1 week ago

Alabama elected officials, job creators united in opposing Amtrak’s petition to steamroll the Port of Mobile

CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Company on Monday filed a motion to dismiss Amtrak’s petition before the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) to force the freight rail operators to permit the operation of Amtrak’s passenger rail service on its proposed Mobile-New Orleans route, which is known as the Gulf Coast Passenger Rail project.

As Yellowhammer News has reported since 2019, the proposal would have two Amtrak passenger trains daily utilize CSX’s existing mainline from the west into downtown Mobile then back west (ultimately traveling to New Orleans).

The Alabama State Port Authority utilizes that line, and it also supports crossings for both the Port Authority’s railroad (Terminal Railway) and five other railroads entering the Port’s main dock terminals, the container intermodal rail terminal and the soon-to-be-constructed finished automobile terminal.

Under federal law, all of that important freight traffic would have to yield to Amtrak’s passenger service. This is why CSX, the Port Authority and the diverse industries that rely on the Port for transporting goods have been asking for an impact study to be completed that would assess infrastructure needs to accommodate passenger rail and any impact on existing freight rail service.

CSX, Norfolk Southern (which owns tracks elsewhere on the proposed route) and Amtrak ultimately agreed on the parameters of the study, which got underway in spring 2020.

However, as Yellowhammer News reported last month, Amtrak decided to end the study before its completion while also announcing the rail service from Mobile to New Orleans would begin next year, regardless of the potential adverse effects on Alabama’s economy.

More than $2 billion has recently been invested in growing and enhancing the Port of Mobile, which already contributes over 150,000 jobs and $25.4 billion in economic impact as Alabama’s seaport.

Despite bailing on the impact study, Amtrak on March 16 initiated a formal process before the STB to require CSX and Norfolk Southern to permit the operation of the passenger rail service.

A large group of job creators in Alabama have already publicly requested that Amtrak complete the impact study. This includes the Business Council of Alabama, Alabama Farmers Federation, Manufacture Alabama, Alabama Forestry Assocation, Alabama Mining Association, Alabama Railway Association, Economic Development Association of Alabama and Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce.

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Congressman Jerry Carl (AL-01) have done the same, including Shelby’s letter last week filed with the STB.

Since Shelby’s letter, Governor Kay Ivey, Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed (R-Jasper), House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia), Mobile City Councilman Joel Daves, the Business Council of Alabama, the Alabama Farmers Federation, the Alabama Mining Association and the State Port Authority have filed respective formal comments with the STB opposing the Amtrak petition on the basis of the impact study not being completed.

“The STB should not allow Amtrak to restore service until that study has been completed. Without a completed operational modeling study, Alabama will not commit to providing any financial support to new Gulf Coast passenger service,” concluded Ivey.

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

10 mins ago

Aniah’s Law heading to statewide referendum in 2022

The Alabama Legislature on Thursday gave final passage to legislation that would create “Aniah’s Law.”

The legislation, sponsored by State Rep. Chip Brown (R-Mobile), would allow prosecutors and judges broader discretion in requesting and denying bail to those accused of committing violent crimes.

HB 131 is a constitutional amendment and will be up for a statewide referendum of the people in November 2022; HB 130, the enabling bill that would implement the provisions of HB 131, now heads to the governor’s desk.

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The Constitution of Alabama currently requires that “all persons shall, before conviction, be bailable by sufficient sureties, except for capital offenses, when the proof is evident or the presumption great; and that excessive bail shall not in any case be required.”

Brown’s legislation would amend the state constitution to allow judges to deny bail to individuals facing violent crime charges who would place the public at grave risk if released.

The proposed amendment is named after the late Aniah Blanchard, the 19-year-old college student who prosecutors allege was slain by Ibraheed Yazeed after he was released on bond for several violent offenses including kidnapping and attempted murder.

Yazeed, who is currently being held on capital murder charges, had been awarded bail despite more than a dozen priors, which included drug and robbery arrests.

“Too many of those who are accused of violent crimes are bonding out of jail and committing even more serious offenses, and it is time for law-abiding Alabamians to start fighting back,” Brown stated. “Denying bail to those accused of violent offenses is a commonsense answer to a dangerous societal problem, and following three years of hard work that was necessary to pass this amendment through the Legislature, I am confident the citizens of Alabama will vote to ratify it.”

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson was a major proponent of Brown’s legislation as it worked its way through the legislative process.

“I’d like to commend Representative Chip Brown and Senator David Sessions for supporting us in the three-year effort to see this legislation passed,” Stimpson said on Thursday. “We thank the Blanchard family as well as the entire Alabama Legislature for recognizing the need for this legislation that directly impacts the safety of Alabama citizens. It is now in the hands of Alabamians to vote in favor of this constitutional amendment on the ballot next year. Once passed, this will help significantly in our efforts to close the revolving door and prevent violent offenders from being released to commit more violent acts like the senseless murder of Aniah Blanchard.”

The late Tuscaloosa police officer Dornell Cousette is another example of a prominent case that could have been prevented if Aniah’s Law was in effect. Cousette was killed in the line of duty in 2018 — allegedly murdered by a suspect who was free on bail for robbery and assault charges at the time.

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

14 hours ago

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers: ‘Shameful’ Pelosi blocking Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act — ‘Simply supporting infanticide’

Congressman Mike Rogers (AL-03) on Wednesday released a scathing statement regarding House Democrats blocking consideration of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.

Rogers announced that he has signed onto a discharge petition that would force Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to bring this legislation — H.R. 619 — up for a vote in the House.

“As a father of three children and a Christian, this legislation is so important to me,” stated Rogers, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.

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All six Alabama Republicans in the U.S. House are cosponsors of H.R. 619, which was was introduced by Reps. Ann Wagner (R-MO) and Steve Scalise (R-LA) in January. The bill would ensure any baby born that survives an abortion would receive the same standard of medical care as a baby born under normal circumstances.

“I will never understand how any human would not support caring for a tiny, living baby that survives an attempted abortion,” he continued. “Anyone who is okay with not helping these babies is simply supporting infanticide. I will always stand up for the rights of the most innocent among us, and it’s shameful that Nancy Pelosi will not even bring this critical legislation up for a vote.”

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

14 hours ago

Alabama Senate passes bill banning biological males from competing in female sports

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate on Thursday passed HB 391, which would would prohibit biological males from competing in public school female sports — and vice versa.

The legislation, which only applies to public K-12 schools, would prohibit competition by one gender against another, unless the event specifically is intended to include both genders.

HB 391 was carried in the Senate by Sen. Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman) and is sponsored by Rep. Scott Stadthagen (R-Hartselle).

“A public K-12 school may not allow a biological female to participate on a male team if there is a female team in a sport. A public K-12 school may never allow a biological male to participate on a female team,” says the amended version of the bill passed by the Senate.

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In sports where there are not separate competitions for females and males, such as football, both genders would still be able to participate together.

“This bill is significantly important to protecting the integrity of women’s sports,” stated Gudger. “Our sisters, daughters and granddaughters deserve to compete in fairly organized sports without being put at a disadvantage. I appreciate Representative Stadthagen for having me carry this bill in the Senate, and I commend him for his diligent work on this critical issue.”

More than a dozen states are considering similar restrictions on high school athletes to prevent what they view as an unfair advantage in competition.

The Senate’s vote on HB 391 was on party lines, 25-5. This comes after two Democrats supported and one Democrat abstained in a committee vote on the bill just two weeks ago. View a tweet thread from Thursday’s Senate debate here.

HB 391 now heads back to the House for concurrence or nonconcurrence. It originally passed the lower chamber in a bipartisan 74-19 vote.

“It is unreasonable for biological males to compete against females in high school sports,” Stadthagen commented. “Allowing this to happen does not put female athletes on a fair and level playing field with their biological male counterparts, and that is what this bill aims to resolve. I was pleased to hear that my colleagues in the upper chamber value the integrity and justness of female sports, and I thank Senator Gudger for handling this bill in the Senate.”

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

15 hours ago

Senate passes Alabama Second Amendment Preservation Act

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate on Thursday passed SB 358, which would create the Alabama Second Amendment Preservation Act.

Sponsored by Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa), the bill would outlaw state and local governments — including law enforcement agencies thereof — from enforcing any federal firearms act, law, order, rule or regulation that becomes effective after January 1, 2021.

The party-line vote by the Senate was 22-5.

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“I took an oath of office when sworn into this body to defend the Constitution of this country and this state,” stated Allen. “As an elected official, I will do everything in my power to preserve the rights of Alabamians, especially those granted by the Second Amendment, and I will always push back on any proposals that seek to limit the freedoms bestowed upon us.”

“The Alabama Second Amendment Preservation Act ensures the people of Alabama are protected from any unnecessary overreach by the federal government and is meant to be a check on proposals that infringe on our right to self-defense coming from the Biden Administration or the Democratic controlled Congress,” he continued. “SB358 is about safeguarding our God-given rights to protect our families and homes. The Second Amendment says the right to bear arms shall not be infringed upon, and with this piece of legislation, Alabamians can feel confident that their rights are being protected.”

Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) and Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) argued that SB 358 would violate the Supremacy Clause. The Democrats said the act, as a result, would ultimately be ruled unconstitutional by the judicial system after costing the State of Alabama significant money to defend it in court.

“We don’t need a ‘Second Amendment Preservation Act’ in the state of Alabama,” said Singleton. “The constitution does that already.”

He noted “the bill really does no harm,” before adding that he does not like the message it sends.

You can view a tweet thread on Senate debate regarding SB 358 here.

The Alabama Senate’s vote came after President Joe Biden last week began rolling out executive orders on gun control.

RELATED: Speaker Mac McCutcheon: As Biden attempts to roll back Second Amendment freedoms, Alabama House Republicans stand in the breach to protect them

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

18 hours ago

Tim Vines confirmed as newest Auburn University trustee

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate on Thursday unanimously confirmed Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama CEO Tim Vines as an at-large member of the Auburn University board of trustees.

He will complete the final three years of the unexpired term of Gen. Lloyd Austin, who resigned from Auburn’s board in January after he was confirmed as the nation’s secretary of defense.

Vines has worked at BCBS of Alabama since 1994. He rose through the management ranks at Blue Cross until he was elected to his present position in 2018. The LaFayette native graduated from Auburn’s Harbert College of Business in 1988 with a degree in finance. He was also a member of the Auburn baseball team.

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“In addition to his business and management credentials, the Trustee Selection Committee nominated Tim Vines for the position because of his dedication to Auburn University and its students,” stated Wayne Smith, who serves as board president pro tem.

This dedication includes Vines giving an annual scholarship to the Harbert College of Business. He is an Auburn Alumni Association lifetime member, a member of the James E. Foy Loyalty Society and a member of the 1856 Society. The Birmingham Auburn Club awarded Vines its 2019 Distinguished Auburn Alumnus Award.

He also served as the 2018 Auburn University summer commencement speaker, where he encouraged graduates, “Serve well by serving others. In life or in your chosen profession, ask what you can do to help others. … Whatever you do, make sure you do it with excellence.”

Vines’ term will expire on February 8, 2024.

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