Friday, U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) convened a U.S. Senate Select Committee on Aging field hearing entitled, “Pancreatic Cancer: Fighting the World’s Toughest Cancer in Alabama and Nationally,” at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). The witnesses included family members who have lost a loved one from pancreatic cancer, as well as the director of UAB’s Pancreatobiliary Disease Center.
“As too many of us in this room know firsthand, pancreatic cancer takes a devastating toll on families and communities across this state and the country,” Sen. Jones said. “So many lives are touched by cancer in general, but in particular pancreatic cancer is a deadly disease. Last year—although my family has had run-ins with different forms of cancer over the years—I became one of the millions who has lost a loved one to pancreatic cancer when my dear friend, Giles Perkins, lost his life to this terrible disease. I am grateful to have Giles’ wife and also a dear friend, Hillery Head, with us today to honor his memory,” said Senator Jones in his opening remarks.”
“Unfortunately, Giles is one of many Americans and Alabamians who have lost their lives to pancreatic cancer,” Jones said. “This year, more than 56,000 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The disease has one of the lowest survival rates of any form of cancer, with less than nine-percent of patients surviving five years after their initial diagnosis. In 2019, this disease is expected to claim nearly 46,000 lives across the county and over 700—approximately 770—in Alabama.”
The witnesses shared their testimony about the impact the disease had on their loved ones and the importance of investing in medical research.
“In the spring of 2016, my husband, Giles Perkins, began feeling under the weather,” Hillery Head said. “His health declined rapidly, and none of the antibiotics he took seemed to help. I urged him to see my primary care physician, who ran him through a battery of tests, diagnosed him with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer. Despite all that was in our favor, on December 2, 2018, Giles passed away. He died in our home, surrounded by family and friends and people who loved him. Cancer doesn’t care. So, it’s up to us to care. It’s up to us to support, to fight, to fund, to help, to love, and to live every day like it is a gift from God. It’s up to us to support families facing this same diagnosis, and find a cure for this disease.”
Lynette F. Nall lost her daughter, Letisha, to pancreatic cancer.
“On January 30, 2019, after a few days at home, Tish succumbed to the disease in bed early that morning,” Nall said. “Needless to say, there should be early detection for this disease. Tish’s first visit to the doctor should have resulted in some test that could have saved her life. With all the trials that have been done, and still going on, there should be some specific treatment that has been proven to work well for this cancer. The trial and error methods were frustrating for Tish, and for me, as her mother, to see her suffer.”
Steve Cook lost his wife, Marqueta, to pancreatic cancer.
“As [Marqueta] continued to battle the disease, and we began learning more about pancreatic cancer, I realized that funding for research was a challenge,” Cook said. “Recognizing that one of the strongest weapons we have in fighting the disease is federal research funding, Marqueta encouraged me to take the message to our leaders in Washington, D.C. I attended my first PanCAN (Pancreatic Cancer Action Network) Advocacy Day in 2018, about two weeks after she passed away, just 12 months after her initial diagnosis. Truth be told, I considered not going but I knew she had wanted me to go – I am very glad I did. This disease can render you hopeless but taking a unified message to Capitol Hill with hundreds of others was inspiring – we all had a shared bond.”
J. Bart Rose, MD, MAS is the Director of UAB’s Pancreatobiliary Disease Centers, the largest treatment center in the region for pancreatic cancer.
“Alabama has a higher death rate from pancreas cancer than would be predicted,” Dr. Rose said. “Our state has the 9th highest pancreatic cancer death rate in the United States even though it only ranks as the 21st highest rate for new case numbers… As a pancreatic cancer researcher, I can state without question that investment in this area is desperately needed. The only way we are going to move the needle on improving overall survival beyond the currently unacceptable 9% is by having better therapy for advance disease and earlier detection.”
Giles Perkins was Jones longtime friend and managed his 2017 campaign for Senate, despite battling cancer at the time.
Commissioner praises prison employees for putting lives on the line during pandemic
Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn on Thursday praised the department’s employees for “literally putting their lives on the line” coming into work during the COVID-19 crisis. Dunn was speaking to the Alabama State Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee, which is holding budget hearings in Montgomery.
“I cannot praise them enough,” Dunn said. “They are going into the facility knowing that it (the coronavirus) is there. Not just our corrections officers but also our healthcare workers.”
“Many of our workers are single moms,” Dunn said. “We have several families where both the husband and wife work for the department and they have children and they are coming to work each day.”
“188 of our staff have self-reported” being coronavirus positive, Dunn said. “109 of them have already been able to return to work. That is a tribute to the dedication of our staff. Unfortunately, we have had two employee deaths.”
“We are working on an expanded testing protocol, so we can eventually test the entire inmate population and can offer testing to our staff,” Dunn said. Employees also have the option of going to their doctor for testing.
“To this point we have tested 523 inmates, 2 percent of our population, and that number will continue to expand,” Dunn assured legislators.
Dunn said COVID-19 has negatively impacted ADOC’s efforts to hire more corrections officers. They have had to cancel job fairs and some new officer trainings due to the coronavirus shutdown. Dunn assured the senators that there has been progress in addressing the staffing issues that have been cited in a lawsuit in federal court.
Dunn said that to this point in 2020, ADOC has had a net increase of 150 corrections officers. The Department has made 455 new hires, but has lost 305 due to attrition for a net gain of 150.
Dunn showed a graph to the state Senators showing that the number of corrections officers working at ADOC peaked at around 2,000 in 2011. Since then the number of officers has declined precipitously dropping to as low as 1100, before beginning to rise in the last year.
“Our hiring efforts have been slowed down by COVID-19,” Dunn explained
Dunn said that they are talking with many candidates who are interested once their unemployment runs out. “We have a whole pool of folks who are waiting and seeing.”
“We always understood that this was going to be a process,” Dunn told Senators.
“Our personnel budget next year is $300 million,” Dunn said. “We have reduced our overtime over $300,000 this year. We have a much tighter management control over that. Part of that reduction is due to the increase in staffing.
Committee Chairman Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, told Dunn, “The over is a very sensitive matter.”
Dunn said that any savings from reducing overtime is being used to pay for the new hires.
Dunn said that the prisons are currently operating at 155 percent capacity. Dunn predicted that once the state builds the three new mega-prisons currently in the bid process that ADOC will be operating at 120 to 125 percent capacity. Dunn said that the state has determined from the California case that 137 percent capacity is right at about the line where the federal courts would intervene. ADOC has set the capacity goal at 120 to 125 percent to have a buffer percentage.
ADOC is funded in the State General Fund (SGF) budget. Alabama has an arcane budgeting system where over 90 percent of state funds are earmarked and there are two separate budgets: the SGF and the state education trust fund budget (ETF). Alabama historically has underfunded its prisons and has long neglected its aging prison infrastructure.
COVID-19 remains a very serious problem in Alabama. 2,064 Alabamians were reported positive on Thursday and another ten died, taking Alabama’s death toll to 1,042.
Rogers leads Homeland Security Committee Republicans
Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, on Thursday delivered an opening statement highly critical of the Chinese government at a Homeland Security Committee hearing in Washington entitled “Examining the National Response to the Worsening Coronavirus Pandemic.”
“I appreciate you granting my request to allow Members to use the hearing room today,” Rogers said. “We should be conducting our important oversight and legislative business here in Washington. We are much more productive when Members are here, in person, doing our work together. We’ve already proven we can do it safely. I hope we will return to regular order as soon as possible.”
“As you know, I strongly disagree with the Speaker’s unilateral decision to shut down the House of Representatives,” Rogers explained. “We should be conducting our important oversight and legislative business here in Washington. We are much more productive when Members are here, in person, doing our work together. We’ve already proven we can do it safely. I hope we will return to regular order as soon as possible.”
“As I said before, our hearts go out to those who have lost their loved ones to COVID-19 and those who are currently undergoing treatment,” Rogers continued. “COVID-19 is an unprecedented global pandemic that requires an unprecedented response.”
Rogers was highly critical of the Chinese government and their role in the global pandemic.
“Unfortunately, we lost precious time early in the response when China hid the disease from the world,” Rogers said. “For weeks the Chinese Communist Party refused entry to outside medical experts. The Chinese suppressed journalists from reporting. Worst of all, China deliberately withheld evidence of the virus’ structure and deadly spread. During this, the Chinese hoarded life-saving medical supplies and encouraged foreign travel, seeding the virus across the globe. I want to commend Ranking Member McCaul’s work on the Foreign Affairs Committee to extensively document this deadly cover-up in a recent report.”
“It’s clear that China has pulled out all the stops to manipulate everyone from media outlets to the World Health Organization,” Rogers continued. “The WHO maintained for months that China had promptly self-reported COVID-19. They did not. And after months of lying the WHO has come clean. The WHO now says it found out about COVID from media reports and whistleblowers from China. The Chinese Communist Party once again has been caught with blood on its hands.”
“Facing an extraordinary public health crisis and China’s deadly coverup, the Trump Administration has responded with a whole of government response,” Rogers stated. ”To date, the Administration has – Prohibited the entry of travelers from global hot spots; Invoked the Defense Production Act to increase supplies of critically needed medical equipment, such as ventilators; Coordinated the delivery of over 167 million respirators, 682 million surgical masks, and 17 billion gloves; Sent over $125 billion to the states to support the medical response to COVID-19; Distributed over $500 billion in PPP loans to small business; and Helped facilitate the testing of over 36 million tests. In fact, we are now capable of conducting over 700,000 tests per day. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the number of positive tests are rising in many areas. That’s why it’s so important for all Americans to continue to heed the advice of our federal, state, and local public health officials.”
“I am pleased to see a couple of public health and emergency response officials on the panel today,” Rogers said. “Colonel Hastings currently serves as the Director of Alabama’s Emergency Management Agency. He had a very distinguished 30 year career in the Air Force. For the last 3 years, he has done a tremendous job leading EMA’s response to several natural disasters and now the COVID-19 pandemic. Colonel, thank you for joining us today. I appreciate all the witnesses for appearing. I look forward to hearing how you all are using the emergency funding and resources provided by Congress and the Administration to respond to this crisis.”
“I am also interested in knowing what more Congress can do to help you effectively respond,” Rogers said. “Our country has faced outbreaks of serious disease in the past. In each case, we’ve marshalled our collective resources and ingenuity to overcome the crisis. I’m confident that will be the case with COVID-19.
Rogers is the ranking member of the House Homeland Committee.
More than three million Americans have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, including more than 48,000 Alabamians. The novel strain of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, shows no sign of slowing anytime soon as 61,864 Americans were diagnosed just on Wednesday. The virus was first identified late in 2019 in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China late in 2019. The first positive test for the virus in Alabama was in mid-March.
Rogers represents Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District.
Perry Hooper endorses Tuberville
Former State Rep. Perry Hooper Jr., Trump National Victory committee member, formally endorsed former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville for U.S. Senate on Thursday.
“I have known Coach Tommy Tuberville since he first arrived at Auburn in 1999,” Hooper said. “Since day one when I went to watch my sons practice football, he was always talking to me about Republican Party Politics. I knew it was in his blood. Little did I know at the time, I would be joining the President in supporting him for the United States Senate.”
“Coaching football is more about leadership than X’s and O’s,” Hooper continued. “Tommy’s leadership abilities were the first thing that impressed me when we first met. He has been places recruiting that few people running for office have. He has been in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the country, convincing Mommas how he was going to help mold their 17 years old sons into men. He really cares about everyday people and what is best for our neighborhoods and schools. He has been a great teacher of life lessons as well as an outstanding football coach. He brought in former Auburn Linebacker Chette Williams to serve as the Auburn football team chaplain. He is a dedicated Christian and dedicated to his family which includes his former players. This is what this country needs now – leaders not career politicians.”
“Tommy Tuberville is a principled, free market conservative who has the support of President Trump and has put together a great campaign to defeat Doug Jones,” said David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth PAC “President Trump’s endorsement is by far the most important endorsement a candidate can earn for a Republican Primary, and we are glad to join President Trump in supporting Tommy Tuberville.”
Club for Growth PAC has been strongly supporting Tommy Tuberville for Senate and Barry Moore and Bill Hightower in the Second and First Congressional Districts.
During these turbulent times, the President needs Tommy Tuberville on his team.,” Hooper said. “As the President stated in his endorsement “Tommy Tuberville loves his country and will never let it down”. He is 100 % behind the President and the Trump Agenda. He could easily have retired after his long successful football career, but there is one more chapter in his life – serving in the US Senate. He has been a winner on and off the football field; as Senator he will be a big win for America and Alabama.”
Hooper is a member of the Alabama Republican Executive Committee and a strong supporter of Auburn University athletics.
Tuberville faces former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions on Tuesday, July 14, in the Republican primary runoff. The winner of the Republican nomination will face incumbent Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, in the Nov. 3 general election.
Sewell announces $4 Million federal grant for the Dannon Project
Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, announced Wednesday a $4 million federal grant to be awarded to the Dannon Project through the U.S. Department of Labor’s Pathway Home grant program. The Pathway Home program focuses on assisting justice involved individuals with community re-entry and employment.
“As we continue to reexamine systems of racial inequity and oppression, I am grateful for organizations like the Dannon Project who work to fill in the gaps left by our deeply flawed criminal justice system,” said Sewell. “In a state with one of the most underfunded and violent prison systems, with one of the highest rates of overall incarceration in the country, and where Black Americans are jailed at 3.3 times the rate of white Americans, we can clearly see the need for the work of the Dannon Project. Of course, this funding is just a drop in the bucket of what is needed for true reform, but it is a step in the right direction.”
The Dannon Project is a 501(c)(3) non-profit located in Birmingham, Alabama. The Dannon Project helps non-violent offenders who have been involved in the criminal justice system with re-entry by providing valuable resources such as short-term training, certifications, job placement and case management, beginning six months prior to release.
Kerri Pruitt is the executive director of the Dannon Project.
“The Dannon Project is thankful to receive this award and for the opportunity to make an impact in communities we serve,” said Pruitt. “Under the Pathway Home program, enrolled participants will have the option to follow one or more of three job training tracks: Industry-Recognized Credentials; Pre-Apprenticeship; or Career Pathways. The first two opportunities focus on training and job placement in employment sectors predicted to have the greatest job growth and/or high demand for skilled workers within the major industries of Birmingham’s regional economy. The third option, Career Pathways, will focus on facilitating participants’ enrollment at post-secondary institutions to attain educational credentials for their desired areas of employment.”
State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said that 82 percent of prison releases who get employment never re-offend.
Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said that 95 percent of the inmates in the Alabama prison system will at some point re-enter society.
Sewell is in her fifth term representing Alabama’s 7th Congressional District.