The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

12 hours ago

Couple creates restaurant-retail campus on Alabama Gulf Coast

(Melissa Johnson Warnke/Alabama Retailer)

It’s been 35 years since Brian Harsany got his first job in the restaurant industry, and he never looked back. Brian started busing tables and washing dishes in 1983 while in high school, and later went on to major in hotel and restaurant management at Florida State University. His degree and experience took him into management roles at various restaurants, both family and corporately owned businesses.

Then, in early 2006, everything started going to the dogs – and cats, in his case.

Several months prior to that, he’d begun developing a concept for his own restaurant. After he and his wife, Jodi, heard about a piece of property from three different friends – three days in a row – the two finally got in the car to check it out. They immediately saw potential.

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The property was on Canal Road in Orange Beach, and the Harsanys planned to open just one restaurant, which they would name after their rescue dog, Cosmo.

“We know that everyone loves their dogs,” said Brian. “Also, the name allowed us to have any cuisine we wanted. If we had given the restaurant an Italian, French or Greek name, everything wouldn’t have jelled.”

Cosmo’s Restaurant and Bar opened in May 2006. The colorful and casual setting paired well with its large and eclectic menu, which could satisfy the palates of foodies to the pickiest of eaters.

It wasn’t long before Brian’s and Jodi’s business plans started growing along with their crew of four-legged family members. Luckily, the property around Cosmo’s afforded them plenty of space to expand.

By 2010, Cosmo’s retail selection had outgrown the space in the restaurant. That year, the Harsanys opened Maggie’s Bottle and ‘Tail, named after Maggie, another adopted dog. The gift and bottle shop is attached to Cosmo’s and sells T-shirts, jewelry, local artwork and merchandise for dog lovers. There’s also an extensive selection of wine and beer, which is available for sampling. They had a need for a venue where guests could hang out and have a drink prior to sitting down for a meal, so they added Maggie’s Parlor as neighboring tenants moved out.

In 2016 came Luna’s Eat & Drink, named after another dog, Luna, followed by Buzzcatz Coffee and Sweets. The original legal name was “Three Angry Cats,” because the Harsanys thought their cats might be angry that no businesses were named after them. However, they decided to make their “doing business as” name Buzzcatz, since “it’s catchy, fun and marketable,” added Jodi.

Jodi serves on the board of a local organization dedicated to improving the lives of animals – Orange Beach Animal Care and Control Program. She and Brian often host events at their businesses to support the group’s mission.

Jodi’s work with the animal program is just one of many community and environmental service groups in which the couple is involved.

Orange Beach City Councilman Jerry Johnson said, “No matter what it is, even if it’s the last minute – if we need catering or people to participate in cleaning an island, Brian and his team are always there. It’s really the culture they have created within their company.”

Brian agreed. “We do a lot of things with our employees in the community, so we can get them involved and they can get a good grasp on what it means to be part of a community,” he said.

They also focus on serving their employees, offering insurance, 401K plans and free exercise boot camps.

“We put ourselves in their shoes and offer them what we’d want to have,” Brian explained, adding that by taking care of their employees, they in turn take good care of their customers.

“It is vitally important that we always execute and give the experience that the guest is expecting when they step foot on our property,” Brian said.

Outside of the restaurants and businesses at the Canal Road campus, the Harsanys also own GTs on the Bay, a family-friendly restaurant and hangout on Wolf Bay, as well as Cobalt The Restaurant, which is nestled under the Perdido Bay Bridge.

“When we first opened Cosmo’s,” said Jodi, “I never imagined all of the opportunities we would have.”

Brian added, “It is our pleasure to be business owners here and to be so involved in our community.”

You can visit Cosmo’s Restaurant and Bar, Maggie’s Bottle and ‘Tail, Luna’s Eat & Drink and Buzzcatz Coffee and Sweets at 25753 Canal Road in Orange Beach; GTs on the Bay at 26189 Canal Road; and Cobalt the Restaurant at 28099 Perdido Beach Boulevard.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

13 hours ago

State Rep. Sorrell vows to cut government waste by seeking to remove requirement for legal notices to be published in newspapers

(Screenshot/APTV)

Earlier this week on Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” State Rep. Andrew Sorrell (R-Muscle Shoals) explained his decision to vote against the Rebuild Alabama Act, which is legislation signed into law earlier this month by Gov. Kay Ivey that will ultimately raise gasoline taxes 10 cents by 2021.

In addition to polling that showed his constituents overwhelmingly against the measure to gas taxes, Sorrell justified his “no” vote by explaining that there were areas in state government with waste that could be eliminated to save taxpayers money that should have been considered before a tax increase.

One such area the Shoals Republican identified was a requirement that legal notices were to be published in newspapers.

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“You are never done looking for waste in state government,” Sorrell said. “Imagine if our state government only wasted 2 percent. It sounds like a very small number – hundreds of millions of dollars, right? There is still waste in state government. Actually, I have a bill to address that, and I’ve made that very same point. If we’re going to be talking about tax increases, we have to be talking about where we can save the taxpayers money.”

“Specifically, the bill I’m referencing is a bill that would remove the requirement for legal notices to be published in newspapers,” Sorrell added. “It’s a very expensive and time-consuming process  some of these legal notices are $1,000 — the publishing of the voter rolls every two years. The city of Huntsville spends $100,000 a year on required legal notices. That’s money they could be using to, you know, fix potholes or repave city streets.

Sorrell told APTV host Don Dailey he was still seeking a dollar figure on how much the state spends on legal notices.

“So, I don’t have a number. I’m looking for a number right now,” he added. “I have the legislative fiscal office trying to give me a number right now on how much the state of Alabama spends. This would also help municipalities and counties. But all that information, all those legal notices could be posted online almost for free. And we could be saving the state millions of dollars a year. So yeah, we’ve never done enough to cut waste in government. I’m going to continue looking for ways. I’ve only been down here a few weeks, and I believe I’ve already identified millions of dollars of waste.”

The Alabama Press Association, the trade association that represents the state’s newspapers, has long resisted any efforts to remove requirements to publish legal notices in newspapers over the years.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

University of South Alabama researchers study progression of deadly lung syndrome

(University of South Alabama/Contributed)

Researchers at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine have developed a pre-clinical model for Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), a progressive disease that occurs in critically ill patients. A team led by Dr. Diego F. Alvarez and Dr. Jonathon P. Audia published the results of this NIH/NHLBI-sponsored study in the March 11 online edition of Pulmonary Circulation.

ARDS has a mortality rate of 40 to 60 percent in patients who develop the disorder, which is characterized by worsening lung function. Typically ARDS develops as a result of community- and hospital-acquired pneumonia and patients are treated in an intensive-care setting.

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“Right now there are no therapies to treat these patients once ARDS develops other than supportive care,” said Audia, associate professor of microbiology and immunology. “Our goal is developing comprehensive models to understand the disease progression and how it resolves, and then ultimately being able to use this model to test new therapies.”

Audia and Alvarez, who is an associate professor of physiology and cell biology, have been researching the pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a common cause of hospital-acquired pneumonia, and its impact on lung biology and pathogenesis for the past nine years, publishing numerous scientific articles on the subject.

The current study was the first to take a comprehensive look at the progression of ARDS in animal models examining effects on the lung vasculature, building upon the team’s previous work in cell cultures, Audia said.

The researchers examined two groups of rats infected with Pseudomonas aeruginosa – one group after 48 hours and the other after seven days. The first group of mice displayed the clinical hallmarks of ARDS, while the second group displayed lingering effects of infection, inflammation and fibrosis seen in patients who succumb to ARDS, but signs of lung repair also were observed.

The modeling sets the stage for future research. “We don’t know whether the host response is not strong enough to kill the bacteria or if there’s something defective with the repair pathway and the patients never fully recover,” Audia said. “It’s one of those things that’s a black box. Nobody knows which part goes awry.”

He said further research could help doctors predict how patients will fare in response to an initial pneumonia infection, and ultimately lead to the development of new interventions and therapies to combat pneumonia and ARDS.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

16 hours ago

Google brings Wi-Fi-equipped school buses to Alabama town

(Google/Contributed)

Google is not only building a $600 million data center in Alabama, but the internet giant is helping some school kids in a small Talladega County town get their homework done.

Google announced the launch of its Rolling Study Halls program in Munford, a community with around 1,200 residents. The initiative brings Wi-Fi to students with long commutes in 16 communities across the country.

Google provides each school district with Wi-Fi through fully functional school buses, computers and onboard educators for the buses. The company says the program helps students reclaim more than 1.5 million hours of learning time that would otherwise be lost during long bus commutes.

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“It’s important for students everywhere to have access to the tools they need to learn every day,” said Alex Sanchez, a spokesperson for Google.

In Munford, six buses will become Rolling Study Halls, allowing 240 students to access Wi-Fi on commutes between 45 minutes and one hour.

Equipping students

“Innovative programs like the Google Wi-Fi school buses are allowing us to provide our public school students with the 21st-century educations that they will need to compete in the global economy,” Ainsworth said.

“Google’s Rolling Study Halls is something we know will benefit the students of Munford, and help them create the next big thing right here in Alabama,” McClendon said.

Rolling Study Halls is part of Grow with Google, a new initiative to help create economic opportunities for Americans. The program aims to give people across the United States resources to grow their skills, careers and businesses by offering free tools, training and events.

In April 2018, Google began construction of its Alabama data center in the Jackson County community of Bridgeport, in the northeastern corner of the state. Google said the data center will be a hub for internet traffic, fitting into a network that keeps the company’s search engine and its other internet-based products functioning around the clock.

The center is expected to create between 75 and 100 jobs.

Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth and state Sen. Jim McClendon joined Google officials to announce the program’s arrival at Munford Middle School alongside students and administrators who use the outfitted buses daily during the 2018–2019 school year.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

Leaders deliver results for a stronger Alabama

(Wikicommons, J. Tuggle/Flickr, ALFA/Flickr)

Thank you to the Alabama House of Representatives and the Alabama Senate for your bi-partisan support of the Rebuild Alabama Plan. Because of your leadership, this historical effort will result in safer roads, thousands of new jobs, and a stronger Alabama.  Finally, it’s time to #RebuildAL.

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18 hours ago

Alabama Power, employees continue to support Lee County tornado relief

(Billy Brown/Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama Power, the Alabama Power Foundation and the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO)remain committed to helping restore normalcy to Lee County and supporting the victims of the March 3 tornadoes. Company efforts began shortly after the storm hit, when crews throughout the state supported restoration efforts. Within 36 hours, all 26,000 customers affected by storms and who could take service had their power restored.

Once initial restoration and rescue work was completed, the Alabama Power Foundation and APSO volunteers joined other organizations and businesses to support community needs.

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“We have mobilized our resources – through both the Alabama Power Foundation and our employee-led volunteer organization APSO – to serve Lee County and the surrounding communities,” said Myla Calhoun, vice president of Alabama Power Charitable Giving and president of the Alabama Power Foundation. “These activities are core to our mission of supporting the communities we are honored to serve.”

The Alabama Power Foundation provided two $20,000 donations to disaster relief funds at the United Way of Lee County and the East Alabama Community Foundation. Funds will be used to support local recovery efforts.

Other volunteer efforts include:

  • APCO Employees Credit Union disaster relief account: The Alabama Power Employees Credit Union activated a disaster relief account to raise donations that ran through Friday, March 15. The credit union will work with the Red Cross to purchase needed supplies with donated funds.
  • Red Cross stations: APSO volunteers are coordinating with the Red Cross and Providence Baptist Church in Opelika to assist with sorting and preparing donations for distribution.
  • APSO Chapter donation bins: APSO Chapters across the state are accepting donations to support recovery.
  • Hygiene packs: APSO chapters are donating hygiene packs to victims.
  • Eufaula Humane Society donation: Local APSO Chapter donated $500 to the Eufaula Humane Society, which was devastated by the storms.
  • APSO volunteers at Red Cross telethon: APSO volunteers answered phones and took donations at the Red Cross’ telethon March 6.

To learn more about the charitable initiatives of the Alabama Power Foundation and how APSO members are helping build a better Alabama, visit https://powerofgood.com/.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

20 hours ago

Ivey: Space and Alabama go hand-in-hand

(Jeff Poor/YHN)

I am so pleased that Vice President Mike Pence has chosen Huntsville to host the National Space Council on Tuesday.

The purpose of this gathering – in the shadow of the Saturn V rocket, which was developed right here in Alabama – is to discuss the future of American human spaceflight that is so appropriate as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The past, present and future of American space leadership flows through Alabama.

The great minds at Marshall Space Flight Center also helped bring about the marvel of the Space Shuttle, which was essential to building and servicing the International Space Station, launching and servicing the Hubble Space Telescope, enabling crucial national defense missions and many more accomplishments.

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Even as we remember triumphs like these with immense national and state pride, we recognize that any nation that rests solely on its laurels will quickly find itself looking from the rear. We also understand that America’s preeminence in space is not a foregone conclusion and that much of the world looks to America to lead in space.

I laud President Trump’s active engagement by ensuring American leadership in space. Moreover, I know this is essential to not only inspire young people but, also to advance the American economy while always looking out for our national security. Reviving the National Space Council and the Space Policy Directives that have been signed, to date, signals that these are not just empty promises.

Alabama’s proud tradition of leading the way in America’s space program continues today with the Space Launch System, America’s next great ship, which has been designed, engineered and tested in Alabama and has a significant supplier base and workforce throughout our great state and around the country.

SLS isn’t about a single rocket or launch. Instead, it is a transformational national capability which will serve as the backbone of our deep space exploration efforts, enabling the return of American astronauts to the Moon and taking them further into space than ever before. In doing so, we will create new markets for the burgeoning space industry and enable greater international cooperation than ever before.

From a national security standpoint, China continues to develop their own deep space capabilities, landing the first spacecraft on the far-side of the Moon, which should serve as a clarion call that we risk losing our footing.

America’s Defense Intelligence Agency recently noted in their report, 2019 Challenges to Security in Space, that China and Russia are developing their own SLS-class rockets because they understand the importance of this super-heavy-lift capability for national exploration, defense and other purposes.

Despite challenges in developing the first super-heavy-rocket in over 50 years, SLS is coming together now and is being done carefully with safety as a top priority, especially since it will be carrying crews to deep space beginning with its second flight.

We have learned much over the last several years and it’s all coming together now – the supplier base is reinvigorated, we’ve implemented new technologies in designing and building and we’re seeing significant improvements in schedule with each new rocket under construction.

To date, the test articles for SLS have been produced and most are in test stands at Marshall right now; the first flight rocket is in final integration at Michoud Assembly Facility and three of the five segments have already been joined together. Eventually, the enormous liquid hydrogen tank and engine section will be added to the rocket. The second SLS launch vehicle, is already well underway in production to launch crew in 2022.

Additionally, the Exploration Upper Stage that is being developed at Marshall will provide a critical increase in capability when it launches in 2024, boosting SLS performance from 27 metric tons to the vicinity of the moon to 45 metric tons. We respectfully disagree with the FY’20 budget request about deferring this work – it’s an essential part of our capability and Congress has repeatedly directed that this work continue to be ready by 2024.

Some have proposed that NASA consider alternative launch vehicles for the first Orion flight, given the challenges with launching a brand-new rocket of this unparalleled capability by a date certain in mid-2020. But with all due respect to the critics, we have seen that even two heavy lift rockets are incapable of accomplishing what SLS can do in a single launch. For that reason – and in our collective view – we must stay the course, accelerate the SLS schedule and keep the integrated Exploration Mission 1 to test SLS and Orion together. Doing so will provide crucial data to mitigate the substantial risks posed by deep space missions.

Time is of the essence, not only to ensure that American taxpayer’s investments are well spent, but because we must seize the initiative and solidify American leadership in space once again.

Again, I welcome Vice President Pence and the National Space Council to Alabama, and I appreciate President Trump’s strategic focus on space. Alabamians have been crucial to building America’s great space heritage and, once again, we are actively engaged in leading the new era of deep space exploration.

Kay Ivey is the 54th governor of Alabama.

22 hours ago

Marine Resources Division considering changes to flounder, trout limits

(D. Rainer/Contributed)

Alabama’s inshore anglers are aware that fishing for two of the most popular species – southern flounder and spotted seatrout – has not been up to normal Gulf Coast standards in the past few years.

The Alabama Marine Resources Division (MRD) is seeking public input on how to mitigate this downturn in the abundance of the two species. MRD recently held public meetings with commercial and recreational anglers to discuss what management measures would be supported.

“I was very appreciative of the number of people who came to the discussions about the possible changes, and that’s important,” MRD Director Scott Bannon said. “It’s important to us, and it’s important to them.”

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Anglers who came to the public meetings at 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center last week heard Bannon and MRD Chief Biologist Kevin Anson present the current status of flounder and trout. MRD is considering options to help the fish stocks recover, including a reduction in bag limits, increased size limits and possible closed seasons.

“I’m kind of surprised by how many people are supportive of a reduced bag limit as a management tool,” Bannon said. “I’m very pleased with the feedback from people about what they see when they’re out fishing and what they think might help. Coupling that with what our science says, I think we’re going to be able to make some decisions that are going to be helpful for the resource but also still work with what our fishermen want in Alabama. Believe it not, one of the comments that I’ve received several times is that, even though people understand there is going to be some change, they appreciated the state’s effort to get the public’s opinion. As one person said, it shows we really do care.”

Of the two fish species, flounder is MRD’s biggest concern because of reduced harvest by both commercial and recreational anglers in recent years. The estimated harvest during the past 15 years shows a harvest of about 350,000 flounder in 2002 to about 150,000 in 2017. A significant spike in harvest occurred during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill because of a shift in angler effort from offshore waters to inshore waters.

“I think it’s going to take a multi-pronged approach both to recreational and commercial fishing to assure the stability of that fishery,” Bannon said. “These are hard decisions. On the commercial side, this affects income, but we want to sustain their income long-term.”

Bannon said about 30 commercial fishermen are targeting flounder with gillnets, while a small percentage are reporting harvests using gigs. Bannon is concerned that some giggers are skirting the reporting law.

“There is only a small number of people with commercial licenses who are reporting harvests using a gig,” he said. “All commercial harvests are required to be reported. But we think a number of people are recreationally fishing under a commercial license, and those fish aren’t getting reported. They purchase a commercial license to exceed the 10-fish bag limit.”

Bannon said the only management tool that would restrict this practice is a daily bag limit for those who hold a commercial license. Recreational anglers currently have a 10-flounder bag limit with a minimum size of 12 inches total length.

“Some people are truly commercially fishing,” he said. “They are using it to make a living. Others are just exceeding a bag limit. Gigging is a very effective fishery. The technology is helping them with better lights and better boats, like with most fisheries. We are going to work with the industry to see what’s a realistic bag limit, looking at the landing numbers. We could be looking at a combination of bag limits, size limits or a seasonal closure.”

MRD data shows that November is a month with a high commercial harvest number because flounder migrate to the Gulf of Mexico to spawn.

“Any time you have fish that have a specific spawning run, it’s beneficial to allow them to make that run, and with flounder, the females do come back inshore,” Bannon said.

Anson said Alabama is not alone in terms of a foundering flounder fishery.

“This isn’t just an Alabama problem,” Anson said. “Other states have seen reductions in flounder landings as well, both commercial and recreational. It just seems that we are ground zero as far as seeing the largest drop in landings.”

Fisheries managers use spawning potential ratio (SPR) to determine the health of a fish stock. For flounder, the target SPR to maintain the population is between 25 and 30 percent.

At the current harvest rate, if the minimum size for flounder remains at 12 inches, the population will not be able to sustain the target SPR. An increase in size also increases the number of eggs the females release during the spawn.

According to MRD data, an increase in the minimum size to 13 inches would allow 20 percent more fish to remain in the water. An increase to a minimum size of 14 inches would allow 38 percent more fish to remain in the water.

MRD’s Claude Peteet Mariculture Center in Gulf Shores is also gearing up to spawn flounder in recently purchased tanks and equipment. Bannon said they hope to eventually release between 50,000 and 60,000 flounder fingerlings annually.

For spotted seatrout (speckled trout), a recent MRD assessment indicated recruitment of juvenile trout back into the fishery has been below traditional levels.

Bannon said a seismic shift in fishing effort has played a role in the fishing pressure on speckled trout. High fuel costs and restrictive bag limits on reef fish species caused many offshore anglers to start fishing inshore waters.

“We went from 50,000 inshore fishing trips annually in the early 90s to more than 500,000 in 2011,” he said. “That’s a ten-fold increase in fishing effort. That’s a concern. All of our habitat is accessible to fishermen. It’s a popular fish, so there’s a lot of effort focused on them, partly due to the short federal fisheries seasons.”

The annual harvest during that time increased 600 percent, and a downturn of landings in 2014 suggests the fishery is unstainable under that intense fishing pressure.

Bannon said anglers who target speckled trout, which has no commercial harvest because of its game-fish status, have indicated support for a reduction in the current 10-fish bag limit. Anglers have also indicated support for a slot limit and/or an increase in the current minimum size, which is 14 inches total length. The red drum (redfish) fishery has a slot limit of 16-26 inches with an allowance of one oversized fish.

“If we do go to a slot limit on trout, there will be an allowance for one oversized fish,” he said. “Most anglers who target these fish understand there are some concerns and agree that if we act responsibly now we will be in better shape. The goal is for anglers to catch larger fish more consistently.”

Anson said increases in size limits that MRD is considering include a bump in the minimum length to 15 inches, which would allow more than 227,000 trout to be returned to the water annually. An increase to a 16-inch minimum size would mean more than 400,000 could be returned to the water each year.

MRD will hold a meeting with the charter-for-hire operators on March 27. Bannon said, depending on feedback from the public, MRD may decide to hold another meeting before finalizing its management proposals.

Bannon said MRD welcomes comments on the proposed changes to the regulations on flounder and trout. Send comments to scott.bannon@dcnr.alabama.gov or kevin.anson@dcnr.alabama.gov by April 13 to ensure the input will be considered before the next Conservation Advisory Board meeting, scheduled May 4 at The Lodge at Gulf State Park, a Hilton Hotel.

“After we complete the meetings and compile the public input, the staff will have discussions, followed by discussions with the Commissioner (Chris Blankenship),” Bannon said. “Then we will develop a proposal for the Conservation Advisory Board on May 4.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

1 day ago

Blountsville substitute teacher jailed after gun accidentally goes off in classroom

(YHN/Pixabay)

Tragedy almost struck in Blount County on Friday afternoon when substitute teacher Henry Rex Weaver’s gun was accidentally discharged in a first-grade classroom.

WBRC is reporting that Weaver, 72, has been taken into custody and held in jail after his gun went off at Blountsville Elementary.

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Officials initially advised that no one was injured, however, WBRC later reported that one “student had ‘very minor’ injuries” and was treated at the scene. Students were in the classroom at the time Weaver’s gun, which was in his pocket, discharged.

Weaver faces charges of possession of a deadly weapon, aggravated assault and reckless endangerment.

The debate on whether qualified, trained teachers should or should not be able to have a gun in his or her classroom was a major topic in the 2018 state legislative session.

Update 4:35 p.m.:

According to Alabama Media Group, Blount County District Attorney Pamela Casey elaborated that the student with a “very minor” injury was struck by a fragment and attended to by the school nurse.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 day ago

Watch: Doug Jones commits to supporting whoever the 2020 Dem presidential nominee is

(America Rising PAC/YouTube)

Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL), while claiming to be a member of the “radical middle,” declared he will vote for the Democrats’ nominee against President Donald Trump, regardless of who that individual ends up being.

In a video clip from his Thursday book tour event in Huntsville, Jones was asked if he would “throw his weight behind somebody” for the party’s nomination.

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“It may depend on how things go,” the incumbent junior senator replied. “Everybody knows that Joe Biden and I have been friends for 40 years. And so, I have talked about Joe a lot. And I have always wanted him to be president – not just to run for president, but to be president. Outside of Joe, we’ll see how that goes.”

That is when he declared no matter who wins the primary, he will proudly support a Democrat against Trump.

“But whatever we do, I’ll end up supporting the nominee. We’re not going to run away from that. And I hope to have some of my colleagues come down here at some point. We’ll see how that goes.”

Watch:

RELATED: Watch: Doug Jones refuses to answer question on Trump impeachment

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 days ago

Del Marsh disputes reporting that he is writing a ‘tribe-friendly’ gambling bill

(Poarch Neighbors, D. Marsh/Facebook)

Alabama State Sen. Jim McClendon (R-Springville) offered a lottery bill that was declared a “clean bill,” but issues arose once it was proposed that it would allow entities who are running electronic bingo in the state to transition over to “virtual lottery terminals.” The differences between these machines are negligible as both electronic bingo and virtual lottery terminals are essentially slot machines with extra steps.

Appearing on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show” Friday, Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) intimated that he would be fine with McClendon’s bill, but it might make more sense to have a “straight up lottery” vote.

“I’m almost indifferent,” Marsh said. “If we want to do that I’m fine with that, but I go back to that the simplest thing to do, I think, to put before the people of Alabama, and less confusing, is a true simple straight up lottery.”

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According to some reports, Marsh was working on a “tribe-friendly” bill. Alabama liberals have two boogeymen when it comes to the failure to pass a lottery over the years: churches and the Alabama Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

So, the implication that Marsh is doing the bidding of either is a win-win for Alabama liberals.

Marsh denies he is working on any bill that would be declared “tribe-friendly,” but agreed that could be changed to Senator McClendon’s bill.

“All that other stuff could be stripped out of it if it goes back to a simple lottery,” Marsh explained.

He added, “[Y]ou may see someone put one in that’s just a straight up plain and simple lottery from day one.”

Later on the show, Stephanie Bryan, tribal chair for the Alabama Poarch Band of Creek Indians appeared to be open to not only a simple lottery vote, but to a vote on a much wider gaming plan. She acknowledged she would like to see a widened scope of gambling in the form of games and locations throughout the state.

My takeaway:

The position of the tribe appears to be they do not want an expansion of legalized gambling if they can’t, at least, compete for it. This is a logical position for them to hold and would provide the most economic incentive for the state of Alabama in the form of expanded gambling opportunities.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN

BONEFROG, ‘The world’s only Navy SEAL obstacle course race’ heads to Alabama this Saturday

(Bonefrog/Contributed)

Do you love anything military, obstacle course or NASCAR racing-related? If so, you’ll want to head down to Talladega Superspeedway this Saturday for BONEFROG. With obstacles placed every quarter mile, BONEFROG is sure to test even the most seasoned athletes.

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Brian Carney, CEO and Founder of BONEFROG, said the race is designed to push racers past their limits and see that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to.

“We try to replicate the same type of obstacles we trained on in SEAL training but on a smaller and safer scale,” said Carney. “With BONEFROG you can feel the military authenticity throughout the entire event and especially throughout the course.”

This year, the race will offer several options: the 3-mile Sprint, 6-mile Challenge, 9-mile TIER-1, 8 Hour Endurance and the all-new 18+ mile TRIDENT.

For those with children, BONEFROG will also offer quarter and half-mile courses with scaled down obstacles.

Set up at Alabama’s historic Talladega Speedway, Carney says the Alabama BONEFROG race isn’t one to miss.

“There’s so much history here and we utilize every inch of the speedway to make this race stand out from any other. If you’re coming to BONEFROG to race then Talladega tops them all in that department,” Carney said.

At BONEFROG racers can expect not only to be challenged but inspired. Carney says he will never forget watching Alabama veteran, and former Dancing with the Stars contestant Noah Galloway complete the race’s Black OP’s obstacle.

“For those who don’t know, Noah’s an army vet who lost an arm and a leg in combat. To see him on the monkey bars in front of our massive American Flag taking on one of our toughest obstacles just sent chills through my body,” Carney said.

Carney continued, saying that moment continues to linger in his memory.

“To say it was inspirational would be a massive understatement. It’s stayed with me ever since and pushed me and my entire team to always strive to put on the best events we possibly can because our racers deserve just that.”

With 20,000 to 30,000 racers expected to participate in this year’s BONEFROG races, it’s safe to say popularity is unmatched.

More than just a fun and challenging race, BONEFROG partners with nonprofits, like the Navy SEAL Foundation, to give back. Carney said the company has raised over $200,000 for charity to date.

If you’re ready to test your limits and join the race, there’s still time. To register or to learn more about the company, visit the BONEFROG website at www.bonefrogchallenge.com

2 days ago

Brooks on illegal alien charged in Mobile woman’s death: Democrats have ‘blood on their hands’

(WKRG/YouTube)

After news broke Thursday that a native Guatemalan residing in the United States illegally has been charged in the death of Mobile’s Sonya Jones, Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-5) said, “The open-borders Socialist Democrats who refuse to strengthen border security one iota have Sonya’s blood on their hands.”

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In a Facebook post on Friday, Brooks lamented, “Another American has been killed on American soil by an illegal alien. This time it was Sonya Jones of South Alabama. If not for open-borders policies, Sonya would still be alive today and Sonya’s family and friends would not be mourning her tragic death.”

“Sadly, this tragedy has become commonplace across America. Countless families mourn their lost loved ones whose deaths were entirely avoidable. The path taken by the illegal alien who killed Sonya is typical: illegally cross into the United States, get caught and claim asylum, get released and never show for court, then commit crime. Asylum laws must be tightened, catch-and-release must end once-and-for-all, and America’s porous southern border must be secured to ensure a tragedy like this never happens again,” he concluded.

Domingo Francisco Marcos, 16, has been charged with vehicular homicide and fleeing the scene of the accident with injuries in the Monday death of Jones on US 98.

He reportedly entered the country via Mexico and was apprehended in Arizona by federal law enforcement officials in 2017. Before he could be deported, he claimed asylum and was released awaiting a hearing. Marcos never showed up in court to speak to his claim, so it was denied. However, authorities had no way to locate him so he was never deported.

Brooks is not the only Alabama congressman to comment on Marcos being charged.

In a statement Thursday, Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-1) said, “Yet again we have someone who is in our country illegally taking the life of an American citizen. How many more Americans have to die before we take action to crack down on illegal immigration, secure the border, and keep the American people safe? Enough is enough!”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 days ago

Fmr State Senator Bill Hightower teases AL-01 congressional run in letter to supporters

(Bill Hightower/Facebook)

Last month, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) formally announced his intentions to run for U.S. Senate in 2020 for the seat currently occupied by Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook). With that, Byrne will be leaving the seat he currently holds, which is the representative for Alabama’s first congressional district.

Shortly after Byrne made his Senate bid official, Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl announced he would be seeking Byrne’s seat in 2020.

However, Carl could soon have a new opponent in his bid for the GOP nod in former State Senator Bill Hightower (R-Mobile).

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In a letter to supporters sent out on Friday, Hightower acknowledged he had received calls urging him “to launch a campaign for Congress in Alabama’s 1st District.”

“As you know, the 1st District covers a large part of South Alabama — including Mobile and Baldwin Counties — the place I’ve called home for most of my life,” he continued. “I believe public service is a high calling and I do not take these encouragements lightly. Over the next few weeks, I will be discussing the potential of a congressional campaign with my family and close friends, while praying for God’s guidance as we make a final decision.”

In 2018, Hightower made an unsuccessful bid for Alabama’s Republican gubernatorial nomination. He finished fourth in a field that included incumbent Gov. Kay Ivey, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and Jefferson County evangelist Scott Dawson.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

2 days ago

Jones predicts Democratic Party will move ‘back to the center’; Hints at supporting a 2020 Biden presidential run

(Jeff Poor/YHN)

HUNTSVILLE — Thursday at an event promoting his new book “Bending Toward Justice,” Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook) fielded a question following his remarks about the potential 2020 Democratic Party presidential primary field.

Jones, who is also up for election in 2020, said he expected his party to move back to the center.

He said that despite some in the House that “get a lot of attention,” the “radical middle” grew in the U.S. House of Representatives, which was a trend he said he expected to continue.

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“I think the field of Democrats is still forming,” Jones said to a crowd assembled at the Huntsville Books-A-Million. “I think there are some really great folks in there. My belief, and I may be wrong about this, but my belief is that the needle will start moving back to the center after a lot of hoopla after the 2018 election. People forget this, but if you really examine what happened in 2018, the middle grew in the House. I mean, there’s a lot of folks that get a lot of attention. But, it was the Connor Lambs of the world and some others that really grew the middle, what I call the ‘radical middle,’ grew in the House. Now we shrunk in the Senate when some of my friends lost. So, I believe that as this process goes on, you’re going to see that needle move back. Where that will end up for a Democratic nominee, I have no idea.”

The Jefferson County Democrat hinted that he would support former Vice President Joe Biden, should Biden announce he will run for the 2020 Democratic Party nod.

“It may depend on how things go,” he replied. “Everybody knows that Joe Biden and I have been friends for 40 years. And so, I have talked about Joe a lot. And I have always wanted him to be president – not just to run for president, but to be president. Outside of Joe, we’ll see how that goes. I got my race to deal with. But whatever we do, I’ll end up supporting the nominee. We’re not going to run away from that. And I hope to have some of my colleagues come down here at some point. We’ll see how that goes.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

2 days ago

Alabama Grammy winner to headline Shoalsfest

(Wikicommons)

Grammy-winning Alabama native Jason Isbell is bringing a new music festival to the Shoals area.

The first-ever ShoalsFest is set for Oct. 5 and will feature performances by Isbell and The 400 Unit, Sheryl Crow, Mavis Staples and Amanda Shires — his wife — on the event’s main stage.

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A second stage lineup will be announced soon.

AL.com reports ShoalsFest will take place at McFarland Park in Florence. Only 5,000 tickets are available.

A special pre-sale for Alabama residents will take place Saturday at Birmingham’s Seasick Records and at Muscle Shoals’ Counts Brothers Music.

Tickets, starting at $60, go on sale fully at 10 a.m. Monday, March 25.

In a news release, the Green Hill native says he has always wanted to bring a music festival to the Shoals. He says he he is excited about the project.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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After 133 launches, Alabama built rockets boast 100% mission success

(ULA, YHN)

Thank you to the United Launch Alliance team and the entire workforce surrounding another successful launch.  Alabama’s Decatur based facility brings the utmost precision, passion and purpose to one of the most technically complex, critical American needs: affordable, reliable access to space.

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2 days ago

‘Alabama is working again’: State achieves new record low unemployment rate

(W. Miller/YHN)

Alabama Department of Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington on Friday announced that Alabama reached a new record low unemployment rate in February 2019 and broke the state employment record for the ninth consecutive month.

According to a press release, the Yellowhammer State’s preliminary, seasonally adjusted February unemployment rate is 3.7 percent, down from January’s rate of 3.8 percent and below February 2018’s rate of 4.0 percent.

“Our unemployment rate, which is clocking in at a new record low of 3.7%, is proof that Alabama is open for business. We’ve shattered employment records for nine months in a row now. People are continuing to join the labor force, with the expectation that they will get a job – and they’re getting jobs,” Washington said.

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February’s rate represents 2,127,626 employed Alabamians, compared to 2,123,650 in January and 2,100,195 one year ago, representing annual growth of 27,431.

82,304 Alabamians were counted as unemployed in February, the second lowest number ever recorded, compared to 83,398 in January and 87,534 a year ago.

“More than 27,000 Alabamians are working now than a year ago, and they’re bringing home more money in their paychecks, which is great news for our economy,” Washington advised.

Total private average weekly earnings rose to $839.59 in February, representing an over-the-year increase of $33.54.
Wage and salary employment increased over the year by 34,700, with gains in the leisure and hospitality sector (+7,100), the trade, transportation and utilities sector (+6,300) and the professional and business services sector (+5,100), among others.

Wage and salary employment increased in February by 15,300, with monthly gains in the professional and business services sector (+5,400), the government sector (+4,000) and the education and health services sector (+3,200), among others.

66 of 67 counties experienced drops in their unemployment rate last month, and 64 of 67 counties saw equal or lower rates than in February 2018.

Counties with the lowest unemployment rates: Shelby County at 2.9 percent, Marshall, Madison, Elmore and Cullman Counties at 3.3 percent and Tuscaloosa and Morgan Counties at 3.4 percent.

Counties with the highest unemployment rates: Wilcox County at 9.8 percent, Clarke County at 7.6 percent and Dallas County at 7.3 percent.

Major cities with the lowest unemployment rates: Vestavia Hills, Northport and Homewood at 2.7 percent, Alabaster at 2.8 percent and Hoover and Madison at 2.9 percent.

Major cities with the highest unemployment rates: Selma at 8.5 percent, Prichard at 6.8 percent and Mobile at 5.4 percent.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 days ago

7 Things: ISIS loses its caliphate, Doug Jones thinks he is as ‘close to in the middle as you can possibly get’, Alabama’s Common Core bill gets clarified and more …

(Fox News/YouTube)

7. In a twist on active shooter drills, a school in Indiana staged mock executions

— Looking for realism, trainers used non-lethal ammo and pellet guns to shoot teachers in mock executions that led to screams and gave educators bloody welts. It sounds surreal but it is very real. According to tweets from the Indiana State Teachers Association in the middle of a legislative tweet storm, “four teachers at a time were taken into a room, told to crouch down and were shot execution style with some sort of projectiles — resulting in injuries.” The teachers were being taught that the “duck-and-cover” technique doesn’t work. One of the shooters told teachers, “[T]his is what happens when you just cower and do nothing,” and then shot them.

6. Alabama woman killed by an illegal immigrant in Mobile

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— Every year, thousands of illegal immigrants are arrested for murder in this country. Domingo Francisco Marcos is one of them. Marcos is a Guatemalan immigrant in the United States illegally and has been arrested for vehicular homicide and fleeing the scene of an accident. Like many illegal aliens, Marcos entered the country and only claimed asylum after he was caught in Arizona. He was given a court date that he did not show for, fled to Alabama, had his asylum claim denied and lived in the U.S. illegally until killing Mobile’s Sonya Jones.

5. Trump says that it’s time to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights

— In what is clearly a boom to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election campaign, the president announced that decades of U.S. foreign policy declaring the Golan Heights “occupied territory is over.” Israel took over the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967 and annexed the territory in 1981, but that annexation has not been recognized by the international community, even though Israel has operated it as their territory. Remember, this is the president that apparently has issues with the Jews, even though he constantly supports Israel.

4. China is ready to talk trade with the U.S. — Not much is expected

— U.S. officials will be in China next week to discuss the trade deal. China’s goal is to put an end to all U.S. tariffs that have been placed against them, but President Trump has clearly said that’s not happening. Trump said that the deal is coming along, and even if a deal is struck, the tariffs won’t be removed immediately. The president also added that if a deal isn’t made then the tariffs against China will increase.

3. Common Core repeal passes the Alabama State Senate

— After a lot of debate and consternation, the bill passed the Alabama State Senate 23-7. A couple of concerns were addressed by amendments to the legislation. Now, the state will move away from Common Core standards in the 2021-2022 school year and into new standards created by the Alabama Board of education. Originally, they called for transitional standards in the 2020-2021 school year. Also addressed were questionable concerns that the removal of these standards would keep the state from using ACT tests, AP tests, national teacher certifications and exams. Surely, new concerns will emerge in the State House.

2. Alabama’s U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) is still pretending he is a moderate 

— Despite his votes on Justice Brett Kavanaugh, against tax cuts and for partial-birth abortion, Jones told late-night host Stephen Colbert that he is as “close to in the middle as you can possibly get.” Jones said, “I just say I’m a Doug Democrat because I’m going to do what I do, and I’m going to do it with the same authenticity I did during the [2017] campaign.” This is the same Senator Jones that has voted with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on almost all major votes, except the votes to confirm Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General Bill Barr.

1. Last ISIS stronghold liberated; The caliphate has crumbled

— The previous occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue called the terrorist organization the “JV team.” After that, they went on to claim massive ground gains and establish a “caliphate.” But now bombs have stopped dropping and gunfire has disappeared. The ISIS flag is down and the caliphate is essentially dead. As many as eight million people were living under ISIS rule at one point.

2 days ago

Byrne applauds Trump’s executive action protecting free speech on college campuses

(Byrne Campaign/Twitter)

Republican Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-1) on Thursday praised President Donald Trump for his executive order protecting students’ First Amendment rights on college campuses.

After Trump held a signing ceremony in the East Room of the White House with college students who have faced notable “censorship” or “coercion” for expressing their beliefs, Byrne made it clear he stands with these students — and the president.

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In a statement, Byrne said, “It makes me angry to see the way supporters of President Trump and students advocating for conservative priorities are treated on college campuses across the country. The treatment goes against everything we are as a country and flies in the face of the freedom of speech provision outlined in the Constitution.”

“As I have said, our nation’s colleges and universities should be a place where ideas are freely debated and students are exposed to a wide range of ideas. I applaud President Trump for taking action today to ensure students are allowed to speak freely and advocate for their beliefs,” Byrne concluded.

This comes as Byrne, a member of the House Education and Labor Committee, carries a “historic” education bill in the House for the Trump administration. The plan that would be codified by the bill is featured in the president’s annual budget proposal.

The executive order essentially threatens colleges and universities with the loss of federal research funding if they do not protect First Amendment rights.

The order directs 12 federal grant-making agencies to use their authority in coordination with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to ensure academic institutions that receive federal research or education grants promote free speech and free inquiry. This would apply to over $35 billion in grants.

White House officials have said implementation details for the order will be finalized in coming months.

Full transcript of the White House signing ceremony on Thursday as follows:

TRUMP: Thank you very much. Please be seated. I am truly delighted to welcome so many impressive young Americans to the White House. This is a very exciting day. What we’re doing is very important. And we’re here to take historic action to defend American students and American values. They’ve been under siege.

In a few moments, I will be signing an executive order to protect free speech on college campuses. Just the thought of it sounds good. We’re grateful — (applause). It’s true.

We’re very grateful to be joined today by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Betsy? Where are you, Betsy? Hi, Betsy. (Laughter.) And Secretary of Health and Human Services, who has done a really great job — we have prescription drug prices coming down — first time in 51 years, so — Alex Azar. Thank you very much, Alex. (Applause.)

Most importantly, let me thank all of the college students and recent graduates here with me on stage. Incredible young people. These courageous Americans have stood up for [to] the forces of political indoctrinations — and they really stood up to it, too, like very few people have been able to; censorship; and coercion.

You refused to be silenced by powerful institutions and closed-minded critics, of which there are many. You faced down intimidation, pressure and abuse. You did it because you love your country and you believe in truth, justice, and freedom. And I want to thank you all, everybody in the room, including a lot of folks in the audience. Charlie. A lot of folks,

You’ve fought bravely for your rights and now you have a President who is also fighting for you. I’m with you all the way. Okay? All right? (Applause.)

In America, the very heart of the university’s mission is preparing students for life as citizens in a free society. But even as universities have received billions and billions of dollars from taxpayers, many have become increasingly hostile to free speech and to the First Amendment. You see it all the time.

You turn on the news and you see things that are horrible. You see people being punched hard in the face. But he didn’t go down. He didn’t go down. (Applause.) I said, “You have a better chin than Muhammad Ali, and he had a great chin.” (Laughter.) And you see the cowbell scene. You saw that horrible scene. That was a disgraceful thing at a school, at a university.

Under the guise of “speech codes” and “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings,” these universities have tried to restrict free thought, impose total conformity, and shut down the voices of great young Americans like those here today. These are great people.

All of that changes starting right now. We’re dealing with billions and billions and billions of dollars. (Applause.) Taxpayer dollars should not subsidize anti-First Amendment institutions. And that’s exactly what they are: anti-First Amendment. Universities that want taxpayer dollars should promote free speech, not silence free speech. (Applause.)

Today’s groundbreaking action is the first in a series of steps we will take to defend students’ rights. We are proudly joined by several young Americans who can speak directly about ideological intolerance on campus.

Here with us is Ellen Wittman, a junior at Miami University in Ohio. A great school. Ellen is the President of Students for Life.

In 2017, Ellen planned an annual event to display small wooden crosses representing the lives of the unborn. School officials informed Ellen that she would be required to post signs all over campus providing a “trigger warning” to other students regarding her display.

Ellen, please come up. Say a few words. Tell us your story, please. (Applause.) Thank you.

WITTMAN: Well, thank you, Mr. President. This is a truly historic day in our country’s history. And I am so grateful that we have a president who recognizes that the First Amendment is under attack on our college campuses.

My story is so important because I have seen lives saved through my Students for Life efforts on campus. But I never imagined the hostility I would face when trying to express my beliefs. It’s ridiculous that it has gotten to this point.

Universities are supposed to be marketplaces of ideas. They should be encouraging free speech, not shutting it down. And speech is not free when university officials put conditions on student speech. The only permit we need to speak on campus is the First Amendment. Thank you, Mr. President. (Applause.)

TRUMP: You watch, we will be witnessing today some great future political leaders. There’s plenty of them in the room. Not just up here, right? Out there too. We really appreciate it. That was beautiful. Thank you very much.

We’re also joined by Kaitlyn Mullen, a student at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. While simply standing at a table to represent a conservative group on campus, Turning Point USA — which does such incredible work. And thank you very much, Charlie. It’s true. Come on. We can give him a hand. (Applause.) Thank you.

Kaitlyn was approached by staff and a graduate instructor, and was berated and cursed at. School officials tried to bully Kaitlyn into leaving, but she bravely stood her ground. Kaitlyn, please come up and say a few words. Okay, Kaitlyn? Thank you. (Applause.)

MULLEN: Thank you, Mr. President. What happened to me is common on universities today and students are getting shut down and silenced on campus. So I’m really thankful that President Trump is addressing this issue because, as the future of America, it’s important that our universities are a place where we could speak freely and have healthy, respectful dialogue on campus.

So thank you so much, President Trump, for doing this. No other student should have to go through what I’ve gone through on campus. So thank you. (Applause.)

TRUMP: Thank you very much. Thank you, Kaitlyn. Beautiful.

And I have to say that, you know, we have — in my opinion, we have more than they have. People don’t realize that. You see what’s going on.

I just came back from Ohio. The streets were lined with people. I came back recently from Alabama, where they had that horrible tornado. It was terrible. But the people were lined as far as the eye could see — lined up with people. And we’re here. This is the White House. I’m the president. And we’re together.

And hopefully, we can bring everybody together. That’s really what we want to do. And they can have different views. And if they do have different views, we encourage that. But they have to let you speak. They have to let you speak.

Also here with us today is Polly Olson, a student at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. Last year, Polly was handing out homemade Valentine’s Day cards with messages such as “You are special” and “Jesus loves you.”

College officials stopped her and told her that she would be restricted to so-called “free speech zone” because some people might find her cards offensive. I don’t. (Laughter.) I love that card. (Applause.) In fact, Polly, give me some. I’ll send them around to my friends. (Laughter.)

Polly, please say a few words. Polly. Polly, thank you. (Applause.)

OLSON: So freedom of speech is near and dear to my heart. My mother told me while she was homeschooling me that I would need to know what my First Amendment rights were because someday they would be violated and I would have to stand up for them.

So I’m carrying on her legacy of handing out these little valentines encouraging people to know that they are loved and cared for. And within 15 minutes of setting foot on my campus this past year, I was told that I was soliciting and disrupting the learning environment and that it would not be tolerated and that I would have to stop handing out my valentines.

And I contacted some friends of mine and they sent me to WILL to have legal counsel because this wasn’t the first time the school had done it to me. They had stopped me a year — well, a few months after my mom died — and told me that I was not allowed to do it then. So I went through months of trying to get them to change this policy that they were enforcing, and they told me that they would do it. Well, that was five years ago.

So now it was time to take action and make them follow through with what they were telling me that they were going to do — trying to shut me up. I’m just one of many students that are out there that universities and schools are trying to shut down, sweep it under the rug, and make them be quiet.

And I told them I’m not going to be quiet this time. I’m going to talk to anyone and everyone I can about our freedom of speech in this country because it’s really the core of America’s freedom. And without freedom of speech, we don’t have America anymore.

And so I challenge America to learn to love one another as Christ did on the cross for each one of us. And that — speak your differences. It’s okay. We are in a country of freedom. And, really, that’s what’s important — is to embrace the diversity that we have here because that’s made America great in the first place.

And we need to carry on that legacy of protecting freedom of speech on campuses and in our workplaces. People at work should not be afraid to express their beliefs. It’s our right. It’s our freedom. Thank you. (Applause.)

TRUMP: So thank you all for your courage.

Today, we are delivering a clear message to the professors and power structures trying to suppress dissent and keep young Americans — and all Americans, not just young Americans like Ellen and Kaitlyn and Polly — from challenging rigid, far-left ideology. People who are confident in their beliefs do not censor others — we don’t want to censor others — they welcome free, fair and open debate. And that’s what we’re demanding.

Under the policy I am announcing today, federal agencies will use their authority under various grant-making programs to ensure that public universities protect, cherish — protect the First Amendment and First Amendment rights of their students, or risk losing billions and billions of dollars of federal taxpayer dollars. (Applause.)

Every year, the federal government provides educational institutions with more than $35 billion in research funding. All of that money is now at stake. That’s a lot of money. (Laughter.) They are going to not have to like your views a lot, right? (Laughter.)

We will not stand idly by and allow public institutions to violate their students’ constitutional rights. If a college or university doesn’t allow you to speak, we will not give them money. It’s very simple. (Applause.)

At the same time, private universities should be held to their own policies on free speech. So, from now on, federal agencies will also use their grant-making authority to promote transparency for students at private schools. These colleges should not be able to promise free speech in theory, and then impose restrictive speech codes in practice, which is what many of them do.

Today’s action is just the beginning of our efforts to protect free speech and advance our students’ rights agenda. What I’ve been witnessing over the last long period of time, long before I became President — what I’ve been witnessing is outrageous.

This order will also empower students with vital information about the value of the programs they take on and — having to do with debt. Student loan debt. I’m going to work to fix it because it’s outrageous what’s happening. You’re not given that fair start. You’re too far down. It’s not right. And we’re going to work very, very hard to get it fixed.

But we’re going to start with 43 million people in the United States who are currently working to pay off student loans. And we’ll be talking about that very soon. We’re going to work on that very soon. I’ve always been very good with loans and — (laughter) — I love loans. (Laughter.) I love other people’s money. (Laughter and applause.) And we’re going to work on it. (Applause.) I made a lot of money with those loans, and you’re going to, too. You’re going to do something that’s going to be fair and good. But we’re going to work with you very closely.

The average student loan borrower owes roughly $35,000 dollars — that’s a lot — and, in many cases, much more than that. I’ve seen numbers that go over $200,000. You’re behind the eight ball before you start.

And yet, typically, students who take loans do not have access to critical information about what career outcomes they can expect from their programs, majors, or fields of study. They borrow more money than they can ever expect to pay off or pay back.

Many middle-class American families are getting ripped off, while tax-exempt colleges and large institutions, frankly — they take these tremendous endowments. You look at the money that they have. They’re making a fortune.

For that reason, I am directing the Department of Education and the Department of Treasury to publish detailed information on future earnings and loan repayment rates for every major and every program at every single school. It’s very important. (Applause.)

Today’s order also directs the Department of Education to propose a plan that will require colleges and universities to have skin in the game by sharing a portion of the financial risk of the student loan debt. I believe — (applause).

I believe that colleges and universities, their costs have gone up more than anything I can think of. I’ve watched this. And you watch companies, and they’ll keep it the same for years and years. And you watch these colleges and universities and certain institutions, where it just goes right through the roof.

And the reason — there’s no incentive to them to watch costs. You see people at the heads of the institutions being paid a fortune. They don’t care because the government loans the student the money, they pay the money to the college, and then the student graduates from college — maybe a very good college, but they graduate — or university — and they’re stuck with $200,000 in loans that they won’t be able to pay off for a long time.

So we’re going to make them have an incentive to keep their costs down. Right now, they have no incentive whatsoever. I watched this over a period of time, I figured it out very, very quickly. I’m good at that stuff, believe me. (Laughter.) And I just see their numbers go up so rapidly because they just don’t have the burden on them. And we’re going to put burden on the institutions.

We want them to get the best peop- — teachers and the professors and the administrators and the heads, but the numbers are out of reality. And certainly, they make it out of reality for students when you have to pay back those loans someday.

With today’s action and every action to come, the Trump administration will fight for America’s students. We’re fighting very hard.

And remember what I said: We’re going to give the student loans — where you have way, way over a trillion dollars in student loans — we’re going to start looking at that very seriously and help some of those students that are just mired in debt.

We know that freedom must prevail on college campuses if freedom is to prosper in America. It’s so important. And we believe that greatness must be practiced in our halls of learning if greatness is to thrive in our halls of government and our corridors of commerce.

You’re going to have great lives. But I want you to get off to a great start, not a start where you’re behind a barricade that just doesn’t let you succeed. And we’re going to make it much easier for you — this administration — and we’ve worked very hard on it already.

We’ll be having some meetings. And we’ll be having some very major discussions with some of the biggest colleges and universities. And we’re going to have them shoulder some of the responsibility and some of the money that’s necessary for you to use in order to get your education.

To every student and young American here today: Don’t let anyone stop you from doing what you know is right, from asking questions, from challenging the powerful, or from speaking your mind. And that’s the primary reason we’re here right now. You’re going to speak your mind. You’re going to be fair. You’re going to reasonable. You’re going to do it well. And you’re going to speak your mind.

Never ever quit, never give in, and never back down. Keep standing up for your values, for your classmates, and for your country. And you can be certain that, every day of my presidency, we will always support your rights, and your freedoms, and your future.

Thank you all for being here. This is a great honor for me. I’ve been watching this for too long. I’ve been watching things that are unwatchable and I don’t like it. But we’re going to do something about it. See? We like to act, as opposed to just watching and saying, “Oh, isn’t that a shame?” We don’t say that. (Laughter.) We don’t say that. (Applause.)

And I want to congratulate everybody — everybody — for being here. You have just a tremendous future ahead of you and this will make it a lot easier. And you get that point of view across.

And listen to the other point of view. Maybe you can changed and maybe not. I doubt it. (Laughter.) But maybe. You never know. And you what? If you can, that’s okay. And you’ll change them, too. You’re going to change them, too. But, ultimately, it brings people together.

So congratulations. I’ll sign right now. Thank you all for being here. (Applause.)

(The executive order is signed.)

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 days ago

Cumberland School of Law hosts ‘Conversation About Ethics Reform’

(W.Miller/YHN)

With state ethics reform anticipated as a major legislative agenda item this year, Cumberland School of Law is hosting an event to discuss the issue on Friday.

John Carroll, a former acting director of the Alabama Ethics Commission and 14-year federal judge, is serving as the event’s host for the law school.

Carroll told Yellowhammer News his hope for the event is to “give a sense of where some of the difficult issues in ethics reform are and encourage a respectful dialogue about those issues.”

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The Cumberland forum is taking place on the heels of this month’s final report from the Code of Ethics Clarification and Reform Commission, a report Carroll called “a great step in beginning the respectful dialogue I hope we can have.”

“We will be discussing some of the suggestions from the report as they relate to our topics,” he added.

Carroll envisions the group covering the definition of a principal, gift provisions, conflict of interest provisions, the intent requirement and the use of state time and property by public officials and public employees, among other topics.

The issue of what exactly constitutes a principal under the state ethics law could end up at the center of former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard’s appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court. In upholding 11 of the 12 criminal counts upon which Hubbard was convicted, the Court of Criminal Appeals wrote, “[W]e strongly encourage the legislature to consider amending the law to better circumscribe the class of persons defined as principals.”

At this point, Carroll believes the key to engaging in a constructive conversation “is to be willing to listen to folks who have a different view than you do and be willing to reconsider that view based on what they have to say.”

The event is scheduled from 2:00-4:00pm in Cumberland School of Law’s John L. Carroll Moot Court Room.

Panelists will include:

Matthew C. McDonald, partner, Jones Walker LLP in Mobile, Alabama

Katherine Robertson, chief counsel to Alabama’s attorney general

Judge Joseph Boohaker, Jefferson County Circuit Court judge

Judge Jerry L. Fielding, chair of the Alabama Ethics Commission

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

2 days ago

Illegal immigrant charged in death of Mobile woman

Sonya Jones (NBC 15/Twitter)

Domingo Francisco Marcos, a Guatemalan immigrant in the United States illegally, has been charged with vehicular homicide and fleeing the scene of the accident with injuries in the Monday death of Mobile’s Sonya Jones on US 98.

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According to WKRG, the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office said Marcos, 16, hit Jones’ vehicle head-on and then tried to run away. However, he was injured too badly to do so and collapsed after leaving the immediate scene.

Marcos was then taken to USA Women’s and Children’s Hospital for surgery. Prosecutors plan on asking the judge not to grant him bond.

He reportedly entered the country via Mexico and was apprehended in Arizona by federal law enforcement officials in 2017. Before he could be deported, he claimed asylum and was released awaiting a hearing. Marcos never showed up in court to speak to his claim, so it was denied. However, authorities had no way to locate him so he was never deported.

In a statement, Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-1), who represents the Mobile area, decried yet another illegal immigrant allegedly responsible for the death of an Alabamian.

“Yet again we have someone who is in our country illegally taking the life of an American citizen,” Byrne said. “How many more Americans have to die before we take action to crack down on illegal immigration, secure the border, and keep the American people safe? Enough is enough!”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

Will Ainsworth: Common Core is a failed, Obama-era relic that must come to a quick and immediate end

(Alabama Forestry Association/Twitter)

Alabama took a strong step toward independence in its public schools this week when the State Senate approved legislation to repeal the Obama-era curriculum mandates known by most as Common Core.

Everyone agrees that Alabama needs strict academic standards that our children must meet. It is vital to economic development, it is vital to our workforce development and it is vital to our children’s future success.

Where we differ in the Common Core debate is who should set those standards.

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I believe Alabamians should determine the curriculum and standards for our state’s schoolchildren based upon our available resources, our needs and our first-hand knowledge of what makes Alabama great.

We should not rely upon some out-of-state entity or liberal, Washington, D.C. bureaucrats to determine our standards, and we certainly should not continue embracing this most damaging legacy of the disastrous Obama administration.

When Thomas Jefferson said, “The government closest to the people serves the people best,” he understood that a top-down approach and governing from afar denies the important knowledge and details that those on the local level possess.

Perhaps the most asinine theory behind Common Core mandates is the cookie cutter approach it takes to schools across our nation.

Rather than recognizing and accounting for the differences among the states, their workforce needs, and the public educations they should offer, Common Core demands an across-the-board, one-size-fits-all mandate that is typical of liberal policy pronouncements.

Moreover, the public schools in a politically conservative state like Alabama, where character education and allowing students to acknowledge God are important, are vastly different from the schools in ultra-liberal cities like San Francisco and New York City, where educators consider themselves enlightened and the groupthink doctrine of political correctness dominates.

But, in the end, the most effective argument for repealing Common Core is the fact that it has proven to be an unmitigated failure.

When Alabama first adopted Common Core roughly a decade ago, advocates labeled it as the cure-all for our public education system, but the magic elixir they promised has proven to be just a worthless bottle of snake oil.

Prior to the adoption of Common Core, Alabama’s students ranked at or near the bottom in almost every education metric that was tested, and, a decade later today, our state still ranks 49th in math and 46th in reading.

For these stated reasons and too many others to detail, it is time for Alabama to abandon this liberal social experiment and chart its own, independent path toward success in education – one that is rooted in conservative principles and one that embraces long-proven, fundamental teaching concepts.

Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston), who filed the legislation, and the co-sponsors of his bill should be commended for working to end this unnecessary Obama-era relic. Dropping the gavel when the repeal of Common Core passed the State Senate was one of the happiest and most satisfying moments of my time in public service.

Will Ainsworth is the Republican lieutenant governor of Alabama.

3 days ago

Bill to repeal Common Core in Alabama passes Senate

(YHN, Pixabay)

MONTGOMERY — Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh’s (R-Anniston) bill to eliminate Common Core in the state of Alabama passed the State Senate as amended by a 23-7 vote on Thursday afternoon, despite a passionate filibuster by Democrats in the chamber.

The bill, SB 119, now heads to the House to take up after the legislature’s spring break next week.

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SB 119 was given a unanimous favorable recommendation on Wednesday by the Education Policy Committee.

State Sen. Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman) introduced a friendly amendment that was adopted by the Senate before they passed the bill. The amendment would move Alabama away from Common Core standards directly to new standards adopted by the state school board in 2021-2022 (instead of using transition standards next school year and then new standards in 2020-2021).

Gudger’s amendment also addressed concerns that the bill would inadvertently bar Alabama from utilizing things like AP tests and national certifications and exams.

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL), who presides over the Senate, told Yellowhammer News Wednesday that he strongly supports the repeal of Common Core.

Update 4:20 p.m.:

Marsh released the following statement:

In the past I have made it clear that we have an elected school board who should dictate policy when it comes to education in Alabama. However it is clear that we have a dysfunctional school board who is incapable of making decisions that give our students and teachers the best chance at being successful.

We have used the Common Core standards in Alabama for nearly a decade and while we do have some blue-ribbon schools, the vast majority are severely behind. We are still ranked 46thand 49thin reading and math according to National Assessment of Educational Progress. This is unacceptable so it is time to try something new.

I have worked and will continue to work with the education community in developing high standards so that we have the most competitive and rigorous course of study in the country, we cannot accept the status quo and this is a good first step.

I want to thank the Senate for their support and their work as we ended up with a piece of legislation that went through the legislative process to become the best possible bill we could pass and addressed everybody’s concerns. This was a fantastic first step as we move to address sweeping education reform in Alabama.

RELATED: Ivey on Common Core: ‘We should be deliberate in determining a course of study for our state’

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn