The Wire

  • Birmingham man drowns in rough surf at Panama City Beach

    Excerpt from WKRG:

    An Alabama man has died after being pulled from rough waters in the Gulf of Mexico Friday evening.

    According to the report from Panama City Beach Police, officers responded to a water call of a swimmer in distress at Trade Winds Condos. When they arrived, 31 year-old Darrius Stone Jr. of Birmingham, Alabama was unresponsive and being pulled from the water.

  • Former President George H.W. Bush hospitalized

    Excerpt from ABC News:

    Former President George H.W. Bush was admitted to the hospital Sunday afternoon for low blood pressure and fatigue, his spokesman Jim McGrath said.

    “He will likely remain there for a few days for observation,” McGrath said. “The former president is awake and alert, and not in any discomfort.”

  • Man barricaded inside home, threatens family in Ensley

    Excerpt from WVTM:

    Birmingham police say the man, 24, came out of the home Saturday afternoon without incident after speaking with negotiators.

    Birmingham police say the man barricaded himself in a home earlier in the day after relatives of the man say he pulled a gun and threatened to shoot them.

    Officers responded to the 2900 block of Avenue C in Ensley. Police set up a perimeter, closing off roads nearby in an effort to make contact with the man.

    Police say the man was inside the home alone, but was not a threat to the general public.

10 months ago

Who’s Your Pick To Win The Republican Senate Primary?

Reports far and wide seem to suggest that the U.S. Senate election is a three-horse race between Luther Strange, Mo Brooks, and Roy Moore.  The scarce public polls have all the other candidates in single digits.

If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote on Tuesday, August 15, the top two will go head-to head in a runoff set for Tuesday, September, 26.

Published polls have been few and far between so we want to know what you think? Your responses are anonymous, so “vote” in our poll below and tell us who think will come out on top August 15th.

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10 months ago

Federal Judge Sides With ACLU—Strikes Down Alabama Pro-Life Law

Women attendants of a Planned Parenthood rally try to keep dry after a sudden storm moved through the Tampa area on August 29. (Photo: Mallory Benedict/PBS NewsHour)
Women attendants of a Planned Parenthood rally try to keep dry after a sudden storm moved through the Tampa area on August 29.
(Photo: Mallory Benedict/PBS NewsHour)

In a major setback for the pro-life movement, a U.S. Magistrate, Judge Susan Russ Walker, has struck down an Alabama law that required minors seeking an abortion to undergo a hearing where the fetus could be represented by a court-appointed lawyer. In doing so, the court sided with the American Civil Liberties Union, which argued the law was in defiance of constitutional standards.

At the time of the decision, Alabama was the only state to have such a law in place.

In her opinion, Judge Walker said that the law placed an “undue burden” on girls by allowing for a proceeding that breaches confidentiality. During such hearings, local district attorneys, witnesses, and others would be permitted to oppose a woman seeking an abortion. Walker also cited a recent ruling by the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals, which upheld the decision that a 12-year-old Alabama girl could proceed with an abortion after she was raped and impregnated by a family member.

Abortion became legally protected after the Supreme Court contentiously ruled it was a right in 1973. However, the current standard is actually the “undue burden” test laid out by the court in the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey. This simply means that states are permitted to pass anti-abortion regulations as long as those new laws do not pose an “undue burden” on pregnant women.

States, like Alabama that require parental consent for abortions for minors, must also have a Judicial Bypass procedure in place. The bypass is a workaround for a minor seeking an abortion without her parents’ knowledge or consent.

In this case, the state of Alabama had argued that the law was written to provide for “meaningful” inquiry into the minor’s ability to make an abortion decision, but that it was still a “confidential, and expeditious option for a teenager who seeks an abortion without parental consent.” The ACLU countered, arguing that Alabama’s law failed to meet the Casey standard because it placed an undue burden on the person seeking the abortion. The law gave local prosecutors the power to subpoena the minor’s teacher, neighbor, relative, or boyfriend to testify against the minor, which the ACLU saw as far from confidential.

Judge Walker agreed that such a process violates the requirement that Judicial Bypass proceedings be effective, confidential, and expeditious.

Walker was appointed by Bill Clinton in 1996 and her term expires in 2020.

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10 months ago

Speaker Announces Committee Changes in the Alabama House of Representatives

Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: House GOP Caucus)
Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: House GOP Caucus)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) announced several committee reassignments on Monday after conducting what many expected to be a routine review.

“Committee assignments are often changed in order to bring new ideas, fresh perspectives, and renewed enthusiasm to the various legislative panels,” McCutcheon told the Alabama News Network. “We work hard to pair each member with a committee assignment that reflects their particular skill set, district, and constituencies.”

The latest committee changes will stay in place for the remainder of the current legislative quadrennium or four-year cycle. The next organizational session of the legislature will not convene until 2019.

The assigned changes are:

• Rep. Alan Boothe (R–Troy) has been moved from the House Rules Committee to the House Ethics and Campaign Finance Committee

• Rep. Prince Chestnut (D–Selma) will no longer serve on the State Government Committee and has been moved to the House Judiciary Committee. He will still sit on the Military and Veterans Affairs and Urban and Rural Development committees.

• Rep. Danny Crawford (R–Athens) will now serve on the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee in addition to his service on the County and Municipal Government, Health and Urban and Rural Development Committees.

• Rep. Juandalynn Givan (D–Birmingham) has been moved from the House Judiciary Committee to the House County and Municipal Government Committee. She will maintain her seat on the Constitution, Campaigns and Elections Committee.

• Rep. Kelvin Lawrence (D–Hayneville) will sit on the House State Government Committee in addition to the Boards, Agencies, and Commissions and Economic Development and Tourism committees.

• Rep. Tim Wadsworth (R–Arley) was moved from the House State Government Committee to the House Judiciary Committee. He will maintain his seat on the Children and Senior Advocacy and Local Legislation committees.

• Rep. Jack Williams (R–Wilmer) has been moved from the Agriculture and Forestry Committee to the House State Government Committee.

While these changes will stay in place until the start of 2019, McCutcheon said that more changes could come before the Legislature meets again at the start of next year.

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10 months ago

HERO: Alabama Police Officer Puts Life on the Line to Search for Potential Flood Victims

HOOVER, Ala. — A Hoover Police Officer went to heroic lengths yesterday to check submerged cars for potential flood victims. Officer TJ Denson jumped into the six-foot-deep waters on Deo Dara Drive with the intent to rescue people after he saw a vehicle under the water.

“I said, well, it’s time to go swimming,” Denson told WBRC. “If there is somebody in that vehicle, we need to get to them. We need to help them.”

He told the local Fox affiliate that he made the decision in an instant, without much consideration for his own safety. But he said that type of action just comes with the territory of being an officer.

“It’s just something we’re asked to do when we’re put in those kind of situations,” he said.

Luckily, it turned out no one was inside the underwater vehicle. But Denson’s lack of certainty caused him to check anyway, and he said that there is no question he would do it again.

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10 months ago

Alabama County Confirms Fifth Case of Deadly Bacteria

MOBILE, Ala. — The Mobile County Health Department confirmed a new case of Vibrio this week, marking the fifth such diagnosis of 2017.

According to a report from the MCHD, Vibrio bacteria naturally live in certain coastal waters and are present in higher concentrations between May and October when water temperatures are warmer. Generally speaking, exposure to Vibrio Vulnificus is benign, but severe infections are possible for those with compromised immune systems. Out-of-control infections can lead to the phenomenon commonly known as flesh-eating bacteria.

“Most soft-tissue infections occur with either injury or with conditions such as poorly controlled diabetes or low immunity. However, sometimes otherwise healthy people can develop a skin infection after skin injury and being exposed to natural bodies of water. Some bacteria can cause more severe infections than others,” said Dr. Karen Landers, Assistant State Health Officer at the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Because of the heightened risk, the Alabama Department of Public Health has released a warning against “entering
bodies of water if you have cuts or abrasions; if injured, clean wound at once to reduce risk of infection.”

The previous local victims of Vibrio infection were:

• A Mobile County resident who consumed raw oysters in another state back in March

• An individual who consumed raw oysters served in — but not harvested in — South Alabama in April

• Two individuals exposed while in bodies of water near Dauphin Island, the Mississippi Sound, and Mobile Bay

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 80,000 people become sick with vibriosis, and 100 people die from their infection. Throughout the state of Alabama, the ADPH has officially reported 30 cases in the last 12 months.

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10 months ago

Alabama Awards Grant to Program Supporting Emergency Medical Services

(Tomás Del Coro/Flickr)
“Rescue for Life Ambulance” by Flickr user Tomás Del Coro

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — On Friday, Gov. Kay Ivey (R-Ala.) awarded a grant to The Alabama Department of Public Health in order to help fund its electronic Patient Care Reporting system. The $60,000 will be used to improve the state program, which aims to track emergency medical services’ responses to calls.

“Quick and quality assistance by emergency medical personnel can mean the difference between life and death in medical emergencies, and our first responders work tirelessly to provide that quality of service,” Ivey said. “With support from this grant, the Alabama Patient Care Reporting system will ensure Alabama continues to meet the standards for proper emergency care.”

The standards to which Gov. Ivey referred are put in place by the National Emergency Medical Services Information System, which operates under the umbrella of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA awards the grant money to compliant states to be disbursed by their governors. Alabama has abided by the national standards since 2007 and is currently compliant.

The $60,000 will be administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, which is responsible for implementing a wide variety of policy programs from law enforcement to energy conservation.

“We all share the common goal of ensuring that those in need of emergency medical care receive the best possible assistance in a timely manner,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said in a press release. “With Gov. Ivey’s support in the form of this grant, this program will continue ensuring that all standards are being met and are being reported properly when EMS personnel provide care to those in need.”

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10 months ago

Nick Saban Has a Bold New Idea for How to Fix College Football

Nick Saban informing Alabamians to register to vote (youtube)
Nick Saban informing Alabamians to register to vote (youtube)

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Seemingly more than most sports, the format of College Football is under constant attack from coaches and commentators who think they can fix the perceived inequalities in the system. The advent of the College Football Playoff has alleviated many criticisms regarding the fairness of the game, but questions still remain regarding the equity of scheduling.

Nick Saban, the five-time national champion coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide, has an idea to make college football more uniform. During his run through the ESPN Car Wash yesterday, Saban proposed eliminating non-power five opponents from power-five team schedules.

“We should play all teams in the Power 5 conferences,” Saban said on SportsCenter this Wednesday. “If we did that, then if we were going to have bowl games, we should do the bowl games just like we do in the NCAA basketball tournament — not by record but by some kind of power rating that gets you in a bowl game. If we did that, people would be a little less interested in maybe bowl games and more interested in expanding the playoff.”

Saban compared the current situation in college football to what goes on the NFL. In College football, Saban noted, there are few opportunities for apples-to-apples comparisons of teams in different conferences. In the NFL, teams play all of their games against each other, rather than playing a game or two against a CFL team.

According to Saban, a system absent of “cupcake” games would be better for everyone involved. “In this scenario, there would be more opportunity to play more teams in your league, as well as to have more games that people would be interested in,” he said. “We all play three or four games a year now that nobody’s really interested in. We’d have more good games, more public interest, more fan interest, better TV.”

Alabama starts its season against another college football juggernaut: Florida State. Every year since 2008, the Crimson Tide have opened up their season with a major non-conference opponent. Saban said that there is a method to the madness.

“I would rather play Florida State,” Saban told ESPN. “Not just Florida State but a good team in the beginning of the season because I think it does a lot for your team and your team’s chances of being successful. First of all, you have a better offseason when the players have a big challenge in the first game. It really tells you regardless of the result where your team is, legitimately.”

Alabama and Florida State face off in the season opener on September 2. The game will be aired on ABC at 7 p.m. CST. Tickets for the showdown have already sold out.

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10 months ago

Senator Shelby Weighs In on Transgenders in the Military

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Although he wants to see more facts to further evaluate the situation, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) appeared to support the inclusion of all willing people in the U.S. Military during a Wednesday afternoon interview on CNN.

“You ought to treat everybody fairly and give everybody a chance to serve,” Shelby said on CNN’s Newsroom.

CNN’s questioning stemmed from President Donald Trump’s announcement of a ban on transgender individuals in the U.S. Military. The president made his declaration Wednesday morning in a series of tweets.

Shelby reiterated throughout the several-minute segment that he would like to carefully evaluate the new policy. However, he did note that it appeared to be a shift from traditional U.S. protocol.

“That would be a reversal of the current policy,” Shelby said. “The current policy is a big tent for people who want to serve. You’ve got to remember, our military force is a voluntary force. I’ll have to see what he actually said, read his tweet and go from there.”

Shelby clarified his statements with Yellowhammer, expressing confidence in and deference towards our nation’s military but said that the door should be open for all capable individuals to serve in the armed forces.

“We are a nation at war. I am confident that Secretary Mattis and DoD leadership can and will evaluate current personnel policy that will enable us to recruit, train, and equip an all-volunteer force,” he told Yellowhammer. “Any American who wants to serve our country and is able to meet those standards should have the opportunity to do so.”

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10 months ago

Alabama to Pursue Alternatives in Medicaid

Alabama Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed and Governor Kay Ivey

After speaking with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Gov. Kay Ivey (R-Ala.) announced her support of the Alabama Medicaid Agency’s move away from Regional Care Organizations and towards a more low-risk option.

RCOs are managed care systems located throughout the state that provides various healthcare services to most Alabama Medicaid enrollees. Under the guidance of the state Medicaid agency, they provide services at an established cost to Medicaid patients. They were created by state legislation in 2013 as a means to shift Medicaid from fee-for-service system to a higher quality payment system.

State Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper), who authored the 2013 legislation establishing RCOs, is providing leadership for moving away from the mechanism under the changing healthcare climate. “The Regional Care Organizations were a smart mechanism for the delivery of Medicaid care under the Affordable Care Act during the era of the Obama administration,” Reed said. “The goal of the RCOs was to bend the cost curve down for Alabama taxpayers and improve healthcare outcomes for Medicaid recipients.” However, speaking to the new policies being pursued by the new administration, he added,

 “I believe with the new presidential administration we can accomplish the goals of the RCO initiative via a different path and without the upfront costs it would take to fund a transition to the RCOs. Pursuing new options with the Trump administration for Medicaid is the right call for Alabama.”

Likewise, Ivey pointed to the increased Medicaid flexibility allowed by the Trump Administration and how that freedom has opened up the door to new implementation possibilities when announcing her decision to support the move.

“This flexibility brought us to a crossroads where we reconsidered the risks and rewards of RCOs and decided instead to pursue new reform options which bring less risks and similar outcomes,” Ivey said. “The RCO model didn’t fail; instead the alternative is a recognition that the circumstances surrounding Medicaid have changed. Thus, our approach must change.”

Alabama Medicaid Commissioner Stephanie Azar announced the move Thursday morning, citing new and potential regulation changes from the Trump administration.

“While the financial implications could be challenging for our state, the new flexibilities and waiver options that the Trump administration is willing to consider gives our state Medicaid program new options to accomplish similar goals without incurring the same level of increased upfront costs associated with the RCO program,” Azar said.

Azar said that she would work alongside Gov. Ivey, Senator Reed, and others to formulate an “innovative model to accomplish our goal of retooling Medicaid to better serve the needs of Alabamians.”

Medicaid is by far the largest annual expense in the state’s general fund budget. In the last fiscal year, one million Alabamians received Medicaid benefits at a state cost of $700 million.

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10 months ago

Staffer for Alabama Congressman Earns Spot on The Hill’s ’50 Most Beautiful’

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Every year, The Hill publishes a list of the 50 most beautiful people working in our nation’s capital. From staffers to senators, the web magazine considers anyone and everyone working in government for a coveted spot on the list.

This year, Alabama’s Cate Cullen, the Communications Director for Rep. Gary Palmer (R-AL 6), earned a slot as one of the 50 Most Beautiful. Although she now works in the heart of the Yellowhammer State, her family’s Air Force background allowed her to see the country and the world as she grew up.

Cullen’s Air Force background allowed her to see the country and the world as she grew up. Although she lived in many places around the globe, she’s determined that Birmingham, Alabama is her true hometown. She lived there for five years after moving from Japan with her mother.

Though she now works with Rep. Palmer in D.C., she still likes to visit exotic places with her father. But even then, she has a hard time keeping away from the political grind. “I’m ashamed to say that I was working on the beaches of Mexico,” she told The Hill.

Cullen has worked for Palmer since February of 2016. Prior to that, she worked as a press assistant for the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Media Marketing from Birmingham-Southern College.

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10 months ago

Law and Order: Sessions Announces New Conditions for Sanctuary Cities to Receive Federal Money

(Photo: Gage Skidmore)
(Photo: Gage Skidmore)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced late on Tuesday that there are now new guidelines that so-called “Sanctuary Cities” must meet if they are to receive federal law enforcement grants. Among these are the requirements that the cities must completely open their jails to federal immigration authorities and alert the proper departments when someone eligible for deportation is released.

“This is what the American people should be able to expect from their cities and states,” Sessions said. “And these long overdue requirements will help us take down MS-13 and other violent transnational gangs, and make our country safer.”

Both Sessions and President Donald Trump have long been critical of Sanctuary Cities. The Department of Justice believes that by threatening funds — which are used to pay for everything from police body cameras to bulletproof vests — the behavior of localities will change.

“So-called sanctuary policies make all of us less safe because they intentionally undermine our laws and protect illegal aliens who have committed crimes,” Sessions said in a statement. “These policies also encourage illegal immigration and even human trafficking by perpetuating the lie that in certain cities, illegal aliens can live outside the law. … We must encourage these `sanctuary’ jurisdictions to change their policies and partner with federal law enforcement to remove criminals.”

In February, the Birmingham City Council voted unanimously to become a sanctuary city, despite state law which prohibits cities from refusing to comply with federal directives on immigration. Gov. Bentley (R-Ala.) issued a strong rebuke of Birmingham’s decision and said that the state would not support such a venture. The federal government does not consider Birmingham a sanctuary city at this time.

The Center for Immigration Studies compiled a map of every sanctuary state, county, and city in the United States, and they are too numerous to list. A full breakdown of the sanctuary jurisdictions in the country can be seen here.

c/o Center for Immigration Studies (accessed March 27, 2017)
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10 months ago

Trump Says He’s Looking at Firing Sessions

Real estate mogul and 2016 Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at CPAC in 2011 (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Real estate mogul and 2016 Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at CPAC in 2011 (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In an interview released yesterday by The Wall Street Journal, President Donald Trump said that he is “looking at” firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“I’m just looking at it,” Trump said regarding the possibility Sessions could be fired. “I’ll just see. It’s a very important thing.”

Evidence of Trump’s frustration became public last week when he attacked Sessions in a New York Times interview over the Attorney General’s decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

“Sessions should have never recused himself. . . And if he was going to recuse himself he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Trump told the New York Times. “If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair and that’s a mild word.”

The attacks continued on Monday, with Trump taking a jab at the Department of Justice and calling Sessions “beleaguered.” On Tuesday, he tweeted two more attacks criticizing Sessions for being “very weak” on investigations surrounding Hillary Clinton.

RELATED: Alabama Delegation Staunchly Defends Sessions & Giuliani Says The A.G. Got it Right

Various reports have tied potential replacements to the job of Attorney General, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). Giuliani, however, explicitly said he is not being considered, and he added that Sessions did the right thing by recusing himself from the Russia probe.

Sessions has been one of Trump’s closest political allies since before Alabama even held its primary. Sessions was the first U.S. Senator to endorse Trump and then served in an advisory capacity for his campaign until his victory. Fox New’s Tucker Carlson recently highlighted this relationship on his primetime program and called for the president to stop attacking “one of the very few” friends he has in Washington.

Despite the whirlwind of pressure, Sessions said late last week that he will continue to serve “as long as that is appropriate.

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10 months ago

Alabama Delegation Staunchly Defends Sessions & Giuliani Says The A.G. Got it Right

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) speaks at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)
Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) speaks at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

With a relationship with the White House that is quickly turning sour, Attorney General Jeff Sessions received strong backing this morning from a longtime ally on Capitol Hill: Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).

“During the past twenty years that I have served with Jeff Sessions in the Senate, I have had the opportunity to know him well. He is a man of integrity, loyalty, and extraordinary character,” Shelby said in a statement. “I join the people of Alabama in giving him my deep respect and unwavering support.”

Other members of Alabama’s Congressional Delegation have expressed their support for Sessions as well. Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL2), who has long considered Sessions a mentor, came out vigorously defending his character.

“I know Jeff Sessions to be a man of great character and sound judgment. His decision to recuse himself was the right thing to do, not just for himself, but for the Administration,” She said. “This country needs Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. We have done more to crack down on illegal immigration in the last six months than in the past eight years. We are addressing problems like violent crime and human trafficking. Congress finally has a partner at the Department of Justice who is willing to enforce laws as they are written.”

When it comes to the president, however, the hits just keep on coming. Early this morning, President Donald Trump tweeted two new attacks on his Attorney General Jeff Sessions, this time criticizing him for being “very weak” on investigations surrounding Hillary Clinton.

Evidence of Trump’s frustration became public last week when he attacked Sessions in a New York Times interview over the Attorney General’s decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

“Sessions should have never recused himself. . . And if he was going to recuse himself he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Trump told the New York Times. “If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair and that’s a mild word.”

The attacks continued on Monday, with Trump taking a jab at the Department of Justice and calling Sessions “beleaguered.”

Axios has reported that the president is openly considering the possibility of replacing Sessions with another long-time Trump ally. West Wing sources told the news outlet that Trump is so unhappy with Sessions that he wants to swap him for fellow New Yorker Rudy Giuliani. The former New York City Mayor strongly supported Trump throughout the 2016 campaign.

Later Monday evening, Giuliani told news outlets he was not being considered for AG and that Sessions “made the right decision under the rules of the Justice Department” regarding recusal.

Trump’s new Communications Director, Anthony Scaramucci, seemingly confirmed that Trump wants Sessions gone in a radio interview with conservative host Hugh Hewitt. When asked directly whether or not the president wanted sessions out, Scaramucci replied, “If there’s this level of tension in the relationship that, that’s public, you’re probably right.”

Sessions has been one of Trump’s closest political allies since before Alabama even held its primary. Sessions was the first U.S. Senator to endorse Trump and then served in an advisory capacity for his campaign until his victory. Fox New’s Tucker Carlson recently highlighted this relationship on his primetime program and called for the president to stop attacking “one of the very few” friends he has in Washington.

Despite the whirlwind of pressure, Sessions said late last week that he will continue to serve “as long as that is appropriate.

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10 months ago

Alabama The Beautiful: 11 State Parks Win Trip Advisor Awards in 2017

Lake Guntersville State Park Lodge (Photo: James Harris, Alabama NewsCenter)
Lake Guntersville State Park Lodge (Photo: James Harris, Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama’s State Parks are now on the national radar thanks to 17 awards given out by the website TripAdvisor. The online travel reservation giant awarded 11 different Alabama parks with honors recognizing their natural beauty and man-made accommodations.

“We’re thrilled that TripAdvisor users love our parks as much as we do,” Greg Lein, Alabama State Parks director, told the Alabama NewsCenter. “Our staff works hard to make sure visitors have first-class experiences enjoying our beautiful state and it’s nice to be recognized.”

While some of the parks on the list are used to recognition, there are several that were recognized for the first time or in new ways. The recognized parks are:

Gulf State Park, Mobile: overall park, piers/boardwalks, campground, and trails

Lake Guntersville State Park, Guntersville: overall park and lodging

Desoto State Park, Fort Payne: overall park, mountains, nature, and wildlife

Joe Wheeler State Park, Rogersville: overall park and lodging

Cathedral Caverns State Park, Woodville: best parks

Monte Sano State Park, Huntsville: best parks

Oak Mountain State Park, Oak Mountain: best parks

Wind Creek State Park, Alexander City: best parks

Cheaha State Park, Delta: best parks

Lakepoint State Park, Eufaula: best parks

Chewacla State Park, Auburn: best parks

“Services like TripAdvisor are important to get the word out about our parks to people who love the outdoors, but may have not considered visiting Alabama,” Lein told Alabama NewsCenter. “We have a great track record with repeat visitors, proof that when you come to an Alabama State Park you’ll enjoy your experience. There’s something for everyone at our parks.”

The State of Alabama operates and maintains 22 state parks covering more than 48,000 acres of land and water. 80 to 90 percent of the operating costs are covered by visitor fees rather than taxpayer dollars.

(h/t Alabama NewsCenter) 

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10 months ago

Trump Entertaining Idea of Replacing Sessions with Giuliani as AG

After a rough week for the relationship between President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Axios has reported that the president is openly considering the possibility of replacing the Alabamian with another long-time Trump ally. West Wing sources told the news outlet that Trump is so unhappy with Sessions that he wants to swap him for fellow New Yorker Rudy Giuliani. The former New York City Mayor strongly supported Trump throughout the 2016 campaign.

Evidence of Trump’s frustration became public last week when he attacked Sessions in a New York Times interview over the Attorney General’s decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

“Sessions should have never recused himself. . . And if he was going to recuse himself he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Trump told the New York Times. “If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair and that’s a mild word.”

The attacks continued again this morning, with Trump taking a jab at the Department of Justice and calling Sessions “beleaguered.”

Sessions has been one of Trump’s closest political allies since before Alabama even held its primary. Sessions was the first U.S. Senator to endorse Trump and then served in an advisory capacity for his campaign until his victory. Fox New’s Tucker Carlson recently highlighted this relationship on his primetime program and called for the president to stop attacking “one of the very few” friends he has in Washington.

Despite the whirlwind of pressure, Sessions said late last week that he will continue to serve “as long as that is appropriate.”

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10 months ago

Time Is Running Out for Alabamians to Register to Vote in Upcoming Special Election

The race to replace U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the Senate is in full swing, and Alabamians that want to participate in the electoral process must ensure they are registered by the end-of-the-month deadline. With the primary elections taking place on August 15, the official cutoff for voter registration is July 31.

Alabamians can check their registration status on the Secretary of State’s website. A new window for registration will open up before the General Election, which will take place on December 12.

Both the Republicans and Democrats face crowded primary fields. In the GOP, Bentley-appointee Luther Strange is trying to keep the seat, while Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL5), former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, State Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Montrose), Randy Brinson, Bryan Peeples, James Baretta, Joseph Breault, and Mary Maxwell are battling to take it away. The Democratic Primary features former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, activist Michael Hansen, Will Boyd, Vann Caldwell, Jason Fisher, Robert Kennedy, Jr., and Charles Nana.

Even after registration, Alabama voters are still subject to the state’s voter ID law. Upon checking-in at their precinct, voters must present one of the pre-approved forms of identification, such as an Alabama driver’s license. If someone does not have one of the approved forms of ID, he or she may apply to get one from the state for free.

Alabama voter registration and turnout hit near-record levels in 2016. Last November’s voter turnout was the third highest in the state’s history at 61.97 percent. The highest voter turnout ever recorded occurred in 2008, when it hit 72.8 percent.

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10 months ago

Bama’s Big Al Looks Fierce on Marvel’s New College Football Comic Cover

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — For the second year in a row, Marvel Comics teamed up with ESPN to create an epic comic book cover to promote the start of the college football season. While last year’s covers hyped up major early-season match-ups, this year’s features the first three College Football Playoff National Champions, including the Alabama Crimson Tide.

The Tide are represented by their elephant mascot, Big Al. While usually quite adorable, this version of Big Al looks ready to dominate the gridiron.

Big Al is joined by the mascots of the two other schools to win the CFP Championship: Ohio State and Clemson. Alabama is the only team to qualify for all three playoff fields, winning one and losing to the other two eventual champions.

At SEC Media Days in Hoover last week, the Tide were picked to win their fourth consecutive SEC Championship by those in attendance. Vegas also has Alabama listed as one of the favorites to claim the national championship.

Coach Nick Saban’s squad kicks off its season in Atlanta against the Florida State Seminoles on September 2. The game will be aired on ABC at 7 p.m. CST. Tickets for the showdown have already sold out.

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10 months ago

Fox’s Tucker Carlson Tells Trump to Lay Off Sessions: “He’s One of Your Few Friends”

WASHINGTON, D.C. — During the opening monolog on his eponymous Fox News show last night, Tucker Carlson told President Donald Trump to stop attacking Attorney Jeff Sessions, as he recently did in an interview with The New York Times.

“For God’s sake, lay off Jeff Sessions,” Carlson said during his monolog. “He’s your friend — one of the very few you have in Washington.”

RELATED: Trump: I Never Would Have Appointed Sessions if I’d Known He’d Recuse Himself

“Sessions has been the most effective member of the Trump cabinet. In return, the president attacked him in the failing New York Times,” Carlson said. “That’s not just a criticism; that’s an insult. It’s also a worrisome sign that the president may be forgetting who’s on his side.”

Earlier this week, President Trump expressed his frustration with Sessions over the Attorney General’s decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

“Sessions should have never recused himself. . . And if he was going to recuse himself he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Trump told the New York Times. “If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair and that’s a mild word.”

Yesterday, Sessions responded to the attacks in a press conference, stating that he will continue to serve “as long as that is appropriate.”

RELATED: Sessions Stands His Ground, Will Serve “As Long as That Is Appropriate”

“I have the honor of serving as attorney general. It’s something that goes beyond any thought I would have ever had for myself,” Sessions said a press conference yesterday. “[DOJ] will continue every single day to work hard to serve the national interests and we wholeheartedly join in the priorities that President Trump.”

The apparent deterioration of the Trump-Sessions relationship follows the close partnership during the Republican Primary and the 2016 General Election. Sessions came out as the first U.S. Senator to endorse Trump and then served in an advisory capacity for his campaign until his victory.

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10 months ago

Sessions Announces Takedown of a Top Dark Web Drug Market

WASHINGTON, D.C. — At a press conference today, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the takedown of one of the Dark Web’s largest illegal drug vendors: AlphaBay. According to a staff member, AlphaBay claimed to service more than 40,000 illegal vendors and 200,000 customers.

The Dark Web is a collection of hidden websites that masks users identities and locations. It is the source of many black market activities, including the traffic of opioid drugs.

“Drug addiction is causing more and more crime and violence in communities across our country,” Sessions said. “And while law enforcement, first responders, and medical professionals across this country have been doing their part to stop this crisis from growing, drug traffickers and others have chosen to exploit this epidemic of addiction.”

According to the Justice Department, AlphaBay contained more than 250,000 listings for illegal drugs and toxic chemicals at the time of the takedown. The same report shows that 122 vendors advertised fentanyl and 238 advertised heroin.

Over the past several years, the Opioid Epidemic has taken the U.S. and Alabama by storm. Between 2006 and 2015, 5,128 Alabamians died from prescription painkiller overdoses. According to the most recent data, Alabama outpaced every other state in the number of opioid perceptions written in 2015 with 5.8 million. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the Yellowhammer State’s per capita ratio for opioid prescriptions is 1.2 prescriptions per person, which is higher than the national average of 0.71.

“The ability of these drugs to so instantaneously end promising lives is a reminder to us all of just how incredibly dangerous these synthetic opioids are — especially when they are purchased anonymously from the darkest places on the internet,” Sessions said.

At the end of his conference, Sessions called the AlphaBay case “one of the most important criminal cases of the year.” He hopes that the public bust of the Dark Web site will send a strong message to those illegally trafficking drugs online.

“You cannot hide,” Sessions said. “We will find you, dismantle your organization and network. And we will prosecute you.”

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10 months ago

Sessions Stands His Ground, Will Serve “As Long as That Is Appropriate”

Jeff Sessions speaks at Donald Trump's campaign rally in Mobile, Ala. (Photo: Screenshot)
Jeff Sessions speaks at Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Mobile, Ala. (Photo: Screenshot)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — After receiving sharp criticism from President Donald Trump in a recent New York Times interview, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said today that he will continue to serve in his office “as long as that is appropriate.”

“I have the honor of serving as attorney general. It’s something that goes beyond any thought I would have ever had for myself,” Sessions said a press conference today. “[DOJ] will continue every single day to work hard to serve the national interests and we wholeheartedly join in the priorities that President Trump.”

RELATED: Trump: I Never Would Have Appointed Sessions if I’d Known He’d Recuse Himself

Sessions’ response comes a day after President Donald Trump expressed his frustration with Sessions over the Attorney General’s decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

“Sessions should have never recused himself. . . And if he was going to recuse himself he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Trump told the New York Times. “If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair and that’s a mild word.”

The apparent deterioration of the Trump-Sessions relationship follows the close partnership during the Republican Primary and the 2016 General Election. Sessions came out as the first U.S. Senator to endorse Trump and then served in an advisory capacity for his campaign until his victory.

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10 months ago

SHARK! Ice Age Era Teeth Found in Alabama

Photo credit: Erin Harney, AlabamaNewsCenter
Photo credit: Erin Harney, AlabamaNewsCenter

Humans have a primal fascination with sharks. From box office smash-hit movies to Discovery Channel’s popular “Shark Week,” people just cannot seem to get enough of the ancient underwater beast.

If you’re reading this from somewhere in Alabama, there is a solid chance that a shark swam not far from where you are sitting many geological eras ago. Believe it or not, Alabama has spent most of its geologic history beneath a shallow ocean ruled by creatures of the deep. Due to its aquatic past, the Yellowhammer State is actually one of the best places in the United States to find fossilized shark teeth.

According to a recent report published by researchers from Birmingham’s McWane Science Center, the Geological Survey of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and South Carolina’s State Museum, scientists have discovered and identified the first early Ice Age shark teeth found in Alabama. The scientists have determined the teeth are somewhere in the ballpark of 2 to 2.6 million years old.

Jun Ebersole, paleontologist and Director of Collections at McWane Science Center, heard anecdotal evidence about fossilized shark teeth discoveries on Alabama’s Dauphin Island for a while. He eventually contacted Richard Dixon, director of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, who had collected almost 100 teeth over the years.

With the help of his research colleagues, Ebersole identified 12 different species of shark’s teeth from Dauphin Island samples, including two species that have since gone extinct. “Most of these species have modern representatives that still live in the Gulf of Mexico today,” Ebersole told the Alabama NewsCenter. “But we were also able to identify two shark species that had gone extinct during the Ice Age.”

c/o Alabama NewsCenter

The research team returned the teeth to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, where they can be revisited for future research and educational purposes. Ebersole hopes the non-professional discoverers of such artifacts will follow his example.

“It is my hope that beachgoers find many more and donate them to their local museums,” he said. “That way they can be studied by paleontologists and these remarkable fossils can be shared with the world.”

(h/t Alabama NewsCenter)

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10 months ago

Former ‘Bama Star Gives Back From NFL Treasures

FULTONDALE, Ala. — Wide Receiver ArDarius Stewart made the jump to the NFL this offseason, and like many of his former Crimson Tide teammates, he cashed in a big paycheck. But instead of spending all of his newfound wealth on himself, Stewart used $15,000 to pay for new helmets for the Fultondale High School Football team.

Before suiting up for The University of Alabama, Stweart took the field for the Fultondale Wildcats as a quarterback, running back, and wide receiver. The currents players at FHS told ABC 33/40 just how grateful they were for the donation from one of the school’s most successful alumni.

“Folks are going to be walking out there with helmets that nobody else in the state of Alabama has, period,” linebacker Joshua Stanton told 33/40. “Like I said, it’s a great gift from ArDarius.”

Ardarius stressed to 33/40 the importance Fultondale has played in his life. Because of this impact, he was more than happy to pay it forward.

“You make time for things that are important to you. This school is very important to me,” he said. “No one really does anything for Fultondale, but Fultondale–the Fultondale community. I’m a part of this community and I just wanted to show them that I’m standing strong with them.”

During his time at Alabama, Stewart became notorious as a big-play threat, and he operated as a dynamic weapon in Lane Kiffin’s spread attack. In his last season with the Tide, he had 54 receptions for 864 yards and nine touchdowns.

The New York Jets drafted Stewart in the third round with the seventy-ninth overall pick. His rookie deal will pay out $3.25 million over four years.

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10 months ago

Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks Calls for the Senate to End the Filibuster Rule

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In light of the recent failures of U.S. Senate Republicans to roll back President Barack Obama’s liberal policies, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL5) is calling for the upper chamber to abolish the filibuster rule.

The filibuster is a procedural rule in the Senate that allows for minority members to block or stall legislation they oppose. First used in 1837 and strengthened in 1975, a legislative filibuster can only be broken by invoking cloture, which requires 60 votes. Republican Senators, such as Rand Paul, used the tactic under the Obama Administration, and now Democrats are doing the same to stall President Donald Trump’s agenda.

“Our Republican Senate majority is killing our conservative agenda, our Republican agenda, and President Trump’s agenda. The murder weapon is the Senate filibuster rule, an archaic accident of history created during the days of horse and buggy, and slavery,” Rep. Brooks said on the House floor this morning.

Over the past several years, Democrats and Republicans have changed the rules to limit when the filibuster can be used. Such a tactic — which only requires a simple rather than a super majority — has been dubbed “the Nuclear Option.”

On November 21, 2013, Democrats instituted a rule change lowering the requirement for cloture to only 51 votes for all debates on executive and judicial nominees (excluding Supreme Court nominees). During the recent struggle to confirm Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, Republicans struck back by applying the same rule to Supreme Court nominees. The traditional filibuster is still in place for debates over Senate legislation.

Brooks, who wants to be the latest Alabamian to represent the state in the Senate, believes the historical scale has always tipped in the Democrats’ favor.

“In the past 90 years, Republicans have not had a single filibuster-proof Senate while Democrats enjoyed filibuster-proof senates in the 1930s, the 1960s, and in 2009,” he said. “In those years, Democrats passed ObamaCare and forced Great Society welfare programs on us that busted our budgets, destroyed the work ethic, broke up American families, and threaten America with a national insolvency.”

To the North Alabama Representative, the issue is a timely one instrumental to ensuring the passage of Trump’s agenda. Like Brooks, Trump is a strong opponent of the filibuster, and he has taken to Twitter to express his frustration.

“Now is not the time to play procedural games,” Brooks said. “I agree with President Trump. Senate: end the filibuster!”

 

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10 months ago

My Home’s in Alabama…and I Love It

On a trip I took earlier this summer, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit New York City. I had never been there before, and a close personal friend offered to show me around. Leading up to the trip, he tried to describe the city to me as a “concrete jungle” and “the big apple,” but these phrases hardly do the city justice.

New York was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. It was loud, it was crowded, and it moved at a million miles a minute. The Empire State Building, Freedom Tower, Rockefeller Center — all testaments to the accomplishments of the human race — hover above the city like sentinels seen from miles away. The people from all walks of life sprint through the streets and bump into you, often without even noticing. It was a marvel to behold.

While New York is a fascinating place to visit for a few days, I could never live there. A city that never sleeps makes a soul grow tired, and it made me happy to return to my home in the Heart of Dixie.

I’m writing in defense of my home state, jokes about which have always been low-hanging fruit for comedians and so-called local political “commentators” that seem to get a rise out of kicking people they perceive as inferior. Most recently, NBC  ranked Alabama the worst state to live in, adding on to the pile of negative press. As a non-native Alabamian, however, I defend it from a unique perspective, as my family has chosen to live here not as a consequence of birth but by choice.

My family moved to Alabama shortly after I turned 13. Needless to say, as a young boy who had never lived anywhere outside of South Florida, I was not exactly pleased with the prospect. The first image that popped into my head was akin to the caricature of a hillbilly living off the grid and jamming to the tune of “Dueling Banjos.” I knew I was in for a culture shock, and it was a culture that I had been conditioned to think of as regressive and intolerant.

My family and I certainly experienced culture shock, but in a way that we failed to anticipate. Locals welcomed us with the utmost southern hospitality, always responded with a polite “yes, sir,” or “no, sir,” and treated us like family. Although we certainly have more land between my neighbors now than I did when I grew up, there is certainly less distance.

Alabama unfairly gets a bad rap, but then again I’m told that life is not fair. But the people in Alabama are amongst the kindest, most giving, and most hardworking of any that I’ve met across this great country. It’s a heck of a place to live, and that’s the God’s honest truth.

Alabama is fourth in the nation in cost of living, according to U.S. News and World Report, but the state’s critics won’t tell you that.  Alabama ranks in the top half for housing affordability, but the critics won’t tell you that. The state also ranks highly in pre-K quality, infrastructure, renewable energy usage,  and several other things, but you’ll never hear about any of those positive numbers because they don’t make for a good punchline.

Not to beat a dead horse, but Alabama’s culture is just hard to beat, and we often take it for granted.  When it comes to sports, it’s hard to find a more compelling matchup any year than the Iron Bowl. Between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers, the state has sent a representative to compete for the national championship every year since 2009.

Also, how quickly we forget the role that Alabama played in the formulation of some of the country’s biggest musical hits. Aside from native legends like Hank Williams, Sr., countless stars have recorded albums at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, with the Swampers (they’ve been known to pick a song or two).

And let’s not forget the element that makes Alabama such a special place: its faith. A 2016 Pew Research Poll found that Alabama is the most religious state in the union.  A similar study from Gallup in 2015 found that Alabama ranked third in frequent church attendance, with 47 percent of respondents stating they attend church weekly.

During my time in the Yellowhammer State, I have lived a safe, productive life, earned two degrees from a world-class University, met countless friends, and found community. Because of the culture, low cost of living, and low taxes I plan to live here for a long, long time.

This does not mean that I believe Alabama is perfect. It is not. And anyone who tells you that their home is immaculate lives in a fool’s paradise. Alabama can do a lot to move forward. But those who are the state’s staunchest critics believe that government — not everyday people — can do this, and they are dead wrong.

Alabama’s state politics have frequently been engulfed by scandal, corruption, and special interests that distract from positive changes necessary to unleash the freedom and prosperity needed to make Alabama better. If they were honest, Alabama’s critics would say that they’d rather us be more like NYC and Chicago — cities rife with crime and murder despite their strict anti-gun policies — than the way we are. When critics want to cede more power to those in Montgomery to accomplish their progressive goals, I say “No, thank you.”

In a time of alleged increasing tolerance, those that would like to be left in peace to their traditional way of life are often told they are not accepted and that they must get with the times. But what is being forwarded by today’s left is not actually tolerance, but forced conformity to their new standard of “social justice.”

All that is to say that I really don’t care much what those people think about Alabama. If they want to spend their lives trying to change people that do not want to change, that’s their prerogative. So bring on the barbecue and the college football. Bring on the “Yes ma’am,” and the Sunday morning service. Bring on the lake days and the hunting season. You can keep your skyscrapers; I’ll keep my Alabama.

Jordan LaPorta is an Alabama resident and a law student at the University of Alabama. He holds a B.A. in History and Political Science from UA and graduated from Hoover High School in 2013. He has written news articles and commentary for Yellowhammer News since 2015.

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