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Senate bill would strip some emergency powers from governor, state health officer

Brandon Moseley

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Republican state senators are becoming increasingly anxious that Gov. Kay Ivey is being too cautious in her approach to reopening the Alabama economy and getting the people of Alabama back to work.

This week State Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, filed a bill “to improve the system of checks and balances” in setting, extending and lifting states of emergency.

Under current law, a state of emergency automatically terminates after 60 days unless the governor extends it or it is extended by a joint resolution in the Legislature. Whatley’s Senate Bill 334 would automatically end a state of emergency after just 14 days unless an extension was approved through a joint resolution from the Legislature.

This bill would also require the governor to sign a health order issued by the unelected state health officer during a disease or pandemic outbreak for it to go into effect. Currently, the state health officer is the only person required to sign a state health order.

“This bill simply improves the system of checks and balances in the state when a state of emergency has been declared,” Sen. Whatley said. “This legislation would require the Governor to sign a state of emergency declaration and limit the time that the state can operate in a state of emergency without approval from both chambers of the Legislature.”

“Currently the State Health Officer, who is appointed by a special interest group of doctors and not elected by the people, has the ability to close down all businesses in the state without consent from anybody who has received a single vote from an Alabama citizen,” Whatley explained. “The governor still has emergency powers, but this bill involves more people and creates a better and more inclusive process in the decision-making process especially when the stability of the entire state is at stake.”

Senator Will Barfoot, R-Montgomery, is a co-sponsor of the bill. Barfoot said that he wants to see more elected officials involved with the decision making.

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“This is not aimed at any person individually,” Barfoot explained. “The medical community, and the State Health officer, in particular, is doing the best job they could under the circumstances. However, as many moving pieces as there are in managing a state, more voices must be heard. This bill would allow the Legislature to have a process to have a say in any of those orders that affect the daily lives of the citizens of Alabama.”

State Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, is another co-sponsor of SB334.

McClendon said that the state health officer is selected by the State Committee of Public Heath, an unelected body. Until COVID-19, most Alabamians, and some lawmakers could not name the state health officer. The Alabama Medical Association chooses most members of the committee.

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“It’s turned into a very high-profile position,” McClendon told WAFF Channel 48 TV News.

“Right now, the public health officer is hired and fired by (the medical association),” McClendon said. “None of those people are accountable to the public.”

The Alabama Medical Association is simply a group that represents doctors in the state.

“There’s some things that we’ve done, they just do not make sense,” State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, said on an appearance on Capitol Journal. “I have respect for Dr. Harris, but the governor just can’t go off of everything Dr. Harris says because he is Dr. Harris. You do have to look at the total function of our economy, the total function of our state and the role that it plays in this nation, and the role that it plays in individual municipalities and counties.”

“Early on, I praised the governor,” Dismukes continued. “She really did do a good job saying early, let’s just monitor this. She tried to keep the economy going the best she could and leave things open. Then it was like all of a sudden, a switch flipped, and it was like we got more and more and more taken away from us. Then when we should start rolling things back, we’re still staying shut down.”

Dismukes joined protestors in front of the State Capital on Tuesday demanding that the orders closing businesses, sports fields, and Churches be lifted,

“I don’t know why we are continually being oppressed and we have so much governmental overreach,” Dismukes told the protestors. “I fully believe that today is the day that we go back to work.”

On Tuesday, State Sen. Tom Butler, R-Madison, told WVNN radio host Jeff Poor that Senate Republicans had sent a letter to Ivey urging her to open barbershops, salons, restaurants, churches and theaters by Friday.

“Quite frankly, I think the governor will hear from several senators, including leadership this week what we’re thinking,” Butler said. “We had a meeting yesterday of about 25, 26 of our colleagues in the Senate — had a meeting and we have, I think, as a consensus think that barbershops, nail salons, beauty shops, restaurants and other establishments like that — we put the hospitals back to doing elective procedures, which they need for steady income, and the patients need for their procedures. I think the governor will hear this week that the majority of the State Senate, at least, and I think many, many, many in the Statehouse, will be supportive of those kinds of reopenings.”

On Friday, State Senator Sam Givhan, R-Huntsville, told WVNN that allowing businesses to reopen, but refusing to allow more than ten people in a church was unconstitutional.

“Now that’s something I think is purely unconstitutional and don’t understand why that’s being done,” Givhan said. “Somebody said businesses are set at 50 percent of their occupancy. Somebody went into Lowe’s the other day and noticed the occupancy was 2,000 people. You can get 1,000 people in Lowe’s, but you can’t get, you know, 50 people in Whitesburg Baptist Church. Something is wrong with that picture.”

The biggest hurdle to passing this and other legislation is Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia. One senior Senator told the Alabama Political Reporter that the Senate is willing to work through Monday, and even Sunday if necessary, but McCutcheon is insisting that the House of Representatives will not consider any legislation other than the budgets and members’ local bills.

On Wednesday, the House rules committee met in House Chambers and passed two special order calendars. The first special order calendar simply had the state education trust fund budget. The second had the state general fund budget.

Chairman Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, said, “This is probably the last meeting of the House Rules Committee.”

The rules committee sets the special order calendars. The Senate can pass legislation, but unless the House puts it on the floor it can not be considered. At this point, House leadership appears unwilling to address any of the issues being brought up by legislators.

At this point, Ivey has not announced a further loosening of restrictions on Friday or even on May 15.

The restrictions on businesses — including bars, gyms, nail salons, barbershops, athletic facilities, restaurant dining rooms, churches, concert halls, nightclubs, hair salons, spas, tattoo parlors, massage parlors and strip clubs — were put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

When the forced economic shutdown began only 36 Americans had died. As of press time 74,799 Americans have died from COVID-19. On Wednesday, 254 more Alabamians were diagnosed with COVID-19. 343 Alabamians have died from the global pandemic.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Governor issues call to action on mask wearing: “We are at war with an invisible enemy”

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Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday issued a new call to action for all Alabamians to wear a mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Transcript:

Today we are at war with an invisible enemy.

Not that long ago, families across Alabama helped America turn the tide in World War II. Some joined the front lines in combat, while others led the fight on the home front.

Those sacrifices helped our nation win the war and go on to define the Greatest Generation. Now, we must answer today’s call. By comparison, our sacrifice is small.

But each of us can do our part. Mask up Alabama!

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Governor

Democratic women condemn comments on Gov. Kay Ivey’s appearance

“These comments are disrespectful, inappropriate in every way, and represent a broader culture of casual sexism,” read a joint statement from four Democratic women.

Josh Moon

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Gov. Kay Ivey held an Coronavirus update Press conference Wednesday, July 29, 2020 in Montgomery, Ala. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

A group of Democratic women on Wednesday issued a statement condemning comments made by a state school board member who was critical of Gov. Kay Ivey’s weight. 

Wayne Reynolds, a Republican who represents portions of northwest Alabama on the board, wrote during a live stream event that Ivey, who is also a Republican, “is gaining weight.” 

Afterward, in an interview with AL.com, Reynolds doubled — and then tripled — down on his comments as he critiqued Ivey’s choice of clothing. 

“She looked heavy in that white suit,” Reynolds said of Ivey, who held a press conference on Wednesday to update the state’s “safer-at-home” order. “I don’t know what she weighs. I just made an observation.”

Later in the interview, Reynolds said the pantsuit Ivey wore was unflattering and that he had seen her wear other suits “that were more slimming on her.”

The backlash to Reynold’s comments was swift and bipartisan with women around the state rightfully taking issue. 

“These comments are disrespectful, inappropriate in every way, and represent a broader culture of casual sexism,” read a joint statement from four Democratic women. “Women all over Alabama know what it is like to be subjected to unfair criticism on the basis of their appearance or weight. 

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“We need to cultivate an environment where individuals are judged on the basis of their skill and proficiency. Alabama elected officials should be discussing policy, not the physical appearance of policymakers. Anything less is a disservice to Alabamians. We are disturbed by Mr. Reynold’s remarks, and we hope other elected officials and candidates will likewise condemn his comments. Mr. Reynolds was wrong and we deserve better.”


The statement was signed by Amy Wasyluka, president of Alabama Democratic Women, Phyliss Harvey Hall, a District 2 congressional candidate, Dr. Adia Winfrey, a District 3 congressional candidate and Laura Casey, a candidate for president of the Alabama Public Service Commission.

 

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Nine people protesting for Medicaid expansion arrested outside Alabama Capitol

Among those arrested was former State Sen. Hank Sanders.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Nine people were arrested during a protest in front of the Alabama Capitol on Tuesday. (Hank Sanders/Facebook)

Nine people were arrested during a protest in front of the Alabama Capitol on Tuesday, which for some was the second time they’d been arrested this month while trying to bring attention to expanding Medicaid in the state and to the need for racial reconciliation.

As members of Alabama Black Lives Matter and Alabama SaveOurSelves held a demonstration Tuesday, which was live-streamed on former State Sen. Hank Sanders’ Facebook page, some began attempting to spray paint the words “Good Trouble,” a reference to the late Georgia Rep. John Lewis and his civil rights work, and “Expand Medicaid” on the street in front of the Capitol and were arrested.

Still, others began to try and spray paint onto the street and were also arrested, as can be seen in the video.

Among those arrested was Sanders, who could be seen in the video being handcuffed and loaded into a Montgomery Police Department vehicle, and his wife, 75-year-old Faya Rose Toure, an attorney, civil rights activist and former municipal judge.

The groups had planned Tuesday’s demonstration to bring attention to their push to expand Medicaid and to the arrest of five members after a demonstration there on July 16, in which members tried to use yellow spray paint to paint the words “Black Lives Matter” and “Expand Medicaid” on the street. The five turned themselves into police on July 20.

Montgomery Police Department public information officer Capt. Saba Coleman in a press release Tuesday evening said that those detained had not yet been charged. Montgomery Police declined to identify those persons who were detained.

“On Tuesday, July 28, 2020, at about 12 noon, MPD responded to the area of the Capitol in reference to protesters painting the street in front of the Capitol steps. Upon arrival, MPD witnessed the protesters painting the street. At which time, MPD notified the City of Montgomery’s Traffic Engineering Department regarding the painting of the street,” Coleman said in the statement. “The paint was deemed noncompliant because organizers failed to request and obtain proper permitting and prior approval, which resulted in a crew being dispatched to the area. Protesters involved in the offense were subsequently detained; however, they were released with charges pending. There’s no additional information available for release.”

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Faya Toure, Sanders’ wife, attorney, civil rights activist and former municipal judge, speaking to APR on Tuesday morning before the demonstration said she planned to once again work to bring attention to the need to expand Medicaid in Alabama in order to save thousands of lives a year and that she’s also addressed the arrests earlier in the month, of which she was one.

Sanders told APR on Monday that he was “mad as hell” over the arrests which included strip searches for the women but not for the men.

In an open letter to Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, Toure wrote of her experience being strip-searched at the police station.

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“Some say I should have resisted, but I did not,” Toure starts the letter of, then describes the act of having to strip for officers. “Within minutes the ordeal that changed my soul was over.”

In a statement, ACLU of Alabama noted that the latest arrests came “just days after a memorial service honoring Representative John Lewis was held on the same steps.”

“Once again, we see Alabama police officers using the power of the government to unnecessarily seize and detain people who are exercising their constitutionally protected First Amendment right to assemble and protest,” said Randall Marshall, executive director of ACLU of Alabama in a statement. “While the Constitution does not explicitly protect people from legal repercussions when protesting crosses into civil disobedience, we paid tribute mere days ago to the life and legacy of Representative John Lewis, a man dedicated to peaceful civil disobedience.”

“His phrase ‘good trouble’ was called that precisely because protesting unjust laws means breaking those laws. Nevertheless, we have seen time and again that change does not happen without protesters who are willing to accept these consequences in order to upend the status quo and those who uphold it,” Marshall continued. “We stand with these freedom fighters–in Montgomery, Hoover, and across the state of Alabama–who are continuing to fight for a more just and equitable world where every social problem is not addressed with handcuffs.”

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Congressman and Civil Rights icon John Lewis has died

“Our country has lost one of its most beloved Civil Rights leaders,” said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey.

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Rep. John Lewis. (LORI SHAULL)

Alabama native turned Civil Rights Movement leader and Georgia Congressman John Lewis has died.

Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Selma, mourned the passing of her friend, colleague and mentor.

“My heart breaks for the passing of my dear friend and mentor Congressman John Lewis, but my spirit soars for an angel walked among us and we were all touched by his greatness. He forever changed Selma and this nation,” Sewell said. “May we finish his life’s work and restore the Voting Rights Act.”

“Congressman John Lewis was a beacon of light, hope and inspiration throughout his life,” Sewell continued. ”To be in his presence was to experience love, whole-hearted and without exception. Though he was so often met with hatred, violence and racial terrorism, it never permeated his being. He remained until his passing a faithful servant-leader, whose righteousness, kindness and vision for a more equitable future inspired all who were blessed to know him. I am honored to have been able to call him a mentor and colleague and, above all, a friend.”

Lewis grew up on a farm outside of Troy, where his family were sharecroppers. At 21, he became a Freedom Rider. At 23, he was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington. He was a close colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Civil Rights Movement. King affectionately referred to him as “the boy from Troy.”

Lewis and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Hosea Williams organized the first Selma to Montgomery voting rights march. Then-Alabama Gov. George Wallace ordered the then all-white Alabama State Troopers to stop Lewis and about 600 marchers. On March 7, 1965, the State Troopers, local law enforcement and hundreds of white citizen volunteers attacked Lewis and the other voting rights marchers when they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

Lewis was among the many marchers beaten that day. The event is remembered as “Bloody Sunday.”

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“On Bloody Sunday in 1965, John was confronted by Alabama state troopers and their dogs, but he was determined to fight for equality and justice, putting his own life on the line in the service of others and a vision for a brighter future,” Sewell said. “So many times did John cross bridges, insisting that our nation live up to the promises enshrined in our constitution. As he always said, he gave a little blood on Selma bridge, but he also bridged the gaps that so often divide our political parties, working every day for a more just America.”

“John believed firmly that the best days of our nation lie ahead of us,” Sewell concluded. “It is his unwavering optimism that I will continue to call upon in moments of challenge and hardship. While John has left this earth, his legacy fighting for equality and justice lives on. I hope that our nation – and our leaders – will unite behind the cause most dear to John: voting rights. We must restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to its full strength so that every American – regardless of color – is able to make their voice heard at the ballot box. John, the ‘boy from Troy,’ was the conscience of the Congress. He will be dearly missed.”

“John Lewis was an American treasure,” said Martin Luther King III in a statement. “He gave a voice to the voiceless, and he reminded each of us that the most powerful nonviolent tool is the vote. Our hearts feel empty without our friend, but we find comfort knowing that he is free at last.”

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“Our country has lost one of its most beloved Civil Rights leaders,” said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey. “I join my fellow Alabamians & the nation in mourning the death of Rep. John Lewis. He dedicated his life to serving his community & advocating for others. We’ll forever remember his heroism & his enduring legacy.”

Lewis announced that he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer in December.

He was absent at this year’s annual remembrance of Bloody Sunday in Selma on March 1. The annual Civil Rights Pilgrimage to Alabama had been led by Lewis every year until this one.

“Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way,” former President Barack Obama wrote. “John Lewis did. And thanks to him, we now all have our marching orders — to keep believing in the possibility of remaking this country we love until it lives up to its full promise.”

Lewis was age 80. He was preceded in death by his wife, Lilian Miles Lewis, who died in 2012 after a long illness.

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