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Health Committee gives favorable report to bill to mandate vaccination reporting

Brandon Moseley

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Wednesday, the Senate Health Committee gave a favorable report to a bill that would require that all medical providers share their vaccination records with the State of Alabama.

Senate Bill 56 is sponsored by State Senator Tim Melson (R-Florence)

Sen. Melson said that SB56 would require medical providers to report vaccinations in the registry.

“This would prevent people getting repeat vaccines,” Melson said. “It does exempt flu because the vaccine changes every year.”

The Senate Health Committee is chaired by Sen. Jim McClendon (R-Springville).

Melson said that more accurate records in the registry would benefit schools because in many cases parents just don’t know.

“There is a voluntary registry now,” Melson said. “This makes it mandatory.”

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said that the state IMPRINT program has maintained a registry for 20 years.

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“Almost all of our pediatricians do this anyway,” Dr. Harris said. “This requires it for those providers who do not know it now.”

“Our biggest issue is with a pharmacy who gives vaccines,” Melson said.

“Most states do require this,” Harris said. “It allows us to know our vulnerability as a state. Last year we had a measles outbreak and did not know our vulnerability. What percentage of the population has been vaccinated.”

Harris said, “HIPPA does not apply to public health records.”

State Senator Jack Williams (R-Wilmer) said, “My email has been flooded with emails from the public urging me to vote no on this. I have also heard from some doctors too who say that it added to their paperwork.”

Dr. Harris said that the Alabama Department of Public Health will send someone to train them and their staff how to do the reporting.

Melson motioned to give the bill a favorable report.

Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison (D-Birmingham) asked, “Is this just for children?”

Harris said that the registry maintains records on adults as well as children.

“This does not impose anything on the public at all,” Harris explained. “Public health does have a statutory authority to collect public health information.”

Chairman McClendon said, “Parents of children have an option to opt out. If they opt out they are not in there.”

“People may opt out of immunizing their children,” Harris said,

Senator Larry Stutts (R-Sheffield) said, “if you opt out of having vaccines are you recorded in the system as opt outers?”

Harris said that that program is administered by the Health Department. “They have to show that they are opting out and watch a video on our website. That information is already in there.We are not picking up new information on those folks that we do not already have.”

The committee voted to give the bill a favorable report on a ten to one vote. Williams was the one “No” vote.

There were a number of student nurse practitioners visiting the committee that day.

McClendon said, “Today is nurse practitioner day in the Senate Health committee.”

SB56 can now be considered by the full Senate.

Today is day four of the 2020 Alabama regular legislative session. Under the Alabama Constitution the regular session may last no more than thirty days.

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Economy

Task force looks at reopening state economy

Brandon Moseley

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Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth announced Thursday that the Alabama Small Business Commission Emergency Task Force has formed a subcommittee on reopening the state’s economy and plans to present a plan to Gov. Kay Ivey and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris by April 17.

“Reopening Alabama’s economy and getting businesses back to work will not be like flipping a light switch, but it will more likely be accomplished in stages once the COVID-19 pandemic begins to ease,” Ainsworth said. “The purpose of this subcommittee is to provide a roadmap to reopening the economy that balances the public’s health and safety with the need for small business owners and employees to resume operations.”

The subcommittee will consider issues like how to best ease restrictions on restaurant and store capacity guidelines and how to incorporate social distancing needs with increased commerce once officials decree that the worst of the COVID-19 threat has passed.

State Rep. Danny Garrett (R – Trussville) will serve as chairman of the subcommittee.

The other members of the subcommittee include: Senator Chris Elliott (R – Fairhope), Senator Garlan Gudger (R – Cullman), Representative Joe Lovvorn (R – Auburn), Rosemary Elebash – National Federation of Independent Business, Alabama State Chair, Mindy Hanan – Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality Association, Executive Director, Katie Britt – Business Council of Alabama, CEO, Rick Brown – Alabama Retail Association, President, Tony Cochran of CK Business Solutions in Albertville, and Stephen McNair of McNair Historic Preservation in Mobile.

The state remains under emergency shutdown orders from Alabama Kay Ivey (R) through April 30. All nonessential businesses have been ordered to close and Alabamians have been ordered to shelter in place.

On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said that he believed that the economy can reopen in May.

A number of measures were taken at the national, state, and local levels to shut down the economy beginning in early March in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus strain, SARS-CoV-2, that causes COVID-19.

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In March there were estimates from public health officials that over a million Americans would die from COVID-19 without the forced economic shutdown. As Americans have widely adopted the social distancing recommendations of the CDC and the White House Coronavirus task force those estimates have come down to less than 60,000 deaths.

The fear of opening the economy up too soon is that it will unleash the virus as everyone returns to work, restaurants, sporting events, and shopping. The fear of waiting too long to open the economy is that businesses are currently burning up their emergency funds and lines of credit with little or no revenue coming in. The fear is that the longer we wait the fewer the businesses that will survive likely sparking a long protracted recession that will deeply impact Alabama families.

The 22-member Small Business Commission is statutorily tasked with formulating “policies encouraging innovation of small businesses in the state” and advising the Department of Commerce in promoting small businesses within Alabama. The state legislature placed the Alabama Small Business Commission under the authority of the Lieutenant Governor’s Office in 2018.

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AG: Local governments may not assist businesses negatively impacted by shutdown

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall wrote in an opinion Tuesday that county and city governments can not provide public funds to private businesses that were impacted by the forced economic shutdown to fight the coronavirus.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, this Office has received numerous inquiries from counties and municipalities regarding whether a program could be developed using Amendment 772 (Section 94.01 of the Alabama Constitution) as a vehicle for giving economic development grants and loans to small businesses,” Marshall wrote. “While the desire to keep these businesses afloat during the crisis is understandable, unless the grants and loans contemplated under these proposed programs serve a public purpose rather than merely confer a private benefit, they violate section 94 of the Alabama Constitution.”

“Section 94 prohibits the Legislature from “authoriz[ing] any county, city, town, or other subdivision of this state to lend its credit, or to grant public money or thing of value in aid of, or to any individual, association, or corporation whatsoever, or to become a stockholder in any corporation, association, orcompany, by issuing bonds or otherwise (emphasis added).” ALA. CONST. art.

“The Alabama Supreme Court, howeve r, held in Slawson v. Alabama Forestry Commission, 631 So.2d 953, 956 (Ala. 1994) that Section 94, as amended, is not violated when the funds of a subject governmental entity are appropriated for a “public purpose.” Whether the funds are appropriated for a public purpose depends on if they bring about a “direct public benefit of a reasonably general character . . . to a significant part of the public ” rather than merely a “remote and theoretical benefit. ”

Amendment 772 is widely cited by proponents of such a grant or bridge loan program as providing a constitutional basis for the program.

Marshall explained, “The Legislature passed Amendment 772 as a codification of Slawson insofar as economic and industrial development is concerned. Amendment 772 specifically gives a county or municipality authority “to lend its credit to or grant public funds and things of value in aid of or to any individual, firm, corporation, or other business entity, public or private, for the purpose of promoting the economic and industrial development of the county or the municipality. ”

There are two requirements under Amendment 772, the county or municipality must comply with: “(1) The action proposed to be taken by the county or municipality is approved at a public meeting of the governing body of the county or municipality, as the case may be, by a resolution containing a determination by the governing body that the expenditure of public funds for the purpose specified will serve a valid and sufficient public purpose, notwithstanding any incidental bene fit accruing to any private entity or entities and (2) At least seven days prior to the public meeting, a notice is published in the newspaper having the largest circulation in the county or municipality, as the case may be, describing in reasonable detail the action proposed to be taken, a description of the public benefits sought to be achieved by the action, and identifying each individual, firm, corporation, or other business entity to whom or for whose benefit the county or the municipality proposes to lend its credit or grant public funds or thing of value.”

“Although Amendment 772 gives counties and municipalities flexibility to grant or loan funds to private entities without violating section 94, the definition of “economic and industrial development” for purposes of Amendment 772 must be read in light of Slawson’s requirement that the benefit conferred be a “direct public benefit of a reasonably general character . . . to a significant part of the public,.” Marshall wrote. “Whether the expenditure is made for a public purpose is a factual question to be determined by the local governmental body making the expenditure by looking to the statutes setting forth that body’s authority. Opinion to Honorable Robert S. Presto, Escambia County Attorney, dated August 24, 1995.”

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“Grants, loans, interest payments, and other similar awards to a private business for the sole reason of keeping that business operating would not meet the Slawson test,” Marshall stated. “Whereas such payments would bestow a significant private benefit, any benefit to the public -at-large would be remote and indirect. The governing body of the county or municipality must be able to articulate a rationale for the expenditure which benefits the public-at large in a more direct manner and is supported by the governing body’s statutory authority. Furthermore, using entities such as the Chamber of Commerce or private banks as “pass-throughs” to facilitate the expenditures does not change this analysis so long as ultimately public money is being lent or granted in aid of a private entity and no public benefit is served.”

“Conclusion While the Office sympathizes with the desire of municipalities to assist small business during the COVID-19 crisis, the current dire circumstances do not provide for a workaround to the requirements of Section 94 of the Alabama Constitution,” Marshall concluded. “As previous Attorney General’s Opinions have found, unless the grants and loans contemplated under these proposed assistance programs serve a public purpose rather than merely confer a private benefit, they violate section 94 of the Alabama Constitution.”

The Attorney General’s opinion effectively bars efforts by city councils and county commissions to help businesses in their towns with grants or bridge loans in order to make it through the forced economic shutdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

There is some federal assistance available through the CARES Act and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has proposed a $250 billion package to provide assistance businesses; but that bill has encountered resistance from Senate Democrats.

Nationally recognized financial consultant Dave Ramsey and other persons in the financial consulting field have long recommended that businesses, and even families should maintain an emergency fund equal to three to six months of expenses. Unfortunately, many business (including very profitable ones) failed to follow that advice and were overleveraged with insufficient cash reserves when they were unexpectedly forced to close by county health officers and orders from Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R).

The forced economic shutdown to fight the spread of the coronavirus began to be implemented in early March and will not be lifted before April 30. On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin expressed optimism that the economy will be able to reopen at some point in May. All Alabama citizens remain under a shelter in place order thru April 30.

Globally 1,491,829 persons have been confirmed as having COVID-19 and 87,458 have died. In this country 468,566 Americans have contracted COVID-19 and 16,691 have died. Alabama has had 2,838 confirmed cases of COVID-19. 78 Alabamians have died and 339 are hospitalized with COVID-19.

To read Marshall’s opinion, click here.

EDITORIAL NOTE – Yesterday morning the Alabama Political Reporter published an article based on a legal opinion we were forwarded that we wrongly believed was written by Steve Marshall. That story was immediately retracted when the AG’s office reached out to us. We deeply regret the error, and we apologize for any confusion that our error may have caused.

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FEMA and HHS launch Project Airbridge

Brandon Moseley

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FedEx and UPS have been enlisted to provide expedited supplies of personal protection equipment (PPE) and other vital supplies for hospitals and healthcare workers on the frontlines of the war against the COVID-19 virus.

FedEx Express announced on Wednesday the first delivery of shipments of PPE as part of Project Airbridge, a public-private partnership managed by the federal government.

“Our participation in the federal government’s Project Airbridge to transport critical PPE and medical supplies into the United States is the latest example of FedEx team members around the world coming together to keep critical supply chains moving,” said FedEx Chief Operating Officer Raj Subramaniam.

On Tuesday UPS announced that in addition to delivering PPE equipment it has opened a new healthcare distribution center.

“UPS’s Healthcare division opened a new 450,000 ft sq healthcare distribution center that includes with dedicated space for FEMA,” UPS said in a statement. “The new facility is a few away miles from UPS Worldport, the company global air hub in Louisville, Kentucky. The close proximity between the new healthcare distribution centre and the UPS Worldport will enable to company to carry out overnight deliveries to anywhere in the US.”

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “Last week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched ‘Project Airbridge’ and enlisted the help of the private sector to deliver needed supplies in an expedient manner. FedEx and UPS have been engaged to participate in the public-private partnership.”

“As you know, we formed a historic partnership with your companies to bring massive amounts of medical supplies from other countries to the United States,” President Donald J. Trump (R) said. “And you bring in big amounts. This morning, our first project — and we call it ‘Airbridge.’ It’s Project Airbridge. That’s the name. And it was a flight that landed at JFK and contains nearly 2 million masks and gowns, over 10 million gloves, and over 70,000 thermometers.”

The companies have contracted with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to transport critical PPE supplies from manufacturers around the world to the United States. The operation aims to accelerate delivery of PPE and other medical supplies, moving them via air instead of across the ocean by ship.

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FedEx Express says once the shipments have arrived in the United States, they will become part of the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile. The FEMA Movement Control Team will then manage distribution to healthcare facilities and workers throughout the country.

This week, in coordination with DuPont, two initial shipments were transported from Vietnam to Texas carrying more than 450,000 Tyvek® protective suits. In the weeks to follow, 500,000+ suits will be shipped each week.

FedEx will also operate several flights this week carrying PPE for Medline Industries Inc. from China to Illinois. Medline anticipates bringing 7 million facemasks, additional PPE and anesthesia supplies to the United States.

“Our customers rely on us now more than ever before and FedEx team members are stepping up to help sustain the global economy,” Subramaniam said. “We are immensely proud of all our team members and their unwavering commitment to deliver for our customers and communities throughout this global crisis.”

“Supply chain management efficiency is the goal,” Dr. Jones said. “Remove the middleman (the national stockpiles) and deliver supplies directly to hotspots so Americans can start using what they need.”

Over 90 percent of the PPE that was in the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile has already been transferred to the states.

On Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci with the White House Coronavirus Task Force lowered his estimate of the amount of Americans who will die in the COVID-19 global pandemic from between 100,000 to 240,00 to under 60,000.

(Original reporting by CBS News and WHNT Channel 5 News in Memphis contributed to this report.)

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AG establishes response teams to answer official and public questions about state health orders

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Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall announced today the establishment of response teams within the Attorney General’s Office to provide authoritative answers to law enforcement, public officials, businesses, employees and residents of Alabama concerning enforcement and compliance of the State Health Order relating to the coronavirus pandemic issued by Governor Kay Ivey and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris.

“Beginning today, the Alabama Attorney General’s Office has assembled response teams dedicated to answering questions of a legal nature from local law enforcement, city and county officials, business owners and management, employees and the general public about how to comply with the State Health Order concerning the coronavirus pandemic,” said Attorney General Marshall.

“The State stay-at-home order, as well as additional local health orders, have raised questions about local enforcement and compliance.  My office has established a dedicated toll-free phone line to take questions during business hours so that officials, businesses and the public have access to authoritative information.”

Those with questions may call 1-800-232-8520 and select from five response teams depending on the nature of your inquiry.  The choices include: Law Enforcement Response Team, Local and County Officials Response Team, Consumer Response Team, Business Response Team, and General Constituent Response Team.

None of the guidance is intended to constitute private legal advice, rather, it is offered to assist officials and the public with reaching a timely resolution to their issues, if possible.  We hope this service will be of assistance to state residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Consumers with complaints about price gouging and or fraud related to the COVID-19 pandemic are still encouraged to file their complaints using a special link on the Attorney General’s website: https://www.alabamaag.gov/consumercomplaint

The Attorney General’s website also contains recent COVID-19 related guidance to law enforcement and business.  You can access the Attorney General’s website by visiting https://www.alabamaag.gov/

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