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Alabama pastors, faith leaders call on state to enact meaningful criminal justice reform

Eddie Burkhalter

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A group of Alabama pastors urged state lawmakers in a letter Wednesday to work on meaningful criminal justice reform to fix Alabama’s broken prison system and to help prevent young people from entering it.  

Joining the 40 pastors who signed the letter was Craig DeRoche, senior vice president of advocacy and public policy with Prison Fellowship, a Christian nonprofit based in Washington D.C. that advocates for criminal justice reform. 

DeRoche, in a message to APR on Wednesday, said that his organization supports investment in new and existing prisons in Alabama with the goal of facilitating better living conditions, and the expansion of programming, treatment, education, job training and faith-based initiatives.

“We do not support new facilities or investments meant to maintain or grow the unnecessary or ineffective use of incarceration in the justice system,” DeRoche added. 

Plagued with violence and contraband in overcrowded and understaffed facilities, Alabama’s prison crisis will be a major focus for legislators this session. The U.S. Department of Justice in April 2019 released a report calling Alabama’s prisons likely in violation of inmates’ Constitutional protections. 

Gov. Kay Ivey in her State of the State speech Tuesday continued to push her plan to build three new mega-prisons for men, through a build-lease partnership with private companies at an early estimated cost of $900,000. 

Ivey was less specific Tuesday, however, on support for other measures, such as additional sentencing reform or expansions of educational opportunities and programs to reduce recidivism. 

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DeRoche told APR that his organization is hopeful that Alabamians will embrace the opportunity to improve public safety while reducing the use of incarceration.  

“Alabama should look to retroactive sentencing reforms, such as the ones President Trump enacted in the federal First Step Act and other meaningful reforms to expand access to diversion programs and specialty courts,” DeRoche said. “Over the last ten years, many states across the nation have demonstrated the ability to face similar challenges, including Texas, which has saved millions of dollars and closed a record number of prisons. We believe that Alabama should make comprehensive criminal justice reform its priority.” 

State officials haven’t yet announced where those three new prisons might be  located, but DeRoche cautioned against consolidating many smaller prisons and moving incarcerated persons to larger prisons further away from their communities. 

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 “Locating smaller prisons closer to where the crime occurred and the prisoners’ families live, has been shown to improve public safety over large, centrally located facilities. As we learn more about the Governor’s approach to solving Alabama’s prison crisis, we would like to better understand the basis and viability of the prison proposal,” DeRoche said. 

The letter to state legislators reads: 

“As pastors and leaders of faith-based organizations that minister and provide services in Alabama, we join together to write you in support of youth and adult criminal justice reform and restoration of citizens who were formerly incarcerated. Because the good news of Jesus Christ calls the Church to advocate for biblical truth and care for the vulnerable, we, His followers, call for a criminal justice system that is fair and redemptive for our young people and restores adults who are reentering society. We believe we all have received and deserve a second chance in life.

“When young people commit delinquent acts, it damages our communities and requires proportional accountability measures. However, it is equally important that when we punish, we also provide opportunities to make amends, and offer young people who commit crime avenues to build personal character and gain back the trust of the community. The recommendations of the Alabama Juvenile Justice Task force are a substantial step in this direction.

“Likewise, for those who are returning to the community we also need to provide opportunities to make amends and offer adults who have committed crime a path to redemption. This includes offering a second chance to earn back the trust of the community and to restore themselves to their neighbors as productive and peaceful members of society.

“The United States Department of Justice recently issued a report detailing the troubling state of affairs in Alabama’s adult prison system and concluded “there is reasonable cause to believe that the men’s prisons fail to protect prisoners from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse, and fail to provide prisoners with safe conditions.” The disturbing findings in this report must be remedied and juvenile justice reform is necessary to avoid placing young Alabamians in the failing adult prison system.

“As our churches and organizations work to reach Alabama communities with a message of hope and redemption, we ask you to consider the following guiding biblical principles as you work to change the youth justice system and criminal justice system:

  • Each human being, including those who commit crime and the victims of crime, is a person made in God’s own image, with a life worthy of respect, protection and care;
  • Accountability for youth crime should be community-based and local where possible, recognizing that cultivation of the seedbeds of virtue like families and churches pays dividends in reducing crime;
  • Punishment should be proportional to the act committed, advancing public safety, fostering accountability, and giving opportunities to make amends;
  • Appropriate avenues should be provided for personal transformation and a second chance;
  • Rehabilitation of those formerly incarcerated should include, where not prohibited by public safety concerns, restoration of the rights and privileges previously lost in order to foster their ability to become productive citizens and taxpayers in society

“As we work to preach the good news of the gospel, that redemption through Christ is available to everyone and that His sacrifice covers our sin, we ask that you take hold of these important values and usher in a new season of youth and criminal justice in Alabama.” 

The letter was also signed by: 

  • Rt. Rev. Derek Jones, Bishop, Jurisdiction of the Armed Forces and Chaplaincy
  • Anglican Church in North America in Montevallo.  
  • Dr. Douglas A. Sweeney, Dean, Beeson Divinity School at Samford University
  • Dr. Timothy George, Founding Dean, Research Professor of Divinity Beeson Divinity School, Samford University
  • Pastor Randy Walker, Correctional Ministry Pastor, Church of the Highlands in Birmingham. 
  • Pastor Ken Letson, Senior Pastor, The Church at Shelby Crossings in Calera, Alabama. 
  • Pastor Dr. Matt Mobley, Senior Pastor, Mulder Memorial United Methodist Church in Wetumpka. 
  • Rev. Dr. Gerald R. McDermott, Anglican Chair of Divinity Beeson Divinity School at Samford University. 
  • Rev. Michael Novotny, Rector, Christ the King Anglican Church in Birmingham. 
  • The Very Rev. Andrew M. Rowell, Rector, Christchurch Anglican, Dean of the Western Deanery, Gulf Atlantic Diocese, ACNA in Montgomery. 
  • The Ven. Woody Norman, Archdeacon, Jurisdiction of the Armed Forces and Chaplaincy, Anglican Church in North America, in Hoover. 
  • Rev. Walter Albritton, Pastor Emeritus, Saint James United Methodist Church in Montgomery. 
  • Wetumpka, Alabama, Rev. Douglas McCurry, Rector, Legacy Anglican Church in Montgomery. 
  • Rev. Doug McMillan, Former Vicar, St. Michael’s Anglican Church in Andalusia. 
  • Rev. Cn. Mark Quay, Rector, St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Tuscaloosa. 
  • Dcn. Andrew Brashier, Vicar, Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd, Chancellor, Jurisdiction of the Armed Forces and Chaplaincy in Pelham. 
  • Rev. Clay Farrington, Executive Pastor, Riverchase United Methodist Church in Hoover. 
  • Rev. Kyle Clark, Vicar, St. Bede’s Anglican Church in Birmingham. 
  • Rev. Dr. Cory Smith, Senior Pastor, Auburn United Methodist Church in Auburn. 
  • Rev. Dr. Gary W. Yarbrough, Chaplain/Director of Pastoral Care, Shelby Baptist Medical Center in Alabaster. 
  • Rev. Cameron Nations, Associate Rector, Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church in Birmingham. 
  • Rev. Keith Stanley, City Ministries Pastor, The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham. 
  • Rev. Geoff Hatley, Rector, St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Madison. 
  • Rev. Ben Jeffries, Vicar, Good Shepherd Anglican Church in Opelika. 
  • Rev. David Tubbs, Senior Pastor, Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Madison. 
  • Rev. Brian K. Blackwell, Pastor, Saint Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church in Birmingham. 
  • The Rev. Mark E. Waldo, Jr., St. Michael & All Angels’ Episcopal Church in Millbrook. 
  • The Rev. Katie Nakamura Rengers, Interim Staff Officer for Church Planting, The Episcopal Church, Canonical Residency: Alabama
  • Rev. Yvonne B. Howze, Pastor – United African Methodist Episcopal Church in Fairfield. 
  • The Rev. Gary Blaylock, Rector, St. Francis at the Point Anglican Church in Fairhope. 
  • Rev. Dr. Matt Burford, Founder, Tactical Faith, Inc. in Pelham. 
  • Rev. Lydia Temonia, Pastor, Tabernacle, United Methodist Church in Dothan. 
  • Dr. Brian V. Miller, Senior Minister, Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Montgomery. 
  • Dr. Rob Couch, Lead Pastor, Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile. 
  • Rev. Dr. Patrick M. Quinn, Century UMC, Lead Pastor in Pike Road. 
  • Rev. Kathy Jorgensen, Associate Pastor, Dauphin Way UMC in Mobile. 
  • Pastor Randy Smith, Ranja Ministries in Birmingham. 
  • Pastor Janice Smith, Ranja Ministries in Birmingham. 
  • Dr. Christopher W. Crain, Executive Director, Birmingham Metro Baptist Association in Birmingham. 
  • Andy Blake, Executive Director, WorkFaith Birmingham in Birmingham. 
  • Rev. John Ryberg, Pastor, The Table UMC in Huntsville.

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Alabama lawmakers advance bill banning transgender athletes in K-12 sports

Jessa Reid Bolling

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A House committee voted Wednesday to advance a bill that would ban transgender teenagers from playing on the sports teams of the gender they identify with. 

House Bill 35, titled the Gender Is Real Legislative Act, or GIRL Act, would require student athletes in K-12 schools to participate as the gender listed on their birth certificate, preventing transgender athletes from competing as the gender they identify as.

Sponsored by Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, the bill passed the House State Government Committee on an 8-4 vote. The bill will now go to the full House. 

The bill, according to Pringle, is aimed at preserving the accomplishments of women and to prevent women from having to compete against athletes who were born male.

“Gender is real. There are biological differences between boys and girls that influence athletic performance,” Pringle said in a statement. “The GIRL Bill seeks to support female student-athletes, so that they may compete against each other and not have to compete against male students with an unfair advantage.”

Opponents say that HB35 was born out of prejudice against transgender youth rather than seeking to protect women in athletics. 

Carmarion D. Anderson, Alabama state director of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), an LGBTQ+ rights organization, called the bill a “political advertisement” with no supporting evidence

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Anderson said she believes this bill will do harm to young transgender youth by segregating them from competing in sports events, further contributing to the ostracization trans youth feel in society.

“We’re concerned about a student’s mental health when they cannot participate in the sports that are comfortable for them, and the level of dysphoria they already face when they are transitioning,” said Anderson. 

Anderson also said that while it is unfortunate that this bill passed the committee, HRC will be at the forefront to try to see the bill defeated. 

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The bill now heads to the full House.

 

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Legislation may harm pets locked in hot cars, not help, vets and advocates say

Eddie Burkhalter

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A bill passed by the Alabama Senate last week lawmakers say will help keep pets trapped in hot cars safe, might actually endanger the animals, according to some animal advocates and veterinarians.

That bill was written by a dog breeder who some worry purposefully wrote the bill to make it harder to keep animals safe, and to instead protect breeders from having animals confiscated, they told APR this week. 

Mindy Gilbert, The Human Society’s Alabama state director, told APR by phone on Tuesday that she’s certain that the senate bill’s sponsor, Alabama Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba, “does have good intentions, but I think the devils in the details.” 

Several attempts this week to reach Rep. Holley were unsuccessful. 

The bill would grant criminal immunity to a civilian who rescues an animal from a vehicle, and would provide civil and criminal immunity to first responders who do so. The legislation also makes it a misdemeanor crime if a pet dies in a hot car. 

Gilbert said that while those might also sound like great ideas, the bill would actually reduce criminal penalties for allowing a pet to die in a hot car. 

“Our current cruelty statute, which has been used in cases like this, would define that as a class C felony,” Gilbert said. 

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A Trussville woman in 2018 was charged with felony aggravated cruelty to animals for leaving her dog in a locked car while shopping in Walmart. The dog died after police broke out a window and removed the distressed animal. 

The bill also states that the ambient temperature of the interior of a vehicle must be 99 degrees or hotter to be charged under the legislation. 

Gilbert said she’s spoken with numerous veterinarians who all said that 99 degrees is too hot to be safe for pets trapped in cars. 

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Gilbert said that for many breeds of pets, and pets with compromised health, “that requirement in order to rescue them will absolutely sentence them to death,” and there are other aspects of the bill that trouble her. 

“I think everybody was very focused on providing immunity to first responders, which I think is fabulous,” Gilbert said of the legislation, but worried that it doesn’t include animal control personnel in its definition of public safety officials and covered by the bill’s immunity clause. 

Holley’s legislation defines public safety officials as “An individual employed by a law enforcement agency, fire department, or 911 emergency service.” 

Dr. Mark Colicchio, a veterinarian in Spanish Fort, reached out to Sen. Holley and all of the members of the state Senate Judiciary Committee about his concerns with the bill prior to its passage in the senate. Holley put Colicchio in touch with the man he said wrote the bill, Norman Horton.

Colicchio said he spoke to Horton, owner of the Dale County german shepherd breeding company Triple S Shepherds, at length about his concerns, but that none were addressed in the final legislation. 

“There are a lot of temperature references in there which make no sense whatsoever,” Colicchio said. 

Colicchio said he spoke with Horton about the bill’s language that required the ambient temperature of the interior of a vehicle to be 99 degrees or higher before a person could be charged. He said he told Horton that there’s no practical way for a public safety official to measure the ambient temperature inside a locked vehicle from outside, to which he said Horton suggested they call carry digital temperature readers. 

Such devices measure surface temperatures, and wouldn’t  be able to read the temperature inside a locked car, Colicchio said. 

After speaking with veterinarians at Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine Cholicchio said they looked at data that suggested that if the outside temperature of a vehicle, which can be more easily measured, was 78 degrees an animal trapped inside with no ventilation could be in jeopardy. 

Colicchio said he suspects the legislation was purposely written to protect owners from having their animals taken from them in the event they’re left in hot cars. 

“He doesn’t want breeders to risk having their valuable dogs stolen out of the car because somebody thinks they’re at risk,” Colicchio said. “…When you structure a law to benefit yourself, and animals suffer for it, that just gets to me.” 

Horton, speaking by phone Wednesday,  told APR that he wrote the bill to protect animals and to establish the proper way to rescue an animal in distress. 

“This is America, and this is Alabama, and if someone’s gonna be guilty of a crime or charged for a crime then they need to have committed that crime” Horton said. 

Horton said “we don’t need vigilante justice” so he wrote the bill to make clear how best to enter a vehicle if an animal is in need of help. 

Asked how he decided that 99 degrees inside a vehicle was the temperature at which a pet was in danger, Horton said “I got the figure after talking to several veterinarians.” 

Asked which veterinarians he spoke to get that figure, Horton said “that’s immaterial” and declined to name them. 

Horton likened the matter to speed laws, and said while some speed limits are set at 70 MPH, some people, such as police officers, can drive safely at speeds up to 113mph. 

Asked why the bill doesn’t include animal control officers in the immunity protections, Horton said that “it does.” 

Horton pointed to the bill’s language that defines public safety officials as “An individual employed by a law enforcement agency” and said “go to Tuscaloosa. Go to any of the cities around, and animal control officers are employed by the police department. They’re sworn officers.” 

Some animal control officers who work in municipal law enforcement agencies are sworn officers, Gilbert said, but many are not, and in the counties, where animal control is operated as stand-alone agencies, animal control officers are not sworn officers and wouldn’t be immune from prosecution under the legislation. 

Asked why his bill didn’t include all animal control officers, whether they were sworn officers working in law enforcement agencies or not, Horton suggested that it was to ensure owners could be charged with crimes 

“Do we want to charge for the crime when they do something like this or just let them go?” Horton said. 

Horton declined to answer a question about the bill’s language that limits the charge of killing an animal in a hot vehicle to a misdemeanor and soon after ended the interview. 

“It’s not to help the animals,” Colicchio said of the legislation. “That’s the wolf in sheep’s clothing.” 

It was unclear Wednesday if Holley’s bill had a sponsor in the state House. There were no similar bills filed Wednesday, according to the state Legislature’s website.

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Legislature

Senate Committee approves medical marijuana bill

Brandon Moseley

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Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee gave a favorable report to a bill that would allow Alabama residents to obtain medical marijuana on an 8 to 1 vote. Senate Bill 167 was sponsored by State Senator Tim Melson (R-Florence).

SB167 would create a tightly regulated network of state-licensed marijuana growers, dispensaries, transporters, and processors. Patients would have to get a recommendation for the drug from their physician. Only physicians who have received the approved training would be able to dispense the cannabis-derived treatments. There would be no smokable products allowed and consumer possession of marijuana in its raw natural form would remain illegal in the state.

Sen. Melson is a retired anesthesiologist who now works in medical research.

“I would not have carried this bill three or four years ago,” Melson said. But there is a growing body of medical evidence that there are medical benefits.

Melson said that while this bill does have provisions for growing and processing marijuana in states there is also, “An option for it to come from outside.”

Melson said that under this bill we will know what is being grown, being processed, and reaches the consumer. The medical association will recommend the training and the education component for the physician. Patients will be issued a medical cannabis card. “The card will not be good in other states.”

Melson said that Alabama dispensaries will not accept out of state medical cannabis cards except one time a year they can get a one-time emergency order. The number of dispensaries will be limited to 34 total. Patients will be allowed to get just a 70-day supply. There is no smoking and no vaping. People in rural areas will have to go far to get one of the dispensaries. There is a, “Balancing act between convenience and safety. There are fifteen qualifying conditions.”

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Rick Hagans is a minister with Harvest Evangelism, which runs Christian rehabs for both men and women drug addicts.

“The gateway that led to methamphetamines and opioids began with marijuana,” Hagans said. “We have found in forty years of work that it is a gateway drug.”

Hagans dismissed the medical benefits claims, “Medical profession said the same thing with opioids. I ask that you proceed with caution and concern. I get tired of burying your sons and daughters,”

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“Thank you for giving us Leni’s Law, but it is not enough,” Christie Kaine said. “I am the Mother of a child with intractable epilepsy. We know from our research that there are other cannaboids that can help with Hardy’s condition, but they can not be used in Alabama due to the level of THC. If Hardy did not live in Alabama he could be seizure-free.

Caleb Crosby with the Alabama Policy Institute said, “It is a real issue and something has to be done about it. Our concern is unintended consequences.”

Crosby said that Republicans, “Run on small government, but this does the opposite.”

“We still have a litany of laws carried over from Prohibition one hundred years ago,” Crosby said. “You will not be able to get rid of all of these regulations and taxes.”

Cynthia Atkinson’s husband was longtime WSFA meteorologist Dan Atkinson, who was also on the Weather Channel.

“Dan had Parkinson’s for ten years,” Atkinson said. “The last five years he suffered from tremendous pain.” He had excellent doctors at the Mayo Clinic and Kirklin Clinic. They did their best.” Dan was prescribed Oxycodone, hydrocodone, lorazepam, and as he got progressively worse morphine. We learned that Israel has been studying cannabis since the 1950s. In 2015 we went to Colorado.” He used patches with 10 mg of CBD and 10 mg of THC. The leg cramps went away. We wanted to bring it back but couldn’t because of the law.

“The opioids and synthetic drugs were racking his body,” Mrs. Atkinson said. Dan passed away in 2017. I can’t help but think that if we lived in another state he could have lived to see his son graduate from Auburn and join the Space Force.

Captain Clay Hammac commands the Shelby County Drug Task Force

“Just because we do not put medical in front of marijuana does not make it medicine,” Capt. Hammac said. Under Alabama law, we already have Leni’s law and Carly’s law and there are cannabis-based medications that have been approved by the FDA.

Hammac warned that this was an “Incremental step toward the decriminalization of a multi-$billion industry. This bill should be before the Health Committee instead of the Judiciary Committee.”

“Law enforcement was never invited to the table to share our experience,” Hammac said of the Alabama Medical Cannabis Study Commission.

“A Harvard medical researcher was brought to the commission and virtually laughed out of the room,” Hammac said. “I stand with our Attorney General.”

Hammac blast the “casual way” that this has been handled.

“The reason this is before the Judiciary Committee instead of the Health Committee is that this is the most deliberative thorough committee in state government today,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) said. “That nature of the people on this Committee is why this is here.”

“The State has no authority to usurp federal law,” Hammac said.

“I want to make sure that everybody understands where I come from,” Dustin Chandler said. “My daughter Carly obtained CBD oil through Carly’s Law. My daughter was able to get relief through the CBD oil. Studies show that medical cannabis has medical benefits for many people.”

Lori Herring said, “I have been a nurse for 30 years.”

Herring said that the American Academy on Pediatrics opposes the legalization of cannabis. The American Medical Association does not endorse medical cannabis. The Multiple Sclerosis Society can not recommend cannabis as a treatment.

“The side effects, system effects, and long term side effects are not clear,” Herring said. “It has not been shown to be medically effective and could be dangerous. “It has only been approved for two severe forms of epilepsy. We don’t know what a pediatric dose, an adult dose, or a geriatric dose would be.”

Herring warned that marijuana can cause nausea and vomiting unrelieved by current nausea medication and has resulted in death. Legalization has led to increased emergency room visits, paranoia, schizophrenia, and psychotic breaks.

“The marijuana today is more addictive than marijuana in the past,” Herring said. “Legislators should not be taking the place of scientists.”

Dr. Alan Shackelford of Colorado said, “I have seen 25,000 patients in my practice in the last ten years. I doubt you will find anybody who has as much experience with patients than I do.”

Shackelford said that Marylin was a helicopters pilot in Iraq who was shot down and had severe injuries and PTSD did not have a job rarely left her house and now has a job at the VA helping other veterans and is married

Shackleford said that Mason is age 68 and has Parkinson’s. He could not move now he plays baseball and is a deacon in his church. He also said that he treated Charlotte, a girl with Dravet Syndrome with tremendous effect and now she is a healthy twelve-year-old.

“Not all of them are as dramatic as these,” Dr. Shackelford said. Arthritis, autism, PTSD, cancer, pain, Parkinson’s, chemotherapy-related nausea can all be treated with cannabis.

“The people of Alabama deserve the same access to treatment as people in 33 other states,” Dr. Shackelford concluded.

“A number of amendments have been worked out in the last couple of weeks,” Ward said.

The amendments were added and Ward advised Melson to incorporate all the amendments into a substitute to introduce when the bill is on the Senate floor.

The most notable amendment dealt with workmen’s compensation. An employee who is injured or killed on the job is ineligible to receive compensation if his death or injury was due to the employee’s impairment under medical cannabis.

SB167 received a favorable report on an eight to one vote.

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Opinion | Alabama close to allowing hot dogs to be rescued

Joey Kennedy

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Most readers know that we’ve had a grumble of pugs for years. We lost four in the grumble last year. All of our dogs are rescues, and most of them have some disability: unable to walk well, blindness, incontinence, a perpetually crooked head.

And most of the pugs are elderly, so we expect to lose a few this year. Our youngest is Nellie Bly, at about 2 years old. We have a group of older pugs that are around 10-11 years old. Several came from puppy mills. One was surrendered to a vet tech when his owners took him to be put down because the owner’s granddaughter wanted a different dog (I know!). The veterinarian naturally was not going to euthanize a healthy animal, and about a week later, Peerey came to us.

Pugs are bred to do one thing: Sit with their humans, mostly on their laps or next to them on the bed. All of ours are bed pugs. They snore; we adore.

I say all of this to underscore that Veronica and I know not ever to leave one of our dogs in a locked car, especially during the summer. But every year, we hear stories of the careless owners who leave their dog (or dogs) in the backseat of a vehicle while they run an errand. The errand takes longer than the owner thought, and heat builds in the car. Too often, that kills the pet, just like it does children, and that happens all too often as well.

As of 2019, 31 states had laws that either prohibit leaving an animal confined in a vehicle under dangerous conditions or provide civil immunity (protection from being sued) for a person who rescues a distressed animal from a vehicle.

Alabama – finally – is on the cusp of joining that group.

A bill (SB67) sponsored by Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba, will allow good Samaritans to rescue pets left in a car if they are clearly in danger from either the heat or cold. The bill provides criminal immunity to civilians and grants civil and criminal immunity to law enforcement officers who rescue an animal.

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Important, too, is that bill prevents owners from leaving their animals in a vehicle in a manner that creates an unreasonable risk of harm. If they do, they can be charged with second-degree animal abuse.

It doesn’t take long for the situation in a vehicle to deteriorate, either. 

Even on a mild day, the heat inside a car can go off the rails. According to reports, if the outside temperature is 70 degrees (f), the interior of a vehicle can heat up to 89 degrees in 10 minutes. After a half-hour, the interior temp can be 104 degrees. Of course, it’s much worse on hotter days.

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At 80 degrees, a vehicles inside temperature is at 99 degrees; after a half-hour, the animal is trying to survive in a 114-degree oven. And at 95 degrees, not an unusual June, July, or August temperature in Alabama, the inside temp of a vehicle is about 130 degrees.

Humans can’t even survive long at those temperatures.

There are conditions before a good Samaritan can step up, but they’re not unusual in states that already have similar laws: Among them:

The person has a good faith belief that the confined domestic animal is in imminent danger of suffering physical injury or death unless the domestic animal is removed from the motor vehicle;
The person determines that the motor vehicle is locked or there is no reasonable manner in which the person can remove the domestic animal from the vehicle;
Before entering the motor vehicle, the person notifies a peace officer, emergency medical service provider or first responder or an animal control enforcement agency or deputy of the confined domestic animal;
The person does not use more force than is necessary under the circumstances to enter the motor vehicle and remove the domestic animal from the vehicle.
Remains with the animal in a safe location in reasonable proximity to the motor vehicle until law enforcement or other first responders arrive.
Maintains control of the animal at all times to prevent harm to the animal or others.

There are other conditions that make less sense, however. The bill as passed 33-0 by the state Senate requires the ambient temperature in the vehicle be 99 degrees or higher before a citizen or first-responder can intervene.

I can tell you that a half-hour in a car at 95 degrees will kill a pug; a Lab or Golden might survive that temperature for awhile, but remember, every minute the car’s interior is getting hotter. Pugs are brachycephalic – short nosed – and have trouble breathing outside at 80 or 85 degrees.

Other short-nosed breeds like English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, and Boston Terriers, have the same issue. It’s one reason why they snort and snore, even in the winter.

Generally, we can tell when a dog locked in a car is distressed, and few good Samaritans are going to be carrying a temperature gauge with them.

Still, the House needs to pass this bill as soon as possible. Spring and summer aren’t that far off, and, no doubt, there will be animals to rescue.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter.

Email: [email protected]

 

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