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Gov. Ivey names members of study group on gaming, lottery

Eddie Burkhalter

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Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday announced the members of a panel she’s ordered to study how much revenue the state could bring in from an expansion of gaming and a state lottery.  

Ivey said in her State of the State address that before she’ll consider the Poarch Band of Creek Indian’s proposal to expand gaming she wants to know how much the state stands to make in tax revenue from the deal. She’s also asked that lawmakers estimate how much a state lottery would generate. 

“I am committed to, once and for all, getting the facts so that the people of Alabama can make an informed decision on what has been a hotly debated topic for many years,” Ivey said in a statement Friday. “Without a doubt, there will be ramifications if we eventually expand gaming options in our state just as there are costs associated with doing nothing.

 “Every so often, this issue resurfaces through a new form of legislation. By my estimation, we’ve had more than 180 bills regarding a lottery or expanded gaming since the late 1990s.

 “I’m extremely grateful that some of our most distinguished citizens – from a diverse background including all regions of our state – have agreed to help gather this information. The specific data they gather will hopefully lead us all to making a better, more informed decision.

 “Ultimately, I believe the final say belongs to the people of Alabama. As their governor, I want them to be fully informed of all the facts so that, together, we can make the best decision possible.”

According to Ivey’s executive order the study group is to submit a final report no later than December 31. 

The membership of the Study Group on Gambling Policy includes:

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  • Todd Strange (Chair) of Montgomery is the former mayor of Montgomery. Prior to his tenure as mayor, he served as chairman of the Montgomery County Commission, former president, CEO and co-owner of Blount Strange Automotive group, and former director of the Alabama Development Office (the Alabama Department of Commerce).
  • A.R. “Rey” Almodóvar of Huntsville is the co-founder and Chief Executive officer of INTUITIVE®. Mr. Almodóvar is a licensed professional engineer (P.E.) and holds a B.S. in Industrial Engineering from the University of Puerto Rico, M.S. in Engineering from the University of Arkansas, and M.S. in Business Administration from Texas A&M University. He is a graduate of Leadership Alabama Class XXVI.
  • Dr. Deborah Barnhart of Huntsville is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Emerita of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. Previously serving as the Center’s CEO and Executive Director, her career spans four decades of service in commercial industry, government, aerospace and defense. A retired Navy Captain, she was one of the first ten women assigned to duty aboard ships and commanded five units in her 26-year career. She has received an undergraduate degree from University of Alabama at Huntsville and Master of Business Administration from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology-Sloan School of Management and the University of Maryland College Park as well as a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University.
  • Walter Bell of Mobile is the past Chairman of Swiss Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurers. Prior to his time in the private sector, he served as the Alabama Commissioner of Insurance. He launched the Mobile County Urban League in 1978 and is a member of the Alabama Academy of Honor for his achievement in civil rights, civic leadership and business.
  • Dr. Regina Benjamin of Mobile is a physician who served as the 18th Surgeon General of the United States. Prior to her service to our country, she was the former president of the Alabama Medical Association and provided health care to a medically underserved community by founding the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic. She received a B.S. from Xavier University of Louisiana and a M.D. from the University of Alabama.  
  • Young Boozer of Montgomery currently serves as the Assistant Superintendent of Banking at the Alabama State Banking Department.  He is the former Treasurer for the state of Alabama and has extensive experience with numerous banking institutions such as Citibank, Crocker National Bank, and Colonial Bank. Boozer received his B.S. in Economics from Stanford University and a M.S. in Finance from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Sam Cochran of Mobile has been the Sheriff of Mobile County since 2006. He began his law enforcement career with the Mobile Police Department where he spent 31 years working his way through the ranks – serving his last 10 years as Chief of Police. Sheriff Cochran serves the community on numerous agency boards, including the Penelope House, Drug Education Council, Boy Scouts of America, and the Child Advocacy Center.
  • Elizabeth “Liz” Huntley of Birmingham is a litigation attorney at Lightfoot, Franklin & White LLC. After rising from an unimaginable childhood, she has become a nationally recognized child advocate and serves on numerous boards including the Alabama School Readiness Alliance, the Children’s Village Board of Directors, and the Auburn University Board of Trustees. 
  • Carl Jamison of Tuscaloosa is a third-generation Shareholder in JamisonMoneyFarmerPC, one of the largest and oldest public accounting firms in the state of Alabama. He primarily works in the areas of tax planning and audit services to clients in the manufacturing, medical, retail, construction, and professional services industries. He received a Bachelor of Science in Accounting from the University of Alabama and is a Certified Public Accountant.
  • Justice James “Jim” Main of Montgomery is a former Justice on the Supreme Court of Alabama as well as previously served as a Judge on the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. Along with his 30+ year in private legal practice, he served as Finance Director and policy advisor to Governor Bob Riley as well as Legal Advisor to Governor Fob James.
  • Phillip “Phil” Rawls of Pike Road currently serves as a Lecturer of Journalism for Auburn University. His spent over 35 years working for The Associated Press. His respected career in journalism spanned every Alabama governor from George Wallace to Robert Bentley where he extensively covered government and politics.

    Bishop B. Mike Watson
    of Birmingham is the Bishop in residence at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham and is currently serving as the Ecumenical Officer of the Council of Bishops. He has served as a minister in Dothan and Mobile. In addition to his work in the ministry, he is a past president of the Mobile County School Board, which is the largest school system in Alabama. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in finance and real estate from The University of Alabama, a Master of Divinity degree from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Vanderbilt University. 

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon’s office told APR this week that McCutcheon will be working with Ivey in her efforts, but other legislators have signaled a desire to continue to work on lottery and gaming legislation despite Ivey’s call to slow down. 

APR reported that a day after Ivey’s speech Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh met with representatives of the Poarch Creek Band of Indians and two of the state’s dog tracks and discussed a proposed lottery and gaming bill.

The Poarch Creeks continue to push a plan they say would generate $1 billion for the state in the first year, and $350 million every year if the state were to codify under the law its gaming monopoly and allow for an expansion of its casinos to include Birmingham and another location in North Alabama.

 

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Health

ADPH investigating cases in Chambers as county emerges as state’s worst hotspot

Chip Brownlee

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The Alabama Department of Public Health is investigating and performing contact-tracing in Chambers County as the number of COVID-19 cases in the county made another jump Thursday.

The number of positive confirmed cases in the county has nearly doubled in the past two days, rising from 36 on March 31 to 66 on April 2. The county has the highest number of cases per capita of any county in the state.

As of Thursday afternoon, the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Chambers County per 100,000 people rose to 198 — more than three times the number in Jefferson County, the area of the state with the most total cases at 318.

The number of cases per 100,000 people in Jefferson County — the most populous of the state’s 67 counties — sits at 48.

Dr. Karen Landers, the assistant state health officer at the Alabama Department of Public Health, said Thursday that the department is still investigating what might have contributed to such a high number of infections.

“We’re looking at that data,” Landers said. “At the moment, we do not have an indication specifically that we can discuss in terms of absolute linkage, but we are looking very closely at that data. And certainly, contact tracing is part of our review to see how those cases might be related.”

The high number of cases in East Alabama could be attributable to a higher rate of testing. East Alabama Medical Center has submitted about 1,325 tests to the state’s lab as of Wednesday, a hospital spokesperson said. It’s unclear how many tests have been performed in the state because not all commercial labs are reporting their negative tests.

“We followed up with our Health Alert Network asking that all information be input to this,” Landers said. “We know that some commercial labs report to us and some don’t.

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Asked whether the state should require commercial labs to report their negative results, Landers said, “This would be a decision for our state health officer to consider.”

Neighboring Lee County has the second-highest number of cases per 100,000 people at 55. There are 91 total cases in Lee County.

Epidemiologists at ADPH are contact-tracing all positive cases in the state. But Chambers County appears to be a particular area of concern.

The rising number of cases in East Alabama is putting increasing strain on East Alabama Medical Center, where 30 patients were hospitalized as of Wednesday and an additional dozen are hospitalized with a suspected case of the virus.

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Health

Alabama hospitals facing “dire” equipment shortages

Chip Brownlee

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Every morning the team at UAB Hospital gets a report on the number of patients who come into the hospital infected with COVID-19 and their status. Then the doctors and other health care professions on the team receive an update on the number of days they have left before their supply of personal protective equipment runs out.

“The situation is dire,” said Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, the director of the division of infectious diseases at UAB, during a virtual town hall with Sen. Doug Jones Thursday. “It is not just masks. It’s gloves. It’s hand sanitizer. It’s gowns.”

In some of the PPE categories, the number of days left before supplies run out is in the single digits. The hospitals may get new shipments of supplies, but if the situation deteriorates, the shortages might worsen.

“I don’t want to underplay the real threat that we — just like New York City and other hospitals — could be running dangerously short on those things soon. I think it is of the utmost importance that people understand how important that situation is,” Marrazzo said.

Marrazzo also serves on Gov. Kay Ivey’s COVID-19 task force. She said businesses across the state are enlisting to take up the challenge, but the threat that Alabama’s hospitals could run out before supplies can be refilled is real.

“This is not a hypothetical scenario,” Marrazzo said. “This is real. And these are the people who are working to take care of you and your family in our communities every single day, who are being asked to be concerned, and sometimes even make decisions about who gets to use the various degrees of PPE.”

Hospitals across the state — including East Alabama Medical Center in hard-hit Lee County — have been asking for donations of masks, gowns, gloves, hand sanitizer, bleach wipes and other necessities as a nationwide shortage of these essential medical supplies continues.

The Alabama Department of Health is not currently releasing the number of patients hospitalized in the state, but an analysis by APR yesterday showed that more than 120 COVID-19 positive patients are hospitalized in ten of the state’s largest hospitals.

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The number statewide is surely higher.

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo

At UAB alone, there are 58 patients hospitalized — about a third of them on ventilators or ICU care, Marrazzo said. At EAMC, as of Wednesday, there were 30 positive COVID-19 patients and a dozen more suspected of having the virus. Hospitals as small as the Lake Martin Community Hospital in Dadeville are treating COVID-positive patients.

“What we’re seeing is very similar to what other hospital systems are seeing,” Marrazzo said. “We are in good shape right now, and people are working tirelessly … to make sure we have the surge capacity to figure out if we do exceed the number of beds, how we deal with that.”

The number of inpatients in the state’s hospitals is currently manageable, officials have said, after elective procedures and other non-essential medical procedures were canceled to free up beds, but hospitals are still facing a national supply shortage, and the number of patients could begin spiking soon.

Estimates from the University of Washington project that Alabama has little more than two weeks to prepare for the peak of hospitalizations.

“Alabama is critically unprepared and under-resourced to weather the storm that we’re in the midst of, and it could get worse,” said Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat from Alabama. “States are competing against one another and against FEMA for life-saving equipment. That doesn’t need to be this way. We should have done better. We can do better.”

Alabama is still waiting on 20,000 units of testing supplies and kits, Jones said. Alabama has also asked for one million N95 protective masks and 2 million surgical masks, but FEMA has said that Alabama will only receive 152,000 of the N95 masks and 362,000 of the surgical masks it has requested.

The national stockpile is “woefully inadequate,” Jones said, adding that it was disturbing that more than 5,500 masks already received from the national stockpile were rotted and expired in 2010, according to a report from the Montgomery Advertiser.

The state has requested 200 ventilators, though estimates suggest the state may need more than a thousand ventilators if the outbreak worsens. Jones said the state is going to make additional requests, but there are only 10,000 ventilators in the national stockpile and in the U.S. Department of Defense surplus. Every other state in the country is also requesting these supplies.

“I hope that they will put Alabama at the top of the list so that we can get ahead of what we know we’re going to need,” Jones said. “We need to have more.”

A lack of testing supplies in Alabama has made grasping the scale of the outbreak difficult. In Mobile, officials have had difficulty getting needed supplies to test in the region nearest to a deadly and growing outbreak in Louisiana. In Huntsville, officials had to close a drive up testing site because they were not able to get supplies.

The CEO of Huntsville Hospital called the nationwide lack of testing materials a “travesty” earlier this week.

Thousands of units of testing materials and kits are coming, Jones said, “but we need millions,” he said. “There’s an alarming lack of tests in underserved and African-American communities. There’s not enough information about when and how these communities are going to get tested.”

Jones did not place blame on the Alabama Department of Public Health but said the problem is national — and international — in scope.

“It is not because the state is not working hard. They’re working 24 hours a day and they’re trying,” Jones said. “It’s just that the tests have not been available.”

The senator also called on President Donald Trump to issue further orders under the Defense Production Act to compel companies to produce needed medical supplies.

“It is unfortunate when you’re pitting one state against the other, one hospital within a state against the other, and one country against the other,” Jones said. “So, we haven’t had that coordination out of the administration. I’m hoping that’s going to change as the Defense Production Act comes up with ventilators. I’m hoping that we will see that more with production of masks [and other PPE].”

But Jones did call on Gov. Kay Ivey to implement a shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order. He said the state should take aggressive measures to limit the spread of the virus before the situation worsens. Marrazzo echoed that call.

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Gov. Ivey OKs release of some parole violators in jails

Chip Brownlee

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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.

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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.
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Alabama Dept. of Corrections has tested 17 inmates for COVID-19

Chip Brownlee

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The Alabama Department of Corrections has tested 17 inmates in nine of the state’s prisons for the novel coronavirus. All tests so far have been negative.

Five more inmates have been tested, but their results are pending.

ADOC began publishing test data on its website Thursday. It says it will update the information twice a week.

“The Alabama Department of Corrections remains committed to maintaining transparency – without compromising security –throughout the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak, and has been working to aggregate relevant data to keep the public informed about the health and well-being of those who live and work in our facilities,” the department says.

The first batch of testing data released from the department comes as a number of advocacy groups, families, former law enforcement officials and activists have called on the state to take extraordinary steps to protect vulnerable inmates in the state’s prisons.

They say that overcrowding in the prisons makes them particularly susceptible to an outbreak of the virus.

 

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