The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    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 workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    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.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

15 hours ago

Governor Ivey urges Alabamians not to panic-buy gas

(Pixabay, Governor Kay Ivey/Flickr)

Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday spoke with the U.S. Department of Energy on a call regarding the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack, which has caused a shutdown of the pipeline operations.

The pipeline, which is the largest system for refined oil products in the United States, is 5,500 miles long and can carry 3 million barrels of fuel per day between Texas and New York. It is operated by Colonial Pipeline Company, which is headquartered in Georgia.

The pipeline runs through Alabama, as people may remember from a Shelby County leak in 2016 that caused gas shortages in the region. The county is home to the Colonial Pipeline Co. Pelham junction and tank farm.

However, Ivey wants to assure Alabamians that the temporary pipeline shutdown should be resolved in the coming days and that any potential gas shortages have not reached the Yellowhammer State.

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“Please do not fill up your car unless you need to and do not fill multiple containers. Overreacting creates more of a shortage. Please use common sense and patience!” Ivey said in a social media post.

The governor’s spokesperson reiterated Ivey’s message.

“She was assured that the pipeline should be operational in a few days,” said Gina Maiola. “She is urging Alabamians and others to not panic and to use good judgement. A shortage has not reached Alabama at this time, and she reminds us that an overreaction would only lead to that. Be courteous, only fill up if you need to, and do not fill up multiple containers. Governor Ivey urges patience and common sense.”

Public Service Commissioner Jeremy Oden echoed Ivey’s words.

“While the state of Alabama is fortunate to this point to not be suffering from gas shortages, there have still been reports of panic-buying and gas price increases,” he said in a statement. “I echo Governor Ivey’s request that Alabama residents refrain from panic-buying, which would only cause more anxiety in the market. As Colonial has stated publicly they are working vigorously to reestablish service.”

The Colonial Pipeline shutdown comes as the average price of gas in the U.S. has risen from $2.112 per gallon before President Joe Biden was elected to $2.985 per gallon this week.

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

16 hours ago

Vocational center for construction, electric vehicle, aviation technology fields coming to DeKalb County

(Sten Rademaker, Spencer Davis, Scott Blake/Unsplash, YHN)

Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday announced a $1 million grant to help the Fort Payne Board of Education construct a new vocational center aimed at training students in careers that include construction, electric vehicle and aviation technologies.

The funds come from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs administers the ARC program in Alabama.

The new DeKalb County vocation center will prepare Fort Payne high school students and adults for the future while helping to meet the needs of Alabama’s workforce in several career fields.

“Alabama is sounding the call for a skilled workforce and the Fort Payne Board of Education is responding to that demand,” Ivey said in a statement. “This program will ensure that students graduating from high school will be ready for rewarding and high-paying jobs, and that employers will be hiring a qualified workforce to move our state forward.”

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RELATED: Guest: Electric vehicles important for Alabama’s automotive industry

The new Building, Electric and Aviation Technology Center will provide students with a rigorous training program in a workplace environment to ready them for careers.

“The path to rewarding careers does not always go through colleges and universities,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell added. “I applaud the Fort Payne Board of Education for offering other options for students who have the same dreams for successful careers but choose a different path to get there.”

The project is supported by Sen. Steve Livingston (R-Scottsboro), who chairs the Alabama Space Authority and the legislature’s Aerospace and Defense Caucus.

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

16 hours ago

Alabama State Senator Andrew Jones running for reelection

(Andrew Jones/Facebook)

State Senator Andrew Jones (R-Centre) on Tuesday announced he will seek reelection to a second term in the 2022 election cycle.

As a freshman member of the legislature’s upper chamber, Jones currently serves as chair of the Children, Youth, and Human Services Committee.

“We’ve accomplished a lot in the last 2 ½ years,” he stated. “I ran for the State Senate because I had seen first-hand as a business owner and farmer how government impacts hardworking Alabamians. I have worked hard to be the people’s voice in the Alabama Senate and bring much-needed resources back to the people of Etowah, Cherokee, and DeKalb.”

Jones will kickoff his reelection campaign at respective events in Etowah and Cherokee Counties on May 25 and June 3.

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Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed (R-Jasper) offered his support for Jones’ reelection bid.

“Senator Jones has quickly learned to navigate the ins and outs of the Alabama Senate. He is known by his colleagues as a capable and effective Senator who will do whatever it takes to fight for his district. Andrew is not afraid to take bold, decisive action to meet the challenges our state faces,” Reed said.

Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) echoed Reed’s comments.

“Andrew has been a key voice in our Republican caucus for conservatives policies to improve the lives of everyday Alabamians,” Scofield commented. “Senator Jones is a champion for his local folks, but at the same time he has also won the respect of his colleagues. He has the full support of our caucus in his reelection effort.”

Elected in 2018 in his first run for public office, Jones campaigned on economic development, infrastructure, education and protecting Alabama values. Progress has been made, he now says, on all of those fronts.

“During my campaign, I talked about three infrastructure projects in my district. The U.S. 411 expansion project between Etowah and Cherokee Counties is currently underway, which is a $43 million project. We also recently secured $2 million for the engineering design of the I-759 Eastern Connector, and we are working with local leaders on multiple applications for funding for the Southside Bridge project. Last year, that same application made it to the final round,” Jones advised.

The freshman senator also touted a $2.7 million investment at the Etowah County Little Canoe Creek Megasite through the Growing Alabama Tax Credit Program, an investment which was made possible through an amendment that Jones negotiated to prioritize megasite properties over 1000 acres. He has also supported broadband expansion, incentives for small businesses and workforce training efforts in the Senate, as well as education initiatives to expand pre-K, provide teacher raises, and recruit math and science teachers. Additionally, Jones has backed pro-life legislation, election security measures and Second Amendment protection bills.

In the Senate, Jones has also authored legislation to support the military, incentivize adoptions, promote small farm wineries and repeal the grocery tax, among various other causes. Locally, the Republican has led an effort to repeal occupational taxes in five Etowah County municipalities. In 2020, voters approved a local constitutional amendment sponsored by Jones to designate surplus prison food funds for law enforcement purposes, including school resource officers.

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

17 hours ago

NFIB survey: Record number of employers have job openings

(YHN/Pixabay)

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) on Tuesday announced that its Small Business Optimism Index rose to 99.8 in April, an increase of 1.6 points from March. While this index has now increased 4.8 points this year, a record 44% of employers reported job openings that could not be filled in the latest month’s survey.

Additionally, 8% cited labor costs as their top business problem and 24% said that labor quality was their top business problem, unchanged from March as the top overall concern.

A net 31% (seasonally adjusted) reported raising compensation in April, while a net 20% plan to raise compensation in the next three months. Increased compensation is being passed on to customers through higher prices, per NFIB.

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This is backed up by the net percent of owners raising average selling prices increasing 10 points to a net 36% (seasonally adjusted), the highest reading since April 1981 when it was 43%. Price hikes were the most frequent in wholesale (62% higher, 3% lower) and retail (46% higher, 6% lower). Seasonally adjusted, a net 36% plan price hikes, the highest reading since July 2008.

“Small business owners are seeing a growth in sales but are stunted by not having enough workers,” stated NFIB chief economist Bill Dunkelberg. “Finding qualified employees remains the biggest challenge for small businesses and is slowing economic growth. Owners are raising compensation, offering bonuses and benefits to attract the right employees.”

Alabama currently has the lowest unemployment rate in the Southeast and one of the lowest in the nation.

State-specific data is unavailable, but NFIB state director for Alabama Rosemary Elebash said, “Today in Alabama, there are more job postings than there are job applicants, but hopefully Governor Ivey’s decision to end federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits will encourage people to return to the workforce.”

RELATED: Aderholt, Palmer praise Ivey’s decision to opt-out of $300 federal unemployment supplemental

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

20 hours ago

Ivey urges Biden administration to ‘secure our southern border,’ end ‘humanitarian crisis’

(Customs and Border Patrol/Flickr, Hal Yeager/Governor's Office, YHN)

Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday announced she has signed on to a letter with 19 other governors calling on President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to immediately take action to address the crisis at the southern border.

The coalition of governors wrote, “Contrary to statements from your Administration, the border is neither closed nor secure. In fact, the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) reports a staggering surge in recent crossings: 172,000 encounters in March, the highest number in nearly 20 years, as well as 18,890 unaccompanied children, the largest monthly number in history.”

“The crisis is too big to ignore and is now spilling over the border states into all of our states,” they warned.

The governors outlined that the Biden administration is directly to blame for the current situation.

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“This Administration has enticed a rush of migrants to our border and incentivized an influx of illegal crossings by using irresponsible rhetoric and reversing a slew of policies—from halting border wall construction to eliminating asylum agreements to refusing to enforce immigration laws,” they advised. “The cause of the border crisis is entirely due to reckless federal policy reversals executed within your first 100 days in office. The rhetoric of the Biden Administration and the rollback of critical agreements with our allies have led to the inhumane treatment of tens of thousands of children and undermined a fragile immigration system. While the most direct victims of the policy changes will be the children exploited and trafficked by gangs and cartels, the disastrous impact of your polices on America’s recovery will be far-reaching.”

The governors then explained that the “the situation on the ground is heartbreaking” at the border.

“After a dangerous journey, many children are living in overcrowded conditions with uncertain futures and without parents or loved ones to care for them,” they said. “Beyond the humanitarian crisis, the lack of border security is a criminal one, threatening the safety of American citizens. The CBP reports a 233% increase in the seizure of fentanyl compared to January last year, exacerbating the nation’s opioid epidemic. Law enforcement officials are recovering drugs, illegal narcotics, and weapons being smuggled across the border by cartels—the same cartels that are also trafficking men, women, and children and jeopardizing their lives. At a time when our country is trying to recover from a once-in-a-generation pandemic, the last thing we need is a self-created crisis that exploits families, undermines public safety, and threatens our national security. We urge you to take action to end the humanitarian crisis and secure our southern border immediately.”

Governor Ivey also released an individual statement regarding the letter.

“When we have an unsecured and open southern border, Alabama is impacted, which is why I have joined 19 of my fellow governors in calling on President Biden and Vice President Harris to take action immediately,” she stated. “In the first 100 days of the new administration, we have seen a surge in illegal crossings, and as a result, we run the risk of overly burdening state and local resources. Overwhelming authorities on the federal, state or local levels is not the answer. We not only need to take action for our own security, but also for those who are seeking a path to this country. I urge President Biden and Vice President Harris to take action to end this humanitarian crisis and secure our southern border.”

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

1 day ago

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall earns national consumer protection award

(Alabama Attorney General's Office/Contributed)

Attorney General Steve Marshall in recent days received an award from the nation’s oldest consumer protection organization for his office’s historic $60 million consumer settlement against Terminix.

The “Consumer Champion” award was presented to Marshall by Will Hild, executive director of Consumers’ Research, based in Washington, DC, for the State of Alabama’s emphasis on putting consumers ahead of lawyers in the statewide Terminix settlement.

“Not only was the Alabama Attorney General successful in defending the rights of Alabama consumers, but he did so without using outside counsel, or joining a multi-state enforcement that would have shared settlement with third-party lawyers,” stated Hild. “Consumers’ Research holds up Attorney General Marshall’s actions to other states as an example of consumer advocacy done right.”

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This comes afterMarshall and Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich in November first announced the state’s settlement with Terminix. While many of the victims of Terminix’s alleged illegal business practices reside in Mobile and Baldwin counties, the state-negotiated settlement affects Terminix customers statewide.

“I am extremely proud of my Consumer Protection Division for their handling of this case, and for the way they go about their work,” said Marshall. “This team truly buys in to the mission of serving Alabama consumers. I am humbled to receive this honor on their behalf.”

During a press conference last week, Marshall also announced that the claims deadline in the settlement for former Terminix customers who experienced dramatic price increases has been extended by 45 days.

“The 16,000 former Terminix customers in Alabama who dropped their coverage due to exorbitant price increases are all eligible to file claims for payments of at least $650 each, or they can have their lifetime contracts reinstated,” he added. “However, as of today, only 6,540 former customers have actually filed a claim. That means nearly 9,500 former Alabama Terminix customers are leaving $650 on the table.”

“Previously, former Terminix customers who experienced these unjust price increases were only allowed to file a claim by June 1, 2021. However, that deadline has now been extended to July 15, 2021. I urge all former Terminix customers in Alabama to take advantage of this opportunity to file a claim by visiting www.terminixfund.com as soon as possible,” Marshall concluded.

RELATED: Alabama becomes first state to leave National Association of Attorneys General

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

1 day ago

Aderholt, Palmer praise Ivey’s decision to opt-out of $300 federal unemployment supplemental

(Hal Yeager/Governor's Office, YHN)

U.S. Reps. Robert Aderholt (AL-04) and Gary Palmer (AL-06) announced their support Monday after Governor Kay Ivey announced that effective June 19, Alabama will no longer participate in all additional federal unemployment benefits related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both congressmen had previously spoken out against the supplemental unemployment benefits, especially the additional $300 in weekly payments to individuals, due to them acting as disincentives for people to work.

RELATED: Congressman Robert Aderholt: Ending the war on restaurants

The Republican Policy Committee, of which Palmer is the chair, previously released a report showing the supplemental federal benefit means many on unemployment are making $14.38 per hour in Alabama based on a 40-hour work week.

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“I applaud Governor Ivey for her common-sense decision to end what was always intended to be short-term assistance,” Palmer said on Monday.

“Alabama’s unemployment rate has stayed notably lower than the national average, and we’re at a point where continued dependence on federal assistance will only hinder our recovery,” he continued. “Reopening businesses and getting people back to work are the best solution to the economic crisis of the last year, not indefinite reliance on unemployment benefits. The April Jobs Report showed the national unemployment rate rising again, which reinforces what I have heard from businesses owners – that paying people not to work results in people not willing to work, leaving businesses operating at far less than full capacity. This decision will make it easier for businesses to fully open, and I commend Governor Ivey for taking this step to help our state economy come back stronger than ever.”

Aderholt, the dean of Alabama’s U.S. House delegation, added in a social media post, “All across the 4th District people are hiring. Continuing these extended and expanded unemployment checks is a solution looking for a problem, and in fact it’s creating one. I applaud Governor Ivey for this decision.”

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

1 day ago

Five-year-old wins Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association’s 2021 Big Gobbler Photo Contest

(Alabama Black Belt Adventures/Contributed, YHN)

The Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association on Monday announced that Hudson Mathews of Deatsville has won the 2021 Big Gobbler Photo Contest.

Hudson, age 5, reportedly harvested the winning turkey in Pike County while hunting with his father. The gobbler, which was Hudson’s first, had a 10-inch beard and 1-inch spurs. Over the course of the photo contest, his photo received more than 1,300 votes and beat out nearly 20 other contestants to take home the top prize.

Hudson’s father advised that his son “made a perfect shot” to bag the turkey. This was the ninth annual Big Gobbler Photo Contest.

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Hudson has been awarded a limited-edition commemorative “Memories of Spring” box call produced together by famed Alabama turkey hunter Ron Jolly and turkey hunting legend Preston Pittman, as well as the recently released book by Jolly of the same name.

“We are grateful to the participants in this year’s contest and know that many memories of spring were created in Alabama’s Black Belt throughout the season,” stated Pam Swanner, executive director of the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association. “Our region continues to be a place where families and young folks can enjoy high-quality experiences, and we invite you to come to the Black Belt to create your own memories.”

The annual photo contest was open throughout turkey season as a way to further educate the public on the abundance of natural resources found in Alabama’s Black Belt region.

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

2 days ago

Historic Alabama-launched NASA spacecraft begins two-year return to Earth, could bring back knowledge about origin of life

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket with the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) at Cape Canaveral in 2016. (United Launch Alliance)

It’s been over four and a half years since United Launched Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V rocket powered NASA’s OSIRIS-REx into space. The Lockheed Martin-built spacecraft — launched on September 8, 2016 — is now on its way home after successfully firing its main thrusters to push away from asteroid Bennu’s orbit.

OSIRIS-REx made history late last year after performing a “Touch-and-Go” maneuver on Bennu and becoming the first-ever NASA spacecraft to collect a sample from an asteroid. The spacecraft has now begun its two-year journey back to Earth as it seeks to return the sample.

While the previous sample collection was historic, the OSIRIS-REx departure sequence on Monday was the mission’s most significant maneuver since it arrived at Bennu in 2018, per NASA. The spacecraft’s thrusters had to change velocity by 595 miles per hour (958 kilometers per hour) for OSIRIS-REx’s path to intersect Earth and enable a successful sample return, which is set for September 24, 2023.

The trip back is a long and rather complicated one, as there is no straight path back to Earth.

NASA explained, “Like a quarterback throwing a long pass to where a receiver will be in the future, OSIRIS-REx is traveling to where the Earth will be. The spacecraft will circle the Sun twice, covering 1.4 billion miles (2.3 billion kilometers) over to catch up with Earth.”

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OSIRIS-REx made history many times during its two and half years of operations on the asteroid, including breaking its own record for the closest orbit of a planetary body by a spacecraft. Bennu is the smallest celestial object ever orbited by a human-built spacecraft.

The spacecraft will bring back the largest sample collected by a NASA mission since the Apollo astronauts returned with moon rocks. Scientists plan to analyze the sample to learn about the development of Earth as a habitable planet. The mission also has importance special to Bennu, which is a carbonaceous asteroid whose regolith may record the earliest history of our solar system. The asteroid may contain the molecular precursors to the origin of life and the Earth’s oceans, per NASA.

Additionally, Bennu is one of the most potentially hazardous asteroids, as it has a relatively high probability of impacting the Earth late in the 22nd century. OSIRIS-REx will determine Bennu’s physical and chemical properties, which will be critical to know in the event of an impact mitigation mission. Finally, asteroids like Bennu contain natural resources such as water, organics and precious metals. In the future, these asteroids may one day fuel the exploration of the solar system by robotic and crewed spacecraft.

OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers program. The first two missions – New Horizons and Juno – also launched on Atlas V rockets. ULA builds its rockets at a world-class manufacturing facility in Decatur, Alabama. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville manages the New Frontiers program.

ULA and its heritage rockets have launched missions to every planet in our solar system, including every American-led mission to Mars and a few places beyond. To date, ULA has launched 143 times with 100% mission success.

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

2 days ago

Ivey awards almost $17 million in broadband expansion grants

(Gov. Kay Ivey/Flickr, YHN)

Governor Kay Ivey has awarded nearly $17 million to help expand broadband services in primarily rural, unserved areas of Alabama.

Announced Monday, the 36 grants awarded by Ivey to multiple providers across the state represent the largest monetary amount and number of grants awarded to date from the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund.

The fund was created by the Alabama Legislature in 2018 and is funded from the state’s annual Education Trust Fund budget.

“The COVID-19 pandemic reinforced what we already knew; that Alabama’s broadband coverage is an issue we must continue addressing,” Ivey stated. “Yet, thanks to so many, we are making strides in helping to provide high-speed internet coverage throughout the state. That will make a vast difference for thousands in terms of education, economic development, health care services and everyday life.”

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View the full list of grants here.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs administers Broadband Accessibility Fund grants in the state.

“Access to broadband can make all the difference in the world to a family or rural business whether it is a child being able to participate in a course not offered at their school or a farmer having to go online to order a piece of equipment vital to his operation,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said. “ADECA is pleased to join Governor Ivey in this program that is making real differences in the lives of Alabamians.”

Alabama is 47th in the nation in broadband connectivity, even lagging well behind Mississippi, as well as other neighboring states. It has been projected that it will take between $4 billion and $6 billion to expand high-speed broadband access to all Alabamians.

While a larger, steady revenue stream is still needed to more expediently work towards that ultimate goal, the Alabama Legislature last week passed the Connect Alabama Act, which will develop a comprehensive strategy and process to expand broadband across the state. That bill is pending Ivey’s signature.

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

2 days ago

Alabama to opt-out of all federal pandemic unemployment relief effective June 19 — ‘Our 30-day notice that it’s time to get back to work’

(W.Miller/YHN)

Governor Kay Ivey on Monday announced that Alabama will end its participation in all federally funded pandemic unemployment compensation programs effective June 19.

This includes the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), which provides for a supplemental $300 weekly payment to recipients of unemployment compensation.

The announcement comes after a dismal jobs report and amid Alabama businesses widely reporting the inability to fill a large number of existing job openings.

“As Alabama’s economy continues its recovery, we are hearing from more and more business owners and employers that it is increasingly difficult to find workers to fill available jobs, even though job openings are abundant,” said Ivey in a written statement. “Among other factors, increased unemployment assistance, which was meant to be a short-term relief program during emergency related shutdowns, is now contributing to a labor shortage that is compromising the continuation of our economic recovery.”

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Alabama will also opt-out of the following:

  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which provides benefits for those who would not usually qualify, such as the self-employed, gig workers, and part-time workers;
  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which provides for an extension of benefits once regular benefits have been exhausted; and
  • Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC), which provides an additional $100 benefit to certain people with mixed earnings.

Any weeks filed prior to and up to June 19 and eligible under any of the federal program requirements will continue to be processed by the State of Alabama under these programs.

“Alabama has an unemployment rate of 3.8%, the lowest in the Southeast, and significantly lower than the national unemployment rate. Our Department of Labor is reporting that there are more available jobs now than prior to the pandemic. Jobs are out there,” Ivey added. “We have announced the end date of our state of emergency, there are no industry shutdowns, and daycares are operating with no restrictions. Vaccinations are available for all adults. Alabama is giving the federal government our 30-day notice that it’s time to get back to work.”

National Federation of Independent Business state director for Alabama Rosemary Elebash noted, “Our members hope that by ending these federal subsidies, people will be encouraged to return to the workforce, and businesses will have workers to meet the demand created as Governor Ivey has eased COVID-19 restrictions.”

The Alabama Department of Labor has also reinstated the work search requirement for all claimants, which was temporarily waived during the height of the pandemic. This requires all claimants to actively search for work to remain eligible for unemployment benefits.

“We have more posted job ads now than we did in either February or March 2020,” advised Alabama Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington. “Ads for workers in the leisure and hospitality industry are up by 73%. Overall, ads are up by nearly 40%. There are plenty of opportunities available in multiple industries in Alabama.”

Free job services are available to all Alabamians through the Alabama Career Center System, which operates 53 centers throughout the state. Services include résumé preparation, interviewing skills, job search and application assistance, vocational and educational training programs, and apprenticeship and on-the-job training programs.

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

2 days ago

Some of Alabama’s largest employers named in list of nation’s top 50 companies for diversity

(YHN)

DiversityInc has released its 21st annual list of the nation’s top 50 companies for diversity.

The rankings recognize companies that hire, retain and promote women, racial minorities, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ and veterans.

Launched in 2001, the list is compiled based on confidential data gathered from thousands of corporations participating in DiversityInc’s survey. It is widely recognized as the most comprehensive, data-driven diversity and inclusion analysis of the largest U.S. employers who voluntarily choose to participate. The assessment collects data across six key areas: Leadership Accountability, Human Capital Diversity Metrics, Talent Programs, Workforce Practices, Supplier Diversity and Philanthropy.

Some of Alabama’s top employers were named on the prestigious list, including Toyota Motor North America at No. 7.

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In addition to its under-construction joint venture factory with Mazda in Huntsville, Toyota currently operates a major engine plant in the Rocket City. The company was also included in six DiversityInc specialty lists for 2021. This included being named the top company in the nation when it comes to diversity among its board of directors; No. 5 for talent acquisition for women of color; and No. 12 for Black executives.

Other major Alabama employers named 2021 top-50 companies for diversity included BASF (No. 12), the Boeing Company (No. 17), Southern Company (No. 20), Northrop Grumman (No. 21) and Raytheon Technologies (No. 45).

Southern Company, the parent company of Alabama Power, was specifically recognized for its Propel Center, among other initiatives. The Propel Center is a new digital learning hub, business incubator and global innovation headquarters in Atlanta for students of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), including those in Alabama such as Miles College.

The Propel Center continues the work that was established by Alabama Power and Apple in February 2020 with the launch of Birmingham’s Ed Farm, an education initiative supported by the Alabama Power Foundation. Ed Farm aims to equip educators and communities in Alabama with innovative tools and strategies that support active learning for all students. Among Ed Farm’s goals: to increase educational equity, improve learning outcomes through technology and prepare the future tech workforce.

“We are committed to being a role model among companies forging change. Southern Company has embraced a more holistic goal of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to help ensure that all groups — especially historically underrepresented and marginalized groups — are well-represented and fairly treated within all levels of the organization and that all our employees feel welcomed, included, valued and respected,” stated Tom Fanning, who serves as president, chairman and CEO of Southern Company.

Southern Company was also named by DiversityInc as the No. 3 top company for Black executives in the United States, No. 12 for supplier diversity and No. 4 for veterans. Southern Company was specially honored for being a top company when it comes to environmental, social and governance.

Additionally, DiversityInc named a separate list of “2021 noteworthy companies.” Essentially honorable mentions for the year, this list is comprised of companies whose data indicates they have the potential to make the DiversityInc Top 50 list in the near future. Named on this list were 41 companies in alphabetical order, including Birmingham-based Regions Financial Corp., Birmingham-headquartered BBVA USA and Leidos — the parent company of Huntsville-based Dynetics.

RELATED: UAB named one of America’s Best Employers for Diversity

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

2 days ago

Now more than ever: Liberty Learning Foundation helping Alabama schools teach citizenship amid pandemic, unrest

(Liberty Learning Foundation/Contributed)

Since 2013, the Liberty Learning Foundation has offered highly engaging civics education programs to school systems across Alabama. The Huntsville-based nonprofit leverages community sponsors to fund the programs so schools do not have to divert precious resources from other important educational initiatives.

While the organization’s impact has grown from 14,000 students that first year to 50,000 students annually, no one was prepared for the timeliness of their lessons in 2020 and 2021. Amidst a global pandemic, divisive politics and social unrest, the Liberty Learning Foundation programs are teaching exactly what our students may need most: history, civics, empathy, gratitude and reinforcing the mantra that we are all in this together.

Brett Johnson, vice president of Liberty Learning Foundation, says that now more than ever, Alabama’s children need to understand how engagement in their community and country matters.

“In today’s 21st century economy, we’ve seen the education community emphasize important areas such as science, technology, and math,” Johnson outlined. “With that, the mission to prepare citizens to maintain our republic has, unfortunately, slid down the priority list. Liberty Learning Foundation was formed over ten years ago to address that need. After a couple of years in research and development, our approach to empowering schools with resources that teach citizenship and personal responsibility was implemented and it has reinvigorated civic knowledge and character education in the schools we serve and their communities.”

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(Liberty Learning Foundation/Contributed)

By partnering with business sponsors, Liberty Learning Foundation operates a public-private partnership that allows the community to engage with its schools for the benefit of a well-prepared citizenry.

Johnson noted that the organization’s ultimate goal is to “help our students be prepared for that next step after high school, adulthood.”

“If we can do that, we know we’re preparing the workforce, family leaders, and businesspeople that we can entrust with our future,” he added.

In Alabama, leaders are recognizing the value Liberty Learning brings to community schools.

State Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey stated, “Liberty Learning Foundation’s approach to instilling character education, promoting leadership through service, and celebrating great citizenship is greatly appreciated. America’s future is strongly dependent upon what today’s students are taught from the lessons of the past. Liberty Learning Foundation’s programs are designed to teach each student about the benefit of working collectively with fellow citizens to continue creating a nation that lives up to its promise of equal opportunity for all. Liberty Learning, in its efforts to uplift society through its students, emphasizes the benefit of core values, love of country, respect for our nation and one another.”

Liberty Learning Foundation enjoys input and support from across the political spectrum, which strengthens its position as an apolitical organization.

“These programs are exactly what our students need now more than ever,” said House Majority Leader Nathanial Ledbetter (R-Rainsville). “By helping children learn to care for their community and classmates, they’re really teaching our state’s future workforce to take responsibility for themselves, their co-workers, and neighbors. You can’t help but see how that can impact the character of these students, who are not really all that far from adulthood.

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) was an advising participant in the research and development phase of the organization when he worked for Alabama A&M University before being elected to the legislature.

“It’s amazing to see how far Liberty Learning Foundation has come, and their growth couldn’t have been more timely,” Daniels advised. “We are at a point in this country where healing is not just wanted, it’s needed. In my view, these programs are making a difference because they take the long view by helping today’s students practice empathy and compassion so they can treat each other with respect and dignity as adults. That’s what I love. We need more of that.”

The organization was founded by Marshall County resident Patti Yancey, who currently serves as CEO. She retired as CFO of AlaTrade Foods to take on this important project which became her full-time passion. In the early days, she leaned on the advice of local legislators such as now-Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville), who has been proud to watch the organization’s mission expand to positively impact so many schools and students across the state.

“Students learning the role that they as citizens play in the history and future of the United States is vitally important to our democracy,” Scofield remarked. “I’m so proud to have watched Liberty Learning grow out of the vision of Marshall County business leaders, and proud to know they’re making a real difference in so many other communities across the state of Alabama.”

Learn more about Liberty Learning Foundation here.

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

5 days ago

Alabama is open for business, but Biden administration policies are keeping jobs unfilled

(YHN/Pixabay)

Alabama is currently in position to spring forward after the COVID-19 pandemic, however actions taken by the federal government are presenting new hurdles to overcome on the path to full recovery.

The Yellowhammer State currently has the lowest unemployment rate in the Southeast and one of the lowest in the entire country; Alabama businesses are actively looking to hire, with good jobs available across a wide array of sectors.

While certain industries always have to contend with skills gaps and related workforce considerations that can leave vacancies unfilled longer than is ideal, service sectors are especially feeling the squeeze right now due to not being able to fill existing job openings.

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The problem has been well documented in media reports, by elected officials and by stakeholders; you can also drive around just about any town in Alabama and see the posted signs at restaurants and other businesses in the hospitality arena. These businesses, many of them locally owned and/or operated, simply cannot find enough people willing to work to operate their establishments in a normal fashion. Some businesses are having to limit hours of operations due to staffing shortages, as well as service potentially suffering during open hours due to overburdened shifts. Either way, business owners, employees and customers are losing out.

Why?

Many have pointed to the extra $300 in weekly unemployment benefits that President Joe Biden’s administration is paying Americans to stay at home instead of working. This is persisting even with low numbers of COVID cases and hospitalizations in states like Alabama, as well as vaccines being available to all adults.

If Friday’s dismal nationwide jobs reports is any indication, the Biden administration has effectively disincentivized employment. This is not only leading to labor shortages, but also hurting the recovery of the American economy — especially some of the very sectors that were most negatively affected by the pandemic.

“The disappointing jobs report makes it clear that paying people not to work is dampening what should be a stronger jobs market,” stated U.S. Chamber of Commerce executive vice president and chief policy officer Neil Bradley. “We need a comprehensive approach to dealing with our workforce issues and the very real threat unfilled positions poses to our economic recovery from the pandemic. One step policymakers should take now is ending the $300 weekly supplemental unemployment benefit. Based on the Chamber’s analysis, the $300 benefit results in approximately one in four recipients taking home more in unemployment than they earned working.”

Congressman Mike Rogers (AL-03) agrees with the call to end the $300 supplemental unemployment benefits.

“This is a scary time for our country, as the Biden administration and Washington Democrats incentivize people to stay home and collect a government check over seeking good paying jobs,” said Rogers. “Employers in the Third District have job openings and simply can’t find people willing to fill them.”

“I know folks across East Alabama take pride in a hard day’s work and would rather earn a living than sit back and collect a free check,” he added. “What liberal Democrats are seeking to do is increase government dependence through government handouts — this is how socialism starts and it’s not who we are as a country.”

To battle the ongoing labor challenges, Alabama employers are urged to report when they have extended offers of employment to unemployed individuals who refuse work. All Alabamians are also encouraged to report potential cases of unemployment fraud.

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

5 days ago

Attorney General’s Office moves to impeach Clarke County sheriff

(Attorney General Steve Marshall/Facebook, Clarke County Sheriff's Office/Contributed)

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall announced that he has begun proceedings for the impeachment of Clarke County Sheriff William Ray Norris.

This comes after the Attorney General’s Special Prosecutions Division on April 27 filed an Information of Impeachment and Prayer for Ouster in the Alabama Supreme Court pursuant to state code. It should be noted that the information is merely an accusation, and Norris is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty — at which time he would be removed from office.

Norris was reportedly served notice of the impeachment filing on Friday.

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According to a press release, the Attorney General’s Office began investigating this matter in early 2020, resulting in the decision to seek Norris’ removal from office. The sheriff was charged with four instances of corruption in office and eleven instances of the commission of crimes involving moral turpitude. However, some of the specific allegations are alternate forms of charging the same conduct.

Norris was first elected in 2010 and has twice since been reelected. He will be up for reelection again next year. Norris has served as second vice president on the Alabama Sheriffs Association board.

The charges against Norris can be viewed here.

Under the Alabama Constitution, the Supreme Court will consider the charges against Norris. By statute, both the State and Norris may present evidence and compel witnesses to testify before the Court at trial. The Court has ordered Norris to appear before the Court and answer the charges at 2:00 p.m. on June 2.

Any possible criminal proceedings must be brought separately.

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

5 days ago

NFIB supports Alabama lawsuit that could save small businesses major money

(NFIB/Facebook, YHN)

The NFIB Small Business Legal Center this week announced it has filed an amicus brief in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama supporting the State of Alabama in its challenge to the Biden administration regarding a provision of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021 that would prevent states from using federal funds for state tax relief for small business owners.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall is leading the multi-state lawsuit against the Biden administration. Called the American Rescue Plan by its Democratic authors and derided as mostly unrelated to the pandemic by conservatives, the $1.9 trillion spending bill is sending $350 billion to state and local governments. It was championed by President Joe Biden during its path through Congress.

The bill contains language that prevents state legislatures from using the funds to “offset a reduction in the net tax revenue” of the state in question.

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Marshall has said that the provision in question “effectively bans states from cutting taxes for several years.” ARPA attempts to force states to accept money only if they do not decrease their net revenue, whether that decrease comes through tax credits, rebates, or new or expanded deductions.

A dozen other state attorneys general have joined the Marshall-led lawsuit, which is meant to prevent the Biden administration from enforcing the provision. NFIB also believes the court should block ARPA’s unprecedented tax mandate and grant the states’ motion for a preliminary injunction.

“Small businesses are still struggling to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic and need as much financial relief as possible,” said Karen Harned, executive director of NFIB’s Small Business Legal Center. “Congress passed the American Rescue Plan to relieve some of the financial pressure caused by the pandemic, but a provision that blocks Alabama and other states from cutting taxes is eroding state sovereignty and hurts local businesses.”

NFIB Alabama state director Rosemary Elebash added, “The pandemic took a tremendous toll on Alabama’s small businesses. Owners simply can’t afford to pay higher taxes. Using federal funds to avoid a tax increase would go a long way toward helping owners keep the lights on and keep people employed.”

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

5 days ago

Alabama House Democrats withhold support, preventing consideration of lottery and gaming legislation

(Wikicommons, YHN)

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives on Thursday failed to take up legislation regarding a lottery or casino gaming.

A proposed special order calendar for the day originally included SB 319, SB 309 and SB 311 — a constitutional amendment and two enabling bills, respectively, that would have legalized and regulated a lottery, limited casino gaming and sports betting in the state.

However, Yellowhammer News has learned that the House Minority Caucus approached Republican leadership in the chamber on Thursday morning with the surprise news that Democrats would be unable to support the legislation — unless their newly presented demands were met. Without Democratic votes, the gaming proposal did not have the necessary three-fifths support to pass the chamber.

After a day of negotiations that ultimately did not pan out, it became clear around 11:00 p.m. on Thursday that the legislation was dead, at least for the day. Thursday was the 29th and penultimate day of the 2021 regular session. May 17 will be the final day.

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Rep. Juandalynn Givan (D-Birmingham) on the floor asked, “Is the gaming package … off the table, yay or nay?”

“Well, you need to meet with your caucus group and ask how many votes you have,” replied Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia). “We’ve got to have enough votes to pass it before we’re going to put it on the floor.”

Givan then said she would make a public admission.

“The bottom line for the people listening is that the Minority Caucus would not come together with the Republican side, because we had certain demands,” Givan confessed. “And we felt we were worthy to have our demands met.”

“We finally for the first time in 12 years, since I have been here, have stood strong and stood together,” she added. “I am proud of the African American, Black Democratic Party Caucus in the Alabama House of Representatives.”

After subsequent assertions of Republicans not negotiating in “good faith” made by Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa), House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) gave an impassioned rebuttal and corrected the record. England is also the chair of the Alabama Democratic Party.

Ledbetter stressed that Democrats finally came to the table with their demands “at the last hour,” following months of the legislature having the gaming issue at the forefront of the public discussion.

“Our members have fought for this,” Ledbetter said. “We tried from day one — I met with the people that were in charge and tried to work out a compromise that we could live with. We tried to work it out today. And it didn’t work. To come up here and say that we didn’t try is not right.”

The Republican leader, responding to an interjection from the floor by England, said, “You were at one meeting, Chris. One. And I wish you would’ve been at more. I really do. Because you brought a lot of good things to the table. We got something from the upper chamber that would just not work. We tried to fix it the best we could.”

Ledbetter credited Rep. Chris Blackshear (R-Phenix City), who was carrying the gaming legislation in the House, for working “his tail off” meeting with different members of both parties to try and find consensus. In contrast to England, Ledbetter also said Rep. A.J. McCampbell (D-Linden) “was in every meeting.”

“We didn’t come to a compromise,” Ledbetter outlined. “We didn’t come to a compromise this afternoon. Not at 5:00 in the afternoon on the last day. That’s not the way we work on something. It’s not fair to our members, it’s not fair to the people of the state of Alabama, to put people in a position like that when they don’t have time to look at it and vet a bill that’s such a large bill.”

“I hate that this didn’t work out,” he concluded. “But to say we weren’t just in our caucus and our members weren’t fair is just not true.”

In contrast to the House Democratic Caucus’ position, all Senate Democrats present this session voted for the gaming legislation when it passed the upper chamber last month.

Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) stated at the time, “This has been a long time coming. The people of Alabama deserve the right to be able to vote on gaming, and they have wanted this chance for the past 20 years. This vote will allow our residents to finally reap the benefits of gaming, by allowing those who play games in Georgia, Mississippi, Florida, or Tennessee to now play those same games at home.”

“This vote has the potential to be a major game-changer for our education and healthcare systems. I’m proud to be a part of this legislative body and this is a great day for the state of Alabama,” he added.

This is not the first time that House Democrats have withheld their support from gaming legislation this quadrennium. A lottery bill passed by the Senate in 2019 subsequently failed in the House after receiving only three Democratic votes in the lower chamber.

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

6 days ago

C Spire bringing high-speed broadband internet services to rural Mobile County

(CSpire/Contributed)

C Spire Fiber on Thursday announced it is now accepting consumer pre-orders and has already begun construction for its ultra-fast, fiber-based Gigabit broadband internet services in unincorporated parts of Mobile County — the latest in a spate of markets the company is expanding into in Alabama.

The broadband division of C Spire, which is a Mississippi-based telecommunications company, began construction on the next-generation technology last month in 22 fiberhoods with plans to pass thousands of homes over the next several months.

Service is planned for the first customers this summer.

“High-speed, all-fiber broadband internet service can be a game-changer for Mobile County and other Alabama communities,” stated Ashley Phillips, general manager of C Spire Home. “Our ability to provide symmetric speeds immediately solves real-world challenges associated with interactive learning, remote work and telehealth applications. That’s good news as our FiberFast initiative continues.”

Mobile County, with a population of nearly 179,000 outside of the city of Mobile and 10 other cities, will be one of the latest Alabama markets to get the ultra-fast broadband services from C Spire Fiber. The company already has rolled out service in the Jasper, Trussville and Helena markets and is starting construction in Northport and Tuscaloosa soon. Construction is underway in Pelham.

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“Fast, dependable and affordable broadband is critical to quality of life, home values and new jobs in our communities,” said Merceria L. Ludgood, president of the Mobile County Commission. “We appreciate C Spire choosing Mobile County for this game-changing investment.”

Thursday’s news was made possible by a partnership between Alabama Power and C Spire that was announced in 2019.

Alabama Power’s existing fiber infrastructure is being used for what is called “the middle mile,” while C Spire will in some areas build out “the last mile,” which is an industry term meaning the final portion connecting the service to a consumer’s residence or business (the length is not always a mile or even close to it — it can be a matter of feet or several miles). This type of partnership between an electric utility provider and broadband services provider was enabled by 2019’s HB 400; that year’s SB 90 was also a crucial piece of legislation expanding broadband access across Alabama.

Alabama ranks 47th in the nation in broadband connectivity, and state leaders have recently formed the Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition — a group of community, business and governmental leaders dedicated to job creation, economic development and business growth — to change this dire statistic. The coalition in 2019 championed HB 400 and SB 90.

One of the results of the coalition’s work ultimately came to fruition in January, when C Spire announced a $500 million investment in fiber broadband infrastructure expansion in Alabama over a five-year period. The company’s deployment of all-fiber symmetrical infrastructure and ultra-fast broadband internet ultimately helps attract industry and improve Alabamians’ quality of life.

As part of its expansion efforts, C Spire is also is actively seeking interest from other Alabama communities and towns seeking more reliable and faster broadband internet service based on the firm’s crowdsourcing model, which relies on homeowner, business and renter demand to drive adoption.

“More Alabamians need to be participants in the digital economy – not spectators,” stated U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL). “Gigabit internet is a powerful solution to the digital divide in our state and will benefit the people and businesses in Mobile County.”

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

6 days ago

Boeing, NASA now targeting July 30 for test flight of Huntsville-designed Starliner

The Starliner spacecraft that will fly Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test-2 mission to the International Space Station is seen inside the Starliner production factory at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 28, 2021. (Boening/Contributed, YHN)

Boeing and NASA are now targeting Friday, July 30, for the launch of Starliner’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. This slot is still pending range approval.

This comes after Boeing in recent weeks announced it was targeting August or September but would evaluate options if an earlier launch opportunity became available. The updated launch target is supported by the space station visiting vehicle schedule and availability of the Decatur-built United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

Boeing will continue preparing the Crew Flight Test vehicle for flight until launch activities involving the OFT-2 vehicle, such as loading cargo and fueling the spacecraft, are scheduled to begin.

It was also announced on Thursday that Boeing and NASA recently flew an end-to-end simulation of OFT-2. The five-day, 110-hour test resulted in a successful ISS docking and a bull’s-eye landing. The run for record began 26 hours before launch and continued through docking, ISS quiescent operations, 32 hours of power-up procedures ahead of undocking, then landing and power down.

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OFT-2 is a critical developmental milestone on Boeing’s path to fly crew missions for NASA.

This will be the company’s second try at delivering its Starliner vehicle to the ISS in preparation for shuttling commercial crew to and from the space station.

The first Starliner mission ended prematurely as a result of a timing malfunction which led to the spacecraft missing the opportunity to set the proper course for connecting with the ISS.

However, the mission was still historic and marked significant progress in the Commercial Crew Program.

Returning early to White Sands, New Mexico, the Starliner spacecraft during OFT-1 became the first-ever American orbital space capsule to land on U.S. soil. This came after the mission was launched perfectly by a Decatur-built, specially configured United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

Boeing’s design center in Huntsville provided all of the structural design for the Starliner capsule. Additionally, Boeing’s Phantom Works division, which has an operation in the Rocket City, provided the power systems for the capsule.

Overall, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is designed, built, tested and flown by a team committed to safely, reliably and sustainably transporting astronauts to and from the ISS.

A release over the weekend detailed that the target launch timeframe for OFT-2 is supported by a space station docking opportunity and the availability of ULA’s Atlas V rocket and the Eastern Range.

However, Boeing said it will be mission-ready in May should a launch opportunity arise before the target. The Starliner team has reportedly completed all work on the OFT-2 vehicle except for activity to be conducted closer to launch, such as loading cargo and fueling the spacecraft. The team also has submitted all verification and validation paperwork to NASA and is completing all Independent Review Team recommended actions including those that were not mandatory ahead of OFT-2.

Software and Mission Operations teammates in Houston have been hard at work conducting flight software simulations, including end-to-end confidence and integration testing that will serve as a mission dress rehearsal before every future Starliner flight. The company expects to conclude all software testing this month and will support NASA’s post-test reviews as needed.

Additionally, the Starliner team is now preparing for the Crew Flight Test (CFT) to enable the shortest turnaround time possible between flights while maintaining its focus on crew safety. NASA’s CFT astronauts recently suited up and climbed aboard Starliner to perform a fully integrated and powered checkout of the OFT-2 vehicle supported by life support and communications systems. The OFT-2 spacecraft and all systems are nearly identical to those that will fly during Starliner’s first crewed mission, which will be the second flight of that spacecraft.

Safely and sustainably transporting crew and cargo to and from low Earth orbit destinations for NASA and other future customers is the ultimate goal. Boeing is confident in the Starliner vehicle, the team and the missions ahead as the program nears the completion of its development phase.

Boeing is flying the OFT-2 mission at no cost to NASA or the taxpayer to demonstrate confidence in the Starliner vehicle and showcase the integrated team’s operational excellence ahead of crewed flight.

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

6 days ago

Alabama House passes bill to legalize medical marijuana

(M. Ball/Contributed, PIxabay, YHN)

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives on Thursday passed SB 46, which would legalize the medicinal use of cannabis in the state of Alabama.

In a bipartisan 68-34 vote, the House passed the bill as substituted and amended; the measure now heads back to the Senate for expected concurrence, which would then advance the legislation to Governor Kay Ivey’s desk.

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The medical marijuana bill is sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson (R-Florence) and was carried in the House by Rep. Mike Ball (R-Madison), a retired law enforcement officer.

“I think this is why the Lord sent me here,” Ball told reporters after passage of SB 46 on Thursday, the 29th and penultimate day of the 2021 regular session.

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

6 days ago

Republican Wes Allen announces 2022 candidacy for secretary of state

(S. Ross/YHN)

MONTGOMERY — State Rep. Wes Allen (R-Troy) on Thursday announced that he will seek the Republican nomination to be Alabama’s next secretary of state in the 2022 election cycle.

Allen made the announcement in front of the State House, with a crowd of family, friends, fellow legislators and local elected officials from Pike County behind him.

He is currently serving his first term in the House of Representatives after being elected in 2018. Allen previously served as the probate judge of Pike County for nearly a decade, a position through which he was responsible for managing the county’s elections. In remarks, Allen stressed that this role would give him local elections perspective as secretary of state, which oversees the state’s elections system.

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“My entire career has prepared me for this position. As a Probate Judge, I ran 18 elections without a single error or problem,” Allen stated. “It is that type of error-free elections that our probate judges, circuit clerks, absentee election managers, boards of registrars, sheriffs and poll workers strive to achieve over and over. It is that standard that the people of Alabama deserve every time they go to cast their ballots.”

“I have been on the ground on Election Day and I understand the mechanics of how elections work” Allen explained. “I will be there to support hardworking election officials across this state, both Republican and Democrat, to do everything possible to assist them and to ensure that we have the most secure elections in this country,” he added. “I want every legal Alabama voter to know that their vote is important, it matters and it will be protected.”

During his time in the legislature, Allen has served as vice-chair of the House Constitution, Campaigns and Elections Committee and has sponsored several bills, including a proposed ban on curbside voting which is currently pending Senate consideration.

Allen is a graduate of the University of Alabama and a member of the First Baptist Church of Troy. He and his wife, Cae, have been married for 21 years and they have two children.

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

6 days ago

Gov. Kay Ivey recognizes National Day of Prayer — ‘The love and power of God’

(Gov. Kay Ivey/YouTube)

Governor Kay Ivey on Thursday released a video message in recognition of the 70th National Day of Prayer.

An annual day of observance held on the first Thursday of May, the National Day of Prayer calls on Americans “to turn to God in prayer and meditation.”

Ivey began her remarks by advising that Alabama joins the rest of the nation in observing the day.

“This year’s theme ‘Lord, Pour Out Your Love, Life, and Liberty’ is based on 2 Corinthians 3:17 which says, ‘Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,'” the governor said. “Throughout the last year, we have been tested in countless ways. Yet, many of us have drawn closer to our faith, overcoming one obstacle after another.”

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“In light of this, I urge you to join me in pausing today to pray for our communities, our leaders, our families and each other,” she continued.

Ivey remarked, “Recognizing the love and power of God, we unite with fellow citizens to exercise the freedom we have to gather in prayer with thankfulness while seeking guidance, provision, protection and purpose for the benefit of every individual, state and nation as a whole.”

“May God continue to bless each of you and the great state of Alabama!” she concluded.

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

6 days ago

Woodfin shatters Birmingham mayoral fundraising record due to grassroots support

(woodfin/file)

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin’s reelection campaign on Thursday released information about a record-breaking month of fundraising.

Driven by grassroots email and text-banking efforts by staff and volunteers, the campaign raised a total of over $110,000 from 747 individual contributors in April. Impressively, 93% of donations were less than $100 and 89% of donations were less than $50.

The Woodfin campaign has now raised over $1.3 million so far this cycle, the most of any Birmingham mayoral candidate in history.

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In addition to strong grassroots fundraising, more than 300 people signed up to volunteer for the first time last month, 98% of whom were from Birmingham.

“Last month’s success in grassroots fundraising reflects the growth of energy and enthusiasm from the people of Birmingham to continue the work we’ve started,” said Woodfin in a statement. “Our supporters and volunteers are getting involved because they recognize the importance of our mission: reimagined public safety, renewed commitment to our neighborhoods, and realized economic potential.”

Other Birmingham mayoral candidates include former Mayor William Bell, Jefferson County Commissioner Lashunda Scales and local businessman Chris Woods.

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

6 days ago

What Alabamians need to know about the latest activity on Goat Hill — May 6, 2021

(State of Alabama)

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Legislature on Thursday will convene for the 29th and penultimate day of its 2021 regular session.

The House will convene at 8:00 a.m., while the Senate gets in at 10:00 a.m.

The eyes of the state will especially be on the lower chamber on the day, as the House will attempt to finish with the medical marijuana bill left as old business from Tuesday before getting to the comprehensive gaming package on a special order calendar.

It will likely be a long day for the House, which also needs to concur at some point with the conference committee report on SB 215, the broadband bill, before the legislature adjourns sine die.

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With the general fund budget bill still needing its conference report adopted as well, budget isolation resolutions (BIRs) and their 3/5 threshold are still a factor. The BIR was already adopted on Tuesday for SB 46, the cannabis bill, as was a substitute encompassing changes made in the House Judiciary Committee; a floor amendment dealing with changes made by the Health Committee still needs to be adopted.

SB 319, the gaming constitutional amendment, will also hit the floor with a sub adopted by the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee on Tuesday. While beefed up enforcement aspects of the sub should be a positive among the House membership, some representatives have expressed concern to Yellowhammer News about increased high-speed broadband access not being guaranteed to benefit from gaming revenue under the sub. As a constitutional amendment, 63 votes are needed in the House to pass SB 319.

Following SB 319, the calendar features SB 309 and SB 311, two enabling bills in the gaming package. While they need simple majority votes for passage, the preceding BIR votes would still require the 3/5 threshold for adoption.

Live House chamber video will be available here on Thursday.

The Senate has a less controversial agenda for the remainder of the session, however that is not to say things will go smoothly. If Tuesday is an indication, Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) could be in slowdown mode again on Thursday. He is fighting to get upper chamber consideration of HB 473, the bipartisan Commerce, Rural, Agribusiness, and Opportunity Zone Jobs Act that passed the House unanimously and advanced from Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund unanimously.

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