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Parole Board denies parole for five more felons, citing violent offenses

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles denied parole for five more offenders deemed too violent for early release.

The Board denied parole to Vondale Parker is a violent criminal who just last week punched a prison employee in the face. Parker has had a long criminal career, with seven convictions in Marshall County.

Parker was sentenced in 2017 to five years in prison for first-degree robbery and 15 years for promoting prison contraband. In 2013 he was sentenced to 10 years for possession of chemicals with the intent to manufacture drugs. Parker was sentenced in 2005 to 15 years in prison on a case from 2003 for second-degree assault in Marshall County.

The Gadsden Times reported on December 4, 2002 that Parker was charged by the Albertville Police Department with second-degree assault of his estranged girlfriend. The newspaper reported that according to Albertville Police Chief Benny Womack, Parker “picked up a sharp object and started cutting (the victim) with it.

Parker reportedly said that “it was time for her to die.” Marshall served only five years of the 15-year sentence for that violent assault before he was paroled back to society in 2008. In 1999 he was he sentenced to 15 years for a conviction for offenses-other class C felony. In 1996 he was sentenced to 15 years for second-degree arson and third-degree burglary. Court of Criminal Appeals records show he had originally been given a split sentence for the arson and burglary cases, to serve six months in prison and the rest on probation, but that probation was revoked, and he was sent back to prison. The Appeals Court records show he was released from prison again and placed on probation but that again he violated probation and was sent back to prison in 1999.

Despite accumulating a combined 90+ years in prison time for his various offenses and having served just two years of his most recent sentence, Parker was actually eligible for parole. That was denied.

Frank Everett Rowe also was denied parole. He has been convicted three times for violating the sex offender notification law. He was arrested in Mobile County in December 2018 and charged with violating the sex offender notification law and for being a sex offender with a Facebook account.

WPMI Television in Mobile reported on December 19, 2018 that Rowe, according to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s sex offender registry, raped a 16-year-old girl in DeKalb County. Rowe was convicted in 1986 of two counts of second-degree rape in DeKalb County and sentenced to one year in prison. After he was released from prison, he committed a third-degree robbery in Marshall County and was ordered back to prison for seven years in 1994.

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Rowe escaped from prison, was caught and then sentenced in 1998 in Madison County to two years for escape. In 2001 Rowe was sentenced to two years for felony DUI in DeKalb County. Rowe was sentenced in 2006 to two years for violating the sex offender notification law in Jackson County, and to another three years in 2008 for violating the same law in Chilton County. Then he violated the notification law again in 2016 in DeKalb County and was sentenced to 15 years. A representative of the Alabama Attorney General’s office attended Tuesday’s hearing to oppose Rowe’s parole, which was denied.

Parole was also denied for Joshua Tyler Phillips. Phillips has an extensive criminal history, having been convicted of crimes 11 times. He was paroled once before; but he committed more crimes and was sent back to prison. He was sentenced in 2016 to 16 years in prison for escape, five years for possession and receiving controlled substances, and six years for theft of property in Houston County. He was sentenced in 2011 to three years in prison for first-degree robbery in Dothan and 10 years for three counts of theft of property, one count of receiving stolen property, and third-degree burglary. The Dothan Eagle reported April 20, 2010 that Phillips pleaded guilty to the home invasion robbery, admitting to ransacking the home and stealing a rifle and $700 cash. He was sentenced in 2012 to five years for another conviction for receiving stolen property in Dale County. In 2008 he was sentenced to two years for obstruction of justice in Houston County.

Joshua Lynn Wilcutt was paroled less than a year ago when he was sentenced to five years, 11 months for criminal possession of a forged instrument. In 2011 he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for third-degree robbery in Morgan County, but he was paroled from the robbery sentence in 2013. In 2010 he was sentenced to one year, six months for illegal possession of and fraudulent use of a credit card. His parole was also denied on Tuesday.

Levert Antwun Jefferson was also denied parole. Jefferson was sentenced in 2001 to life in prison for trafficking cocaine in Jefferson County. He was later paroled, but he violated the condition of his parole in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

The next parole hearings are scheduled for Dec. 10, 2019. Former Attorney General Judge Charlie Graddick is now the Director of the Alabama Pardons and Paroles Board. Earlier this year, the Governor and the legislature tasked the Board with releasing fewer violent offenders after several Alabamians were harmed, and even murdered, by recent parolees. The Alabama Department of Correction s is planning to build three new megaprisons to house most of the state’s inmate population.

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Legislature

Alabama Legislature meets under heightened health concerns

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday gaveled in for what was supposed to be their first day back from a two-week spring break—well rested and ready to tackle the state’s pressing issues.

Instead, like everything else in American society, it was a somber event overshadowed by concerns about the coronavirus, which has killed approximately two dozen Alabamians in just the last few days.

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, thanked all the members present for attending under the circumstances.

The House called just enough legislators to have a quorum. A bipartisan group of 53 of the 105 Representatives was present in the House Chamber to gavel in for the short session.

Others were in their cars in the parking lot if needed. The leadership had asked that anybody who felt sick at all not to attend. They also directed more vulnerable members to not attend. Despite this, Reps. Steve McMillan, R-Gulf Shores, age 78; Joe Faust, R-Fairhope, age 79; and Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, age 77, were among other older representatives who braved the risks and were in the chamber anyway.

Members of the legislature all had their temperatures checked as they entered the building to make sure that none of them had a fever. While a cough and a fever are strong indications of COVID-19, about a fifth of people infected with the novel coronavirus are asymptomatic.

They can still spread the virus to others despite feeling fine. At least six members were wearing surgical masks and several were wearing gloves. One Republican member wore a face scarf wrapped around her head covering everything but her eyes.

If there had not been a quorum present for a scheduled legislative day that would have, by rule, ended the 2020 legislative session. Their attendance in Montgomery, despite the clear and present danger of the coronavirus, saved the session.

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While there, they passed a Joint Senate Resolution changing the legislative rules so that during a state of emergency, as we have now, if on a scheduled legislative day they are unable to reach a quorum, then the leadership can set a new legislative day without losing one of their thirty legislative days.

The House set its next legislative day for April 28.

They saved the 2020 legislative session, but it may still be a hollow victory.

The Alabama Political Reporter asked McCutcheon if they are able to come back and have legislative meetings, will there still be committee meetings or will that be done by e-meetings online, and if so will there be a way for the press to participate in those online discussions?

“If we come back to conduct legislative business, there will be committee meetings and we would have no reason to keep the press out,” McCutcheon said.

But McCutcheon said that they will not come back if doing so will risk the members or their health and the other people in the building.

McCutcheon himself is in his mid-60s and has suffered from a heart condition. Pre-existing conditions like cardio-vascular disease greatly increases the likelihood of death with COVID-19.

The Alabama Political Reporter asked, given what we think is coming, is there any discussion about passing legislation so that the Alabama Department of Corrections can release its oldest and most vulnerable inmates so they can get healthcare from Medicare or Medicaid rather than from the prisons health system?

“There have been no discussions about that,” McCutcheon said.

State Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, told reporters that the Legislature would pass “two bare-bones budgets.”

McCutcheon agreed with that but cautioned, “We want to see what kind of federal money is coming down.”

McCutcheon said that when the Legislature comes back, they will prioritize supplemental appropriations bills, the budgets, the education budget and members’ local bills. They would also prioritize economic growth bills. Priority will be given to bills that have already passed the House or the Senate.

“We will look at the time we have available,” McCutcheon said.

APR asked: Given what we think is coming we are going to need every nurse that we can get. Is there plans to work with the nursing schools and colleges to ramp up the training of the nursing students we already have in the pipeline to get them trained and out on the front lines?

McCutcheon said that there has been no discussion about changing the curriculum or the course of study for nurses, but “I do know that when we look at workforce development, we have recognized that there is a nursing shortage. They are looking at ways to increase that number.”

Associated Press reporter Kim Chandler asked if the Legislature would look at increasing the length of time that an unemployed person can receive unemployment compensation.

“I am not against looking at that,” McCutcheon said.

McCutcheon said that under the circumstances that, “We may have to look at ways to reassess the timeline,” on building new prisons but warned that the state will have to speak to the Department of Justice.

Passing sentencing reform and efforts to reduce recidivism “will depend on how much time we have left,” he said.

McCutcheon said that there is a possibility that the Governor will have to call a special session over the summer and if they had not met on Tuesday then there would have been a special session.

“The members are concerned about their districts,” McCutcheon said. “The governor is now having weekly conference calls with legislators.”

McCutcheon said that the leadership will be monitoring the situation and, “We may be in a position where we can not” go back into session.

The Alabama Senate had a similar meeting on Tuesday to change the rules and set April 28 as their next meeting day.

The Alabama Legislature must constitutionally pass the two budgets and conclude their legislative business by May 18.

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Economy

Department of Labor closed Birmingham unemployment office as COVID-19 spread

Eddie Burkhalter

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The number of people applying for unemployment in Alabama continues to skyrocket amid the COVID-19 outbreak, but there are fewer people handling those claims this month than last. 

The Alabama Department of Labor closed an office in Birmingham and let some workers go earlier this month. That staffing shortage, coupled with an onslaught of new claims, has slowed the time it’s taking to process them, one worker told APR

Approximately 74,056 people filed unemployment claims during the week that ended  March 28, according to the department’s preliminary data. That was far more than had ever been filed for any week going back to 1987, when the U.S. Department of Labor began keeping data on weekly unemployment claims. 

“Where we would have alerted a claimant that it would take two to three weeks, now the verbiage is, as soon as administratively possible,” the employee at the department told APR by phone Saturday. The person asked not to be identified as they’re still employed with the state. 

It’s currently taking between six and seven weeks to process claims, the worker said, and people who have applied are expressing concern over the long wait. 

“It’s an issue,” the worker said. 

The employee said workers at the now-closed Birmingham office were called into a meeting on Feb. 18 and told the office would close for good on March 13. Anyone who wanted to continue working for the department had to report to the Montgomery office on March 16, the worker said, or they would be “considered to have quit.” 

In a response to APR’s questions, Alabama Department of Labor spokeswoman Tara Hutchison wrote that “Eleven employees found other positions in a career center or tax office, three employees resigned in lieu of transferring, two are retiring, and six conditional employees were separated.”

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There was no discussion in that Feb. 18 meeting of the novel coronavirus or the possibility of mass filings, the workers said. There was discussion of what might happen if another recession hit, the person said, but administrators didn’t have a plan for that. 

China informed the World Health Organization about the novel coronavirus on Dec. 31. President Donald Trump on Jan. 31 banned foreign nationals entry into the country if they had traveled to China within the last two weeks. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention there were 18 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. as of Feb. 18, the day workers were told the Birmingham office would be closing. 

A day after the Feb. 18 meeting at the Birmingham office Iran’s COVID-19 breakout began. 

By March 8, eight days before workers were ordered to show up to the Montgomery office, Italy ordered a lockdown of 60 million residents. Three days later the World Health Organization classified COVID-19 as a pandemic. 

By March 13, the day the Birmingham office closed, there were 2,611 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. 

The worker said just 15 of the 37 employees made the move to the Montgomery office, and those who did are faced with an overwhelming workload and are spending hours each day doing jobs that others had done before the move. All but one of the 15 adjudicate claims, the person said, meaning they process them and determine whether the person should receive unemployment benefits. 

Hutchison told APR that the decision to close the Birmingham office was made because of funding and budget issues. 

“The Unemployment Insurance program’s budget has been cut repeatedly for several years.  The building’s rental and overhead costs were eliminated by transferring those employees to the Montgomery Call Center,” Hutchison said in the message. 

The worker questioned, however, why the department waited until a month before the planned closure to inform the staff, and expressed concern that there 

“As you know, we are taking in remarkable numbers of new claims due to COVID-19.  There was no way to know at the time that this situation would occur. We are working constantly to improve service, and one of those ways is by reutilizing those employees who transferred to other positions, and having them accept claims,” Hutchison said. “We are also looking to bring back those conditional employees who have separated, if they haven’t found other work.  Additionally, the federal government is providing increased funding to assist with staffing issues.”

The Birmingham office was already short-staffed enough to have been allowing staff there overtime pay to handle existing claims, the employee said. 

“This just added just a whole new level,” the person said. 

The workers said staff at the department want the public to know that they care and are working hard to get claims processed as quickly as possible. 

“We want to make sure that we’re doing the job right. We want to make sure that we’re following guidelines that we’ve had in place all throughout our employment with how to do these claims,” the person said. “If the public knew that, that would be great.”

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President Trump’s support rises during his handling of the coronavirus crisis

Brandon Moseley

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President Donald Trump is benefitting in recent job approval polls from the national focus on the coronavirus and his handling of the crisis.

In January, America was experiencing its best economy in over 50 years. The stock market was booming, corporate profits were up, taxes were down, incomes were rising, unemployment was at record lows, the American dream appeared more achievable for more Americans than ever before and the nation faced no pressing problems. That was until a new strain of coronavirus first appeared in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China in late 2019. It arrived in this country by January 20. The growing spread of the virus, led the White House to implement an unprecedented forced economic shutdown and new social distancing policies to fight the spread of the virus.

While the Draconian economic orders have resulted in tremendous economic dislocation the American people are largely rallying behind the President’s policy and he is experiencing his best approval ratings since 2018.

According to a recent Hill-HarrisX poll, Trump’s approval rating is now at fifty percent, 50 percent of registered voters approved of Trump’s job performance, while 50 percent still disapprove. The last time Trump’s approval reached 50 percent or higher was August 2018 at 51 percent support.

85 percent of Republican voters approve; while just 19 percent of Democrats approve of Trump’s job performance. The poll was conducted on March 22 to 23.

A Gallup poll showed that Trump’s job approval has risen from 44 percent on March 16 to 49 percent nine days later. This ties the highest rating of his entire presidency in the Gallup poll set in January during his impeachment trial. The President’s has enjoyed strong support among Republicans; but his approval numbers have risen with both Democrats and Independents to 13 percent and 43 percent respectively, rises of six percent and eight percent in the past two weeks as the US deals with the COVID-19 outbreak that has already killed hundreds in the country.

Trump was originally skeptical of the virus’s impact; but his unprecedented decisions three weeks ago to shut down most international air traffic, social distancing, and unprecedented decision to use a forced economic shutdown to slow the spread of the virus to save American lives has drawn high approval among voters.

Former State Representative Perry O. Hooper Jr. is a member of Trump’s national victory committee.

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“President Trump has done a tremendous job as Commander-in-Chief in the war against the Wuhan Coronavirus,” Hooper told the Alabama Political Reporter. “His widely criticized initial ban on non-American citizens traveling to our country from China, invoked in January, may have been the most important decision he made in fighting this deadly disease. This is leadership that has saved countless American lives.”

Trump and his White House coronavirus task force, led by Vice President Mike Pence (R), have regularly addressed the nation urging them to follow the social distancing guidelines and not to panic.

“President Trump has surrounded himself with the brightest medical minds in the world,” Hooper said.
“He is spending hours each day listening to their very candid advise. Daily the President stands alongside with his team leader Vice President Mike Pence. They speak directly to the American people boiling down the complex health and economic issues caused by the Wuhan coronavirus into common sense answers the American public can understand.”

“As a result, Americans are seeing a direct and accountable, solution-driven, business approach being applied to the greatest national emergency since the bombing of Pearl Harbor that forced us into World War II,” Hooper said. “As a result, the approval ratings for President Trump’s handling of the crisis have skyrocketed.”

There has been tremendous economic upheaval from the decision to shut down much of the economy. The White House maintains that this is necessary to save lives.

“Optimal solutions are not always pretty; but in times of crisis, great leaders know they must generate optimal solutions,” Hooper explained. “This crisis requires balancing the healthcare needs of the country with the economic livelihood of everyday Americans. President Trump is focused on achieving optimal solutions by implementing his “Whole Nation Solution”. This solution is about the public and private sector working hand in hand doing everything in their power to defeat this unseen enemy. Governors across the nation such as New York’s Andrew Cuomo have put aside political differences to work with the President and his team to defeat the Wuhan virus. Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate have come together to work with the White House to pass badly needed legislation to keep American workers whole and keep businesses in a position to resume operations.”

Democrats and the mainstream media have been critical of the President’s handling of the situation as sending mixed messages and not going far enough.

“The Trump-hating media is still attacking the President even when he is facing the worst public-health crisis this nation has seen in decades,” Hooper countered. “Their principal effort has been to stir up and maintain a state of public fear that grips the country while they snipe and carp at any shortcoming they discover or invent in the President’s statements.”

There are fears that the forced economic shutdown will cause a deep and long-lasting recession and “that the cure could be worse” than the virus. To address this, the President negotiated a bipartisan $two trillion stimulus package to pump some liquidity into the system in the form of relief payments to: businesses, corporations, states, education systems, hospitals, and families. The CARES Act was passed and signed into law by the President on Friday.

“We must support as a unified nation our President’s delicate balancing act,”.Hooper said. “We must keep the country safe while simultaneously getting our great American economy back up and running sooner rather than later.”

The White House is predicting that even with the economic shutdown and the social distancing that 100,000 to 240,000 Americans will still die. The White House Coronavirus task force argues that as many as two million Americans would have died without these efforts. On Tuesday, the President and his team warned that if Americans fail to take this crisis seriously and don’t practice social distancing over a million of us could perish in the coming months.

As of press time, 188,592 Americans have been confirmed with COVID-19. 4,056 have died. The U.S. now has more confirmed cases than any other country, with outbreaks rapidly growing in New York, New Jersey, Louisiana, Michigan, Florida and other states. 24 Alabamians have died. 7,256 Americans have already recovered from their illnesses and 4,576 are in critical or serious condition.

(Original reporting by the Hill and Fox News contributed to this report.)

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Economy retools to fight COVID-19

Brandon Moseley

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The Ford Motor Company has announced that they, in collaboration with GE Healthcare, will begin building ventilators designed by Airon Corp. at their plant in Rawsonville, Michigan.

The United Auto Workers Union has already given their full support to the move. The joint venture between Ford and GE Healthcare to produce the GE/Airon Model A-E ventilator is targeted to start the week of April 20 at Ford’s Rawsonville (Mich.) Components Plant

Ford expects to produce 50,000 of the ventilators within the next 100 days, with the ability to produce 30,000 a month thereafter if needed.

As of press time, 188,592 Americans have been confirmed with COVID-19. 4,056 have died. The U.S. now has more confirmed cases than any other country on Earth. New York alone has 75,983 cases that have already resulted in 1,714 deaths. Alabama has 999 confirmed cases that have resulted in 24 deaths. 4,576, including dozens in Alabama, are in critical or serious condition. Many of the serious or critical care patients require ventilators.

The simplified ventilator design is licensed by GE Healthcare from Florida-based Airon Corp. and is responsive to the needs of most COVID-19 patients, and operates on air pressure without the need for electricity.

Ford and GE Healthcare have previously announced program to increase production capacity of existing GE Healthcare ventilators.

The White House is actively seeking to retool much of the American economy to deal with the growing threat of the coronavirus strain, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones said, “Involving the private sector in the COVID-19 crisis is essential because in many instances, the private sector has the ability to work at a much faster pace than government can. Ford teaming with GE to build ventilators is an excellent example of how companies can quickly adapt to the needs of the market and assist the nation during a critical time in history.”

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On Monday, Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield briefed legislators on state efforts to convert existing Alabama companies to the production of personal protection equipment (PPEs) and other medical equipment.

“Secretary Greg Canfield and the Alabama Department of Commerce share a similar mindset and are currently working with 30 Alabama-based companies that have the capacity to manufacture COVID-19 personal protection equipment (PPE),” Dr. Jones said. “Stay tuned for updates in the near future.”

Also on Monday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) told legislators that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the command of U.S. Army Major General Diana Holland is already on the ground evaluating hotels for conversion into COVID-19 hospitals in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Auburn, Montgomery, Mobile, and Huntsville.

On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, told CNN’s Jake Tapper that the White House expects millions of Americans to get COVID-19 and that 100,000 to 200,000 will die.

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, America had approximately 96,000 intensive care beds total across the country and they were about 65 percent occupied. That left approximately thirty thousand available. Already COVID-19 is taking up thousands of those available beds.

Alabama Public Health Officer Scott Harris told the legislators that hospitals are converting extra space such as waiting rooms into new intensive care wards.

The Alabama National Guard stands ready to help convert the hotels to hospitals, if necessary, and staff them; but there is still tremendous needs for equipment and supplies like ventilators and PPE forcing the U.S. to begin retooling the economy.

Hotels are ideal for fast conversions into hospitals because they already have water, air conditioning, electricity, and bathrooms in each room and the rooms are connected by hallways. Office buildings with the cubicle arrangements would be more difficult to convert as would warehouses that just have a lot of empty space.

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