1 year ago

‘A great day in Alabama’: State legislature passes pay equity, literacy acts, civil asset forfeiture bill, more

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama legislature had a busy Thursday, passing a slew of impactful bills on what is expected to be the penultimate day of the 2019 regular session.

One of the most emotional, bipartisan acts of the session came with the passage of State Rep. Adline Clarke’s (D-Mobile) pay equity bill, HB 225. On the Senate floor the previous day, State Sen. Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman) surprised the chamber’s sponsor of the bill, State Sen. Vivian Davis-Figures (D-Mobile), by introducing an amendment that strengthened the bill and changed its name to the “Clarke-Figures Equal Pay Act” in honor the two sponsors.

This came after Figures on the floor expressed concern that the bill was going to die in the Senate. The chamber ended up passing the bill unanimously, following in the House’s footsteps in that regard.

On Thursday, the House concurred with the Senate amendment, sending the bill to Governor Kay Ivey’s desk. The governor quickly returned HB 225 to the legislature with a technical executive amendment, and – on the same day – both chambers concurred with the governor’s technical change, setting the landmark bill up to become law imminently.

Mississippi will now be the only state without a gender-based equal pay law. Clarke on Thursday said it was “a great day in Alabama.”

Read more about HB 225 here.

Alabama Literacy Act

State Rep. Terri Collins’ (R-Decatur) HB 388, known as the “Alabama Literacy Act,” passed the Senate as amended in a unanimous vote on Thursday.

The House then concurred with the Senate’s amended version, sending the transformative bill to the governor’s desk.

This bill would require third graders to pass a reading test before advancing to fourth grade.

If signed into law, the Alabama Literacy Act would go into effect for the 2021-2022 school year. The legislation also includes several initiatives intended to boost reading scores.

Read more about HB 388 here.

General Fund budget

Both chambers of the Alabama legislature on Thursday concurred with the conference committee’s report on the General Fund budget bill, HB 152, sending the legislation to the governor’s desk.

In a statement after the bill’s final passage, Ivey signaled her support for the budget, which featured a two percent raise for state employees.

“While remaining steadfast in our fiscally conservative approach, we have put forward a General Fund, which provides important funding that moves our state in a positive direction,” she said.

Core promises were kept in the General Fund budget, including Ivey’s State of the State pledge to return $35 million of annual “diversion” to roads and bridges that had been going to cover a shortfall in ALEA and court system funding.

The governor outlined, “Very importantly, we are wisely using our dollars to tackle some of our state’s major challenges. From areas of public safety to mental health, our state is making great strides. I am very proud that this year’s budget returns $35 million to our Road and Bridge Fund. I applaud General Fund Chairs Rep. Clouse and Sen. Albritton for their tremendous leadership on this legislation. The Alabama Legislature can be proud of this strong budget.”

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) also released a statement upon final passage of the General Fund budget.

“I want to commend Sen. Albritton on passage of his first General Fund budget,” Marsh said. “Although this is usually a thankless job, Sen. Albritton did an excellent job of working with the General Fund Committee, Senators on the floor, colleagues in the House, as well as countless hours behind the scenes to ensure that this budget was fair to everyone in Alabama.”

“This is a budget that received bipartisan support and that all Senators can be proud of. Through conservative fiscal practices and living within our means we have been able to come out with a robust budget that provides funding for state agencies including more money to our corrections system to hire new officers, money to hire new state troopers, an increase to Mental Health and a sizable reserve for future budgets. I thank everybody for their diligent work,” he concluded.

The General Fund budget ended up covering all $35 million for CHIP, even though the governor had proposed this being funded through the Education Trust Fund (ETF).

Read more about HB 152 here.

The ETF budget bill is scheduled for conference committee at 9:00 a.m. on Friday and is expected to be approved by both chambers and then head to the governor’s desk that same day. The ETF budget and the package of SB’s 397 and 398 are the key outstanding items left before the legislature can adjourn sine die.

Civil asset forfeiture

State Sen. Arthur Orr’s (R-Decatur) SB 191 passed the House on Thursday, sending the bill to the governor’s desk.

The final version of the legislation was a compromise, which has also been called a “watered down” substitute that Orr reached with stakeholders concerned the bill would hurt law enforcement’s ability to do their jobs.

If SB 191 becomes law, law enforcement agencies would still be able to civilly seize assets without a criminal conviction. However, the legislation does mandate that law enforcement agencies report how often they use civil actions to seize a person’s property when said person has not been convicted of a crime.

Orr has said the measure as passed is an “incremental” step and that he plans on reintroducing a bill to ban the practice of civil asset forfeiture again next year.

SB 191 passed unanimously in both chambers and brought hardline conservatives together with leftwing factions on policy in a rare circumstance.

State Rep. Andrew Sorrell (R-Muscle Shoals) joked that this bill even managed to bring him together with the SPLC, something he thought he would never say.

In a statement after SB 191’s final passage, Emily Early, staff attorney for SPLC Action Fund, applauded the legislature but agreed with Orr’s desire for a bill that goes further.

“A mandatory reporting system for civil asset forfeiture can help ensure the civil asset forfeiture law is not abused or used primarily to create revenue for the government,” Early said. “SB 191 recognizes the importance of the mandatory collection of information about civil forfeitures in reaching this goal, but does not go far enough in ending the abusive practice altogether.”

“While we applaud the efforts of our state legislators in taking this step towards protecting the property and due process rights of Alabamians across the state and urge Governor Ivey to sign SB 191 without delay, it’s not enough for the actors who profit from civil asset forfeiture to simply report what they take from Alabamians,” she added. “In future legislative sessions, we hope and expect that lawmakers will learn from the data provided through this new law and give Alabamians the necessary relief they deserve constitutionally by ensuring that a criminal conviction is required before any property is forfeited to the state.”

Will the Bible be back (kind of) in public schools?

State Sen. Tim Melson’s (R-Florence) SB 14, the bill to allow elective biblical literacy classes to be taught in public schools, received final passage by the legislature on Thursday.

The final version of the bill clarified that this proposed law is not only nondenominational, but that the legislation would not just allow the Christian Bible to be taught. The Torah and the Quran were both mentioned as other options allowed under the bill.

Local school districts would get the choice to offer these strictly elective classes, which would not be intended to be faith-based classes but instead be essentially historical in nature, allowing the “objective” study of religious texts, artifacts, monuments, symbols, etc.

Under the bill, school districts would not be mandated to offer the classes, nor would any student be forced to take one of the classes.

SB 14 also spells out, “A teacher of a course offered pursuant to this act may not endorse, favor, promote, disfavor, or show hostility toward any particular religion or nonreligious faith or religious perspective.”

Melson has one piece of hot-button legislation still pending, although it has become a “watered down version.” His medical marijuana bill was substituted in a House committee earlier this week to set up a commission to study the issue. The bill is still awaiting consideration on the House floor.

In case you missed it:

The legislature also gave final passage to HB 540 and HB 380 on Thursday. Both bills are expected to become law.

Additionally, the governor held a signing ceremony for two major broadband bills: SB 90 and HB 400.

This came after Ivey the day previous held a joint signing ceremony for some previously passed legislation, including HB 468, SB 147, HB 287, HB 479, HJR 91, SB 138 and HB 402.

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

7 hours ago

Trump gives closing pitch supporting ‘true conservative’ Tuberville in Tuesday’s runoff

President Donald Trump on Monday evening held a telephone town hall with former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville ahead of Alabama’s primary runoff Election Day on Tuesday.

Trump has endorsed Tuberville in the Republican U.S. Senate runoff against former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Sessions was Trump’s first attorney general after being an early supporter of his 2016 campaign, however the president has strongly criticized Sessions since he recused himself from the Russia investigation. Trump has even called on Sessions to drop out of the Senate race, and Tuberville appeared on Air Force One with the president recently.

During the pre-runoff tele town hall, Trump continued to urge Alabamians to send a fresh choice to Washington, D.C., bashing Sessions in the process.

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“[T]omorrow is a big day,” Tuberville said at the beginning of the call.

Introducing the president, Tuberville commented, “I saw how he was fighting the D.C. swamp and the people all around him, and I made up my mind at that time that God had sent Donald Trump to us  — and he needed some help. So that’s the reason I’m doing this today, trying to support and represent the state of Alabama and go stand beside President Donald Trump.”

Trump began his remarks by noting, “It’s great to be speaking to the people of Alabama, a place I love, a place where we’ve had tremendous success. Where they like me and I like them — maybe love is a better word, frankly. But it’s been a great state.”

“And I love helping you,” Trump continued. “And one of the ways that we’re going to be helping you is recommending strongly Tommy Tuberville to be your next senator. He’s a tremendous guy.”

“Tommy is a very special guy. He’s a leader, he’s a real conservative — a true conservative,” the president said of Tuberville. “And he loves your state. And he loves this country. He will protect your Second Amendment like I’m doing.”

Trump said the former football coach will staunchly support securing the United States’ border with Mexico, including building “the wall.”

The president also discussed his own reelection campaign, as well as the state of his administration. Accomplishments he highlighted included rebuilding the military and reforming the Veterans Affairs system.

Trump said he views Tuberville as someone who will further help him in bettering the country’s treatment of its veterans.

‘I had no idea it could be as bad as it was’

The president then turned his attention to Sessions.

“I will tell you, I got to know Jeff Sessions very well,” Trump explained. “I made a mistake when I put him in as the attorney general. He had his chance, and he blew it. He recused himself right at the beginning — just about on day one — on a ridiculous scam, the Mueller scam, the ‘Russia, Russia, Russia’ scam. And Jeff didn’t have the courage to stay there.”

“He immediately ran for the hills,” the president added of Sessions. “And he ruined a lot of lives, a lot of very innocent, good lives — people that went there all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, they went there and they ended up getting caught up in a scam. It was a scam of Pelosi and Schiff and just a horrible thing — Schumer — a horrible, horrible thing.”

He then contrasted Tuberville and Sessions.

“Tommy Tuberville is going to do a job like you haven’t seen,” Trump stressed. “He’s going to take over, and he’s going to be representing you well. He’s going to have a call direct-line into my office. That I can tell you.”

“We had the Jeff Sessions thing, we gave it a shot. I had no idea it could be as bad as it was,” the president advised. “But he had no clue. And he just let it get away from him. It’s really a shame.”

Trump subsequently highlighted the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 as a marquee accomplishment of his administration.

Speaking of these “big tax cuts,” Trump added, “Tommy’s going to help me, because we’re going for additional tax cuts.”

He also noted his administration’s track record of getting rid of burdensome government regulations that unnecessarily hamper economic growth. Trump touted America becoming “energy independent” during his presidency.

“Tommy is going to do great for Alabama. Tommy is going to be a real solid guy — he’ll never let you down,” Trump emphasized.

The president, in wrapping up his comments, once again encouraged Alabamians to go out and vote for Tuberville on Tuesday.

“He’ll be a tremendous senator,” Trump said.

‘It’s time to continue to send outsiders to Washington, D.C.’

The call was not advertised to the media, however Yellowhammer News was one of the many registered voters invited via text message to tune in.

Tuberville spoke at length after Trump left the call. The Senate candidate outlined — among other items — his support for law enforcement, conservative judges, getting God back in schools and combatting the rise of socialism.

“I want to fight,” Tuberville remarked. “I’m a fighter. I’m not a follower, I’m a leader. We need a leader from the state of Alabama that’s going to fight.”

He then lamented the drug epidemic plaguing many rural communities in the Yellowhammer State. Tuberville spoke about his support for rural economic development, including bringing jobs back from overseas into local communities.

“We’re losing population, we’re losing our kids — they’re moving out-of-state,” he advised. “We can’t allow that to happen.”

Tuberville subsequently commented, “China’s been a mess.”

He voiced his support for bringing manufacturing and other jobs back from China “to give our kids an opportunity to stay in this state, have good jobs, have families and enjoy life in the great state of Alabama.”

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Tuberville added. “I’m doing this for the right reasons. I believe in this country. I believe in this state. I believe in the people.”

“President Trump’s done a great job being President of the United States, being a businessperson” he concluded. “Now it’s time to continue to send outsiders to Washington, D.C., and help make those hard decisions. Let’s go out and vote tomorrow.”

Polls will be open from 7:00 a.m. — 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday.

Masks are strongly recommended to be worn at polling sites but cannot legally be required. Local elections officials, supported by Secretary of State John Merrill’s office, have taken steps to sanitize voting locations while enabling social distancing as much as possible.

The winner of the GOP Senate runoff will go on to face U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) in November.

Sessions, shortly after the Trump-Tuberville tele town hall, appeared on Fox News’ “The Story with Martha MacCallum.”

On Tuesday, there are also Republican runoffs for Congress in AL-01 and AL-02, as well as a statewide race for the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, among other respective local matters.

You can find your polling location and sample ballot here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

11 hours ago

Alabama-built rocket set to power NASA mission to Mars this summer

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover has been attached to the top of the Alabama-built rocket that will send it toward the Red Planet in the coming weeks.

NASA and Yellowhammer State rocket-builder United Launch Alliance (ULA) recently updated the mission’s launch period, which is the range of days the rocket can launch to reach Mars. It now spans from July 30 to August 15.

Encased in the nose cone that will protect it during launch, the rover and the rest of the spacecraft – the aeroshell, cruise stage and descent stage – were affixed to a ULA Atlas V booster last week at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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According to a release from NASA, that process began when a 60-ton hoist on the roof of the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 lifted the nose cone, 129 feet to the top of the waiting rocket. There, engineers made the physical and electrical connections that will remain between booster and spacecraft until about 50 to 60 minutes after launch, when the two are pyrotechnically separated and Perseverance is on its way.

“I have seen my fair share of spacecraft being lifted onto rockets,” stated John McNamee, project manager for the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “But this one is special because there are so many people who contributed to this moment. To each one of them I want to say, we got here together, and we’ll make it to Mars the same way.”

The Atlas V was assembled at ULA’s world-class facility in Decatur, Alabama.

With the mating of spacecraft and rocket complete, the final testing of the two (separately and as one unit) will be underway.

No matter what day Perseverance lifts off during its launch period, it will be scheduled to land in Mars’ Jezero Crater exactly on February 18, 2021. This will come after an approximately seven-month journey spanning about 290 million miles (467 million kilometers).

The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover’s astrobiology mission will search for signs of ancient microbial life. It will also characterize the planet’s climate and geology, be the first planetary mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust) and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet — which will come through the historic Alabama-powered Artemis program.

NASA is inviting interested members of the public to get involved in the upcoming Mars Perseverance launch here.

RELATED: Aderholt sounds alarm over Fiscal Year 2021 NASA budget

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

13 hours ago

Altimmune COVID-19 vaccine candidate tested at UAB shows positive preclinical results

Altimmune, Inc., a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company, has announced positive results from the preclinical studies conducted in mice at the University of Alabama at Birmingham of its intranasal COVID-19 vaccine candidate, AdCOVID.

The studies — a collaboration between UAB and the Gaithersburg, Maryland-based Altimmune — showed strong serum neutralizing activity and potent mucosal IgA immunity in the respiratory tract. The induction of IgA antibody in the respiratory tract may be necessary to block both infection and transmission of the virus to prevent further spread of COVID-19. Based on these findings, AdCOVID is expected to be advanced to a Phase 1 safety and immunogenicity study in Q4 of this year. 

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AdCOVID is designed to express the receptor binding domain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus spike protein, a key immune target that is essential for the virus to bind to cells and initiate infection. By focusing the immune response to this portion of the viral spike protein, AdCOVID elicited a strong systemic antibody response against the receptor binding domain in mice, achieving serum IgG antibody concentrations greater than 800 micrograms per milliliter just 14 days after administration of a single intranasal dose. In addition, AdCOVID stimulated serum viral neutralization titers of 1:320 by Day 28, two-times higher than the titer recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for investigational convalescent plasma as a treatment for severe COVID-19.

In a separate study with UAB, a single intranasal dose of AdCOVID stimulated a 29-fold induction of mucosal IgA in bronchoalveolar fluid of vaccinated mice. This level of IgA antibody stimulation is well above that associated with protection from disease in clinical studies of other mucosal vaccines. Frances Lund, Ph.D., lead UAB investigator for preclinical testing of the AdCOVID vaccine candidates, said, “The potent stimulation of mucosal IgA immunity in the respiratory tract may be crucial to effectively block infection and transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, given that the nasal cavity is a key point of entry and replication for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”

“Stimulation of immunity at this level just 14 days after a single dose is impressive for any vaccine, and is particularly notable for a potential coronavirus vaccine,” said Lund, the Charles H. McCauley Professor and chair of the UAB Department of Microbiology. The Lund lab did the preclinical testing in collaboration with the labs of Troy Randall, Ph.D., professor of medicine in the UAB Division of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology; Kevin Harrod, Ph.D., professor in the UAB Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine; and three more UAB Department of Microbiology labs led by Rodney King, Ph.D., assistant professor, Todd Green, Ph.D., associate professor, and John Kearney, Ph.D., professor.

In other details from the collaborative preclinical work, Altimmune announced that the antibody responses were accompanied by a rapid recruitment of CD8+ T cells, CD4+ T cells, dendritic cells and natural killer cells in the respiratory tract. Increases in both germinal center and memory B cells, as well as T follicular helper cells, all associated in prior vaccine development research with the generation of long-lived antibody responses, were observed in regional lymph nodes and the spleen

Preclinical data for the antigen-specific T cell response are expected in coming weeks, along with additional immunogenicity readouts.

The Altimmune–UAB collaboration was announced March 30, and Lund made that work the highest priority for her group. “The goal,” she said in March, “is to get the data to Altimmune as rapidly as possible, so they will use the information gained from the preclinical study to design their clinical trial in people.

Intranasal dosing provides AdCOVID with the potential to be administered rapidly and without the need for needles, syringes or trained healthcare personnel. In addition, AdCOVID’s expected room temperature stability profile may allow for broad distribution of the vaccine without the need for expensive cold-chain logistics, such as refrigeration or freezing.

UAB has extensive experience in conducting clinical studies of vaccines and has participated in studies sponsored by the Vaccine Evaluation and Trial Unit, part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.

At UAB, Randall holds the William J. Koopman Endowed Professorship in Rheumatology and Immunology, Harrod holds the Benjamin Monroe Carraway, M.D., Endowed Chair in Anesthesiology, and Kearney holds the Endowed Professorship in Immunology.

(Courtesy of UAB)

14 hours ago

Four officials endorse Carl during last days of AL-01 race

In the waning days of the campaign, Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl has added the endorsements of four prominent elected officials in the southwest Alabama congressional district he seeks to represent.

State Reps. Chip Brown (R-Hollinger’s Island) and Shane Stringer (R-Citronelle) threw their support behind Carl last week, followed by Daphne Mayor Dane Haygood and Baldwin County Sheriff Hoss Mack in the last few days.

Carl faces former State Senator Bill Hightower (R-Mobile) at the ballot box on Tuesday to determine who will be the Republican nominee in Alabama’s First Congressional District that is anchored by Mobile and Baldwin Counties.

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Both Brown and Stringer represent districts in Mobile County; Brown in the south of the county and Stringer in the north.

Brown said in a release that Carl was “a solid conservative who will work to defend the Constitution and the 2nd Amendment.”

Stringer said he knows that Carl “is passionate about south Alabama, and that he will do an excellent job representing us and fighting for us in Washington.”

“I am honored to earn the endorsement of so many local, conservative leaders in our district. As a Commissioner, I have worked closely with Chip Brown and Shane Stringer to fight for south Alabama and make it a better place,” said Carl in a release announcing the endorsements.

Baldwin County Sheriff Hoss Mack endorsed Carl on Saturday, saying “I know Jerry personally and have full confidence that he will take our values to Washington and represent us with integrity.”

Mack is a highly sought after endorsement for both statewide and local Republican officials.

Carl said in response to the endorsement, ” “I am humbled by the endorsement of Sheriff Hoss Mack. He is a rock-solid Sheriff and has earned the respect of everyone around him because of his commitment to law and order and our south Alabama values.”

Daphne Mayor Dane Haygood preceded Mack by one day in his endorsement of Carl.

“Jerry is a Christian conservative who will diligently and effectively serve the citizens of Coastal Alabama, including, the City of Daphne,” said Haygood in a statement released by Carl’s campaign.

Daphne has a population of around 27,000 and sits right across the bay from Mobile in Baldwin County.

“Dane has been a friend of mine for many years, and he has proven himself to be an effective leader for the City of Daphne. We have worked together on many projects,” commented Carl about receiving Haygoood’s endorsement.

The Republican primary runoff election is Tuesday, July 14.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

15 hours ago

AHSAA’s Savarese to lead National Federation of State High School Associations

Steve Savarese, executive director of the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA), will lead the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) starting next year.

A Monday release announced that Savarese was elected by the NFHS board of directors to the position of president-elect for the term spanning July 2, 2020 — July 2021. Savarese’s one-year term as president will begin in July, 2021.

Savarese became executive director of the AHSAA in July 2007, after serving as a teacher, coach, athletic director and administrator in the states of Kansas and Alabama for more than 40 years. He is the fourth full-time executive director in AHSAA history.

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Now in in his 14th year in that role, Savarese has emphasized health, safety and sportsmanship throughout his tenure. He developed – through the AHSAA Central Board – a revenue-sharing program that has returned more than $17 million to member schools since its implementation in 2010.

After moving to Alabama, Savarese subsequently served as head coach and athletic director of Birmingham Ensley (three years), Alexander City Benjamin Russell (12 years), Daphne (seven years) and McGill-Toolen (three years). He was even selected as an NFL High School Coach of the Year finalist in 1996-97.

In addition to his service on the NFHS board of directors, Savarese has served on numerous NFHS committees and is currently the chair of the NFHS Network board of directors. He has been inducted into numerous halls of fame, including the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame and the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.

RELATED: Alabama High School Athletic Association members to see ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ streaming opportunities this year

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn