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.
Governor announces the Alabama STEM Council
Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday announced that she has signed Executive Order No. 721 establishing the Alabama STEM Council. The council will advise state leadership on ways to improve STEM-related education, career awareness and workforce development opportunities across the state.
“Alabama has continued to grow into an advanced manufacturing, aerospace engineering and cybertechnology center of excellence and as a result, the demand for qualified labor in these sectors has skyrocketed,” Ivey said. “The Alabama STEM Council will play a vital role in ensuring that our state’s future leaders have the opportunity to learn STEM-based skills that will help them transition into successful career pathways upon graduation.”
Science, technology, engineering and mathematics workers play a key role in the sustained growth and stability of Alabama’s economy. As companies continue to relocate or expand in Alabama, the state must develop an adept workforce that is prepared to adequately meet growing labor demands.
Ivey has appointed Dr. Neil Lamb, vice president for educational outreach at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, as chairman of the council.
“Our great state is home to several quality STEM-focused education and workforce initiatives. However, we lack a common system to weave these initiatives together into a network that reaches all learners across the state and expands the workforce pipeline,” Lamb said. “Establishing a statewide Council was a key recommendation from the Governor’s Advisory Council on Excellence on STEM, and I am thrilled to see that recommendation become reality through the Alabama STEM Council.”
State Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, who chairs the House Education Policy Committee, sponsored a bill in the 2020 Regular Legislative Session that sought to create the Alabama STEM Council as an independent state entity within the Alabama Department of Commerce. Although HB293 passed in the house with unanimous consent, it failed to advance in the Alabama Senate due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m extremely pleased the governor is taking the lead with the Executive Order to form the STEM Council,” Collins said. “Having the math and science experts from Alabama set high quality standards and guiding student growth in achievement will make a positive difference. Thank you, Governor Ivey, for prioritizing education!”
Deputy Commerce Secretary Ed Castile, who also serves as the director of the Alabama Industrial Development Training Agency, has played a substantial role in the development of the council.
“The state of Alabama is rapidly evolving in science and technology with new job opportunities developing daily that require a STEM education as a basic foundation. So, STEM education is rapidly becoming the new ‘basic education’ that Alabama jobs require,” Castile said. “With new tech companies developing, manufacturing moving to digital ‘smart factories’ and numerous job opportunities that support these businesses, we must have a workforce that will meet the demands. The STEM Council will be crucial in working with K-12 education as they develop their STEM programs to align with Community Colleges and Universities to assist students move along the STEM pathways needed by our developing businesses. We, in the Department of Commerce are excited to assist with administrative support of the STEM Council and will be a natural link to the business and commerce of our state.”
The council will hold an initial organizational meeting within 90 days after the issuance of this order.
Members of the council include:
- Dr. Neil Lamb, Vice President for Educational Outreach, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology
- Dr. Charles Nash, University of Alabama System
- Terry Burkle, Baldwin County Education Foundation
- Dawn Morrison, Alabama State Department of Education
- Charisse Stokes, Montgomery Chamber of Commerce
- Dr. Vicky Karolewics, President, Wallace State Community College
- Sheila Holt, AMSTI Director, University of Alabama in Huntsville
- Liz Huntley, Lightfoot, Franklin & White
- RaSheda Workman, Stillman College
- Dr. Eric Mackey, State Superintendent of Education
- Dr. Barbara Cooper, Secretary, Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education
- Jimmy Baker, Chancellor, Alabama Community College System
- Dr. Jim Purcell, Executive Director, Alabama Commission on Higher Education
- Fitzgerald Washington, Secretary, Alabama Department of Labor
- Greg Canfield, Secretary, Alabama Department of Commerce
- Tim McCartney, Chairman, Alabama Workforce Council
- George Clark, President, Manufacture Alabama
- Dr. Ken Tucker, President, University of West Alabama
- Dr. Kathryn Lanier, STEM Education Outreach Director, Southern Research
- Dr. Tina Miller-Way, Dauphin Island Sea Lab
- Amy Templeton, President and CEO, McWane Science Center
- Kay Taylor, Director of Education, U.S. Space and Rocket Center
- Dr. Mary Lou Ewald, Director of Outreach, Auburn University College of Sciences and Mathematics
- Paul Morin, Alabama SMART Foundation
- Dr. Adreinne Starks, Founder and CEO, STREAM Innovations
- Dr. Calvin Briggs, Founder and Director, Southern Center for Broadening Participation in STEM
- Josh Laney, Director, Alabama Office of Apprenticeship
- Keith Phillips, Executive Director, Alabama Technology Network
- Jimmy Hull, Career and Technical Education Director, Alabama State Department of Education
- Sean Stevens, Career Coach, Alabama State Department of Education
- Tina Watts, Community Investor, The Boeing Company
- Daryl Taylor, Vice President and General Manager, Airbus America
- K-Rob Thomas, Power Delivery General Manager, Alabama Power
- Dr. Lee Meadows, Associate Professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Alabama at Birmingham
- Dr. Tim Wick, Senior Associate Dean, School of Engineering, University of Alabama at Birmingham
- Dr. Robin McGill, Director of Instruction, Alabama Commission on Higher Education
- Elisabeth Davis, Assistant Superintendent of the Division of Teaching and Learning, Alabama State Board of Education
- Dr. Jeff Gray, Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Alabama
- Dr. Cynthia McCarty, District 6 Representative, Alabama State Board of Education
- Dr. Andre Harrison, Vice President, Cognia
- Brenda Terry, Executive Director, Alabama Mathematics, Science, Technology, and Engineering Coalition for Education
- Tammy Dunn, Program Director, A+ Education Partnership
A copy of Executive Order No. 721 is available here.
Governor awards grant to expand court facility dog program
Gov. Kay Ivey has awarded $1.17 million to continue and expand a statewide program that helps children and others who have been victims of crime feel more at ease when testifying in court or undergoing other crime-related interviews.
The grant to the Alabama Office of Prosecution Services will enable that state agency to continue its facility dog program.
The program uses specially trained dogs to calm traumatized victims when they are called into the courtroom or interview room to recount details of often horrific crimes committed against them.
“I cannot imagine what victims, especially children, have to go through when they are called before strangers to recall what is often a very personal and sensitive tragedy that they have difficulty even relaying to family members,” Ivey said. “This program has proven beyond successful and has been admired and modeled by other states. I am pleased to support its continuation and expansion here in Alabama.”
Facility dogs have been used more than 1,000 times including forensic interviews, court hearings, medical examinations and other case-related matters. The dogs are based in several counties, but according to the Office of Prosecution Services, are available for use throughout the state.
The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the grant from funds made available to the state from the U.S. Department of Justice.
“The facility dog program has been vastly successful and well received throughout the state,” said ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell. “Although we would prefer that there would be no reason for this program to even exist, ADECA joins with Gov. Ivey in assisting with its continued success.”
Ivey notified Barry Matson, executive director of Prosecution Services, that the grant had been approved.
ADECA administers a wide range of programs that support law enforcement, victim programs, economic development, water resource management, energy conservation and recreation.
Governor issues State of Emergency ahead of Tropical Storm Sally
Gov. Kay Ivey has issued a State of Emergency for Alabama ahead of Tropical Storm Sally. It is anticipated that this storm system will be upgraded to a hurricane sometime Monday.
“Bad weather is nothing to take lightly. Earlier today, I issued a State of Emergency because those on the Gulf Coast know a flood and heavy rains can be just as deadly as tropical winds,” Ivey said. “We pray that Sally doesn’t do any harm, but we must be prepared just in case. As your governor, you have my assurance that every resource will be available if we need it. Be safe, Alabama.”
The National Hurricane center is forecasting that Sally will be near the mouth of the Mississippi River late tonight. From there, it is forecast to slow down and turn north, and move into the Mississippi coast tomorrow afternoon.
The Alabama and Mississippi Gulf Coasts are under a Hurricane Warning, which also includes New Orleans and southeastern Louisiana coast. A tropical storm warning is in effect from Morgan City, Louisiana, to Panama City, Florida.
1 PM CDT 9/14 #Sally Update: Hurricane #Sally continues meandering over the north-central Gulf of Mexico. Additional strengthening is forecast during the next day or so before it makes landfall along the north-central Gulf Coast on Tue or Tue night. https://t.co/tW4KeFW0gB pic.twitter.com/8oPmhptnIV
— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) September 14, 2020
Mobile Bay is under a Storm Surge Warning. The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to flood by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline. The current forecast is that the Alabama Gulf Coast, including Mobile Bay, could see a storm surge of four to six feet.
Police Chiefs Association “wholeheartedly” supports Ivey’s prison plan
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday announced the two developer teams that are to build the state’s three new mega prisons. Ivey said those prisons are to be located in Bibb, Elmore County and Escambia counties.
The president of the Alabama Association of Police Chiefs Chief Patrick W. Mardis released a statement in support of the governor’s plan.
“I wholeheartedly support Governor Ivey’s initiative to build new prisons in the state of Alabama,” Mardis said. “Not only will this ease the overcrowding within our facilities, but it will also improve officer safety and inmate conditions. In addition, we should see drastic improvements through the update of our facilities by returning to the intent of corrections — rehabilitating prisoners into productive citizens who are able to rejoin society.”
Mardis is the chief of the Tuskegee University Police, a position he has held since 2010. Prior to that, Mardis served with the Fairfield Police Department for 22 years, the last five as police chief.
“The Alabama Prison Program is vital for the long-term success of our state and communities,” Ivey said in a statement. “We all — legislators, advocates, and taxpayers, alike — can and should agree that we must rebuild Alabama’s correctional system from the ground up to improve safety for our state’s correctional staff and inmate population, and we must do it immediately.”
ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn said, “This important benchmark demonstrates meaningful progress against our multi-faceted strategy to transform Alabama’s correctional system and empowers the ADOC to shift to a rehabilitative model. It is no secret that the ADOC is facing real, longstanding challenges, most of which are decades in the making and rooted in inadequate, crowded, and structurally failing facilities. Building new facilities that improve safety and security for staff and inmates and allow for effective inmate rehabilitation is the right and only path forward.”
According to the governor’s office, the Alabama Department of Corrections Evaluation Committee previously identified qualified developer teams based on the experience and qualifications of the team lead, equity partners, design and construction teams, and service providers, as well as their ability to adequately meet the financial needs of the Alabama Prison Program.
The Evaluation Committee provided an assessment of the proposals submitted by the developer teams including a review of the proposed lease price and financial plan, as well as technical evaluations of the proposed design.
In evaluating the proposed designs, the Evaluation Committee ensured that the developer teams proposed sustainable facilities that are safe, secure and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the American Correctional Association’s guidelines and other nationally recognized standards, with a driving goal to provide evidence-based rehabilitation to all inmates.
The governor said that the new facilities will feature approximately 37 percent more programming space per inmate, as well as increased educational, training and recreational/exercise space, which the governor’s office said “will provide for a more meaningful visitation experience for inmates and their loved ones.”
The new prisons will have four times more celled spaces than open dorms as compared to current facilities, which will reduce the potential for violent incidents to occur, enhance safety for both correctional officers and inmates and improve the quality of working conditions for the staff.
The procurement process will now enter into a confidential negotiation period to ensure and secure the best possible value for the state. ADOC intends to negotiate long-term leases for each facility. While ADOC will operate and staff the facilities, the developer teams will provide infrastructure maintenance and life-cycle replacement for the duration of the lease term.
ADOC expects to close on the facilities to occur later this year, at which time the final financial terms will become publicly available. Construction is to begin in early 2021.
The construction of the new facilities will create thousands of construction jobs. Facility One will be located in Bibb County, creating 2,900 construction jobs. Facility Two will be in Elmore County and will create 3,900 construction jobs. Facility Three will be in Escambia County and produce 2,800 construction jobs.
As Alabama’s population has grown, the state has failed to build new prisons to keep up. The prison facilities that the state does have are 40, 50 or 60 years old and ADOC has long neglected maintenance on their aging facilities.
Ivey identified replacing the state’s crumbling prison infrastructure as the most pressing need facing state government in her inauguration speech last year.