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Governor

Governor says there will be no special session before August

Brandon Moseley and Nicole Jones

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Wednesday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) told legislators that there will be no special session prior to August because the state’s budget numbers will not be in before July 15.

The Governor told the legislators in a video conference that all options are on the table on whether or not there will be a special session.

Ivey said that before calling a special session, the Governor and her staff will work with a bipartisan group of legislators to ensure a plan is in place to maximize time in Montgomery and provide transparency to the public. Ivey said that a special session will only address legitimate issues that cannot wait until February 2021. There will be no surprises for anyone.

Some of these issues could be regarding monuments, names on buildings, etc.

“Like so many others throughout the country and around the world, I, too, was shocked and angered by the tragic actions that led to the senseless death of George Floyd last week in Minneapolis,” Ivey said in a statement on June 1. “It is a death that should have never happened, and it is a tragedy for which that too many people, especially African Americans, are all too familiar. Regretfully, the natural anger and frustration of Mr. Floyd’s death has now spread to our state and what started out as peaceful protests in some of our cities yesterday afternoon turned ugly last night. While no state has a richer history than Alabama in terms of using peaceful protests to lead the country – and the world – to positive change, I agree with Alabama native, Congressman John Lewis, who this weekend said ‘rioting, looting and burning is not the way.’

Ivey plans to send a full statement to the legislature.

The Governor has personally reached out to the mayors of Alabama’s 10 largest cities as well as several small towns and is continuing to watch the news as to how local governments are responding.

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State Health Office Dr. Scott Harris said that the state has 21,600 confirmed cases of COVID-19 during the last three months.

“Unfortunately, more than 25 percent have occurred within the past two weeks,” Harris said.

Harris said that three hospitals in Montgomery (including Prattville) have reported more inpatients than they ever had. Another hotspot is Morgan County due to the poultry plant in Decatur. That hospital has more than 30 cases either confirmed or under investigation
“As we approach the fourth o July, legislators need to get message out to be safe,” Harris said.

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Harris said that many communities are planning celebrations. Communities need to do so in a safe manner: wear masks, use hand sanitation, older population and vulnerable populations should pass up big crowds.

Harris said that they have been 739 deaths in Alabama in the past three months, around half are in nursing homes. More than 40 percent have occurred in the African American population.

Finance Director Kelly Butler said that the state has implemented guidance from the federal government on how to use money from the federal Coronavirus relief fund. The state has sent notification to cities and counties on the 28th of May that they can begin to claim reimbursements. Some have sent in claims, others report that they will. There have been several conference calls and Zoom meetings with different groups to determine what can and cannot be reimbursed.

Butler said that on 3 June there was communication with government agencies that they can be reimbursed. At this time $300 million can go to state government, $200 million for the Department of Corrections, and $10 million for the Alabama court system.

Butler said that work now is concentrated on business, nonprofits, and faith-based groups, which can get about $300 million. Butler said that they are working with the Alabama Department of Revenue to establish a small business grant program modeled from programs in other states on businesses that have been affected by COVID-19. Businesses will be able to fill out a one-page form to be eligible for a grant in the amount of up to $25,000 as compensation for business interruption costs by COVID-19.

Commissioner Jeff Dunn wit the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) also spoke to the group.

Dunn said that as of yesterday at 3:40 pm approximately 75 staff or contractors have contracted COVID-19. Of those 27 have already been cleared to return to duty.

There are COVID-positives in several facilities, but ADOC is paying most attention to Tutwiler correctional facility as well as the state medical facilities that serve Elmore and Frank Lee Community Based Facility/Community Work Center. Within the last 48 hours, several healthcare providers have tested positive. Dunn said that ADOC is working on an augmentation plan to provide emergency, critical, and essential services for inmates out of that location Dunn said 27 inmates have tested positive. 18 of those are active.

Dunn said that ADOC is reviewing CDC guidelines for inmates and that they are on the telephone weekly for updates with counterparts around the country to share information about how to best address the global pandemic.

Dunn said that ADOC is providing medical testing for procedures to ensure they do not go to the hospital with a positive COVID-19 test. ADOCI is transitioning to a new operational environment that recognizes we will not be “normal” any time soon; but we have to get to a point where we can operate services within the prison system. That process and protocols will be conditions-based, not time-based (evaluate on case-by-case basis and ability to deliver medical and mental health services as they open facilities). ADOC has stringent requirements (deep cleanings, hand sanitizer, temperature checks, etc.). Dunn said that it is near impossible to social distance with the overcrowded conditions.

Dunn said that in-house educational services have resumed and are monitored under new programs, including vocational education, visitation, and religious services. It will take ADOC time to adjust based on conditions within the facilities.

Dunn told legislators that they have received proposals from developer teams. ADOC is evaluating the proposals in a two-part process. All the proposals met or exceeded the technical requirements. ADOC is now evaluating the financials of the proposals.

Dunn said that his goal is to offer the opportunity to negotiate contracts for facilities by late-summer.

Dunn said that ADOC is working to obtain the body camera grant from the DOJ. Canine teams will test with correctional supervisors in the fall

ADOC is also working with Ingram State Technical College (ITSC) to provide educational services through electronic means using portable electronic devices for GED work, etc.

House Majority Leader Nathanial Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) asked Commissioner Dunn about the financial evaluations of the proposals What are you looking for?

“ADOC asked developer teams to bid on the technical specifications and financial cost because this is a lease arrangement to provide costs, financial modeling, ability to obtain finances needed for the project.” Dunn said. ADOC will be evaluating the project at the quality required within the affordability level.

Representative Matt Simpson (R-Daphne) asked: Why are the inmates on probation revocation not getting credit/ Local jails are not sending ADOC. People can be sitting in jail for 45 days and not waiting until they get to ADOC to receive credit.

Comm. Dunn said that procedurally under normal conditions the clock would not start until they were in the Alabama Department of Corrections; however, ADOC provided mechanism to which counties can release probationary dumps from their custody and not send to ADOC.

Secretary Fitzgerald Washington with the Alabama Department of Labor (ADOL) said that U.S. unemployment is down approximately one percent from April. Hopefully this is a sign to the road to prosperity again. 12.9 percent is the Alabama unemployment rate. 1.9 million Alabamians are working, this is down 273,000 over the course of the year.

Washington said that he is proud of the staff’s work on countless hours to how people get paid and eligibility questions from employers and employees / diligently clarifying questions. $1.5 million has been paid out for unemployment claims and over 300,000 claims have been made. $34 million has been paid to the self-employed. To date, ADOL has responded to 92 percent of COVID-19-related claims.

Washington said that once applicants file their initial claims, if entered correctly, it will be processed within 15 minutes. If entered incorrectly, the claimant will be initially denied. 80 percent, the vast majority of delays are due to incorrect information on application (SSN, misspellings, incorrect routing numbers, etc.)

Washington said that some employees have not been truthful when filing, knowing it will be financially beneficial to quit and get government aid. In these cases, ADOL has to give employers time to respond (due process).

All claimants need to file weekly certifications. Some people get benefits one week but do not file the weekly requirements. More than 36,000 claims filed as of last week had to call back last week to get issues resolved. Now claimants are getting direct messages to re-certify weekly.

Washington said that direct deposit is the fastest way to receive benefit. ADOL issued debit cards take an additional 5 to 7 days to process.

Washington said that ADOL is on alert for fraud and theft of personal information. Two metro jail inmates were trying to use a false identity to get unemployment benefits for drugs and cigarettes

Washington said that ADOL is continuing to find ways to improve claims by hiring call centers and expanded hours. They have brought back retired employees to help communicate the process and hired a firm to develop user-friendly ways to use tools available on the website – labor.alabama.gov.

Washington said that ADOL is currently receiving over 200,000 calls per day(!) with only 400 people to answer the calls.

Washington thanked Montgomery Mayor Stephen Reed and ASU President Quintin Ross for allowing ADOL to set up at the Cramton Bowl and at ASU stadium.

State School Superintendent Dr. Mackey briefed legislators on the Alabama State Deptment of Education (ALSDE).

“As of 1 June, public schools, private school, colleges, etc. can reopen,” Supt. Mackey said. “Many campuses are working on getting sports practices back. Some opted not to open until this week.”

Mackey said that there has been some pushback as regard to the fall. A virtual school option has ben proposed for public schools. An RFP opened on Monday of this week. There was a meeting yesterday afternoon and responses were all over the map. There are concerns about: costs, proposals different from different vendors. 7 vendors responded to all or part of the RFPs.

Mackey said that there is a team of instructional and technical specialists going through the vendor applications with a focus on K thru 8. We have a limited number of folks that can participate in those classes. We will use federal funds to expand capacity for grades 9 through 12.

There is a proposal out to get coursework for local school systems. Hire teachers and give virtual instruction as requested. ALSDE has asked school administrators to ask parents whether or not they prefer an online option.

Mackey said that Schoology is a statewide learning management system under contract, part of the power school student information system, now expanding because the original purchase did not have a virtual option (new contract negotiated already, will be put into place before the fall).

Mackey said that ALSDE will have a draft to refine to meet needs as best possible. This will be publicly available within about three weeks. We have to wait until the final document to mitigate potential confusion within the community.

Mackey added that as we continue to implement the Alabama Literacy Act, some reading specialists are being moved (voluntarily – have applied) to take positions as personal coaches and reading coaches in high-need areas. We wanted to begin on 1 July, but many will start 1 August so the local positions can be replaced. Folks will work from home and ALSDE will pay travel as they go back and forth to critical need areas.

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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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Governor

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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Congress

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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Economy

Seven counties get grants to expand internet access

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Seven internet providers will receive $2.9 million in grants between them to extend broadband services in seven Alabama communities, Gov. Kay Ivey’s office announced on Thursday. 

The grants were awarded through the Alabama Accessibility Fund that was created to extend service to homes, businesses and “community anchors” in unserved or underserved areas of the state. Community anchors include police or fire departments, city halls, libraries, schools and medical facilities.

The grants were distributed as follows:

  • Butler County: Hayneville Fiber Transport Inc. (Camellia Communications) – $128,797 to provide service availability to 48 households and four community anchors in the Sherling Lake community which is northwest of the city of Greenville.
  • Choctaw County/Washington County: Millry Telephone Co. Inc. – $954,902 to extend broadband service in the third phase of a project covering south Choctaw and north Washington counties. The project includes 559 households, 16 businesses and two anchors including Millry City Hall and Millry School. 
  • Cleburne County: Gigafy – $178,782 to provide access availability to 486 households and 38 businesses in the vicinity of the city of Heflin.
  • Cullman County: Cyber Broadband Inc. – $1.33 million to provide service availability to 1,600 households, 125 businesses and 50 community anchors in the vicinity of the Baileytown and Joppa communities in eastern Cullman County.
  • Dallas County: Spectrum Southeast – $55,481 to extend broadband service availability to 55 households in the Deerfield subdivision west of the city of Selma.
  • Lee County: Spectrum Southeast – $8,407 to provide high-speed cable access to eight households along Lee County Road 279 near the Halawaka community.
  • Tallapoosa County: Spectrum Southeast – $245,567 to extend service availability to 316 households in the Marina Marin area of Lake Martin near Alabama Highway 50.

A total of $18.5 million in grants has been awarded to expand internet access in Alabama, mostly to unserved rural areas.

“The COVID-19 pandemic further emphasized how essential broadband services are to the unserved and underserved residents of Alabama,” Ivey said in a statement. “Thanks to the Broadband Accessibility Fund and broadband providers, we are making progress in ensuring that Alabamians have access to high-speed internet services, but there is no question we have a long way to go on completing this mission.”

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