3 months ago

7 Things: Barr slams politicization of the DOJ in contentious hearing, Trump Jr. highlights Alabama Democrat’s abortion comments, AL House committee advances bill that would reward illegal gambling and more …

7. The bill that would cover law enforcement officers and LGBTQ with hate crime protections is ready for an Alabama Senate vote

— The current law allows people to be charged with a hate crime if the crime is motivated by race, religion, national origin, ethnicity or disability. This bill would add law enforcement officers and LGBTQ to that list. The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved the bill, so now it moves to the Senate. State Sen. Vivian Davis Figures (D-Mobile) has been trying to add the LGBTQ protections for years and this was a good compromise on the matter.

6. U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has released her plan to give voters “Democracy Dollars”

— Gillibrand wants to get more people donating to federal candidates, so she has proposed giving voters up to $600 worth of vouchers to donate. Gillibrand has called the vouchers “Democracy Dollars.” They would provide $100 for eligible voters to donate in primary elections, as well as in general elections to House, Senate and presidential. Part of her “Clean Elections Plan” also includes candidates not being allowed to accept donations of more than $200 if they accept the vouchers. Gillibrand said, “My Clean Elections Plan is a critical structural change that gets big money and special interests out of politics, and ensures that elected officials in Washington are beholden only to the people who sent them there.” The $200 donation limit per donor would be a significant change from the current $2,800 limit in primary and general elections. This is both an attempt to buy votes and get more money for politician’s campaign accounts. It has no chance of being a real thing, much like Gillibrand’s campaign for president.

5. Correctional officers are getting a raise; Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) thinks a special session is needed to deal with the prison issue

— On Tuesday night, the Alabama House of Representatives approved a 5% pay increase with additional bonus benefits for correctional officers, which would increase their pay by about $10,000. This has been one of the first steps made to improve the prison environment. Marsh has said that he’s urged his colleagues to be cautious when approaching the prison issue with legislation since he’s concerned about the possibility of passing a package of bills that aren’t totally ready yet. Marsh also said, “I would encourage the governor – and I’ve talked to the governor about this – I would encourage the governor at the proper time to call a special session to deal with prison legislation, prison reform that addresses all the different issue, from mental health, security, to pay for those who work in the system, sentencing reform – all these things need to be addressed very similar to the way the infrastructure bill was handled.” Alabama is currently under a federal court order to hire about 2,200 more correctional officers to hopefully help improve the prison conditions.

4. Former Auburn coach and U.S. Candidate Tommy Tuberville isn’t happy that the University of Virginia men’s basketball team turned down their White House visit

— The University of Virginia men’s team refused President Trump’s invitation to the White House after they won the national championship. After declining the invitation, one of the UVA players tweeted, “No thanks Trump.” Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville said in a Facebook post that the players and coaches are missing out on an opportunity to make memories that will last a lifetime, and he referenced his trips to the White House after winning college football national championships. He finished by saying, “Whether Democrat or Republican it’s not about the occupant, it’s about the office of the presidency. it’s unfortunate that the University of Virginia is robbing their program of an opportunity they may never have again.”

3. A House committee has approved protections for electronic bingo in Macon County

— In what could be an issue for lottery legislation, the House Economic Development and Tourism committee approved a measure that would allow a local constitutional amendment aimed at protecting Macon Valley’s VictoryLand electronic bingo. Representative Pebblin Warren (D-Tuskegee) sponsored the measure, and after the vote said, “I think people are seeing the crisis, the true crisis we’re facing in Macon County. The right is now available. We’ve got the facilities. Everything’s there. All we need to do is open up and start generating money.” This would reward facilities that are currently operating questionably legal gambling entities. Warren has also justified the amendment by saying, “We’re not asking to do anything that’s not already being done by the state of Alabama,” which is just not true.

2. Donald Trump, Jr. has drawn attention to comments about abortion made by State Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham)

— During a debate on a very restrictive abortion bill, Rogers suggested aborting kids is better than sending them to prison. “Some kids are unwanted, so you kill them now or you kill them later. You bring them in the world unwanted, unloved, you send them to the electric chair. So, you kill them now or you kill them later.” His comments were picked up by the Daily Wire and eventually boosted by Trump Jr. to a much wider audience. The Democrats’ extremist statements on abortion continue to show how far to the left some have become on abortion.

1. Attorney General William Barr said that Democrats used the criminal justice system as a political weapon

— On Wednesday, AG Barr testified during a Capitol Hill hearing concerning special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia report. For weeks, Democrats have been saying Barr sacrificed his integrity to protect President Trump, but he pushed back. During the hearing, Barr was going back and forth with Senator Dick Blumenthal (D-CT), and said, “We have to stop using the criminal justice process as a political weapon.” This came after Blumenthal said, “I think history will judge you harshly” while accusing him of using the summary of the Mueller report to exonerate Trump. Barr also said during the hearing that the job of the Justice Department is over and it’s up to the American people to decide now. Barr also turned down a request to appear at a House committee today. The hearing will go on.

7 hours ago

Mobile Bay Bridge project awarded $125 million grant by Trump administration

The I-10 Mobile Bayway Bridge project has been awarded a $125 million Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The announcement was made Monday by Senator Richard Shelby’s (R-AL) office, which said the amount signifies one of the largest competitive federal grants ever awarded to the state of Alabama.

Additionally, the city of Tuscaloosa was separately awarded a $6.87 million INFRA grant to help replace an overpass bridge located on University Boulevard and U.S. Highway 82.

“Both of these projects will help improve safety, alleviate traffic congestion and concerns with overcapacity, and promote increased economic development opportunities across the state,” Shelby said in a statement.

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“Investing in essential infrastructure in Alabama and across the country promotes a more prosperous future for our nation,” he concluded. “I thank (U.S. DOT) Secretary Chao for her attention to these projects and look forward to continuing my work to ensure that our state is well represented in any effort to fund federal transportation priorities.”

The federal award to the I-10 Mobile Bayway Bridge project comes amid significant controversy over the Alabama Department of Transportation’s (ALDOT) plan to pay for the project, at least partially, through tolling. The total projected cost of the project is approximately $2 billion.

Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) has previously lamented that ALDOT was not more focused on securing federal money and avoiding tolling, even as Alabama federal officials like Byrne and Shelby worked to secure funding access.

ALDOT was previously turned down for a $250 million federal grant application for the project last year.

Byrne led Alabama’s entire House delegation in sending a bipartisan letter to Chao in February in support of funding the project with an INFRA grant.

After the news of the award broke on Monday, Byrne released a statement celebrating the news and reaffirming his opposition to ALDOT’s tolling proposal.

“This is outstanding news for the people of Southwest Alabama! Fighting for federal funding for this bridge has been one of my top priorities in Congress, and I am glad the Trump Administration has come through with this grant award,” Byrne said. “I am very appreciative of the help from our entire Alabama congressional delegation, especially Senator Richard Shelby.”

“Today is a positive step toward making this project a reality, but our work is not over,” he added. “The current tolling proposal for this project is unacceptable, and I will continue leading the fight against tolling and working to ensure this project helps – not hurts – the people of South Alabama.”

The tolling proposal has also become a statewide political piñata, with 2020 Republican U.S. Senate candidates such as Tommy Tuberville and Secretary of State John Merrill coming out swinging in addressing the topic recently.

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

Byrne: Border battle harms Alabama communities

The detrimental effects of the humanitarian and national security crisis on our border extend all the way to Alabama communities. That’s why I’ve made it a priority to address our immigration policies.

One of the most obvious ways our insecure border harms our communities is the drug trade. Our porous border is perhaps the most significant contributing factor to the ongoing opioid crisis — the worst drug epidemic in modern American history. In 2017, over 47,000 lives were claimed by opioids. That’s more than those from car accidents and firearms. These deaths have affected families across our great state.

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The drug problem is made worse by the unprecedented migrant surge. James Carroll, director of the U.S. Office of Drug Control Policy, said just last week that drug seizures are down this year because so much attention is being diverted to humanitarian needs.

Because of that diversion, border patrol agents and resources are unable to be allocated towards their fundamental law enforcement functions. According to Carroll, more drugs are coming in than ever before.

One of the primary drivers of the migrant crisis is our asylum policy. Through a combination of loopholes worsened by a legal settlement made by the Clinton administration, migrants are encouraged to cross our border and give themselves up to law enforcement.

After arrest, migrants claiming asylum are eventually permitted entrance into the country while their claims are processed. This is permitted even when migrants do not cross at a legal checkpoint.

Although, by some estimates, only around a tenth of asylum claims are found by our courts to be legitimate, the vast majority never show up for their court date and remain free inside the United States.

A disproportionate number of these asylum claims are made by able-bodied young men. Only a few months ago, a Mobile teacher was killed in a car crash by an illegal immigrant minor who had falsely claimed asylum but never showed at his court date to avoid deportation.

The coyotes and cartels, of course, have every reason to facilitate migrants along their journey and orchestrate lawlessness at the border.

Last week, one of the biggest points of entry at the Southern border had to be shut down after a wave of nearly 50 undocumented immigrants rushed the border into Texas. The group attempted to tear down barricades and assaulted several border patrol officers who were forced to deploy tear gas and pepper balls.

Let’s call these people what they are – criminals. And while border agents were able to keep these criminals out of our communities, many more slip through the cracks while agents deal with illegal stunts like this and the humanitarian needs of asylee claimants.

Last year, a 13-year-old girl in Huntsville was beheaded after witnessing the stabbing of her grandmother by gang members in a horrific incident involving members of the Sinaloa Cartel. It is disheartening that gangs like MS-13 have infiltrated communities throughout our nation, but stories like this reinforce the sad truth that the problem is impacting Alabamians.

There are other significant problems that do not receive headlines. I’ve spoken with Alabama sheriffs who have shared horror stories about the strain illegal immigration places on their deputies. And I’ve talk to incredibly frustrated school superintendents who must divert resources away from educating local students to deal with their illegal immigrant population. Our hospitals are also placed under enormous burdens by illegal immigration. And governments are forced to pay for services for illegal immigrants that could have gone towards roads, bridges and other services for Americans.

This is not just a Texas, New Mexico, Arizona or California issue. This is an Alabama issue. I will continue standing with President Trump and work to get an immigration system that works for the American people.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

8 hours ago

Boating deaths are soaring on Alabama’s lakes and rivers

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Alabama has already had its deadliest year in two decades for boaters — and the summer isn’t nearly over yet.

Boating accidents in the first 6 ½ months of 2019 have killed 25 people, AL.com reported.

Already, that makes this year the deadliest one since 1998, when 32 people died. The number of deaths so far this year is already higher than year-end totals for the past several years.

This July alone, 12 crashes resulted in six deaths.

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“In my 24 years of doing this, I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Capt. Gary Buchanan, the commander of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s Marine Patrol.

Investigators can’t definitively pinpoint the cause for this year’s drastic increase, Buchanan said.

“Some have happened at night, some during the day, some have involved one boat, some two boats and alcohol has been a factor in some,” Buchanan said. “It’s all over the spectrum.”

There has been a decrease in Marine Patrol presence on Alabama’s lakes and rivers. There are roughly 45 Marine Patrol current officers throughout Alabama. There are 21 vacancies — jobs that were all filled 10 to 15 years ago, Al.com reported.

Boater registrations have also increased in recent years.

“There’s an increase in boaters and there are fewer Marine Patrol troopers on the waterways,” Buchanan said. “There’s no doubt that an enforcement presence has an effect on behavior, just like when you top that hill and you see a trooper car in front of you.”

The year with the most boating-related fatalities was 1972, which had a year-end total of 55. The year with the fewest, according to ALEA statistics, was 2013, with 10.

(Associated Press, copyright 2019)

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9 hours ago

Alabama K9 officer dies after drug raid

“Jake,” a K9 officer with the Alabama Department of Corrections, has died following a raid Thursday on Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore County.

CBS 42 reported last week that Jake was recovering after having a medical emergency during a contraband raid at the prison. He reportedly came into contact with synthetic marijuana and became unresponsive. Medical personnel and his handler at the prison then heroically performed live-saving measures on the K9, who was expected to return to duty within a few weeks.

However, CBS 42′ Reshad Hudson reported on Monday that Jake died from complications following the initial incident.

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WSFA is reporting that Jake died on Saturday at Auburn University Veterinary Clinic.

“I was saddened to hear that one of the Corrections K9s, Jake, lost his life over the weekend,” Governor Kay Ivey said. “This K9 died in service to public safety and in service to the state. Jake is an example of the goodness, the loyalty and service that our four-legged friends provide. We certainly lost a loyal companion.”

A criminal investigation into Jake’s death is reportedly underway. More testing of the apparent synthetic marijuana is pending, according to ADOC. Officials told WSFA that anyone found to be responsible in Jake’s death will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Jake had worked with his handler, Sgt. Quinton Jones, since the K9 joined ADOC in 2014.

“This is a difficult time for our ADOC family and especially for Sgt. Jones and those assigned to our K9 Bureau who worked with Jake on a daily basis,” ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn told WSFA. “I extend our deepest condolences for the loss of this noble K9 who honorably served the State of Alabama and for ultimately giving his life while protecting the public.”

Dunn added that Jake likely saved lives by detecting the substance during the raid.

“With Jake’s training and ability to find the narcotic, he saved other lives by giving his own in the line-of-duty. Jake’s heroism and ultimate sacrifice will never be forgotten,” he emphasized.

Jake will be given a burial with full honors this week, according to WSFA.

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

11 hours ago

Byrne visiting U.S.-Mexico border on Monday

Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) is visiting the United States’ southern border on Monday, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate’s office announced in a release.

Byrne reportedly arrived at the border Monday morning and will meet with Customs and Border Protection officials, tour a port of entry and visit an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility.

“As the national security and humanitarian crisis at our border escalates, it is important to see the situation firsthand and talk directly with border agents, law enforcement, and local officials about the challenges they face and what resources they need,” Byrne said in a statement.

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He has been a consistent supporter of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

“The American people have demanded a lawful system of immigration that protects their economic and personal safety, and I will continue working closely with President Trump and his Administration to secure our border, support law enforcement, and keep the American people safe,” Byrne concluded.

Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) has opposed building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

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