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Sewell, Byrne applaud passage of U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell (D-Selma) and Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) both praised the House passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA).

Sewell was a member of the Democrat Working Group tasked by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) with improving the deal negotiated by President Donald J. Trump (R) with the governments of Mexico and Canada. Sewell worked for six months to make transformative changes to the labor, environment, access to medicines and enforcement provisions in the deal.

“It was an honor to serve as one of the eight Democratic members tasked by Speaker Pelosi to negotiate with the Trump Administration to improve this trade deal,” Sewell said in a statement. “Because of House Democrats, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement that the House passed today is infinitely better than the agreement that the Trump Administration handed us earlier this year. While not a perfect agreement, the re-negotiated USMCA is a win for Alabama manufacturers and farmers and will help level the playing field and promote economic prosperity for workers and businesses in Alabama’s 7th Congressional District.”

“Alabama scored a major victory today with the long-overdue House passage of USMCA,” Byrne said in a statement. “This trade deal strengthens relationships with two of Alabama’s largest trading partners and will benefit businesses and industries large and small throughout the state, particularly in our agriculture, automotive manufacturing, steel, energy and high-tech sectors. And with the continued growth at the Port of Mobile, Alabama stands to benefit more than most.”

In 2018, Alabama exported over $4 billion in goods to Canada and over $2.6 billion to Mexico. USMCA will help level the playing field for American workers, farmers, ranchers and businesses, leading to further economic growth in Alabama.

“Prior to our negotiations, the Trump Administration handed the House a USMCA with the same broken state-to-state dispute settlement mechanism that made the original NAFTA unenforceable,” Sewell explained. “The President’s proposal was a total non-starter for Democrats and working Americans, so I made enforcement my top priority, closing harmful loopholes in the old NAFTA’s dispute resolution mechanism that now makes the trade deal more enforceable. We also added new enforcement rules that will make it easier for our Trade Representative to dispute labor violation, especially with Mexico.”

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Sewell’s office said that House Democrats closed enforcement loopholes and streamlined the dispute settlement system to ensure that our trading partners live up to their commitments. An enhanced state-to-state measure will settle general disputes and ensures states cannot block enforcement complaints. For the first time in a trade agreement, created rules of evidence – rules that will help the United States successfully litigate labor, environmental and other fact-intensive disputes.

Sewell also worked with Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut), Jimmy Gomez (D-California) and Mike Thompson (D-California) to improve the labor standards included in the deal. Those improvements include: The establishment of a labor-specific, rapid-response enforcement mechanism that allows for quick, facility-based enforcement of new labor standards included in the agreement; The creation of an independent review body to ensure that Mexico is implementing its labor reform and is complying with its new labor obligations and is meeting the required timelines, which will help protect workers from violence and prosecute labor violations; Allowing for the imposition of penalties on goods and services that are not produced in compliance with key labor standards which creates direct incentives to meet the new standard; and the commitment of robust funding to protect American workers by monitoring and enforcing the deal.

Sewell said that additionally, the agreement improves environmental rules and establishes Environment-Focused Attachés in Mexico City that will regularly monitor Mexico’s environment laws, regulations and practices.

The members of the Democrat Working Group include: Chairman Richard Neal (Massachusetts), Terri Sewell, Mike Thompson (California), John Larsen (Connecticut), Earl Blumenauer (Oregon), Rosa DeLauro (Connecticut), Jan Schakowski (Illinois), Jimmy Gomez (California) and Suzanne Bonamici (Oregon).

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While Democrats are crediting Sewell and her team with improving the agreement, the Trump Administration is celebrating the achievement as a major victory for the President’s foreign policy team. Donald J. Trump had been elected in 2016 promising to renegotiate the NAFTA agreement and other trade deals.

“Many pundits said renegotiating NAFTA couldn’t be done, but President Trump proved them wrong and scored a major victory for working Americans,” Byrne said.

Byrne’s office said that the USMCA is projected to create 176,000 new American jobs and raise our GDP by $68.2 billion. The agreement raises the amount of made in America products Mexico and Canada will buy with exports to Canada increasing by an estimated $19 billion and exports increasing to Mexico by $14.2 billion.

The bill passed in the House and awaits further action in the Senate.

Terri Sewell represents Alabama’s Seventh Congressional District. Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s First Congressional District.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Congress

Sewell votes in favor of National Apprenticeship Act

The bill would invest more than $3.5 billion to create nearly one million new apprenticeship opportunities.

Brandon Moseley

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Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama

Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, last week voted in favor of the National Apprenticeship Act, legislation to reauthorize the National Apprenticeship Act for the first time since its enactment in 1937.

The new National Apprenticeship Act will create one million new apprenticeship opportunities over the next five years. Registered apprenticeships provide workers with paid, on-the-job training, and are the nation’s most successful federal workforce training program.

“As a long-time supporter of expanding registered apprenticeships, I am thrilled to support today’s legislation to provide 1 million new apprenticeship opportunities over five years,” Sewell said. “Our Nation is facing the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and estimates show that more than 7 million of the pandemic’s job losses will be permanent. We need bold investments like those in the National Apprenticeship Act to accelerate the economy and help get the American people back to work in stable, good-paying jobs of the future.”

The bill invests more than $3.5 billion over the next five years.

The act establishes a $400 million grant program to support the expansion of apprenticeship opportunities, including pre-apprenticeships and youth apprenticeships, which will increase $100 million annually to reach $800 million by 2025.

The legislation also codifies and streamlines standards for registered apprenticeship, youth apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs to make it easier for both apprentices and employers to participate in high-quality apprenticeships and codifies the Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship.

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It directs the office to convene industry leaders, labor organizations, educators and others to expand apprenticeships into new occupations and sectors.

Supporters say the bill could yield $10.6 billion in net benefits to U.S. taxpayers in the form of increased tax revenue and decreased spending on public-assistance programs and unemployment insurance, and that nothing is more effective at breaking the cycle of poverty than a well-paying full-time job.

Sewell is about to enter her sixth term representing Alabama’s 7th Congressional District.

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Health

Nearly 70 percent of Alabama’s pregnancy-related deaths in 2016 were preventable: report

Most pregnancy-related deaths are preventable, with women of color bearing the brunt of Alabama’s maternal mortality crisis.

John H. Glenn

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(STOCK PHOTO)

A report this month by the Alabama Maternal Mortality Review Committee found that nearly 70 percent of pregnancy-associated and pregnancy-related deaths in Alabama recorded in 2016 were preventable.

Mental health and substance use disorders were identified as key contributors in nearly half pregnancy-associated and pregnancy-related deaths. Patient-, family-, system- and provider-related factors were among the most frequently identified factors involved in pregnancy-associated and pregnancy-related deaths, the report found.

The researchers found cardiovascular conditions were the leading underlying causes in pregnancy-related deaths.

“The Medical Association of the State of Alabama commends the Maternal Mortality Review Committee (MMRC) for its diligence in researching the factors that impact maternal deaths, in hopes to mitigate and prevent future maternal deaths,” said Dr. John Meigs, president of the Alabama Medical Association. “It is very concerning for physicians throughout the state that 70 percent of the deaths reviewed by the MMRC were preventable and that women of color are disproportionately affected. Alabama mothers deserve the best medical care that we can offer.”

Preventability of deaths is a key component to maternal mortality reviews, as it is indicative of events that may have been avoided if reasonable changes could be made to the contributing factor or factors. It was found that nearly 70 percent of pregnancy-associated and pregnancy-related deaths were preventable. (VIA ALABAMA MATERNAL MORTALITY REVIEW COMMITTEE/ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH)

According to the report, maternal death and pregnancy-related mortality ratios steadily trended upwards between 2012 and 2015 with the largest increase being in 2016.

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Alabama ranks third in the nation for maternal mortality behind only Arkansas and Kentucky.

Data provided by the ADPH Center for Health Statistics reveal that both maternal deaths and pregnancy-related deaths trended upward between 2012 and 2016. Between 2012 and 2015, ratios increased steadily; however, in 2016 there was a marked leap in both ratios. (VIA ALABAMA MATERNAL MORTALITY REVIEW COMMITTEE/ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH)

According to the report, expanding Medicaid could help reduce the state’s high number of maternal deaths and pregnancy-related and -associated deaths.

“Expansion of Medicaid was an underlying, yet significant factor which permeated throughout the case reviews,” according to the committee’s report. “Research has shown that in states where Medicaid expansion was adopted, there were reduced maternal mortality rates and positive maternal health outcomes. Based on the findings of the committee’s review, Medicaid program expansion will allow women to receive needed healthcare before, during, and after pregnancies.”

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The MMRC recommends Medicaid expansion up to one year postpartum and improved reimbursement for providers, routine autopsies on maternal deaths, and increased mental health and substance use disorder treatments and services for women.

“Sadly, the Alabama Maternal Mortality Review Committee found that mental health and substance use disorders were identified as key contributors in almost half of pregnancy-associated and pregnancy-related deaths,” said Holly Caraway McCorkle, executive director of the Alabama Council for Behavioral Healthcare. “These deaths are preventable, and Medicaid expansion will offer women who suffer from mental health and substance use disorders life-saving coverage and access to critically needed resources and services before, during and after pregnancies.”

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House

Longtime State Rep. Alvin Holmes has died

Montgomery Fire and Rescue responded to a call at Holmes’ residence on Saturday afternoon, and they found the 81-year-old unresponsive. 

Josh Moon

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State Rep. Alvin Holmes

Alvin Holmes, a 44-year veteran of the Alabama Legislature and one of the state’s most outspoken proponents for racial inclusion, has died. Montgomery Fire and Rescue responded to a call at Holmes’ residence on Saturday afternoon, and they found the 81-year-old unresponsive. 

Over a four-decade-plus career in the Alabama House of Representatives, Holmes was a lightning rod for criticism from his fellow white lawmakers and the white voters who elected them, as he repeatedly challenged the status quo and went headlong at biases and racism that prevented more Black Alabamians from serving in positions of power in the state. 

Holmes was a foot soldier in the Civil Rights Movement in Montgomery and led the charge on getting the Confederate battle flag removed from Alabama’s Capitol building. Holmes fought many of his battles, especially the early ones, by himself, and while to his friends he would admit that standing alone wasn’t always pleasant, he never showed such hesitation outwardly, seeming to revel in the hateful words and personal attacks from other lawmakers and the public. 

Many of the fights Holmes began were later finished in federal courtrooms, and they most often led to further advancements for Black Alabamians.

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National

Governor meets virtually with President-elect Biden, Vice President-elect Harris

Five Democratic governors and five Republican governors attended the virtual meeting.

Eddie Burkhalter

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President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris meet with a bipartisan group of governors. (VIA TRANSITION)

Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday took part in a virtual meeting with President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris along with other members of the National Governors Association executive committee. 

Other members of the executive committee who attended the meeting were the governors of Arkansas, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Maryland, Wisconsin and Utah. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is chair of the committee. 

“In her capacity as a member of the National Governors Association Executive Committee, Governor Ivey participated in the NGA Leadership conference call earlier this afternoon,” said Gina Maiola, Ivey’s press secretary, in a statement after the meeting. “During the meeting, Governor Ivey stressed that both parties, as well as the executive and legislative branches, need to come together to extend the deadline for CARES Act funding to allow for maximum flexibility going forward. With the December 31 deadline quickly approaching, the governor underscored to the group that it would be to the benefit of the states to remove that barrier and give us flexibility to continue spending those dollars in the first few months of 2021.” 

Ivey has until Dec. 31 to spend nearly $1 billion in CARES Act funds, and barring any deadline extension, those funds will have to be returned to the federal government. 

More than two weeks after the Nov. 3 election, the Trump administration hasn’t allowed Biden to receive security briefings or updates on Operation Warp Speed and plans to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic, which is surging in Alabama and across the country. More than 250,000 in the U.S. have died from the disease. 

The Associated Press reported that Biden discussed his concerns over lack of access to that information with the governors during Thursday’s meeting. “Unfortunately, my administration hasn’t been able to get everything we need,” Biden said, according to the AP. 

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AP reported that, according to a readout provided by Ivey’s office, Ivey told participants that both parties in Congress need to come together to provide more coronavirus response funding, especially for families struggling economically because of the pandemic.

Speaking after the meeting Thursday, Biden expressed frustration over the Trump administration blocking him from coronavirus data.

“There is no excuse not to share the data and let us begin to plan because on day one it’s going to take us time,” Biden said during a news conference after the meeting. “If we don’t have access to all this data, it’s going to put us behind the eight ball by a matter of a month or more. And that’s lives. How many would be lost as a consequence?”

Biden also addressed Trump’s refusal to concede, saying that it is “another incident where he will be down in history as being one of the most irresponsible presidents in American history.”

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“It’s hard to fathom how this man thinks. I’m confident he knows he hasn’t won, he’s not going to be able to win and we’re going to be sworn in on January 20. Far from me to question his motive. It’s just outrageous what he’s doing,” Biden said.

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