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APR confirms at least two partners behind mystery company bidding prison contract

Eddie Burkhalter

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Five companies have expressed an interest in building new prisons in Alabama, some  appear to have never built a prison, while another may have as of yet unnamed partners. 

The five companies are: The GEO Group, Inc., Corvias, LLC, Corrections Consultants, LLC, CoreCivic, Inc. and Alabama Prison Transformation Partners. 

Alabama Prison Transformation Partners is a public mystery with no records of its existence beyond the governor’s announcement.  

APR has confirmed that B.L. Harbert International and Star America Infrastructures are two of the entities behind the venture. 

Questions to Gov. Ivey’s office on Monday from APR about Alabama Prison Transformation Partners were directed to the state Department of Corrections. 

Alabama Department of Corrections public information manager Bob Horton in an email to APR wrote that Alabama Prison Transformation Partners is a Joint Venture that submitted a SOQ. Asked which businesses made up that joint venture Horton had not answered as of Monday evening. 

The company’s name is very similar to former Gov. Robert Bentley’s and Sen. Cam Ward’s, R-Alabaster, Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative, which was a failed larger $800 million plan to close 14 of the state’s 16 maximum custody prisons and build four new so called mega-prisons. 

Lawmakers voted down the plan two years in a row, and despite trimming it down to an estimated $550 million, the House in 2017 failed to bring it to Ivey’s desk for approval. 

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Sen. Ward told APR on Monday that while he’s heard of several companies on the list, but the Alabama Prison Transformation Partners isn’t one. 

I just never heard of that one,” Ward said. 

Speaking by phone to APR,  Blake Rhodes, who handles public relations for the Birmingham-based construction company B.L. Harbert International, identified a man who was speaking by phone with a reporter as a vice president at the company. 

The man, who wouldn’t identify himself further, told APR that B.L. Harbert is one of the companies behind Alabama Prison Transformation Partners, and that New York-based Star America Infrastructures was the developer on the prison project.

A Star America company spokesman confirmed to APR by phone Monday that Star America Infrastructure is a partner in Alabama Prison Transformation Partners, but he declined to discuss the matter further.

Star America Infrastructures is a fund management company  that has partnered in at least 10 projects across the U.S., including student housing for San Jose State University, a data center in Michigan, a courthouse in Maryland, a highway bypass in Ohio, according to the company’s website.

Neither Star America Infrastructures nor  B.L. Harbert make mention of prison construction projects on company websites, and there are no news articles discussing as much.

It was unclear  how many other businesses or individuals may be partnering in Alabama Prison Transformation Partners.

That news comes as Ivey and other state lawmakers work to address the problem of violence and overcrowding in the state’s prisons, which were detailed in a report in April by the U.S. Department of Justice. 

Ivey’s plan calls for constructing three new men’s prisons to replace aging prisons, but details about which prisons are to be closed, or where the new prisons might be built, haven’t been disclosed. The Alabama Department of Corrections has said the new prisons could cost an estimated $900 million. 

Gov. Kay Ivey’s office said Monday that the Alabama Building Commission and the Alabama Department of Finance will evaluate each of the five companies and determine which will be allowed to later submit proposals to build the new prisons. 

“The first steps in my plan to revitalize Alabama’s prisons are to generate interest from qualified developer teams, and we have been successful,” Governor Ivey said. “We must continue working together to ensure that this plan is propelled forward with consistent momentum as there is a significant need for new infrastructure.”

“The Governor’s Office, my staff and project team are very pleased with the SOQ response and look forward to continuing the procurement process, as that will bring us one step closer to substantive change and transformation for prisons in Alabama,” ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn said in the press release. 

The Geo Group, headquartered in Florida, is one of the country’s two largest private prison companies and either manages or owns 133 facilities across the U.S. and in Australia, South Africa and the United Kingdom. The company operates prisons, immigrant detention facilities and mental health and residential treatment facilities. 

Geo Group has been sued numerous times connected to prison riots and problems at its immigrant detention centers, some of which have led to the deaths of immigrants detained there. 

In a report released in June the Department of Homeland Security found serious safety problems and violations of immigrants rights at Geo Group-operated immigrant detentions centers in California, Colorado and Louisiana. 

Corrections Consultants LLC is owned by Nashville businessman Doctor Robert Crants Jr., who was one of the co-founders of Corrections Corporation of America, which later changed names to CoreCivic. 

Crants in May agreed to repay Louisiana-based LCS Corrections Services $2 million as part of a settlement agreement in which the company alleged in a lawsuit that Crants had taken the money through a bond refinancing deal without the company’s knowledge or approval. Crants had served as a board member at LCS Corrections Services.

Rhode Island-based Corvias, LLC provides housing for students and U.S. military service members, but there’s also no indication on the company’s website or in other news accounts that the company has built prisons. 

John Picerne, founder of Corvias, testified before the U.S. Congress in January for what Picerne said was unacceptable living standards in some of his company’s military housing. 

Reuters has reported that numerous military housing units operated by Corvais in multiple states had busted pipes, collapsed ceilings, mold and exposed lead paint. 

Nashville-based CoreCivic manages more than 65 states and federal prisons and detention centers throughout the U.S. 

The company, likely the largest private prison operator in the country, changed its name from Corrections Corporation of America to CoreCivic in 2016 to rebrand the giant company after a series of lawsuits over prisoner abuse, prison riots and escapes. Some of those problems have been attributed to cost-cutting measures at the company. 

CoreCivic, along with Geo Group, runs the majority of the Immigrtion and Customs Enforcement’s immigrant detention centers in the U.S. 

Unsafe conditions at many of those immigrant detention centers has been well documented in recent months. 

 

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Governor

Ivey awards $2.9 million for weatherization projects to assist elderly, low-income residents

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Gov. Kay Ivey has awarded 14 grants totaling $2.9 million to assist low-income and elderly residents with improvements to their homes to lower energy costs and improve home safety. 

The grants support Alabama’s Weatherization Assistance Program which provides funds to keep homes warmer in the winter and cooler in summer and makes them more energy efficient. The grants target the elderly, people with disabilities and low-income families with children.

“Alabamians on limited incomes, especially during these difficult times, can often struggle to buy medicine and groceries when having to pay high heating and cooling bills,” Gov. Ivey said. “These grants offer tremendous relief by providing weatherization measures that make vast differences in sealing homes against the elements and reducing energy costs.”

Qualified homes are assessed to determine the most cost-effective energy efficiency measures. Common improvements including installing insulation in attics, walls and floors; sealing air leaks around doors and windows; repairs and tune-ups to air-conditioning and heating units and replacing light bulbs with more energy-efficient bulbs.

The improvements also reduce the risk of fires and other home hazards.  

Grants are available in all 67 Alabama counties and work is managed through community action agencies and regional planning commissions.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the grants from funds made available by the U.S. Department of Energy.

 “ADECA joins with Gov. Ivey and these partner agencies to make the Weatherization Assistance Program the success it has been and will continue to be,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said. “The improvements make a lasting impact in reducing home energy costs for those in need.”

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Listed (geographically) are grant amounts, community action agencies responsible for the programs, the counties served and their telephone number. Applicants should contact those agencies.

  • $107,309 to Community Action Agency of Northwest Alabama (Colbert, Franklin and Lauderdale) 256-766-4330
  • $171,342 to Community Action Partnership Huntsville/Madison and Limestone Counties(Limestone and Madison) 256-851-9800
  • $292,188 to Community Action Agency of Northeast Alabama Inc. (Blount, Cherokee, DeKalb, Etowah, Jackson, Marshall and St. Clair) 256-638-4430
  • $217,595 to Community Action Partnership of North Alabama (Cullman, Lawrence, Marion, Morgan, Walker and Winston) 256-355-7843
  • $205,533 to Community Service Programs of West Alabama Inc. (Bibb, Fayette, Greene, Hale, Lamar, Pickens, Sumter and Tuscaloosa) 205-752-5429
  • $388,664 to Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity(Jefferson) 205-327-7500
  • $171,872 to Community Action Agency of Talladega, Clay, Randolph, Calhoun and Cleburne (Calhoun, Clay, Cleburne, Randolph and Talladega) 256-362-6611
  • $61,577 to Community Action Committee Inc. of Chambers-Tallapoosa-Coosa (Chambers, Tallapoosa and Coosa) 256-825-4287
  • $265,673 to Central Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission (Autauga, Chilton, Dallas, Elmore, Macon, Perry, Russell and Shelby) 334-262-4300
  • $106,277 to Alabama Council on Human Relations Inc. (Lee) 334-821-8336
  • $155,278 to Montgomery County Commission (through Central Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission) (Montgomery) 334-832-1210
  • $267,420 to Organized Community Action Program Inc. (Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Coffee, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston, Lowndes and Pike) 334-566-1712
  • $297,008 to Mobile Community Action Inc.(Choctaw, Mobile and Washington) 251-457-5700
  • $192,264 to Community Action Agency of South Alabama (Baldwin, Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia, Marengo, Monroe and Wilcox) 251-626-2646

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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Governor

State leaders briefed on efforts to combat coronavirus

Brandon Moseley and Nicole Jones

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State leaders held a conference call Monday led by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on the coronavirus that is sweeping the state of Alabama and state efforts to fight the spread of the deadly virus.

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said that he appreciated Governor Ivey’s statewide shelter in place order that was issued through April 30 on Friday.

Harris said that the state is using Google tracking of cell phones to measure how closely the people of Alabama follow their orders to stay in their houses, except for necessary travel to buy groceries, prescriptions, and other essentials.

Harris said that approximately 1,900 Alabamians had been diagnosed with COVID-19. 250 of them have been hospitalized. 125 of those are in intensive care. There have been 44 deaths reported and the Alabama Department of Public Health was in the process of confirming that COVID-19 was the cause of death.

Harris said that almost half of the Alabama dead are under the age 65. They typically with heart disease or diabetes. Half of Alabama’s deaths are African Americans. Harris attributed this to the high prevalence of heart disease and diabetes among Alabama’s Black community.

Of the infection cases, 270 are health care workers. Harris expressed concern about the ramifications of the loss of health care workers from the front lines. Harris expected that the state will see peak hospitalizations around April 16 to17.

Harris said that the state has ordered more ventilators. He expects an order of refurbished models as early as Tuesday and has signed purchase agreements for additional ventilators. Harris said that in case of a surge the Mobile Civic Center and Sheraton Hotel and the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center will be used as alternative treatment sites. The state has completed an assessment of using Huntsville’s civic center over the weekend. The state is still working on staffing and equipment plans need for the alternative care sites. The Governor’s office is reaching out to retired health care workers for filling those staffing needs.

Harris said that the Blackbelt and Wiregrass areas now have COVID-19 testing sites. 66 of Alabama’s 67 counties have confirmed cases of COVID-19.

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Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) said that it is a Class C Misdemeanor for those who do not abide by the recent Public Health orders. Marshall said that he has had lots of request for copies of the order. They are also frequently asking questions about the parameters for the order.

Marshall said that price-gouging is illegal and that his office is working directly with the acquisition team to acquire health resources we need . His office has issued guidance for municipalities. The AG’s office has five teams with specific categories to answer questions for consistent, accurate responses.

Marshall said that there is no definition of “quarantine” in Alabama code law and requested that the legislature address this in the law.

Senate President Pro Tem. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said that there is a concern that we could run out of ventilators in Lee County. Marsh asked if we have some transferred to that area from areas that are not seeing the surge.

The ADPH responded that we are moving from area-to-area. The ventilators are physically owned by the individual hospitals. The ADPH receives reports of what hospitals are needing ventilators. When ADPH gets a request, the ADPH goes to the hospital that owns and reaches out to see if a transfer is possible. The Community colleges have ventilators and have donated to Lee County. As demand spreads over the state, the concern is that those not being used will be used; hence the reason why ADPH is working to acquire MORE ventilators rather than move around.

State Senator Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, expressed his concern that when the spike hits many rural areas have no hospitals, no ICUs, no respiratory therapists, etc.

ADPH said that their plan for rural areas is that the Governor’s office has activated the Medical Planning Unit of the Alabama National Guard to work on transportation options to move patients to areas where care can be provided.

Singleton suggested that the state try and work with local cable companies to see if they will offer free WiFi during the crisis.

Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, asked: When the surge occurs, are those plans already in place, or are they being implemented at this point?

The ADPH response was that it was a combination. The Department has been working for years with hospitals to increase capability in emergency situations and have completed exercises within the past year. The Department is also developing plans for initial capacity. The plan includes: the conversion of hotels, civic centers, etc. ADPH is working with the Army Corps of Engineers and Alabama National Guard to develop alternative facilities. These are expected to open within the next two to three weeks. They are still working with Corps for staffing and equipment plans.

McCutcheon asked if there is a good cooperative spirit around the state between ADPH and hospitals regarding logistics, personnel, etc.?

ADPH answered Yes, there is an ADPH staff member working with each hospital. The Governor’s volunteer services division is working to recruit back retired medical personnel and unemployed medical professionals. They opened a portal on Friday afternoon. Almost 250 have signed up to assist.

McCutcheon asked: with the nursing homes is ADPH anticipating more problems within the nursing home community?

ADPH answer: No. ADPH providing PPE to nursing homes and educating personnel on infection control measures.

Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) asked: we have heard a lot of information at the national level about different levels of testing, antibody amounts, immunity, etc. – Where does the ADPH see the testing ideas moving forward? What are the next steps for other types of testing?

The ADPH answer: focused on diagnostic testing so we get a picture of what the disease is doing. Some of the blood testing involving antibodies will be more beneficial later as we look at results. Diagnostic testing is essential at this time so we can look at and control the spread of the disease. ADPH is looking at every FDA-approved testing option across the state.

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) asked: Are we contacting some of the closed hospitals about possible sites?

The ADPH responded that the factors they are looking at includes the hospital density relate to the population, current outbreaks (hotspots). They have looked at recently-closed hospitals and whether or not the effort is as effective as a larger-capacity alternative facility. The ADPH is looking at all options; but staffing is a concern. We cannot depend on sister states because this is a national and international crisis.

Rep. Daniels suggested looking at nursing students and medical students for help, especially those who are graduation soon and suggested looking at universities for alternative sites.

Harris said that PPE has to be reserved for the health care industry because they have the most contact with COVID-19. The Department is placing orders in to get more in for other groups.

State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey said that the State Department of Education is working with a skeleton crew due to COVID-19 concerns.

Mackey said that Birmingham City and Jefferson County schools have begun closing down their community feeding sites. The lack of staff is the biggest reason for closing. There are not enough folks to carry out the meal service plans. Other superintendents have expressed similar situations. They are looking at private vendors stepping in. Birmingham was feeding 4,000 students per week out of 26,000 students. The students are being fed one last time today and will receive multiple meals to take home for the week. When folks are not available to do the work, school systems cannot get the food out. Suppliers also cannot get food to the schools because of COVID-19-related logistics issues.

Mackey said that he has encouraged vendors to provide pre-packaged meals, which are acceptable under USDA guidelines; however, they are not available with many current vendors. Some sites are giving out 21 meals a week for students to use for the entire week. The U.S. Dept. of Education will give Alabama an opportunity for a waiver for a carry-over for federal money – they do not want federal money returned… in a predicament with excess of money that is supposed to be sent to Washington; however, feds the do not want it back and are working on the waiver. Nonprofits are also assisting to pay for meals, but that money can only go so far

Mackey said that they are having issues with hackers “zoom bombing” the E-learning. This is a security threat for educational systems. The schools have issued remote WiFi to high-poverty areas.

Mackey said that they are issuing teacher certifications for students at college level graduating this spring and/or summer waiving the requirement of student teaching experience. Will issue a certificate, along with waiver a to postpone deadlines to pass any required standardized tests for a year. Teachers who are due for recertifications will not lose their certifications during this time for failure to complete continuing education requirements. Due to fears of COVID-19, some school systems do not have enough folks willing to come to work.

House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, asked: In rural areas, teachers have to pick up supplemental materials for students. Are amendments possible post- Friday’s Public Health Order?

Dr. Mackey response said that the State Dept. of Education received requests to amend their plan. Can they mail them? Yes – it is expensive but necessary in some cases. Other areas are rotating in shifts so only a few folks are coming to pick up at a time. Some systems have drive-through service where parents can pick up materials through car line window.

Dr. Don Williamson with the Alabama Hospital Association said that efforts to prohibit elective surgeries have opened up capacities 52 percent of hospital beds are available for use as of today; 800 ventilators are available as of today; and 35 percent of ICU beds are available as of today. There are plans for alternative sites in Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile, Huntsville, Auburn, and Tuscaloosa. Williamson expressed interest in Anniston, Dothan, and the Quad-cities. The challenges are acquisition of personal protection equipment (PPE).

Dr. Brandon Farmer with the Alabama Nursing Home Association said that there are 231 skilled nursing facilities in the state. As of this morning, 31 facilities, 13-15 percent have a COVID-19 exposure, which can be characterized as an employee and/or residents that have tested positive. They are testing everyone who has come in contact with a resident or employee that has tested positive .

Farmer said that the nursing homes are immediately isolating infected residents and if needed are transferring those patients to the appropriate hospitals to receive acute care. The patients are transferred back into the building when hospital deems it acceptable. The nursing homes have created COVID-19 only wings and/or buildings in hotspots. The nursing home owners are collaborating with hospital systems to design this to help ease the capacity and surge that hotspot hospitals anticipate. The nursing homes are looking at converting former assisted living facilities into COVID-19 buildings.

Farmer said that there is still a significant shortage in PPE / if needed to isolate with clean PPE, we are looking at $120 per patient per day, which is above what is normally in place. When a caregiver tests positive, the caregiver is immediately quarantined, along with people who were around the caregiver. To incentivize staff to work with COVID-19 patients, the nursing homes have been giving $2-$5 per hour raises.

Farmer said that they are working to see that federal matching appropriation are disseminated quickly. The CARES ACT has earmarked funds for COVID-19 combatants. The nursing homes are working to get it.

Governor Ivey said that the sister of Representative Dexter Grimsley (D-Abbeville) passed away over the weekend from COVID-19.

Ivey said that her controversial decision to issue a stay at home order for the state made on Friday afternoon was not taken lightly.

“Stay at home, wash your hands and do not touch your face when you have to go out,” Ivey stated.

“The next few weeks are going to be the worst for Alabamians- hence the reason why the Governor’s office took a more drastic step on Friday,” Ivey said. “Do not look for loopholes within the law – COVID-19 is a crisis.”

Ivey said that she is aware that industry is impacted, but folks may not be alive to work if folks do not stay at home.

Ivey said that a new website, All Together Alabama, will be launched this week for constituents to receive accurate information related to COVID-19.

On Tuesday, the Governor plans to hold a Ribbons of Hope press conference with ministers, the medical community, and first responders at 9:00 a.m. The Governor is asking citizens to tie ribbon around trees, mailboxes, etc. as a symbol of prayers and hope for the healthcare workers and first responders.

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones said, “Governor Ivey, the Alabama Department of Public Health, and leaders throughout our state are working around the clock to assess all possible remedies for the COVID-19 crisis. It is critically important for all Alabamians obey the most recent Public Health Order to slow the spread. Stay at home if at all possible. If you must leave, wash your hands, wear a mask, wear gloves, and do not touch your face.”

“The State of Alabama has taken proactive measures to ensure residents have access to assistance and information,” Dr. Jones said. “On Monday afternoon, the Office of the Governor launched the “All Together Alabama” website (www.ALtogetheralabama.org) for Alabamians who need help or who want to help.”

 

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Economy

Gov. Ivey launches state guide to COVID-19 relief efforts

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Governor Kay Ivey on Monday announced the launch of altogetheralabama.org, an online resource that will serve as a hub of information for the state’s response to the coronavirus crisis.

The site becomes the state’s official guide to COVID-19 relief efforts, to help empower those impacted by the outbreak and those who want to offer support.

“We wanted to quickly create a trusted resource that centralizes information, resources and opportunities for businesses and individuals in need of support,” Governor Ivey said. “We are all in this together.”

The website is designed to be a comprehensive guide to aid in navigating all issues related to the COVID-19 response. Individuals and business owners can seek help and identify state and federal resources that can provide a lifeline in the form of low-interest loans and financial assistance.

Business owners, for example, can learn about the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, which launched April 3 to provide a direct incentive for them to keep their workers on the payroll. Displaced workers, meanwhile, can use the site to learn about enhanced unemployment benefits.

“It’s important for Alabama’s business owners and its workforce to take full advantage of the resources being made available through the federal government’s $2 trillion coronavirus relief package,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “The site is meant to expedite the process so both employers and employees can get back up on their feet as fast as possible.”

At the same time, the site will function as a pathway for Alabama’s good corporate citizens and the general public to offer support and solutions that can help spark recovery across the state. It will act as a portal for companies, non-profits and individuals to volunteer, make donations of supplies, offer an assistance program, and even post job openings.

The site was developed in partnership with Opportunity Alabama, a non-profit organization that promotes investment in the state’s designated Opportunity Zones. It was facilitated by a partnership with Alabama Power.

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“Over the last two years, Opportunity Zones have allowed us to build a network of stakeholders that care deeply about helping distressed places,” said Alex Flachsbart, Opportunity Alabama founder and CEO. “We hope this site will provide a gateway linking our network to those businesses and communities in economic distress, no matter where they are in Alabama.”

“These are challenging times,” added Governor Ivey. “We needed a place to efficiently and rapidly post and disseminate information – as soon as it’s available – for all affected parties. Thank you for your support and partnership in helping bring Alabama together.”

Any business, program or individual who would like to join ALtogether as a resource in COVID-19 response and relief can register at altogetheralabama.org/join.

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Governor

Governor prohibits evictions, foreclosures during COVID-19 outbreak

Jessa Reid Bolling

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photo via Governors Office

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued an order on April 3 to suspend the enforcement of any evictions or foreclosures due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The protective order is set to last for the duration of the state of emergency that was declared on March 13.

The order instructs all law enforcement officers to cease enforcement of any order that would leave someone displaced from their residence.

“Because COVID-19 mitigation efforts require people to remain at their place of residence, I find that it would promote safety and protection of the civilian population to grant temporary relief from residential evictions and foreclosures,” the order reads. 

“To that end: All state, county, and local law enforcement officers are hereby directed to cease enforcement of any order that would result in the displacement of a person from his or her place of residence. 

“Nothing in this section shall be construed as relieving any individual of the obligation to pay rent, to make mortgage payments, or to comply with any other obligation that an individual may have under a rental agreement or mortgage.”

The protective order on evictions and foreclosures was issued the same day that Ivey issued a stay-at-home order which will require Alabamians to stay at home as much as possible — except for essential outings like grocery shopping and getting medical care.

The stay-at-home order goes into effect on April 4 at 5 p.m. and will expire on Tuesday, April 30, 2020, at 5 p.m. 

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