During her annual State of the State address to a packed joint session of the Alabama legislature in the Old House Chambers of the historic state Capital building, Gov. Kay Ivey urged lawmakers to deal with the problems that have long plagued the state’s prison system.
“After becoming your governor in April 2017, I realized that our great state had ignored too many problems for far too long,” Ivey said. “We had put Band-Aids and duct tape on old ideas, old roads and bridges, and tired old prisons long enough.”
Alabama’s prisons are overcrowded, understaffed, dangerous, have a poor track record of rehabilitation, have long neglected maintenance and modernization issues, and have not provided adequate healthcare and mental health services.
“Both my strong faith in the Lord – and a heartfelt concern for basic human rights – gives me a sense of urgency to address our longstanding challenges within our criminal justice system,” Ivey said. “We simply cannot afford to wait any longer to tackle this problem… and failure is not an option.”
Ivey said lawmakers made good progress during the last session to address the issue of understaffing, but more needs to be done.
“I’m pleased to report that our recruiting and retention efforts are improving and moving in the right direction,” she said. “Over the past seven months, the Criminal Justice Study Group I appointed last year analyzed many of the crucial components necessary to address the needs to rehabilitate those within our prison system.”
“Currently, work is well underway in addressing our antiquated and crumbling prison infrastructure,” Ivey said. “In the past few weeks, I visited Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore and Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka to see these issues firsthand.”
“Some of our worst, most over-crowded facilities – one of which was built more than 90 years ago — were never designed for the number of violent offenders we have today.”
Ivey said that ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn is “Spearheading efforts to build three new prisons that will transition our facilities from warehousing inmates to rehabilitating people. Ladies and gentlemen, Alabama has no choice but to reinvent our corrections system by replacing outdated and unsafe facilities that pose a great risk to public safety – and inhibit development of programs for inmate rehabilitation.”
Ivey said that the Community College System is providing educational, technical and workforce training to aid in successful reentry. “ Ingram State, where I also visited recently, is the only postsecondary institution in the country that exclusively serves the incarcerated population.”
Ivey introduced Brandie McCain, a former prisoner who has completed the coursework needed for three logistics certificates at Ingram State. She was among the first group of Ingram students to earn a nationally recognized credential in logistics and now works at Wright Way Staffing in Fairfield, where she quickly moved up the ranks to become an office administrator and staff recruiter.
Gov. Ivey gave the speech in a sling after tripping over the First Dog at the Governor’s mansion last week.
“As you can see, I’m working with one arm – not tied behind my back – just tied up!” Ivey said. “But, as I always say, there’s no step too high for a high stepper! I’ll be fine.”
“Members of the Legislature, on this first day of the 2020 legislative session, we can be confident with our plans to build on our past as we step boldly into a new century for our great state,” Ivey said. “Our 3rd century begins with a strong, robust economy and a renewed commitment to look for new opportunities to answer old challenges, many of which have been around for decades.”
Governor Ivey has been meeting with the Bipartisan Leadership of both the House and Senate.
“Unlike what we’ve seen nationally, I knew that no one party has a monopoly on good ideas,” Ivey explained. “And I felt — and time has proven me correct — that these bipartisan meetings would help us come up with bipartisan solutions on everything from infrastructure funding to hopefully improving our state’s education system.” “A prime example of the benefit of working together was Rebuild Alabama.”
“In recent weeks and months, we have announced the state’s portion of $122 million worth of road and bridge projects in more than 48 of Alabama’s 67 counties,” Ivey said. “And this is just six months after the new revenue began coming in. And as I promised the people of Alabama on the day I signed this bill into law, Rebuild Alabama will only be spent on building roads and bridges. And, in fact, we added strong accountability measures to make certain of this.”
Ivey also addressed education.
“During last year’s session, the Legislature gave the voters of Alabama an opportunity to help move our education system in a bold, new direction, by having an opportunity to vote on AMENDMENT ONE, which will be on the March 3rd primary ballot,” Ivey said. “Sadly, too many of our third graders are not proficient in reading. In fact, according to the Nation’s Report Card, we are 49th in the nation in reading and we are 52nd in the nation in math! And it only gets worse as they get older… too many of our high school graduates simply aren’t ready for college or a career.”
“This isn’t the fault of our hard-working teachers, principals or local superintendents…Folks, it starts at the top,” Ivey said. “Alabama is one of only six states that still has an elected state school board and this board has selected 5 State Superintendents in the past 5 years. Very simply, Amendment One will create term limits for the State Board and no member will serve more than two six-year terms, thus bringing fresh new ideas to the commission every few years.” “It’s time to vote YES for Amendment One on March 3rd!”
“We all know that a world-class workforce begins with a world-class education system,” Ivey said. “My education budget that I am proposing will provide an additional $25 million dollars to expand our nationally-recognized First Class Pre-K program.”
Ivey said that this will expand the program by another 193 classrooms.
Ivey proposed creating a $1 billion-dollar public school and college bond issue for K-12 education, as well as for our two- and four-year colleges and universities to allow for capital improvements across the state.
Ivey proposed a three percent pay raise for all teachers: pre-k through community college.
Ivey stated that she has a goal of adding 500,000 employees with post-secondary credentials by 2025.
Ivey also called on the Legislature to provide a two percent increase for all state employees.
“This is the third straight year our state employees will see an increase in their paychecks,” Ivey said. “Whether it is the State Trooper patrolling our highways or a social worker rescuing an abused child, we can be proud to have so many dedicated men and women who are giving their best to the people of Alabama.”
Ivey thanked Department of Human Resources Commissioner Nancy Buckner for leading the nation two years in a row in placing foster children in permanent homes.
“As we all know, 2019 was an especially difficult year for those who wear a badge,” Ivey said. “Seven members of the Alabama Law Enforcement community were killed in the line of duty. These heroes exhibited the best virtues of our state – they were selfless, brave, dedicated and, in the end, willing to sacrifice their lives for all of us.”
Mrs. Joanne Williams, the widow of Lowndes County Sheriff Big John Williams was a special guest of the governor.
Ivey said that increasing the number of highway patrol officers has been a top focus of her administration.
“We have increased the number of Troopers from 365 to 435, a net increase of 19 percent!” Ivey said. “We have almost doubled our marine officers from 24 to 42! My budget will include additional funding to hire and train 50 additional sworn officers.”
Ivey urged every citizen to participate in the 2020 Census.
“It is ever so important for every Alabamian to join me in saying “I Count” by completing a census form!” Ivey stated.
Ivey said that access to broadband; is another top priority to continue increasing the availability of high-speed Internet throughout the state, especially in rural Alabama.
“Currently, some 220,000 Alabamians do not have any wired Internet providers where they live,” Ivey stated. “Our efforts will not end until every Alabamian has access through high speed broadband.”
Ivey said that her budget will make a substantial investment in the area of health care… both rural health and mental health as well including a pilot program to incentivize primary care physicians and nurse practitioners to establish services in medically underserved areas.
Ivey asked for funding to build three new crisis centers in the state.
“When open and fully staffed, these centers will become a safe haven for people facing mental health challenges; here, they can be stabilized and treated without being sent to a jail or the hospital,” Ivey continued.
Ivey said that the Mental Health Department is partnering with the Department of Education to ensure we are promoting “Whole Child Wellness.”
Ivey said that the state has the best economy our state has ever had.
“Thanks to the hard work of Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield and his team — as well as Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington and his folks — these are unquestionably the best of times,” Ivey stated. “We have the lowest unemployment rate in our 200-year history at 2.7 percent. More than 82,000 of our fellow citizens are working today than were working just a year ago.” “And fewer people are living in poverty than ever before.”
Ivey also discussed gaming, announcing that she will sign an executive order to establish a small working group to begin working, to gather all the facts on if some form of gaming expansion occurred.
Ivey said that she and her working group will bring the facts to the 140 members of the Legislature and the people of Alabama.
“My pledge would be for the people of Alabama to have the final say,” Ivey said. “But first, we must get the facts and understand what they mean.”
“With the continued involvement of all our people — and with God’s continued blessings — there is every reason to believe that our third century will be our best yet!” Ivey stated.
Gov. Ivey OKs release of some parole violators in jails
Gov. Kay Ivey is allowing the release of some alleged probation and parole violators in the custody of jails across the state. She’s also issued a number of new directives to free up health care resources.
The measures are intended to slow the transmission of COVID-19 and prepare for a rise in hospitalizations.
In a new executive order, Ivey is allowing sheriffs and local officials across the state to release some inmates being held in jails on alleged probation or parole violations if those inmates have been in jail custody for more than 20 days without a parole or probation hearing.
Violators who are being held on new criminal charges or other criminal charges aren’t eligible for release, according to the order, which mainly applies to those in custody on technical violations.
If a hearing is not held within 20 days, the sheriff shall release the violator unless they are being held on other criminal charges.
“Because the conditions of jails inherently heighten the possibility of COVID-19 transmission, I find that it would promote the safety and protection of the civilian population to allow local officials to reduce the number of local inmates being held in county jails in a way that does not jeopardize public safety,” Ivey wrote in her order.
The order does not apply to inmates in state prisons.
You can read Ivey’s full order here.
In the same modified executive order, Ivey ordered state agencies to allow for an expanded scope of practice for health care workers like nurses, nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists. Experts fear there may not be enough health care practitioners to care for the number of patients that may require hospitalization and inpatient care.
This part of the order, intended to reduce strain on medical workers caring for COVID-19 patients, will relax but not completely eliminate the degree of supervision required for these non-M.D. health care professionals to care for patients.
As the number of COVID-19 cases in the state rises and hospitals begin to feel the strain of the outbreak, Ivey also directed state agencies to provide temporary waivers so hospitals and nursing homes can free up bed space and open new facilities if needed.
Additional new directives in Ivey’s supplemental order:
- Allows expedited process for out-of-state pharmacists, nurses, and doctors to obtain temporary licenses to practice in Alabama
- Expedited reinstatement of medical licenses, allowing retired doctors, and others who left the profession in good standing to return to practice
- Pharmacy Board can expedite procedures to establish temporary pharmacies.
- Notary publics can notarize documents remotely.
- Government agencies can postpone unnecessary meetings or meet remotely.
- Corporate shareholder meetings can be conducted remotely.
The behind-the-scenes efforts to combat COVID-19
Some days it seems the only visible action state government is taking is to update the public on the number of COVID-19 cases and those who have died from the disease.
But in these times of dire public uncertainty, Gov. Kay Ivey’s team is working diligently to solve a myriad of problems facing the state.
In fact, the governor’s Capitol office suites are a hive of activity solely aimed at protecting Alabamians.
Ivey has established three groups to assess and address the various situations facing every sector of state healthcare and emergency needs, as well as the economic concerns of individuals and businesses.
The groups are led by former C.E.O.s, health professionals, or military officers who have volunteered in this time of crisis.
Strategic Asset Team or S.A.T. is tasked with finding and vetting supplies ranging from Personal Protective Equipment (P.P.E.) to gloves, ventilators and more items needed by healthcare workers on the frontline of fighting the novel coronavirus.
Sourcing and procuring vital medical equipment is not easy and is made harder by scam artists and price gaugers who seek to profit from the calamity. The governor’s office estimates for every legitimate offer there are some 80 to 90 fraudulent ones.
S.A.T., along with government personnel, evaluates every possibility to obtain goods and equipment. Once a legitimate outlet is identified, the team moves quickly to test and acquire the needed supplies.
The governor’s office has streamlined purchasing methods so that once a supplier is identified and the goods are proven worthy, the purchase can be made swiftly.
Another group led by Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield is called the Business and Manufacturing Alliance, B.A.M.A., which is sourcing supplies from existing manufacturers in the state.
“From our perspective, we’re trying to do everything we can to identify and utilize the asset that we have in the state that is going to provide us with or produce the medical equipment and medical supplies that are needed,” said Canfield. From Toyota to Alabama Power and smaller companies like Mobile’s Calagaz Printing, the state is working to meet the challenges. “We are in talks with Hyundai about providing a connection to bring supplies out of Korea because they might be able to find alternate solutions for medical supplies,” said Canfield.
Global auto parts supplier Bolta with a facility at the Tuscaloosa County Airport Industrial Park is retooling its operation to produce plastics shields and goggles that doctors and nurses need in the emergency room.
Alabama-based research groups are pushing for breakthroughs in testing and vaccines.
BioGX Inc., a molecular diagnostics company, based at Innovation Depot, has joined B.D., a global medical technology company, to develop a new diagnostics tests that would increase the potential capacity to screen for COVID-19 by thousands of tests per day.
Birmingham-based Southern Research is collaborating with Tonix Pharmaceuticals Holding Group, a New York-based biopharmaceutical company, to test a potential COVID-19 vaccine.
Canfield and the B.A.M.A. group are daily finding other Alabama-based companies to battle the effects of the pathogen.
A third group known as Renewal is comprised of retired C.E.O.s whose goal is to make sure that those in need can cut through bureaucratic red-tape. They are charged with finding the best ways to streamline the government’s processes so that individuals and companies are not waiting for a government bureaucrat somewhere to press a button.
The Governor’s office is working in partnership with the state’s universities, businesses and others in an ongoing battle to curb the COVID-19 outbreak in the state.
In times of crisis governments always stumble getting out of the gate; that’s what happens.
The work presently being coordinated by the Governor’s staff and volunteers is not currently seen by the general public, but the efforts of these groups will affect the state now and in the future.
Governor awards $9.5 million in grants to expand internet access
Gov. Kay Ivey has awarded 20 grants totaling more than $9.5 million to provide high-speed internet access to numerous communities throughout Alabama.
The grants, part of the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund, were awarded to nine broadband providers to fund multiple projects in their coverage areas.
“Availability of high-speed internet has always been vital, but the events of the past several weeks magnify just how imperative it is that all Alabamians have access to broadband,” Gov. Ivey said. “I am pleased to support these projects and look forward to the day when every household, school, healthcare facility, emergency service and business throughout Alabama is afforded broadband availability.”
The fund, which is being administered through the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, was created by the Alabama Legislature in 2018 to provide high-speed internet to rural and underserved areas of the state.
“As our day-to-day way of living has been impacted over the past few weeks, it has underscored the value and necessity of high-speed broadband services. That is something that Governor Ivey, the Legislature and ADECA have been working to address through the Broadband Accessibility Fund,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said. “ADECA takes its role in administering this program seriously and is honored to be entrusted with the responsibility.”
This latest round of Broadband Accessibility grants came from applications submitted in late December 2019. Additional awards from this round of applications could also be announced.
Grants awarded and coverage areas are:
- Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $224,175 to provide broadband services in north Lowndes County including 301 households and 15 businesses.
- Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $289,100 for service in southwest Autauga and southeast Dallas counties including 343 households and 38 businesses.
- Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $480,200 for service in northwest Autauga, northeast Dallas and south Chilton counties including nearly 500 households and 31 businesses.
- Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $682,325 for service adjacent to the town of Billingsley in Autauga County which includes 656 households and 45 businesses.
- Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $1.06 million for service in Chilton County south of the city of Clanton and north of the town of Billingsley which is in neighboring Autauga County. The project will offer service to 1,093 households and 41 businesses.
- Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $557,987 for service in north-central Autauga County and parts of south-central Chilton County to include service offerings to 743 households and 21 businesses.
- Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $531,650 for service in southeast Chilton County, northeast Autauga County and northwest Elmore County including 509 households and 17 businesses.
- Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $279,300 for service in northwest Chilton County and east Bibb County including 409 households and 12 businesses.
- Charter Communications – $336,830 for service in the town of Autaugaville in Autauga County including 641 household and 14 businesses.
- Comcast of Alabama – $820,750 to service the Town of Dauphin Island in Mobile County including 2,500 households and 24 businesses.
- Hayneville Telephone Co. – $205,705 for service in Lowndes County’s Black Belt and Hicks Hill communities including 258 households and four businesses.
- Hayneville Telephone Co. – $125,671 for service in an area southeast of the town of Hayneville including 187 households and one business.
- Hayneville Telephone Co. – $143,265 for service southwest of the town of Hayneville including 191 households and two businesses.
- Hayneville Fiber Transport Inc. (Camellia Communications) – $90,072 for service in the Butler County community of Poorhouse community northeast of the city of Greenville.
- JTM Broadband – $404,414 for service in Lauderdale County east of the town of Killen including 1,303 households and 247 businesses.
- Mon-Cre Telephone Cooperative – $529,707 for service in north Crenshaw County and south Montgomery County including 350 households.
- National Telephone of Alabama – $357,171 for service in the Red Rock community in Colbert County including 205 households and six businesses.
- Roanoke Telephone Co. – $308,882 – for service in an area of south Randolph County between the municipalities of Roanoke and Wadley including 269 households and four businesses.
- Troy Cablevision – $1.38 million for service in parts of Coffee, Covington, Geneva and Houston counties including 1,190 households and 80 businesses.
- Troy Cablevision – $750,625 for service in parts of Coffee, Crenshaw and Pike counties including 603 households and 38 businesses.
ADECA administers a wide range of programs that support law enforcement, victim programs, economic development, water resource management, energy conservation and recreation.
Legislature returns to a much different Statehouse
The Alabama Legislature will return from their spring break vacation Tuesday, but nothing is the same as it was two weeks ago.
Monday, the press was informed that the corps will be removed from the press rooms behind the chambers. Those rooms are being given to the legislators so that they can sit the necessary six feet apart. The press will move to the gallery looking down on the House Chambers. That will be our space exclusively as the public and the lobbyists are barred. The additional space will allow members of the press to also stay a minimum of six feet apart to avoid transmission of the coronavirus.
The Alabama Political Reporter asked if we would still have access to the fifth-floor lobby where citizens and lobbyists regularly met with members of the legislature who stepped off of the House floor. APR was told that we would not have access to any part of the fifth floor except by appointment and that extended to the entire Statehouse building.
Legislators were told in a conference call that if they feel sick, are showing symptoms of anything that they should just stay away from today’s meeting which is not essential. Legislators will gavel in and set April 17 as their next meeting date.
The reason they have to gavel in is that if they do not the session would automatically end and the constitutionally mandated budgets for the 2021 fiscal year beginning on October 1 have not been passed yet.
State Rep. Tim Wadsworth, R-Arley, said that the legislator spoke with Gov. Kay Ivey and her team as well as legislative leaders.
Wadsworth said that they were told that conference calls are helpful and that members will receive a letter detailing the procedures to be followed by the members for the rest of this legislative year. There will be no visitors in the State House and all voting will be by voice so there will be no touching of voting machines.
The governor was to participate in a conference call with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence later that day.
Ivey told them that Alabama will test for counterfeit supplies and watch for coronavirus scams and that the state will have an advance web site operating later this week. The state is, “Working with various Alabama companies to manufacture and produce various medical safety products.”
Wadsworth said that they were told that the state had had 831 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 15 reported deaths, though not all had been confirmed by the Alabama Department of Public Health, by that morning and that there were over 2500 deaths already in the United States.
Wadsworth said that the subject of hospitals came up. Hospitals are looking at expanding their ICU (intensive care unit) areas to deal with the demand for intensive care beds by COVID-19 patients. Hospital rooms are freeing up due to the elimination of elective procedures.
Wadsworth said also that the Apple Company, through President Tim Cook, is delivered 100,000 N-95 masks and surgical masks, the schools will not reopen physically this year, and teachers, workers and aides will practice social distancing when they go back into the school buildings on April 6,
Wadsworth said that State Superintendent Eric Mackey told them that the focus will be on graduating and getting students ready for this year. The State Board of Education building is being cleaned.
Legislators were informed that the Alabama National Guard is ready for when they are needed.
Wadsworth said that they were told that teletherapy will be used for mental health patients except for extreme patients. A 24/7 mental health help telephone lines available and that mental health patients are only being discharged when teletherapy is available at home.
Wadsworth said that State Finance Director Kelly Butler assured them that, “All vendors are being paid.” In the first six months of the fiscal year revenue held up good; but that he anticipates a decline though in revenues for the last six months of the current fiscal year. Butler did not anticipate calling for proration due to the strong first six months of the year. $300 million is being moved from the stabilization fund to the education trust fund (ETF) to ensure stable budget.
The 2020 Legislative Session will end by May 18.
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