miller-Way, Dauphin Island Sea Lab
- Amy Templeton, President and CEO, McWane Science Center
- Kay Taylor, Director of Education, U.S. Space and Rocket Center
- Dr. Mary Lou Ewald, Director of Outreach, Auburn University College of Sciences and Mathematics
- Paul Morin, Alabama SMART Foundation
- Dr. Adreinne Starks, Founder and CEO, STREAM Innovations
- Dr. Calvin Briggs, Founder and Director, Southern Center for Broadening Participation in STEM
- Josh Laney, Director, Alabama Office of Apprenticeship
- Keith Phillips, Executive Director, Alabama Technology Network
- Jimmy Hull, Career and Technical Education Director, Alabama State Department of Education
- Sean Stevens, Career Coach, Alabama State Department of Education
- Tina Watts, Community Investor, The Boeing Company
- Daryl Taylor, Vice President and General Manager, Airbus America
- K-Rob Thomas, Power Delivery General Manager, Alabama Power
- Dr. Lee Meadows, Associate Professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Alabama at Birmingham
- Dr. Tim Wick, Senior Associate Dean, School of Engineering, University of Alabama at Birmingham
- Dr. Robin McGill, Director of Instruction, Alabama Commission on Higher Education
- Elisabeth Davis, Assistant Superintendent of the Division of Teaching and Learning, Alabama State Board of Education
- Dr. Jeff Gray, Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Alabama
- Dr. Cynthia McCarty, District 6 Representative, Alabama State Board of Education
- Dr. Andre Harrison, Vice President, Cognia
- Brenda Terry, Executive Director, Alabama Mathematics, Science, Technology, and Engineering Coalition for Education
- Tammy Dunn, Program Director, A+ Education Partnership
A copy of Executive Order No. 721 is available here.
Governor awards grant to expand court facility dog program
Gov. Kay Ivey has awarded $1.17 million to continue and expand a statewide program that helps children and others who have been victims of crime feel more at ease when testifying in court or undergoing other crime-related interviews.
The grant to the Alabama Office of Prosecution Services will enable that state agency to continue its facility dog program.
The program uses specially trained dogs to calm traumatized victims when they are called into the courtroom or interview room to recount details of often horrific crimes committed against them.
“I cannot imagine what victims, especially children, have to go through when they are called before strangers to recall what is often a very personal and sensitive tragedy that they have difficulty even relaying to family members,” Ivey said. “This program has proven beyond successful and has been admired and modeled by other states. I am pleased to support its continuation and expansion here in Alabama.”
Facility dogs have been used more than 1,000 times including forensic interviews, court hearings, medical examinations and other case-related matters. The dogs are based in several counties, but according to the Office of Prosecution Services, are available for use throughout the state.
The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the grant from funds made available to the state from the U.S. Department of Justice.
“The facility dog program has been vastly successful and well received throughout the state,” said ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell. “Although we would prefer that there would be no reason for this program to even exist, ADECA joins with Gov. Ivey in assisting with its continued success.”
Ivey notified Barry Matson, executive director of Prosecution Services, that the grant had been approved.
ADECA administers a wide range of programs that support law enforcement, victim programs, economic development, water resource management, energy conservation and recreation.