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’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.
"Frontier Airlines will begin direct flights from Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport on April 11, the airline announced today. Frontier Airlines will start by offering direct service to Denver, Orlando and Philadelphia from Birmingham. Introductory prices will start at $39."
"At 87, Clint Eastwood is not only trying new things, he’s trying daring new things, and his new film 15:17 to Paris represents one of the most audacious gambits of his career. To dramatize the tale of three Americans who tackled and subdued a heavily armed Islamist terrorist on a train out of Amsterdam in 2015, Eastwood cast the young men, none of whom had professional acting experience, as themselves. It’s a decision with little precedent in the entire history of motion pictures."
Sessions says DoJ regulations requiring recusal ‘basically had the impact of law’; Questions Tuberville’s commitment to Trump’s China, trade policies
What happened regarding the 2017 decision by then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from involvement in any investigation into allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election will have a lasting impact on presidential appointments for the foreseeable future.
Future presidents and presidents-elect will be reluctant to appoint anyone politically active to the U.S. Attorney General post in the future given the interpretation of the Department of Justice regulations on investigations into campaigns.
During an interview that aired on Auburn radio’s WQSI, Sessions, candidate for U.S. Senate in Alabama, explained the regulation he was following and how it was “basically” the law. He also called his decision fundamental in that a law enforcement official could not investigate himself.
“The code of federal regulations is where it is,” Sessions said. “It’s not just guidance, letter or a policy point from the attorney general or something. It is a notice. It is published nationwide. People can hear it, make complaints to it, and then it becomes adopted. For the people at the Department [of Justice], it basically has the impact of law. The attorney general can’t change it, number one. Number two, it’s just basic. The district attorney in Lee County can’t investigate if he worked at a bank the bank he worked at, where he would be a witness to the investigation, in which they may have suggested he was involved in wrongdoing at the bank. You can’t investigate yourself. This is a fundamental principle. But the regulation says if you participate in a political organization in a substantial role, you’re not able to investigate yourself.”
Sessions noted former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), U.S. Attorney General William Barr, and former U.S. Attorneys General Ed Meese and Mike Mukasey agreed with his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
When asked if he would accept the appointment now knowing what he knows, Sessions offered his mindset on the 2016 offer from then-President-elect Trump.
“Look, I believe that I was ready to lead that department,” he said. “I spent 14 years in that department. I had supervisory oversight for 20 years. I knew what the problems were, and we did some tremendous things.”
When asked for a yes or no answer regarding what he might do had he known about the obstacles that were to lie ahead for him when offered the post, Sessions declined.
“You can’t go back on those kinds of things, Jeff,” he replied. “That’s just a silly thought, frankly. I don’t mean to be dismissive, but we’re not going there. I took the job. I did my best duty. I serve at the pleasure of the president. The question is right now — we talked about my situation over and over and over again. Let’s talk about Tommy Tuberville.”
Sessions went on to raise his July 14 GOP primary opponent Tommy Tuberville’s comments about U.S. policy regarding China, trade.
“Who is going to help the president carry out his agenda?” Sessions added.
State Sen. Tom Whatley: ‘Everything we’ve seen points to’ Auburn football being back in the fall
AUBURN — State Sen. Tom Whatley (R-Auburn) offers reason for optimism for Auburn University football season to take place this fall.
During a sitdown interview that aired on Auburn radio’s Talk 93.9 WQSI, Whatley said the decision would not be made by Auburn University, which is in his Senate district, nor will it be the University of Alabama’s decision for their program across the state.
However, he said he there are efforts underway to get students back on campus, which is one of the required objectives to getting campus athletic activities underway.
“Everything we’ve seen points to that being back,” Whatley said. “That is a decision that neither Auburn or Alabama get to make. That is above their heads. But every indication is that is going to happen. And I hope it happens just like it happens last year with everybody back in the stands if they want to be there. I’m focused on getting Auburn back to school here in the second mini-mester, which will start the last week of June. And that would get kids back on campus back at the end of June. Then you would have a way to plan for the fall. I know Auburn has got a plan for the fall. I know it has got a plan for the second mini-mester if they come back for that. So I am pleased with what they are doing, and they are committed to getting students back on the Auburn campus.”
Whatley also expressed his confidence that Auburn University will implement safety protocols and procedures.
“I go for walks on campus, 5:30 or 6,” he said. “The other day, one of my friends who works in the athletic department. I called him and said, ‘I want to stop by and say hello if you’re back on campus.’ He said, ‘Well, we are, but you can’t get in here. You’ve got to have a temperature [taken] when you go in, and only essential personnel can be in here.’ So, they’re really limiting who can be in the athletic complex. You’re going to have some controls there. They’re going to have controls in place to make sure the place is safe for themselves and for the athlete. And they’re going to be hypersensitive to that, at least this year. That’s just my feeling.”
Tuberville dismisses Sessions’ five-debate challenge: ‘I’m not used to punting on first down — That’s pretty much what I’d be doing’
(Tommy Tuberville, Jeff Sessions/Facebook, YHN)
Earlier this week, former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a candidate for the Republican nomination in the election for Alabama’s open U.S. Senate later this year, challenged his opponent former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville to a series of five debates before the voters of Alabama in an open letter posted on his campaign website.
According to Sessions, the five debates give one for each major media market in Alabama, which he said would “allow us to discuss the unique issues of each geographic area, as well as national and international issues.”
Wednesday, during an interview that aired on Mobile’s FM Talk 106.5, Tuberville dismissed the challenge, likening it to “punting on first down.”
“I’m not used to punting on first down,” Tuberville said. “That’s pretty much what I’d be doing. You know, he debated once or twice in his career. Obviously, he is behind. He wants a way to catch up. The best thing I can tell him is he needs to get out there and work like I’m working. I’m not sitting at home. I’m going around meeting and shaking hands. And that’s what I’ve done for the last year and a half. You know that. You’ve seen me out there. I have not slowed down. I think going to straight to the people in small towns, communities, and the cities and telling exactly what you’re doing and why you’re doing it is the most important thing.”
“Just getting up in front of the TV camera for an hour is not going to do a whole lot of good,” he continued. “I want to spend my time out with the people who are going to vote for me and people who I am going to represent. Good luck to him doing what he wants to do. They knew way back we were not going to get into a debate because he wouldn’t debate us the first three months he got in. We couldn’t even find him. He was missing in action. He didn’t want to answer the recusal question. Now he’s down 15-20 points, and he wants to debate. We’re not going to bite on that hook.”
Watch: Alabama Sec of State Merrill, CNN’s Brianna Keilar spar over vote-by-mail
For congressional Democrats, the coronavirus pandemic has offered them an opportunity to promote a long-sought change to voting procedures, which is a vote-by-mail system.
Under a Democrat proposal, registered voters would be sent a ballot by mail with return postage, which differs from the absentee ballot process currently in place in Alabama, which requires those seeking to mail in a ballot to apply for an absentee ballot.
Tuesday, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill appeared on “CNN Newsroom,” in which he took on the conventional wisdom of the vote-by-mail system in the age of COVID-19.
KEILAR: As states grapple with how to handle upcoming elections without spreading coronavirus at polling locations, President Trump is taking a stand against mail-in ballots, tweeting the baseless claim this weekend that it would create, quote, “The greatest rigged election in history.”
And he’s also threatened to cut funding to the state of Michigan, after that state’s governor said she would allow mail-in ballots. And the Republican National Committee is suing California to stop the state from mailing absentee ballots to all voters.
Studies have found no evidence of widespread voter fraud as a result of in-person or mail-in voting. My next guest is assuring the president, though, that his state, Alabama, is going to abide by President Trump’s wishes, tweeting, quote, “Don’t worry, Donald Trump, we will not have direct mail-in voting in Alabama. We have provided an excuse provision for anyone that wants to vote absentee, and our polling sites will be open for anyone that wants to vote in person.”
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, joining me now. Sir, thanks for coming on.
JOHN MERRILL (R), SECRETARY OF STATE OF ALABAMA: Brianna, great to be with you. Thanks for having me as your guest.
KEILAR: OK, we love having you as a guest. I want to ask you as a guest. I want to ask you about this excuse provision that you mentioned in your response to the president. Would this include someone who is concerned about public health? Who says, you know, I’m not comfortable going in person to — because of coronavirus — would they be able to use that as an excuse for getting an absentee ballot?
MERRILL: They would, Brianna. You know, actually, in Alabama, we are an absentee-excuse state, which means that there are a number of provisions that are available for the voter to choose, to indicate whether or not he or she meets one of those standards when it comes to excusing themselves from the polls on Election Day.
However, when we’re in a time of declared state of emergency, like we are now, the Code of Alabama actually gives me as the secretary of state the ability assign a reason for people to choose if they want to vote absentee and they do not meet one of those criteria.
And the one that we’ve elected for people to choose is the one that says, I’m ill or infirm and will be unable to appear at my regular polling site on Election Day.
KEILAR: OK. So we have the absentee ballot here that you mentioned. There’s a whole line of, as you mentioned, examples here. So you’re saying that they can choose this one that says they have an illness or infirmity. But the difference then would be that the onus is on them to request an absentee ballot ahead of time?
MERRILL: Yes. They simply need to mark that. And of course, they can download the absentee ballot application at our website, at Alabamavotes.gov, or they can call our office at 334-242-7200, and we will direct them to their local circuit clerk. They can call their local circuit clerk if they have that number.
If they don’t have a way of downloading it from a computer, then we will be happy to mail them an application and then send them a self- addressed, stamped envelope so they’ll know where to return it when they get ready to complete it.
KEILAR: Do you worry that with the — what we’ve been seeing as rapidly changing sort of health situations, including in your state, do you worry that putting the onus on people to request an absentee ballot using sort of foresight that maybe this virus does not allow, could actually negatively impact public health in your state? [14:20:18]
MERRILL: No, I don’t think so, Brianna.
Another thing I think should be noted is that, as the trend continues to improve in our state, the data and the science, one of the things that we want everyone to know is that all 1,980 polling sites in the State of Alabama will be open for our 3,593,385 registered voters.
So we want our people to do what they feel comfortable doing. If they’d rather vote absentee, we’ve had a period of time of more than 100 days for them to make applications. As a matter of fact, it’s 44 days until the qualifying date ends to receive an absentee ballot application, which in on July the 9th.
KEILAR: Are you aware that the second wave in 1918 was actually the most deadly, that actually half of the people who died in 1918 from the pandemic then, died between September and December, which would put the election right in the middle there?
MERRILL: Well, and of course, we’re talking about a different period of time, when there was a lot less information than there currently is today.
But, Brianna, I’m no scientist, I’m no health official. And I do follow the guidelines that have been prescribed by the Center for Disease Control, as well as our very able state health officer, Dr. Scott Harris, who’s doing a tremendous job, along with Governor Kay Ivey. So we want to continue to do what they’re advising us to do, and that’s what we’ve done so far, and that’s what we will be doing.
KEILAR: The president says that mail-in voting would create a rigged election. Do you agree with him that it would result in voter fraud?
MERRILL: Well, look, Brianna, this is what I know. I know that since I’ve been the secretary of state in Alabama — five years, four months and eight days — we’ve had six convictions on voter fraud, we’ve had two elections that have been overturned. Five of the six that have been convicted were convicted for fraudulent activity related to absentee balloting. I know that for a fact.
I also know that we’re doing everything —
KEILAR: Are you aware that the research shows that in-person voting is more likely to result in voter fraud, which overall is basically nonexistent? So it’s kind of odd we’re having this conversation. But mostly it’s —
MERRILL: Well —
KEILAR: — in-person voting, not absentee ballot voting. MERRILL: Yes. They’re entitled to their own opinion, but they’re not
entitled to their own facts. And the facts in our state show that we have had voter fraud, we have had people convicted and those people are currently incarcerated, period. We’re making it easy to vote and hard to cheat in Alabama. We’re going to continue to do that.
KEILAR: I recall you actually using that same line when we spoke in 2017, when you came on and talked about how allegations of voter fraud —
MERRILL: Yes —
KEILAR: — in a midterm election actually had not come to fruition.
MERRILL: Yes, ma’am.
KEILAR: It’s not — even as you describe the numbers, it’s not something that is at all widespread, or you would expect at all would impact an election —
KEILAR: — but is that the reason — that’s the reason why you would want a situation where more people are coming to the polls? Do you want more people coming to the polls?
MERRILL: Brianna, we want to break records for voting, just like we have over the last five major elections that we’ve had. We’re very, very proud of that.
We have turned, the tide, so to speak, in the state of Alabama by registering 1,519,888 new voters since I’ve been the secretary of state. We’ve broken every record —
KEILAR: Can I ask you, though, are you OK with the result of your decision being that there are more people coming to vote in person, which could put them — and even — I mean, Republican voters, older voters trend Republican, so these are even voters in your own party —
MERRILL: But, Brianna, that’s the reason —
KEILAR: — people who works at polls tend to be older. Are you worried you could put them at risk?
MERRILL: That’s the reason why we’re giving folks an option. If they’re concerned about going to one of the 1,980 polling sites in Alabama, we want them to vote absentee. We’re going to make it easy for them to do that because we want them to do what they feel comfortable doing.
I’m not for removing the liberty and the freedoms of our people. I am for giving them all the information we can possibly give them so they can make a well-informed decision about what they should do that’s in their best interest and the best interests of their family.
But we’re going to continue to do everything we can to help the people of this state make those well-informed decisions.
KEILAR: So how is what you’re doing then, with the excuse — they’re able to use one of these excuses for the absentee ballot form — how is that any different than mail-in ballots?
MERRILL: Well, with direct mail-in ballots that we have been hearing so much about in the media, and what the president was talking about, requires the secretary of state or the chief election official to send either absentee ballot applications or ballots to all voters in that state.
Well, we’re opposed to that for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the lack of security. I mean, there was just an article from four years ago, where one person in California received 83 ballots mailed to that particular individual, all directly mailed to that person. That’s a problem, and it’s not a problem that we’re going to have in Alabama.
Another thing that you need to know, in each one of our election cycles —
KEILAR: But you know that’s not widespread, sir. You know that’s not widespread.
MERRILL: Well, look, let’s be serious. If it happens one time, it’s one time too many. And we’re going to do everything we can to keep that from happening. It’s just like people that say —
KEILAR: Couldn’t you say the same thing about someone being infected with coronavirus, if it happens once, it’s one time too many? Because they stood —
MERRILL: Well, look —
KEILAR: — in line at polls —
KEILAR: — and then they were inside of a room?
MERRILL: Yes, I’m not a physician. And I don’t make health decisions, I was not trained in that way. I have been trained in elections, and as you know — because you’re having me as your guest — I’m recognized as one of the top election experts in the nation, I’m proud of that.
We earned that role, and we’re going to continue to work hard to —
KEILAR: But your decision will impact the health of people, very likely, certainly —
KEILAR: — potentially.
MERRILL: — if they’re concerned, they need to vote absentee. And so we’ve given them that opportunity, we want to make it easy for them to be able to do that.
KEILAR: Even if the onus now being on them creates a situation where if they — I guess my question is, so either — if the onus is on them, then they might have to decide on Election Day, OK, you know what, I didn’t do this or even the health situation —
KEILAR: — here in my state changed in the last week, I guess I need to go in person?
MERRILL: We got millions of people that are watching our broadcast right now, as you’re talking to me. And some of those folks are in our state. And those people that are concerned about this issue, can pick up the phone today, call their local circuit clerk or call our office at 334-242-7200 and we’ll make sure they get an absentee ballot application so they can get their absentee ballot.
They don’t have to wait until Election Day. We want them to vote early if they want to. We’ve defined a process for them to be able to do so, and we’ve made it as easy as possible.
KEILAR: And when’s the deadline for them being able to vote absentee in relation to the election, considering this is a fast-changing health situation?
MERRILL: Yes. July 9th is the last day to make application. July 13th is the last day to turn your ballot in —
KEILAR: You’re asking them to make a health decision based on November, for July? I mean, isn’t —
MERRILL: Oh, no, no, no, no.
KEILAR: I mean, isn’t that —
MERRILL: We’re not talking about November now, Brianna. Because November’s a long ways away —
KEILAR: I’m sorry, yes, that’s right, that is — that — how many days, can you tell me how many days?
MERRILL: Yes, it’s 44 days until the last day to make the application for the absentee ballot.
KEILAR: That’s a month and a half, right?
MERRILL: That’s right. And — but look, we’ve already had well more than 100 days. When we started this process, we were at 117 days. And every week —
KEILAR: Yes, but that’s not the point. I guess my point is, you’re — they have a decision to make, based on the health situation being a month — I understand what you’re saying, but the deadline date. A month and a half out, right?
KEILAR: So think of how quickly —
MERRILL: Well, there’s —
KEILAR: — things have changed in your state in the last month and a half.
MERRILL: That’s right. And so if they’re concerned, or if they’re not concerned. Brianna, look, I voted absentee in March. So my vote has already been in the ballot box for two months. And we want to encourage people that are concerned to go ahead and vote absentee, today. You can vote absentee today for the July 14th runoff.
We want people to be able to have their voice heard and their vote counted, for the candidate of their choice.
KEILAR: And what if they’re not concerned today, but after the deadline and before the election they are concerned? What do you say to them? Then what are their options?
MERRILL: Well, that’s why it’s important to plan ahead and to make good choices.
KEILAR: Can they use the emergency absentee ballot based on the medical issue —
MERRILL: No, no.
KEILAR: — in order to do this? No, they can’t? OK.
MERRILL: Not this particular — (CROSSTALK)
KEILAR: Just to be clear, so they’ve got to — all right, just to be clear, I think we’re pretty clear on how you’re conducting this. So John Merrill, we appreciate it. Thank you.
MERRILL: In a fair (inaudible) way.
KEILAR: Sorry, what’d you say?
MERRILL: In — we’re conducting it in a fair and transparent way. That’s exactly how we’re conducting it.
KEILAR: Well, it is transparent, I will give you that, sir. Thank you very much.
Trump: ‘Jeff Sessions was a disaster as attorney general’ — ‘Not mentally qualified’
The recent flare-up of the saga of President Donald Trump’s disdain for his former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, continued in an interview with Sinclair Broadcasting’s Sharyl Attkisson that aired on Sunday.
What began as a Twitter spat on Friday night and extended into Saturday between Trump and Sessions, who faces former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville in a July 14 runoff for the Republican Party’s nomination for Alabama’s U.S. Senate seat up in November, continued in Trump’s interview.
Trump criticized both Sessions and former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats but gave Sessions the brunt of his most-scathing criticism, calling him a “disaster” and “not mentally qualified.”
“[T]hey didn’t do their job,” Trump said. “They didn’t do their job. Dan Coats should have never let that happen. Dan Coats sat there for two years, didn’t do his job. He then had a replacement. There was a nice gentleman from the military, but he was only there for a short period of time. But I’m so disappointed that Dan Coats didn’t do his job. Jeff Sessions was a disaster as attorney general. Should have never been attorney general, was not qualified. He’s not mentally qualified to be attorney general. He was the biggest problem. I mean, look Jeff Sessions put people in place that were a disaster. They took over. They’ve always had the Department of Justice, but they kept it under Jeff Sessions.”
“And the whole thing, the Russian thing is a total hoax,” he continued. “Think of it. They spent $40, $45 million investigating. We took two and a half years. They found nothing. No collusion. A friend of mine called a very smart, great businessman. He said you must be the most honest person in the world. You went through years and years. They interviewed people that I haven’t seen in many years, millions of phone calls, not one to Russia. Look, some of the people.”
“And I say this, I say it proudly. I came to Washington,” Trump added. “I was only here 17 times in my whole life. I came, the 18th time, I was President of the United States. I had a great life. I did really well. A lot of good things that happened. Now, what’s happened, but I didn’t know people in Washington and whether it’s Sessions, which was a mistake or Dan Coats was a big mistake, but Sessions was a big one. Coats, he sat there. He didn’t do anything.”
McCutcheon shrugs off House-Senate dispute — ‘Always tension towards the end of any session’; Says House negotiated with Ivey to stave off veto
Last week on the final day of the 2020 legislative sessions, both chambers of the Alabama legislature voted by an overwhelming margin to accept an executive amendment to a supplemental funding bill dealing with monies appropriated by the federal government for coronavirus relief under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
However, it did not come without controversy as members of the Senate cried foul after a deal was reached between the House and Governor Kay Ivey without involvement from Senate leadership.
During an appearance on Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal” that aired Friday, Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) downplayed the differences, chalking it up to the end of the legislative session.
“There’s always tension towards the end of any session between the House, the Senate, the executive branch,” McCutcheon said. “There’s always that opportunity for disagreement. It’s just part of the process. I look at it as part of the process. I don’t take it personal. And it’s just part of the politics of the day if you will. But in this particular situation, nobody was purposely left out of anything. The Senate had put together a list of expenditures for the coronavirus money. Then they showed that to us. It was being negotiated.”
According to McCutcheon, the motivations of reaching out to Ivey without the Senate was done to stave off the governor’s threat of a veto.
“Then, at the end of the day, what was happening was we were in a situation that the Governor could actually veto the budget,” he continued. “And because of the work that had been done by the members in the House and the Senate, especially in the House. Members coming down — we had members in the gallery, we had members on the floor operating under very, very difficult circumstances. Because of that, Don, we felt like that we needed to address the veto issue from the governor because we didn’t want to see that work just go down the drain, or wasted if you will. Because of that, I reached out to the Governor to see if there was a compromise, to see if there’s anything that could be done. I did not do that to try to exclude anybody. It was just trying to work the process to see.”
McCutcheon also raised the issue of the proposal for $200 million in CARES Act funding for a new State House, about which he said some members of his body were facing questions from constituents.
“Because of that, we just went to work on a list to try to help the Governor find a compromise,” he added. “It was not designed to leave anybody out. It was just designed trying to work the process and see if there could be a compromise in the mix somewhere.”
Later in the segment, McCutcheon pledged to do “everything he can” to keep the working relationship between the House and Senate “strong.”
@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly and host of Huntsville’s’sHuntsville’s’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN.
State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris on Montgomery coronavirus situation: Hospitals have ‘a lot of patients,’ ‘Said they’re able to handle what they’re seeing’
As city leaders in Montgomery, including Mayor Steven Reed, have sounded the alarm about an alleged shortage of resources as coronavirus case have spiked in Alabama’s capital city, State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris acknowledged there is cause for concern in an interview with Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal.”
However, Harris revealed hospitals have indicated they would be able to adapt where needed.
“Sure, certainly we are concerned whenever there is any indication a hospital is reaching capacity,” Harris said. “I’ve had a chance to talk to one of the executives at one of the big hospitals here in Montgomery today. I spoke with the hospital association yesterday, with Dr. [Don] Williamson at the hospital association yesterday. I think we’re all very concerned about that. I think there are a lot of people coming down on both sides of this issue as to whether it’s a big deal, or not really a big deal or no deal — and clearly, it’s really a deal.”
“Hospitals here in Montgomery are seeing a lot of patients,” he continued. “They have some troubles, particularly with staffing, I think. And their ICUs are full. At the same time, they also have other available space in their hospital that they can use for surge capacities. Hospitals are actually really good at doing that, and they have to make those decisions some times in a busy flu season, for example, or when they have large numbers of patients. The hospitals have begun doing elective procedures again. And so, that fills some of their hospital beds as well. And so, I would say right now the hospitals are full. They have a lot of COVID patients. All of their ICU beds are full but not necessarily with COVID patients. And at the same time, they have all said they’re able to handle what they’re seeing right now.”
Marsh: ‘Politicians overreacted’ on coronavirus, put country ‘in a very delicate situation’ — Future ‘could get ugly’
On this week’s broadcast of Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” State Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) reiterated his call for a proper balance in the state’s coronavirus response.
He said while State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris and Gov. Kay Ivey had the best interests in mind, Marsh deemed their shutdown orders to be an overreaction.
“Capitol Journal” host Don Dailey asked about getting an agreement on CARES Act funding, a subject of contention between the House, Senate and the governor’s office, which Marsh argued was necessary to aid those out of work.
“The people of Alabama are going through a lot right now,” Marsh said. “We’ve got to do all we can do to help them. These dollars will help them. I’m very concerned of the future. As I’ve said — the policies that have been put in place by the administration have 450,000 people out of work right.”
“Public health [officer] and the governor — there again, they thought they were making these decisions that were best for the people,” he continued. “But there are a lot of people out of work, and we’ve got to get them back to work.”
When asked, Marsh acknowledged he did not agree with the executive branch’s shutdown measures.
“I didn’t, and I’ve been upfront with that,” Marsh added. “I believed from day one it was an organized way to slow down the economy,” he said. “We know who the vulnerable are, the old generation, those with preexisting conditions. We could have easily segmented out that part of the population and dealt with it without putting everybody out of work. I think it is showing up. No hospitals have been overburdened, in fact, in the entire country. The medical community came on strong and handled the situation. I think politicians overreacted, and we put the country in a very delicate situation.”
He also warned of the possibility of more difficult times, especially if federal money propping up the economy runs out.
“[T]here are going to be people, even with the conditions that are in place now — there will be those who cannot make it in business,” Marsh explained. “We have put a real strain on this economy, both throughout the country and in Alabama. We have our work cut out for us to get out of this thing.”
“I think it is going to be longer than people think,” he said. “I think the worst is not over. I’m not talking in terms of the virus. The worst is not over in terms of the economic situation. You’ve got to remember — right now, everybody is getting a paycheck, a government paycheck. When this thing could run its course and run out of government paychecks, it could get ugly.”
State Sen. Barfoot on coronavirus fallout: ‘Widespread panic is not in order,’ ‘Absolutely killing our economy’
The economic recovery from the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic may take some time. However, an analysis of the numbers may show a degree of the initial panic was not necessary, according to State Sen. Will Barfoot (R-Pike Road).
During an interview with Huntsville radio WVNN’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” Barfoot, while acknowledging he was not in the medical profession, said he thought there were adequate resources available to handle the current circumstances.
However, when factoring out those of a certain age or having preexisting conditions, Barfoot estimates a minimal risk from COVID-19 to the general public.
“I’m not in the medical profession,” he said. “That’s not my area, my forte — but it seems to me there’s enough resources out there, at least immediately right now. You need to be diligent, be prepared for the future. You know, when we talk about this COVID-19, and there’s certainly some concern, but the heightened concern I think is for what I’m fastly approaching — the age of 65. And so, 65 or older, and if you have one of those five, six or seven underlying health conditions, then you need to take it certainly seriously. And everybody should.”
“But I think by the State Health [Officer]’s own numbers, there were a total of 23 out of 528 deaths as of yesterday that did not have one of the underlying health conditions,” Barfoot added. “And there were no deaths … under age 50 that did not also have underlying health conditions. So when you start to dig into the numbers — 528 deaths out of 13,000 confirmed COVID cases, if my math is correct that is about 99.6% of the individuals who have been in confirmed COVID testing have not perished — and not deceased, are still with us. And that’s of the ones that we know. Obviously, there are asymptomatic folks out there that we haven’t tested, and we don’t know if they actually have it. So, again, there is cause for some concern, and people should take appropriate measures that they deem necessary. But widespread panic is not in order, in my opinion. And I think it is absolutely killing our economy — small businesses around the state.”
State Sen. Shelnutt: ‘Definitely looking at’ adding limits to governor’s ability to shutdown; Expects ‘great rebound’ in economy later this year
Alabama Senator Shay Shelnutt
On Thursday, Gov. Kay Ivey further relaxed restrictions under her so-called Safer-at-Home Order to allow theaters, bowling alleys, museums and other establishments to open at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, with some limitations.
Now that some time has passed since the height of the state’s restrictions a month ago, State Sen. Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville) said he thinks the Alabama legislature will take a look at adding limits to the executive branch’s ability in the future, which he said could come with more input from the legislature.
During an interview with Huntsville radio’s WVNN, Shelnutt offered his evaluation, adding he wished the reopening would have come sooner.
“I wish it would have happened several weeks ago,” he said. “Many of the legislators tried to tell her to go ahead and open up. I was kind of shocked that a lot of my parks in my local area, tennis courts had chains and disc golf courses were shut down. I tried to do everything I could to get her to open up earlier, but she didn’t really listen to me, as you can tell.”
Shelnutt said he saw the potential for civil unrest the longer things stayed shut down, and he praised Blount County Sheriff Mark Moon, who at the time of the Stay-at-Home order instructed his deputies not to enforce that order.
“I was hearing from a lot of folks In the beginning, yeah — we all felt like we needed to shut down,” he said. But it got to a point where, ‘Hey, there’s about to be some civil unrest,” Shelnutt said. “She wanted to avoid that.”
“My sheriff, Mark Moon from Blount County, was one of the first to come out and say that,” Shelnutt added. “I think maybe he could run for governor or anything he wants to in Blount County, anyway, right now. He is very popular.”
Given the public backlash to the shutdown, Shelnutt said he anticipates an effort to increase legislative oversight in the future.
“We’re definitely looking at this and going to try to limit this from ever happening again,” Shelnutt said. “Or if it does happen, at least I think the governor should have to come to the legislature, and you know, have the vote of the legislators, pass a law. You can’t extend the shutdown just because you make a proclamation.”
The Trussville Republican lawmaker also offered an optimistic view of the economy going forward, saying he foresees a trend toward normalcy headed into next year.
“I think the last quarter of this year is going to be a great rebound, I hope,” he said. “I think we will overcome this, and we’ll be back to a lot more normalcy in the coming months, at least I hope so.”
Del Marsh says House ‘betrayed’ Senate, ‘flat-out lied’ on CARES Act list; Warns Gov. Ivey on new prison construction
It has been a few days since the Alabama legislature adjourned sine die after a tense lead-up on Goat Hill between Gov. Kay Ivey’s office, the House and the Senate. It may, however, take some more time for relationships to fully heal, especially between the Alabama Senate and House of Representatives.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) offered his take on what happened in those days before the passage of Ivey’s proposed executive amendment to SB 161, which dealt $1.8 billion in funding allocated by Congress through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act during an interview with Huntsville radio’s WVNN on Wednesday.
Late Friday, after Ivey announced what at the time appeared to be a deal between the House leadership and her office, members of the Senate leadership questioned as to why they were not included. Marsh voiced his frustration with his lower chamber colleagues for being left out of the process.
“I don’t know if it is as much the governor’s office as it is the House,” Marsh said. “We try to always include the House in any negotiations we have. You probably heard me talk about it. We were asked by the governor’s office with this $1.7 billion on suggestions about how we may consider spending it based on guidelines. We sat down. I called a meeting with House members. We sat in a room, 11 of us — went through things that might be considered, sent that list to the governor.”
“At the end of the day, the governor, I guess, get upset about the fact that language was in the budget that has been in the budget in past budgets that basically says federal dollars will be appropriated by this legislature,” he continued. “The governor made an issue with the talk that had taken place on the State House, which had only taken place because of public access. It became an issue, unfortunately, and inadvertently caused the House, who had voted with us to pass a supplemental appropriation giving the governor some $200 million of that money to spend as she needed to, and then call a special session so we could all decide how to spend the rest. The House voted 76-0 on that.”
“But during the week, they had apparently got with the governor,” added Marsh. “I had no knowledge. The sponsor of the legislation, [Sen.] Greg Albritton, had no knowledge. Next thing we know, there’s a deal cut to greatly change the way the dollars are going to be spent. You know, it is what it is. But the fact that the House did not consult with the Senate on this — I felt like a little bit we had been betrayed on this situation.”
When asked how long it might take for fence-mending between the House and Senate, Marsh said it would take “a while” and said he had been lied to by members of the House.
“I don’t know — I think it’s going to be a while,” he said. “There were people in the House that just flat-out lied. To say they knew nothing about a list we worked with together and sent to the governor — I can’t understand it. And I don’t understand why anybody would lie about that. I mean, it was very straightforward. The Finance Department asked for ideas. We put them on a list. It was none of this ‘wish list.’ That was developed by the governor, there again, to pass onto the legislature. It wasn’t a ‘wish list.’ It was a suggestion of things to be discussed based on what could actually be spent with coronavirus money.”
Marsh added, “If the House had just ‘fessed up and said, ‘We were in the room. Yes, we sent this list. It was to start the discussion with the governor on how best to spend these dollars. And I can’t for the life of me understand why they cowered down and wouldn’t admit they were in the room to discuss these items on the list.”
In an interview that aired Friday on Alabama Public Television, Ivey dismissed the objections from senators over being excluded in the so-called deal, saying, “The leadership of the Senate, the leadership of the House, have my cell phone 24/7.” Marsh responded by explaining he and his members had done what was asked of them by the Finance Department.
“Call out what?” Marsh replied. “I mean, there again, we were called by the Finance Department and asked to participate in ideas. We did that and sent them to the governor. What the governor was upset about was the language in the budget that stated that the legislature would appropriate those dollars. That’s why this whole thing went south. She got angry about that language, which wasn’t intended to take a swipe at the governor. It’s just constitutionally, that’s what we do. And that language has been in the budgets in the past. But she took offense to it. And, when she did — that’s when she made comments about the very list that they had asked for, and then taken shots at the legislature about us wanting a brand-new State House, which the whole State House issue came up because as I said earlier, public access, which we’re not able to allow because of the coronavirus.”
One question that looms large is how might Alabama’s prison system situation, which is under the scrutiny of the Department of Justice for violating the Eighth Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishment provision, be resolved with the erosion of trust between Senate and the governor’s office.
Ivey has indicated she could move forward with a leasing proposal for three new prisons, which would not require the immediate approval of the Alabama legislature. However, Marsh warned that despite Ivey having some latitude, the legislature still has to appropriate the funding for the leases.
“At the end of the day, we’ll have input because we’ve got to put the money in the budget,” he said. “We’ve expressed to the governor more than once make sure we’re comfortable with this number of what this is going to cost if you’re going to build one, two, three prisons — whatever. And of course, she’ll sign a long-term lease — the direction she’s going with, some organization to build these things. And I’m not saying it can’t be done, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to allocate the dollars to pay for this thing. I would hope that everybody understands the next session when we’re faced with the budget, and we see what the price tag of this thing is going to be, if we have no prior knowledge of that price tag, it could be a problem.”
One possible outcome, if the governor were to proceed with her plan without consultation of the legislature, could be a standoff situation between the two branches when it comes time to set money aside. Marsh said that could be possible, but there might be a backlash if funding the prisons meant stripping funding from other areas.
“They can do that if they want to,” Marsh said. “But what they better realize is this: The people of the state of Alabama — they care about things like mental health, children’s services, Medicaid and prisons. But if you think the people of want to swipe from the other departments to give the prisons more money, I think they better recalculate that. We’ve got a lot of need in departments in the state. Prisons deserve their fair share, but I’m personally not wanting to rob and kill the services or mental health to build new prisons.”
“We have to do what we have to do to fulfill the federal order of the judge,” he added. “If we all work together, we can make that happen. There again, we need to be careful on how much money we’re putting into these prisons if it is going to take from other departments.”
Doug Jones on Joe and Hunter Biden investigation: ‘We cannot go around trying to investigate every perceived enemy of the president, especially this president’
Calls from the White House for the U.S. Senate to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden’s relationship with Ukrainian energy company Burisma are being dismissed by U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook).
On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday voted to authorize subpoenas related to an investigation into the younger Biden’s Burisma ties.
During an appearance on MSNBC earlier on Wednesday, Jones, a backer of the elder Biden’s 2020 presidential bid, seemingly shrugged off those calls by saying that the Senate should not be expected to “investigate every perceived enemy” of President Donald Trump.
“It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard,” Jones said. “I mean, the chairman of the Federal Reserve talking about the need to get more done for the American businesses and for the American workers. We’re still in the middle of a health care crisis here. We cannot go around trying to investigate every perceived enemy of the president, especially this president. That’s all that they would be doing. I can tell you, though, that Democrats in the Senate are talking about the things that are necessary.”
State Sen. Sessions: South Alabama oyster farmers, shrimpers hit by pandemic — Touts opportunity for manufacturing to return to U.S.
The coronavirus pandemic has seemingly had an impact on every aspect of Alabama’s economy, and the state’s seafood industry is not immune.
Much like the disparity in cattle and beef prices, which is due in part to measures implemented to mitigate COVID-19’s spread, including the closures of restaurant dining areas, a similar phenomenon is underway in seafood.
Tuesday during an appearance on Huntsville radio WVNN’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” State Sen. David Sessions (R-Grand Bay), whose district includes the seafood industry-heavy Bayou La Batre, discussed how the price of staples like oysters and shrimp had taken a hit as a result of the slow-up in demand.
“It really has,” Sessions explained. “I know I have some oyster farmers that depend on the high-end oysters that go to these restaurants like Wintzell’s or Acme Oyster House in New Orleans, and those places. You know, they’ve just been totally shut out of that market for the past two months. They’ve been doing their best in trying to sell them to wholesalers in other areas for home use and stuff like that.”
“Oysters and shrimp are just not something people will eat at home like chicken or beef or pork,” he continued. “It’s been really hard on these guys. I’m really hoping from the monies that we have, the state of Alabama — these small businesses really get looked at and get taken care of. We really need those small businesses in this state. It is critical that our small businesses survive this and come back and come back strong.”
Sessions added that although there was not as much activity in the marketplace regarding agricultural goods given the time of year, commodity prices have also taken a hit. He noted that the price of cotton was “30 cents below break-even,” which he tied to the push underway to bring back elements of manufacturing that left Alabama in the 1990s. That included the piecemeal departure of Vanity Fair from Monroeville and surrounding areas.
“There is a lot of raw cotton grown in Alabama, but it is unfortunately shipped to China,” he explained. “There are a lot of textile mills in China. I certainly hope this will wake this country and this state up, and someone will start investing in bringing some of this industry back to the United States. We saw what happened with the PPE equipment — manufactured in China. All the cloth — it’s just, being from Alabama, I don’t know what portion of Alabama you’re from. But Monroeville, Alabama used to have some very large Vanity Fair factories.”
“In rural areas, this, in my opinion, is one of the most significant that we’ve got to deal with,” Reed said in an interview with WVNN radio earlier this month. “We’ve already done some good work. We’ve already allocated some grant resources. We’ve done some things with the supercomputer authority. There have been some ways to increase the broadband access in our state, but it is still not good enough. And the coronavirus has just put an exclamation point on exactly why these issues are so important in especially rural portions of Alabama, to a district like mine where we’re going to be doing telehealth and telemedicine with our physicians, that nurse practitioners in the future — I just think that becomes a part of the way health care is going to be delivered in the future.”
“And being able to do that is so important in rural areas, where we have a lot of issues with health care, with the delivery of health care, obviously with economics topics,” he continued. “No one is going to locate their millions and millions of dollars in investment into a facility or a business in an area that cannot have high-speed internet access as well as education. That was a topic that we’ve talked about before, but it is even more important now — that we have some children in our state are not able to receive the same level as other children in our state simply because we do not have the level of technology available, the level of internet services available in some of the rural areas. Those children wind up being disadvantaged as a result.”
According to Reed, resources allocated to the state by the federal government in the name of coronavirus relief would go a long way in resolving the state’s broadband woes.
“If there’s a way we can find the resources — if some of these resources from the federal government can be used for rural broadband and expansion of that inside our state — I just think that’s a good use of those dollars,” he said. “I think it will be beneficial, as I said a minute ago, to the people of Alabama for a long, long time into the future. This is an infrastructure question related to the strength of our state, and it continues to be a priority, and I think coronavirus has done nothing but reiterate how important that really is to people throughout our state.”
State Senator Donnie Chesteen (R-Geneva) looks at internet connectivity in both the long and short terms. He encouraged funding to support the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act, carried by him as a member of the Alabama House of Representatives in 2018, and signed by Gov. Kay Ivey later that year. He also offered solutions in the interim that could be a stop-gap measure during for the fallout of the pandemic.
“I think the long-term part of it is we have to continue funding, and we have to increase our funding to the Broadband Accessibility Act in order to try to get broadband into unserved areas of our state,” Chesteen said in an interview in April. “Short-term we’re looking at ways to equip school buses with WiFi to get them into some hotspots into unserved areas, say there are rural churches where there’s a parking lot, where parents can drive their children up to do their own homework. But again, this goes back to the very beginning for the need for rural broadband. The students who do not have access to the online instruction in school right now are once again at a disadvantage. They’re having to take their paper packets and do their work. They don’t have that daily communication with their teachers that many of these students have who do have access to online.”
State Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville), who sponsored the 2018 Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act in the State Senate, noted that Alabama still lags behind neighboring states. He also said there was a conservative case to be made for rural broadband internet improvements.
“Corona has definitely highlighted and really shed a huge light on our connectivity disparity in Alabama,” Scofield said to WVNN last week. “We literally are as far as our surrounding states lag far behind. Believe it or not, the state of Mississippi has about double the coverage that Alabama does, if you can believe that. We are very far behind in Alabama. Now, corona or no corona — as I’ve been screaming for years — this is the future. Whether or not you’re doing your schoolwork at home, whether you’re working from home, or you’re engaging in telemedicine — high-speed internet is going to be critical. We have to make this investment in Alabama.”
“There’s a lot of people listening right now that are saying, ‘That doesn’t affect me. I have good connectivity at my home. But for us conservatives — those areas that do not have connectivity, they cost a lot of money in public funds to keep up, and that’s only going to continue unless we make these investments to try to turn that tide away from costing the state of Alabama to actually being productive areas of this state,” he stated. “I’m convinced we can do it.”
Scofield offered a historical precedent to consider with the New Deal-era creation Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which brought electricity to unserved parts of North Alabama in the early part of the 20th century. That, he said, set the northern part of the state on an economic trajectory that is unmatched in some parts of Alabama. He argued that internet connectivity could play a similar role to the TVA.
“Back before TVA came along, North Alabama was one of the poorest areas of Alabama,” Scofield said. “We’ve kind of flip-flopped. You had Alabama Power that was servicing the southern part of the state, around Birmingham, and all of that. There wasn’t hardly much going on in North Alabama. And so, we find ourselves in a different situation than we were in in the 30s and 40s. I don’t want any to look at it and say, ‘Those areas are lost for good. They’ll never be productive. I’m glad they didn’t say that about North Alabama and did nothing. We wouldn’t be the economic powerhouse that we are today.”
State Rep. Poole on education budget: ‘We have resources available if the downturn is more acute or comes back’
There are many uncertainties ahead regarding the coronavirus pandemic, particularly regarding the economy. Under the current operating assumptions, the worst is behind the country and Alabama.
For lawmakers in Montgomery, the difficulties regarding the economy include not having a precise number on what tax revenues to expect to apply to an education budget.
However, despite having to deal with those unknowns, State Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa), the chairman of the House education budget committee, said lawmakers were able to proceed from a position of strength on the FY 2021 education budget.
“[T]here are a lot of uncertainties — is there a second or third wave?” he said during an interview that aired on Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal.” “But as we see our businesses and economy reopen, we hope that’s successful and swift. And so, we hope for a quick recovery. But we’re positioned — we’ve maintained without having to use our budget stabilization account. We have also held back over $250 million of a supplemental fund, in addition to a $350 million stabilization account. We have access to the rainy day account that is a separate ability to access the capital trust fund to prevent proration. So we have resources available if the downturn is more acute or comes back.”
“So, those are unknowns, but certainly, we believe we can weather those storms with the current budget,” Poole continued. “And we’ll react to those, and have the resources to react if we need to. And that’s important to note — we have held back resources to react if this is worse than we think it is. Hopefully, we’ll be in a good position. Hopefully, that won’t happen, but if so — I think we’ll be in as a good a position as we can under the circumstances.”
State Sen. Melson predicts State Senate ‘will probably agree’ to Ivey executive amendment
There is a level of uncertainty as to what Monday’s last day of the 2020 general session has in store regarding the passage of the $7.2 billion education budget and the $2.3 billion general fund budget.
The unknown centers around an executive amendment to the general fund budget proposed by Gov. Kay Ivey dealing with $1.8 billion in CARES Act funding would be spent. Reportedly, the leadership from the House of Representatives and the governor’s office reached a compromise. However, the agreement came without the involvement of the Senate.
State Sen. Tim Melson (R-Florence) was optimistic about the Senate accepting Ivey’s amendment, but added there are uncertainties regarding the CARES Act funding.
“I think we’ll probably agree to the amendment,” Melson said on Friday’s broadcast of Huntsville radio WVNN’s “The Jeff Poor Show.” “We, and when I say ‘we,’ I’m talking about the Senate and the caucus in general — but we just want to be able to make sure that those who need it get and that those needs are addressed. Every one of us represents roughly 135,000 people. And I just think it is only fair that each district will be able to meet some of their needs. And I think [Ivey] will work with us. Look, she’s in a unique situation. I don’t know of any governor that’s been in this bad of a situation that did self-inflict themself into it. It’s one of those things where we don’t even know the guidelines on how this money has to be spent. We don’t know the total amount, even though we have an idea. We don’t know what will be reimbursement costs versus new money. So, there’s just a lot. We all need to sit down and work. There’s going to have to be a lot of faith and trust in those that will be working with her, like the pro-tem and the majority leaders and the speaker. There’s going to have to be some reasonable minds sitting down and figuring out how we can address the needs related to this pandemic. And I think we’ll do that. She’s a reasonable person, and I think most of the legislators are, too. I think we can find a solution.”
On the so-called “wish list” controversy, which included a line-item for $200 million for a new State House, Melson said while that was not the way discussions “should work,” he felt his body could move past it.
“[T]here was only a few in that room that made that list out,” he said. “My understanding is they were asked to make the list out on short notice. And this sounds crazy — but it is hard to spend $1.8 billion, all related to this, and make the list out in a hurry to go over. And so I’ve kind of jokingly said it’s kind of like asking your wife what she wants for Christmas. She makes the list out, comes with it and you start calling her a gold-digger. It’s just not the way it should work. We should all sit down, figure out where it needs to go and find out how to spend it appropriately. I think that’s going to happen.”
“I hate it that it all got aired out in public when the majority of the legislature knew nothing about that list,” he continued. “To be honest with you, I don’t even recall what was all on the list. I know the State House was built in the ’60s. It’s full of black mold and other issues. But I never in my wildest dreams thought while I would be down there, there would be a move to build a new State House. I don’t know where that came from. But anyway, I think we’ve moved on past that. We’ll all work this out next week.”
State senators express concerns over being excluded from $1.8 billion CARES Act funding negotiations between governor, House of Reps
Tensions appear to have subsided between the legislature and the governor’s office over an apparent dispute for control of some $1.8 billion in funding allocated by Congress through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
On Thursday, Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statement of intent to sign the $7.2 billion education budget and the $2.3 billion general fund budget. However, accompanying the statement was an executive amendment, which dealt with the CARES Act funding. Ivey confirmed on Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal” on Friday the amendment was the product of negotiations that included leadership from the Alabama House of Representatives and the governor’s office. However, it did not include leadership from the State Senate.
Both House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) and State Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), the chairman of the House Ways and Means General Fund committee, spoke approvingly of Ivey’s amendment.
“Our goal throughout this budgeting process has been to ensure that Alabama’s share of the federal CARES Act dollars is appropriated in a manner that is open, transparent, and serves the greatest public good. I believe that Governor Ivey’s proposed executive amendment checks all of those boxes,” McCutcheon said in a statement with APTV’s “Capitol Journal.”
“I think this is a good compromise here, and that we can move forward here and have these funds available right now so the Department of Finance can get to work on these different areas,” Clouse said in an interview with APTV that aired Friday. “Like I said, funds have to be spent by December 31 based on what the guidelines are saying now. They could come back and extend it. I hope they do — give us some more time.”
“It’s just not realistic for the legislature to be called back into special session time after time to figure out where this money is going to be going,” he continued. “So, I think this is certainly a good compromise, and I hope the House will go along. I’m going to recommend the House go along.”
However, leadership in the State Senate was not quite as favorable as their counterparts in the House chamber.
“A lot of discussion has occurred about the possibility of what to do and not do,” State Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore), the chairman of the Alabama Senate general fund committee, said. “I don’t know that we have as a caucus or as a body what will occur on Monday. But I can tell you this — and there are some good parts about this that I think that need to be adopted. The governor has acknowledged the constitutional responsibility that appropriating funds is the legislature’s duty and right. I think that’s one of the major fights we were having.”
According to “Capitol Journal” anchor Don Dailey, State Senate President Pro-Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) put out a statement saying he was “extremely disappointed” Senate leadership was not included.
State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), the chairman of the Senate Education Budget Committee, told Huntsville radio WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show” the Senate had a conference call to discuss the proposal, but also acknowledged his concern with the Senate leadership being left out of the loop.
“What’s problematic is I heard that the House worked with the governor on this amendment to the exclusion of the Senate,” Orr said. “So that, if true — presumably there are all on board. But our general fund chairman into this. So, we’ll have to see what the mood of the Senate is in approving or concurring with the executive amendment.”
Ivey seemed to shrug off the criticism from the Senate, saying the leadership in the upper chamber had the ability to reach out to her if they saw necessary during her Friday “Capitol Journal” appearance.
“The leadership of the Senate, the leadership of the House, have my cell phone 24/7,” Ivey said. “The House reached out with a specific proposal. I did not hear from the Senate. But they started the bill. They originated the bill. They had a definite say-so in the beginning in the livelihood of Senate Bill 161. They definitely had a say in it, but the House reached out to see if we could find a way to get out of the box we felt like we were in. The House leadership agreed, and I said, ‘Let’s move forward and we’ll ask the Senate to work with us.'”
“When this is all said and done, this is for the people of Alabama,” she added. “This is not my list, the House’s list, or the Senate’s list. This is the people’s list as prescribed by the CARES Act.”
Ivey: ‘We’re going to have to work hard to get’ $1.8 billion in CARES Act funding spent in a timely fashion
Still to go with one last calendar day for the Alabama legislature before the sine die adjournment are the FY 2021 education trust fund and general fund budgets, both of which are expected to be considered on Monday.
However, also looming is $1.8 billion funding allocated to Alabama by Congress through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act for COVID-19 relief efforts, which has been a topic of contention between the legislature and the governor’s office over the past week and a half.
Friday on Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” Ivey explained her view on that money and explained her blueprint for getting it spent before the December 30 deadline.
“When Congress passed the CARES Act — let’s see the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, it specified what the monies could be used for, what it couldn’t be used for, and also specified the monies had to be spent between March and December 30, 2020,” Ivey explained. “Now that’s the first time we’ve ever had any quote, unquote ’emergency relief’ from Congress that had strings attached if you will and conditions under which you must spend the money.”
She continued, “That’s the reason for the executive amendment to the supplemental appropriation that the Senate started — they started that bill with Senate Bill 161 and developed a supplemental appropriation. I’m simply offering the executive amendment to spell out, make that SB161 specifically allocate — not only allocate but spend $1.8 [billion] for the purposes intended by Congress to help those who have had expenses caused by the coronavirus.”
Ivey also explained the urgency, noting that given the deadline and the current calendar present obstacles. If the deadline is not met, Ivey warns the money would have to be sent back to the federal government.
“My thinking is the people of Alabama deserve to have the $1.8 billion spent for the purposes intended by the Congress for the benefit of the people who have been impacted by the coronavirus,” she said. “This is not a time for anybody’s individual wish list. This is for the people of Alabama, and I was just trying to do my part to see that the people benefited from the funds. And $1.8 billion is a chunk of change. We’re going to have to work hard to get it spent in a timely fashion, or the remainder that gets unspent goes back to DC. That’s not something I want to do.”
“So my executive amendment spells out some 11 categories of funds that meet the requirements of the federal government, and I’m asking the legislature to adopt this executive amendment Monday when they come in for the final day of the session so we can begin to spend this money for the benefit of the people,” Ivey added.
Tommy Tuberville: Jeff Sessions ‘basically threw this country under the bus’ with his recusal
Earlier this week, former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued an open letter to the people of Alabama about his 2017 recusal from the investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Sessions, a candidate for the Republican nomination for November’s U.S. Senate election, argued that given he was a part of the 2016 Trump campaign, he was required by statute to recuse and insisted that at the time of accepting then-President-elect Donald Trump’s appointment as U.S. Attorney General during the transition, he did not foresee a Russia investigation.
On Thursday, former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville, Sessions’ opponent in a July 14 runoff for the GOP nod and the opportunity to face U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook) in the November election, dismissed Sessions’ explanation during an interview that aired on Huntsville radio’s WVNN.
“I’m sure it is going to go all the way through because if he hadn’t recused himself, he would still be attorney general,” Tuberville said. “He would still be on ‘Team Trump.’ He’s trying to fight and get back on ‘Team Trump.’ I’ll tell you right now, that ain’t happening. The one thing about it — you know, you recused yourself. You say you had to recuse yourself. Well, why in the world would you turn it over to ‘Never Trumpers’ like [Rod] Rosenstein? He’s going to turn around and give it to [Robert] Mueller, who is a ‘Never Trumper,’ can’t stand President Trump. [James] Comey is involved. He basically threw this country under the bus with about 200 liberal lawyers in the Department of Justice.”
Tuberville argued Sessions could have put the investigation into the hands of an impartial investigator and not former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who Tuberville deemed a “Never Trumper.”
“So you recuse yourself — why not go out there and find somebody who not biased, give it to them and let them run it the right way?” he continued. “I mean, there are so many problems with this and people have got to understand — this is not Republicans and Democrats really that is coming after President Trump. It’s the Deep State. They’re still after him, Republicans and Democrats. They are after him. The former Senator just turned them loose on him.”
The former Auburn coach speculated the probe led by former Department of Justice special counsel Robert Mueller came at an exorbitant cost to the country and maintained Sessions’ efforts to “apologize” would not better his chances in the July runoff election.
“It probably cost us a trillion dollars in terms of getting things done and what we could have got done,” Tuberville added. “I know it is $40 million in just paying all of these overpriced lawyers. They’re after President Trump — but they’re really not after President Trump. They’re after the American people and the American way of life. President Trump is pretty much our spokesman. He’s the guy standing in the way of socialism. Why in the world would we have turned that group loose on him like a bunch of hyenas absolutely amazes me.”
“[Sessions] can go out there and apologize all he wants,” he continued. “But that’s not going to do any good. We’ve got a double-digit lead, and it’s growing. People are fired up. I’m excited about it because I want to be on the team that gets this country straight again.”
State Sen. Scofield on new State House saga: ‘Last week was not a good week,’ ‘Hopefully, it is a learning experience’
As it appears that Gov. Kay Ivey “intends” to work with the Alabama legislature to resolve an impasse regarding funding allocated by Congress through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act for COVID-19 relief efforts, disappointment in the governor is still widespread within the legislature.
Count State Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) among those disheartened by a dispute that played out in public over $1.8 billion in CARES Act funding, including the release of a so-called “wish list” to a handful of choice members of capitol press corps that showed a line-item for $200 million for a new Alabama State House.
Scofield told Huntsville radio’s WVNN he notified Ivey of his disappointment and added he thought State Senate President Pro-Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) got a “raw deal” given it was Ivey’s office that had requested the list.
“[I] think that last week was not a good week,” Scofield said. “It was very rare. I haven’t seen that type of politics from across the street. Governor Ivey is a great personal friend. I think a lot of members, including myself, were very disappointed at the whole State House thing. I sent a message over expressing my disappointment in that.”
He added, “She clarified, I think it was on Saturday, that 99% of the legislature didn’t know it. Frankly, I think the pro-tem kind of got a raw deal on that. They asked for a list. That was dead-last on the list. It was only on there because we literally have a lot of problems with that building. A lot of those problems are accessibility to the public. You’ve been in there. Some of those committee rooms that the public should have access to are standing-room-only. There’s not much room at all. We actually enlarged one of the committee rooms.”
The Marshall County Republican lawmaker said despite the need for a State House, he disagreed with the idea of using CARES Act funding as a means of financing for a new structure. He also said it was his hope this incident would be a “learning experience for all involved.”
“Look, I’m not saying we need to spend the money on a new State House,” Scofield added. “I very much disagree with that, and I think pretty much the whole legislature does. But I just think that was a little dirty pool. I was disappointed to see, and I know a lot of my colleagues, too. But with that being said, hopefully, it is a learning experience for all involved. And we’ll pick up and begin to work with each other. We have enjoyed nothing but a stellar working relationship with the governor.”
“And I’m convinced we’re going to get back to that point, and we’re going to be very transparent how these dollars are spent through the budgeting process of the legislature working with the governor and the department heads to make sure that money is going to be spent for the recovery and with the benefit of all the people of Alabama,” he continued. “We all have thick skin, or we better get thick skin. We just have to say, ‘Hey, we don’t agree with it. I wish you would operate differently.’ Let’s do in the future, pick up and move on and continue to work for the great state of Alabama and the betterment of her people.”
Talladega Superspeedway’s GEICO 500 weekend slated for June 20-21 without fans
Race fans will have to wait to attend a race in person at Alabama’s Talladega Superspeedway. But there is relief on the way.
On Thursday, Talladega Superspeedway officials announced racing would return to the Talladega Superspeedway June 20-21 for a tripleheader weekend with the GEICO 500, MoneyLion 300 and General Tire 200.
The weekend’s events, which were initially scheduled to be held back in April but were postponed due to the pandemic, will be held without fans and broadcasted on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
“We, like so many passionate race fans, are thrilled to have NASCAR racing again at Talladega Superspeedway,” Talladega Superspeedway president Brian Crichton said in a statement. “For more than 50 years, this enormous venue has provided some of the sport’s most exciting side-by-side, door-to-door racing resulting in photo finishes. A special thank you to Governor Ivey and other state leadership in working with NASCAR to allow these events in Alabama. We also have tremendous appreciation and respect for medical personnel, first responders, frontline and essential workers who have been so dedicated during this time.”
“While fans will not be permitted to attend the events, we encourage everyone to tune into FOX, FS1, MRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio to catch all the action that makes Talladega one of a kind,” he added.
Governor Kay Ivey urged race fans to “remain vigilant” in the coronavirus.
“Having one of our state’s jewels – Talladega Superspeedway – be able to host a NASCAR weekend is yet another step that shows how we are moving forward. The people of Alabama have been smart throughout these challenging times, and as a result, families from our state and all over the world will be treated to seeing or listening to the greatest racing in NASCAR. I ask that everyone remain vigilant so that we can continue taking steps forward and enjoying the many things Alabama has to offer, like our own Talladega Superspeedway.”
Rep. Rogers: Using CARES Act funds for new State House a ‘harebrained idea’
One thing that will not have support even among Republican members of Congress is a proposal for funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to be applied to the cost of building a new Alabama State House.
“I don’t know how that harebrained idea about thinking they could spend some of it on a new building came up,” he said on Wednesday’s broadcast of Huntsville radio WVNN’s “The Jeff Poor Show.” “But I was in the legislature, and there’s knuckleheads there just like there are in Congress that come up with silly ideas they should keep in their head and not let out their mouth.”
However, he explained that it did not mean there was no room for flexibility regarding CARES Act money. According to Rogers, the Treasury Secretary has discretion over what is and is not an acceptable CARES Act expenditure.
“The Treasury Department has been showing that all along,” he said. “We have regular calls with the Treasury Secretary, and we raise these kinds of issues with him. He has the latitude, without legislation to make tweaks and changes. He’s been doing that all along. So, if we get reasonable requests for modifications, we forward those up to him, and he makes his decision. He’s made a lot of accommodations. So, there’s room for it they have any ideas on how it can be used to deal with the pandemic, and the fallout that has come from this public health and economic crisis, then all they have to do is communicate those with us or the Treasury Department, and we can get them some answers back.”
Sen. Doug Jones joins Rep. Robert Aderholt, others in call for federal investigations into cattle-beef price disparities
Earlier this week, the Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI) Commissioner Rick Pate explained the counterintuitiveness of low cattle prices as high retail beef prices are in effect.
Pate has been pushing for Alabama’s two U.S. Senators to back a proposal of a Department of Justice investigation into allegations of domestic meat-packing companies manipulating beef prices.
On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook) answered Pate’s call with a letter that was co-signed by Jones and a bipartisan group of 18 of his colleagues requesting U.S. Attorney General William Barr open an investigation into reports of potential anti-competitive activities in the highly concentrated beef-packing sector.
“The lack of competition in the meatpacking industry has resulted in a vulnerable beef supply chain, which the current national emergency has destabilized further,” the senators wrote. “Recent pricing discrepancies between fed cattle and boxed beef are pushing cattle producers and feeders to the brink, adding to the longstanding concerns stemming from the state of competition among beef packers. Since February, we have seen live cattle prices slump by more than 18 percent, while wholesale beef prices have increased by as much as 115 percent during the same period.”
Letter as follows:
Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville) and 24 of his congressional colleagues penned a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue calling for similar scrutiny of the price imbalance.
“Beginning in the first few weeks of the crisis, cattlemen have seen prices drastically decline, with cattle futures falling 29% between the month of January and April, all-the-while beef prices increased on market shelves,” the letter said. “While we do recognize the complexity of the beef markets generally, the devastating effect this has had on many of our constituents in the last few weeks is clear. This is of great concern to us for a variety of reasons but chief among them being the doubt it casts on our markets as a whole. When market participants begin to believe that markets are not competitive or transparent that suspicion has a dangerous industry-wide ripple effect.”
Letter as follows:
Jones had made earlier gestures regarding the price discrepancy. Back in April, Jones also joined a letter to Perdue with three of his Democratic U.S. Senate colleagues asking for an investigation, and adding the issues were not new nor a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Evidence of price fixing is now even clearer as the nation reacts to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the April 23 letter said. “Yet again, as the demand for beef increases nationwide, live cattle futures are sinking. We are hearing from ranchers that it is not feasible to sell their cattle at such low futures and still hope to break even. In a time when Americans are consuming more beef than ever before, it is confounding that ranchers are struggling, while meat packers take home record profits.”
“Although allegations of pricing fixing in the cattle industry are reaching national prominence as a result of recent crises, these are not new issues. The industry is highly concentrated, as four meatpacking firms control 80 percent of the market,” it continued.
State Sen. Chambliss on CARES Act funding dispute: ‘Frustration’ between governor, legislature ‘a good thing,’ ‘part of our system’
Last week’s falling-out between Gov. Kay Ivey and the legislature over who should control an estimated $1.8 billion in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding from the federal government allocated to the states was not a bad thing, according to State Sen. Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville).
Despite a dispute that played out in the public after a so-called “wish list” was disseminated among the capitol press corps in Montgomery showing a line-item for $200 million for a new Alabama State House, Chambliss told Huntsville radio’s WVNN the back-and-forth was part of the “context” of a system of checks and balances.
“The first thing we need to do as citizens when we hear things — we need to think about is, ‘What is the context?'” Chambliss said. “What’s the context of what’s going on?”
“The first context is when you have a system designed as we do with separate branches, those branches are there for checks and balances on the other,” he said. “That creates a natural frustration with each other. That’s actually a good thing. That’s actually the way the system was designed. Without those checks and balances, you know, one branch or the other could get out of control. So, I don’t look at that frustration and the nyah-nyah-ing back and forth as really a negative. Of course, in the media, they try to make a big deal out of it, and it is a big deal. But it is part of our system, and we need that. We need those checks and balances. I’m not too alarmed by it.”
Despite the portrayal by media and national political figures of the $200 million State House proposal, Chambliss insisted context was what is important.
“That was some kind of low-hanging fruit,” he said of the portrayal. “But again, what was the context? The context was this money was sent down at a time that we were having to stand up hospitals, expand and buy PPEs. Things were crazy-unknown at that time. Then, a little later, we kind of flattened the curve. We get through. Then the process is, ‘Hey, if these strings are loosened, what can we do? What should we do with this money? Do we send it back? Utilize it?’ So, the what-ifs were out there. Obviously, that made an easy target, and that was the context of it. Also, it wasn’t a list by the entire legislature. It was some leadership and really just throwing something on paper to say, ‘You know, OK if strings are lightened up, what can we do with it?”What are our needs?’ is really the question that is being asked, knowing all along that some of those needs will not be eligible for that money.”