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Senate Appropriations Committee headed by Shelby advances spending bills

Josh Moon

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The Senate Committee on Appropriations today approved the FY2020 spending bills for the Appropriations Subcommittees on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (T-HUD); Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies; and Financial Services and General Government.

The bills were each reported favorably out of the committee by a vote of 31-0 and contain important provisions impacting the state of Alabama. 

“These spending measures advanced by the committee today are a positive step in this year’s appropriations process,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, who chairs the committee.  “From supporting local farmers to building upon our strong infrastructure, transportation, and financial systems, these bills prioritize the needs of the people of Alabama and the nation.  I am proud of the progress made on these bills, and I am hopeful that we can move other bills forward in the right direction.”

The T-HUD bill provides funding to improve our nation’s transportation and housing infrastructure and will continue to advance our air traffic control systems and aircraft certification processes.

The Agriculture funding measure supports the U.S. Department of Agriculture, rural development, conservation programs, and food and drug safety.  It also creates incentives for military veterans to enter careers in agriculture and supports significant resources for the Federal Drug Administration to combat the opioid epidemic.

The Financial Services and General Government bill includes targeted funding increases for the Treasury Department to combat money laundering and terrorism financing; for the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to oversee our nation’s securities, swaps, and futures markets; for the Federal courts to support the administration of justice; and for the General Services Administration’s Federal Buildings Fund.

 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Elections

Sen. Doug Jones addresses Auburn students

Republican Tommy Tuberville was also invited to participate, but declined.

Brandon Moseley

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Sen. Doug Jones at a forum at Auburn University.

Incumbent U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, addressed Auburn University students at a forum on the university’s campus on Wednesday.

“I am a Democratic candidate, but I am an Alabama senator, and that is what I have tried to be since I have been here,” Jones said. “I promised I would work across the aisle.”

Jones said that he has sponsored 22 bipartisan bills that have been signed by President Donald Trump.

Jones and his Republican opponent, Tommy Tuberville, were both invited to address the Auburn College Democrats and the Auburn College Republicans in what the two college groups hoped would have been a debate between the two Senate candidates, but Tuberville declined to participate.

“I really appreciate the Auburn College Democrats and especially the Auburn College Republicans for inviting me,” Jones said. “I am disappointed that Tommy Tuberville is not here. I think it is important that people see two candidates side by side answering the same questions.”

“What you are seeing in the ads that are attacking me are simply not true,” Jones said.

Jones said that he does not support defunding the police, taking guns from Americans who like to hunt, and he does not favor abortion all the way to the point of birth.

“I have been a strong advocate for our military,” Jones said. “I have been a strong advocate for farmers. Even though I do not serve on the Agriculture Committee, I have done more for Alabama farmers than any senator has done since Howell Heflin, who was on the Agriculture Committee.”

The students asked Jones what he thought his greatest accomplishment in the Senate was.

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“That would be ending the Military Widow’s Tax,” Jones said.

Jones explained that the Military Widows tax only affects about 2,000 people In Alabama, but it is a big deal for those military families. When a serviceman is killed, the Pentagon pays a stipend to the surviving spouse. Many soldiers also purchased insurance for the possibility that they would not survive their service.

Instead of paying both the survivor’s benefit and the insurance benefit, the VA previously subtracted the insurance benefit from the VA death stipend. The widows were only getting about 55 cents on the dollar of what they had expected. Every year, the Gold Star wives came to Washington and asked for that change in the law, and every year, Senators would pat them on the back and then choose finances over repealing the tax and doing what was right, Jones said.

For 27 years, the Gold Star widows had made this a priority and nothing got done. Jones did not know about this until he got to the Senate, but when he found out, he reached across the aisle and sponsored a bill with Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine to end the tax.

Eventually the bill had 82 co-sponsors, and it got passed.

“It is not the voting rights act, it is not the civil rights act, but for those widows, it meant $1,200 a month,” Jones said.

The students also asked Jones what his greatest mistake was.

“Voting for Bill Barr,” Jones said on confirming William Barr as Trump’s attorney general. “I was so disappointed. I feel sorry for Jeff Sessions. I disagree with him on a number of policy issues, but I don’t think that he deserved the hits he was taking. I knew Bill Barr from his previous service. I thought he would be an independent voice, and he hasn’t.”

“I voted on the best information I had, and I was wrong on Barr,” Jones said. “I can defend every vote that I made. What I do in the United Senate is not about politics it is about service.”

Jones was asked if he favored ending the filibuster when Democrats win control of the Senate.

“No, I have too much respect for the Senate,” Jones said. “I don’t think Joe Biden will do that — at least he won’t start that way. He has too much respect for the history of the Senate as an institution. I want to try to get the Senate back to the way it was.”

The students asked if he favored the Democrats using their new power to adjust the number of judges on the Supreme Court.

“Nope,” Jones replied. “This goes back to the filibuster. We can’t start tearing down institutions because we don’t like some decision they make.”

Jones said that many Americans wanted to do the same thing when the court seemed to liberal with the Warren Court in the 1960s.

“Right now packing the court is not something I would be in favor of,” Jones added. “At the end of the day, you never know what is going to happen.”

“We always talk about I just want the courts to call balls and strikes, but it is not a baseball game,” Jones said. “Intelligent people disagree about the law and the rule of law.”

“The goal is to find common ground,” Jones said. “Frankly, Tommy Tuberville cannot do that. A football coach is trained to beat the other side — not work with them. On the radio, he calls them communists and socialists. I have two and a half years of working with them. He can’t do it. It is not about good and evil, and we need to stop thinking in those terms.”

The students asked if farmers should be given some relief from new regulations on the environment.

“I have been a huge proponent of agriculture,” Jones said. “The current USDA has been helping the biggest farmers and not Alabama farmers. The tariff wars hurt the Alabama farmer.”

“It is going to be a challenge to work it out,” Jones said. “It is in their best interests that we do something about the climate. I believe the science and so do farmers.”

Jones urged everyone to have faith in scientists.

“Trust them please,” Jones said. “One of the most frustrating things I see these days — and we see it in climate and I see it in the pandemic — is that we have got to trust our scientists.”

Jones said that is true of both the climate and the coronavirus pandemic.

“I have consistently said don’t believe what politicians say about this pandemic not unless they are repeating what the scientists say,” Jones said. “This next six months could very well be worse than the past six months.”

“We have got to trust them,” Jones said of the scientists. “If the doctors at the FDA approve the vaccine, I will trust the vaccine. We need to listen to the scientists at the FDA, the CDC, the NIH, at UAB, and what the companies say about the vaccine.”

Jones was asked what could be done to prevent Russia, China and Iran from interfering in our elections.

“We have the technology to do it, we have the will to do it, but we need an administration who will do it, and If you think I am knocking the Trump Administration, I am,” Jones said.

Jones was asked how we can move beyond partisanship.

“It is a lot more partisan outside of D.C. than in D.C.” Jones said. “People vote for partisanship. It is your vote that will change it. Your generation can change it. You need to tell your leaders that we want to hear issues, we want to hear politics.”

Jones said that he favored delisting marijuana from the banned drug list and making it legal for people with legal marijuana to cross state lines without going to jail for it. Jones was asked what we can do to fight the opioid crisis.

“We can’t prosecute your way out of it, though there is a role there with the prosecution of doctors for running pill mills,” Jones said. The civil lawsuits against drug manufacturers is a start, he said, and leaders need to be doing a better job of educating people. Mental healths should also be a priority, he said.

“There is a reason that people have to stand up and say ‘Black lives matter,’” Jones said, saying that too many Black people, particularly Black men, are killed by police.

On trade, Jones said that he is not an isolationist. “We (Alabama) need those foreign markets. We are an exporting state. We are the third largest exporter of automobiles in the country.”

Students asked Jones if he favored repealing the Patriot Act.

“I don’t think that is going to come up,” Jones said. “When it comes up for renewal, we will tweak it. I have had concerns about it, but at the end of the day that is something that we have to constantly monitor. We will not repeal it.”

Jones predicted that debate on health care will “dominate the next Congress.”

“I am very concerned about what we are going to do about health care if the ACA is declared unconstitutional,” Jones said, also reiterating his support for expanding Medicaid in Alabama. “The state made a huge mistake when it did not expand Medicaid,” he said. “I am not for Medicare for All, but I do think that there should be a public option.”

Jones was asked about the governor’s plan to lease and build three new so-called “mega-prisons.”

“The Trump administration really issued a scathing report on the state’s prisons, that really surprised me,” Jones said. “I don’t like privatizing the prisons or the post office. We had convict labor in this country for a long time, and it was horrible.”

Jones said solving the state’s prison problems requires money, and nobody wants to raise taxes. “Everybody wants to lock them up, but it costs money.”

The next president, whether it is Trump for a second term or his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, is getting a $27.2 trillion debt plus a coronavirus stimulus package at the end of this month that may make it close to $30 trillion by inauguration. APR asked if there is going to be a plan put in place to prevent the national debt from surpassing $40 trillion by the end of this decade.

“We have got to get out of this crisis first,” Jones said. “George W. Bush spent trillions fighting wars without paying for them while cutting taxes, and this president has done the same thing, and now those tax cuts are coming home to roost.”

“I am not going to start looking at this until after the coronavirus crisis is over,” Jones said. “Part of the reason that revenues are down is because people are not working and paying taxes. If we don’t get this solved, we could end up owing $50 trillion.”

Due to coronavirus concerns and maintaining the proper social distancing, Wednesday’s event was limited to just five news reporters. Jones told reporters that he is running neck-in-neck with Tuberville approaching Tuesday’s election.

“I am not going to guarantee a win, and I am not going to guarantee that we are not going to win,” Jones said.

Polls open on Tuesday at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. CST. You must have a valid photo ID in order to participate.

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Today is the last day to vote absentee in person

Some offices may close early due to Hurricane Zeta. Play it safe by going early.

Brandon Moseley

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An absentee ballot application.

If you are planning to go to the courthouse to vote ahead of Election Day, then you need to do it by Thursday, which is the last day to vote in person absentee in Alabama and the last day to request an absentee ballot.

To vote in-person absentee, find and go to your local election manager’s office. [Locations by county can be found here.]

You must have a valid photo ID to participate in any Alabama election, and you have to be a registered voter in Alabama. If you are not already registered to vote, while you can still register, it is too late to register to participate in this election.

Voters who do not have a valid photo ID can get a free voter ID from their local board of registrars or the secretary of state’s office.

When filling out your absentee ballot request, check the box that applies to your situation, or, if you’re voting absentee because of COVID-19, select “I have a physical illness or infirmity which prevents my attendance at the polls. [ID REQUIRED]”

No additional proof other than a valid photo ID is required. Then you can receive, fill out and turn in your ballot. Some offices may close early due to Hurricane Zeta. Play it safe by going early.

If you have an absentee ballot already, get it in the mail as soon as possible or hand deliver it to the election manager. If you miss today’s deadline to request an absentee ballot, you can still vote in person, like most people, at your assigned polling place on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3.

The state accepts a number of current photo IDs including:

  • Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Digital Driver’s License
  • Valid Alabama Nondriver ID (not expired or has been expired less than 60 days)
  • Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Digital Nondriver ID
  • Valid Alabama Photo Voter ID Card
  • Valid State-Issued ID (Alabama or any other state)
  • Valid AL Department of Corrections Release – Temporary ID
  • Valid AL Movement/Booking Sheet from Prison/Jail System (Photo Required)
  • Valid Pistol Permit (Photo Required)
  • Valid Federal-Issued ID
  • Valid US passport
  • Valid Employee ID from Federal Government, State of Alabama, County, Municipality, Board, or other entity of this state
  • Valid student or employee ID from a public or private college or university in the State of Alabama (including postgraduate technical or professional schools)
  • Digital student ID from a public or private college or university in the State of Alabama (including postgraduate technical or professional schools)
  • Valid student or employee ID issued by a state institution of higher learning in any other state
  • Digital student ID issued by a state institution of higher learning in any other state
  • Valid Military ID
  • Valid Tribal ID.

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State assessing damage from Hurricane Zeta

The state was still recovering from Hurricane Sally, which made landfall near Gulf Shores in September, and now it appears that Hurricane Zeta has left its own disaster area.

Brandon Moseley

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A satellite image of Hurricane Zeta. (VIA NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE)

Wednesday night and into the early morning hours of Thursday, Hurricane Zeta crossed the state. It was a fast-moving storm, which limited rainfall totals, but much of Alabama experienced tropical storm force winds.

Trees are down across the state, and many people do not have power this morning. State officials will be out this morning assessing how bad the damage is.

The state was still recovering from Hurricane Sally, which made landfall near Gulf Shores in September, and now it appears that Hurricane Zeta has left its own disaster area. This has been the most active hurricane season on record with dozens of named storms.

Alabama Power said at 5 a.m. on Twitter that nearly 500,000 were without power.

“At first light, our storm team will actively assess and respond to outages. #HurricaneZeta continues to move through Alabama, bringing tropical storm force winds. At this time, there are 494,000 outages across the state,” Alabama Power wrote on Twitter.

The storm surge from Hurricane Zeta was worse in some places than forecasters anticipated.

The National Weather Service in Mobile reported on Twitter, “Predictions were not low. The tidal gauges rose to 5+ feet in the northern part of Mobile Bay where the forecast was 4-6 ft. Down along the MS Sound, the gauges rose to almost 7 feet and the forecast was 6-9 ft.”

ABC 33/40 meteorologist James Spann said, “As expected, we experienced a high impact, widespread wind event across Alabama last night and early this morning as Tropical Storm Zeta moved through. Winds gusted as high as 76 mph across Central Alabama, knocking down thousands of trees.”

There are trees down on homes, cars, across roads and on power lines. First responders and power crews are out on the roads working so motorists need to slow down and be patient.

Alabama Power said, “Reminder: If you see any downed lines, don’t assume they are de-energized and maintain a safe distance.”

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Spann said the state can expect improving weather as cooler, drier air rolls in following Zeta.

A lot of people are going to be doing a lot of work in the next several days on the cleanup and a lot of chain saws are going to be used, many operated by people who are not normally chainsaw operators. The Alabama Emergency Management Agency warns them to avoid making the situation worse by having accidents.

“After a hurricane, danger often remains, especially for cleanup workers. Chainsaws are one of the most dangerous power tools used during cleanup. Always wear proper safety equipment, learn to safely operate the saw and keep it in good working condition.” [Here’s more information on that.]

In addition to the downed power lines, fallen trees and debris on the roads there is also local flooding conditions that motorists need to be aware of.

The National Weather Service Office in Mobile said on Twitter, “Water levels are quickly falling in some locations, but are slow to fall in other locations along the coastline of Mobile Bay and along the Mississippi Sound. Conditions are slowly improving. #Zeta.”

The power outages mean that many traffic lights are out in the state. If you don’t need to go out, don’t, and if you do need to go somewhere, give yourself more time to get there and slow down. First responders are busy enough helping people with the weather-related emergencies, they don’t need to have to drop that to deal with avoidable accidents on the roads or rescuing some motorist who drove into floodwaters.

The Baldwin County Emergency Management Agency said on Twitter, “Do your part to keep a 1st responder safe – stay off the roads until after daylight and then only travel as necessary. Many road hazards are hidden to drivers until it is too late.”

Atlantic hurricane season runs through the end of November.

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5th Judicial Circuit DA switches to the Republican Party

The ALGOP says 69 percent of district attorneys in Alabama are now Republicans.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The district attorney for Alabama’s 5th Judicial Circuit, Jeremy Duerr, switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party this week at the Tallapoosa County Republican Party quarterly meeting in Alexander City.

“District Attorney Duerr contacted me several months ago expressing his interest to become a member of the Republican Party citing several changes in the values of the Democrat Party which did not align with his conservative Christian values,” said Jerry Martin, chairman of the Tallapoosa County Republican Party. “He gave a moving speech to the Executive Committee as he shared his views stating that the attacks from the Democrat Party regarding the defunding of police were in direct conflict with him being the top law enforcement official in the Fifth Judicial Circuit. Following a brief discussion, DA Duerr was voted into the party by the Tallapoosa County Republican Party per the ALGOP governing bylaws.”

Alabama Republican Party chair Terry Lathan welcomed Duerr into the Alabama Republican Party.

“We are honored to have DA Duerr as our newest member of the Grand Old Party,” Lathan said. “There’s a reason 66% of partisan elected offices in Alabama are held by Republicans. The Democrat party leaders and platform are too far out of the mainstream for Alabamians.”

Lathan said that 69 percent of the district attorneys in Alabama are now Republicans.

“We look forward to working with Mr. Duerr,” Lathan concluded.

Alabama’s 5th Judicial Circuit includes Tallapoosa, Chambers, Macon and Randolph Counties.

The Republicans swept all the statewide races and took control of both chambers of the Alabama Legislature in the 2010 election. Since then many sheriffs, probate judges, county commissioners and district attorneys have switched to the Republican Party rather than run for re-election as Democrats.

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