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Governor says there will be no special session before August

A view of the Alabama Statehouse on South Union Street in Montgomery, Alabama. (STOCK PHOTO)

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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