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State leaders briefed on efforts to combat coronavirus

Brandon Moseley and Nicole Jones

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State leaders held a conference call Monday led by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on the coronavirus that is sweeping the state of Alabama and state efforts to fight the spread of the deadly virus.

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said that he appreciated Governor Ivey’s statewide shelter in place order that was issued through April 30 on Friday.

Harris said that the state is using Google tracking of cell phones to measure how closely the people of Alabama follow their orders to stay in their houses, except for necessary travel to buy groceries, prescriptions, and other essentials.

Harris said that approximately 1,900 Alabamians had been diagnosed with COVID-19. 250 of them have been hospitalized. 125 of those are in intensive care. There have been 44 deaths reported and the Alabama Department of Public Health was in the process of confirming that COVID-19 was the cause of death.

Harris said that almost half of the Alabama dead are under the age 65. They typically with heart disease or diabetes. Half of Alabama’s deaths are African Americans. Harris attributed this to the high prevalence of heart disease and diabetes among Alabama’s Black community.

Of the infection cases, 270 are health care workers. Harris expressed concern about the ramifications of the loss of health care workers from the front lines. Harris expected that the state will see peak hospitalizations around April 16 to17.

Harris said that the state has ordered more ventilators. He expects an order of refurbished models as early as Tuesday and has signed purchase agreements for additional ventilators. Harris said that in case of a surge the Mobile Civic Center and Sheraton Hotel and the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center will be used as alternative treatment sites. The state has completed an assessment of using Huntsville’s civic center over the weekend. The state is still working on staffing and equipment plans need for the alternative care sites. The Governor’s office is reaching out to retired health care workers for filling those staffing needs.

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Harris said that the Blackbelt and Wiregrass areas now have COVID-19 testing sites. 66 of Alabama’s 67 counties have confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) said that it is a Class C Misdemeanor for those who do not abide by the recent Public Health orders. Marshall said that he has had lots of request for copies of the order. They are also frequently asking questions about the parameters for the order.

Marshall said that price-gouging is illegal and that his office is working directly with the acquisition team to acquire health resources we need . His office has issued guidance for municipalities. The AG’s office has five teams with specific categories to answer questions for consistent, accurate responses.

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Marshall said that there is no definition of “quarantine” in Alabama code law and requested that the legislature address this in the law.

Senate President Pro Tem. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said that there is a concern that we could run out of ventilators in Lee County. Marsh asked if we have some transferred to that area from areas that are not seeing the surge.

The ADPH responded that we are moving from area-to-area. The ventilators are physically owned by the individual hospitals. The ADPH receives reports of what hospitals are needing ventilators. When ADPH gets a request, the ADPH goes to the hospital that owns and reaches out to see if a transfer is possible. The Community colleges have ventilators and have donated to Lee County. As demand spreads over the state, the concern is that those not being used will be used; hence the reason why ADPH is working to acquire MORE ventilators rather than move around.

State Senator Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, expressed his concern that when the spike hits many rural areas have no hospitals, no ICUs, no respiratory therapists, etc.

ADPH said that their plan for rural areas is that the Governor’s office has activated the Medical Planning Unit of the Alabama National Guard to work on transportation options to move patients to areas where care can be provided.

Singleton suggested that the state try and work with local cable companies to see if they will offer free WiFi during the crisis.

Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, asked: When the surge occurs, are those plans already in place, or are they being implemented at this point?

The ADPH response was that it was a combination. The Department has been working for years with hospitals to increase capability in emergency situations and have completed exercises within the past year. The Department is also developing plans for initial capacity. The plan includes: the conversion of hotels, civic centers, etc. ADPH is working with the Army Corps of Engineers and Alabama National Guard to develop alternative facilities. These are expected to open within the next two to three weeks. They are still working with Corps for staffing and equipment plans.

McCutcheon asked if there is a good cooperative spirit around the state between ADPH and hospitals regarding logistics, personnel, etc.?

ADPH answered Yes, there is an ADPH staff member working with each hospital. The Governor’s volunteer services division is working to recruit back retired medical personnel and unemployed medical professionals. They opened a portal on Friday afternoon. Almost 250 have signed up to assist.

McCutcheon asked: with the nursing homes is ADPH anticipating more problems within the nursing home community?

ADPH answer: No. ADPH providing PPE to nursing homes and educating personnel on infection control measures.

Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) asked: we have heard a lot of information at the national level about different levels of testing, antibody amounts, immunity, etc. – Where does the ADPH see the testing ideas moving forward? What are the next steps for other types of testing?

The ADPH answer: focused on diagnostic testing so we get a picture of what the disease is doing. Some of the blood testing involving antibodies will be more beneficial later as we look at results. Diagnostic testing is essential at this time so we can look at and control the spread of the disease. ADPH is looking at every FDA-approved testing option across the state.

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) asked: Are we contacting some of the closed hospitals about possible sites?

The ADPH responded that the factors they are looking at includes the hospital density relate to the population, current outbreaks (hotspots). They have looked at recently-closed hospitals and whether or not the effort is as effective as a larger-capacity alternative facility. The ADPH is looking at all options; but staffing is a concern. We cannot depend on sister states because this is a national and international crisis.

Rep. Daniels suggested looking at nursing students and medical students for help, especially those who are graduation soon and suggested looking at universities for alternative sites.

Harris said that PPE has to be reserved for the health care industry because they have the most contact with COVID-19. The Department is placing orders in to get more in for other groups.

State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey said that the State Department of Education is working with a skeleton crew due to COVID-19 concerns.

Mackey said that Birmingham City and Jefferson County schools have begun closing down their community feeding sites. The lack of staff is the biggest reason for closing. There are not enough folks to carry out the meal service plans. Other superintendents have expressed similar situations. They are looking at private vendors stepping in. Birmingham was feeding 4,000 students per week out of 26,000 students. The students are being fed one last time today and will receive multiple meals to take home for the week. When folks are not available to do the work, school systems cannot get the food out. Suppliers also cannot get food to the schools because of COVID-19-related logistics issues.

Mackey said that he has encouraged vendors to provide pre-packaged meals, which are acceptable under USDA guidelines; however, they are not available with many current vendors. Some sites are giving out 21 meals a week for students to use for the entire week. The U.S. Dept. of Education will give Alabama an opportunity for a waiver for a carry-over for federal money – they do not want federal money returned… in a predicament with excess of money that is supposed to be sent to Washington; however, feds the do not want it back and are working on the waiver. Nonprofits are also assisting to pay for meals, but that money can only go so far

Mackey said that they are having issues with hackers “zoom bombing” the E-learning. This is a security threat for educational systems. The schools have issued remote WiFi to high-poverty areas.

Mackey said that they are issuing teacher certifications for students at college level graduating this spring and/or summer waiving the requirement of student teaching experience. Will issue a certificate, along with waiver a to postpone deadlines to pass any required standardized tests for a year. Teachers who are due for recertifications will not lose their certifications during this time for failure to complete continuing education requirements. Due to fears of COVID-19, some school systems do not have enough folks willing to come to work.

House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, asked: In rural areas, teachers have to pick up supplemental materials for students. Are amendments possible post- Friday’s Public Health Order?

Dr. Mackey response said that the State Dept. of Education received requests to amend their plan. Can they mail them? Yes – it is expensive but necessary in some cases. Other areas are rotating in shifts so only a few folks are coming to pick up at a time. Some systems have drive-through service where parents can pick up materials through car line window.

Dr. Don Williamson with the Alabama Hospital Association said that efforts to prohibit elective surgeries have opened up capacities 52 percent of hospital beds are available for use as of today; 800 ventilators are available as of today; and 35 percent of ICU beds are available as of today. There are plans for alternative sites in Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile, Huntsville, Auburn, and Tuscaloosa. Williamson expressed interest in Anniston, Dothan, and the Quad-cities. The challenges are acquisition of personal protection equipment (PPE).

Dr. Brandon Farmer with the Alabama Nursing Home Association said that there are 231 skilled nursing facilities in the state. As of this morning, 31 facilities, 13-15 percent have a COVID-19 exposure, which can be characterized as an employee and/or residents that have tested positive. They are testing everyone who has come in contact with a resident or employee that has tested positive .

Farmer said that the nursing homes are immediately isolating infected residents and if needed are transferring those patients to the appropriate hospitals to receive acute care. The patients are transferred back into the building when hospital deems it acceptable. The nursing homes have created COVID-19 only wings and/or buildings in hotspots. The nursing home owners are collaborating with hospital systems to design this to help ease the capacity and surge that hotspot hospitals anticipate. The nursing homes are looking at converting former assisted living facilities into COVID-19 buildings.

Farmer said that there is still a significant shortage in PPE / if needed to isolate with clean PPE, we are looking at $120 per patient per day, which is above what is normally in place. When a caregiver tests positive, the caregiver is immediately quarantined, along with people who were around the caregiver. To incentivize staff to work with COVID-19 patients, the nursing homes have been giving $2-$5 per hour raises.

Farmer said that they are working to see that federal matching appropriation are disseminated quickly. The CARES ACT has earmarked funds for COVID-19 combatants. The nursing homes are working to get it.

Governor Ivey said that the sister of Representative Dexter Grimsley (D-Abbeville) passed away over the weekend from COVID-19.

Ivey said that her controversial decision to issue a stay at home order for the state made on Friday afternoon was not taken lightly.

“Stay at home, wash your hands and do not touch your face when you have to go out,” Ivey stated.

“The next few weeks are going to be the worst for Alabamians- hence the reason why the Governor’s office took a more drastic step on Friday,” Ivey said. “Do not look for loopholes within the law – COVID-19 is a crisis.”

Ivey said that she is aware that industry is impacted, but folks may not be alive to work if folks do not stay at home.

Ivey said that a new website, All Together Alabama, will be launched this week for constituents to receive accurate information related to COVID-19.

On Tuesday, the Governor plans to hold a Ribbons of Hope press conference with ministers, the medical community, and first responders at 9:00 a.m. The Governor is asking citizens to tie ribbon around trees, mailboxes, etc. as a symbol of prayers and hope for the healthcare workers and first responders.

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones said, “Governor Ivey, the Alabama Department of Public Health, and leaders throughout our state are working around the clock to assess all possible remedies for the COVID-19 crisis. It is critically important for all Alabamians obey the most recent Public Health Order to slow the spread. Stay at home if at all possible. If you must leave, wash your hands, wear a mask, wear gloves, and do not touch your face.”

“The State of Alabama has taken proactive measures to ensure residents have access to assistance and information,” Dr. Jones said. “On Monday afternoon, the Office of the Governor launched the “All Together Alabama” website (www.ALtogetheralabama.org) for Alabamians who need help or who want to help.”

 

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Governor announces the Alabama STEM Council

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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!”

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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.

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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.

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Governor awards grant to expand court facility dog program

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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.”

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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.

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Governor issues State of Emergency ahead of Tropical Storm Sally

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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.

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.

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Police Chiefs Association “wholeheartedly” supports Ivey’s prison plan

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

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.

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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.”

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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.

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