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.

2 days ago

Ivey leading delegation to Europe for business development mission — ‘The ideal location for new investment and jobs is Sweet Home Alabama’

Gov. Ivey delivered remarks at the Mercedes-Benz New Campus Update event Friday October 5, 2018 in Woodstock, Ala. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

Governor Kay Ivey and Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield will travel to next week’s Paris Air Show for scheduled meetings with high-ranking aerospace industry executives and to Germany for discussions with the leadership of Mercedes-Benz.

In Paris, Governor Ivey will lead a delegation of the state’s economic development specialists, elected officials, university representatives and others attending 2019’s premier global aerospace industry event.

The mission will begin Sunday with networking events connecting the Yellowhammer State team with industry officials.

Then, Ivey, Canfield and a small Alabama working team on Monday will engage in pre-arranged meetings with executives from aerospace companies such as United Launch Alliance (ULA), Raytheon and Blue Origin.

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“Alabama has long been a leading state for aerospace, and we have set a strategic goal of growing our base in this important industry,” Ivey said in a statement. “At the Paris Air Show, I want decision-makers in the aerospace industry to know one thing: The ideal location for new investment and jobs is Sweet Home Alabama.”

Canfield said the Paris Air Show represents a unique opportunity for Alabama’s economic development team to forge new relationships with industry titans and to strengthen existing connections through focused meetings in a single location.

“The aerospace sector is one of our key targets for growth, and the sky is our limit as far as opportunities,” he remarked. “While in Paris, we will have the opportunity to meet with C-suit executives for some of the world’s most notable aerospace companies and to position Alabama for future growth in this sector.”

The air show mission comes at a time of robust growth for Alabama’s broad-based aerospace industry, whose activities include aircraft assembly, rocket development, maintenance and overhaul, raw material production, research, flight training and much more.

Last year alone, aerospace and defense companies announced plans for over $650 million in new capital investment in the Yellowhammer State, spurring the creation of nearly 1,450 anticipated jobs, according to projections by the Alabama Department of Commerce.

Already this year, Lockheed Martin and GE Aviation have announced new growth projects at their manufacturing facilities in the state.

On Tuesday, Ivey and Canfield, joined by representatives from Tuscaloosa County, will depart Paris and travel to Stuttgart, Germany, the global headquarters of Mercedes.

The visit is designed to renew relationships with key leaders at one of Alabama’s biggest corporate investors and to demonstrate the state’s commitment to the company at a time of global trade tensions.

Mercedes has invested over $6 billion in its Alabama operation, based around the massive Tuscaloosa County assembly plant that employs 3,700 workers and produces approximately 300,000 vehicles per year.

Additionally, Mercedes is developing a second campus in Bibb County anchored by a battery pack plant for future electric vehicle production as well as a global logics center and an after-sales parts hub.

“We’re proud to call Mercedes a partner, and we’re excited about the future that we are building together in Alabama,” Canfield emphasized. “Mercedes has been a great ambassador for Alabama, and we are fully committed to supporting the company and its hard-working employees in the state.”

Bob Smith, assistant director of business development-European strategy and Commerce’s point man on aerospace, will remain at the Paris Air Show for additional meetings with industry executives on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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

3 days ago

Domestic abuse complaint filed against retiring Selma PD Chief Spencer Collier

(WKRG/YouTube, Daphne PD/Contributed)

An ex parte protection order was granted in Baldwin County circuit court on Friday against former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) head Spencer Collier on behalf of his wife and two minor children.

The ex parte order, which in effect will act as a temporary restraining order issued until a hearing can be held in the next few days, came after Collier’s wife on Thursday filed a “petition for protection from abuse.” The petition alleges that Collier on Wednesday threatened physical violence against his wife, making her afraid of serious bodily injury.

The petition further states that Collier “is in an unstable state of mind” and that his wife “genuinely fear[ed]” “further abuse” due to purported mental problems he is having.

Collier’s wife is requesting custody of the two teenage children until he is able to seek “treatment…[and] is deemed not to be a risk to self or others.”

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Soon after Yellowhammer News obtained copies of the order and the petition on Friday, WKRG reported that Collier was arrested the same day in Daphne for allegedly filing a false police report.

These latest legal proceedings wrap up a whirlwind week for Collier.

First, he announced on Wednesday that his lawsuit with former Governor Robert Bentley and other named parties had been settled, with Collier set to receive $500,000.

Soon afterward on the same day, he announced his medical retirement as chief of the Selma Police Department and that he might be considering a run for the Alabama First Congressional District seat being vacated by Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope).

Collier is currently on medical leave as Selma PD chief. His leave is scheduled to end upon his effective retirement date of July 30.

WKRG is reporting that the criminal charge in Daphne stemmed from an allegation Collier made of fraudulent credit card use at a local hotel.

Collier reportedly told the outlet that he filed the police report because his son used his card. Collier said that at the time of making the report, he was unaware that his wife had given the son permission.

“I have no doubt that I will be exonerated – but the entire episode is embarrassing,” Collier told WKRG. “I wish to apologize to the Daphne Police Department and also express my gratitude for their professionalism throughout the entire incident.”

In a text message to WSFA, he added, “My adult son, who is a recovering addict and multiple felon used my bank card. I filed a police report, being this is the 2nd time in a year that he has done this. I was unaware that my wife (we are currently estranged) [gave] him permission. He pressed charges because I listed him as the suspect.”

Collier, after being booked and released from the Daphne City Jail, is scheduled to appear in court July 30, the last day he is scheduled to be employed by Selma PD.

He served as a state representative from 2002-2010, when he was appointed to lead the Alabama Department of Homeland Security by Bentley. Collier was subsequently appointed head of the newly created ALEA in 2013 by the then-governor. Collier served in that capacity until his highly publicized termination in 2016 and became Selma PD chief in 2017.

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

3 days ago

Alabama’s Rodney Smith, Jr. has mowed veterans’ lawns in all 50 states — ‘I remember asking God to use me’

(Rodney Smith Jr./Twitter)

Rodney Smith, Jr.’s mission has been accomplished, but his work is far from over.

Smith is the founder of Raising Men Lawn Care Service, which helps elderly citizens, single mothers and others in need with lawn care. He founded the free-of-charge service — with its motto of “Making a difference one lawn at a time” — in Huntsville, where he lives.

While he has often drawn well-deserved national attention for his main service, Smith recently embarked on a nationwide tour, vowing to mow veterans’ lawns in each and every state to honor and thank them. Thursday, he checked the last state off his list, arriving in Hawaii.

However, Smith’s journey will not stop there. As he explained to ABC’s Good Morning America, Smith’s amazing drive for service is powered by his faith in God.

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Smith explained that he was inspired to launch Raising Men Lawn Care Service about five years ago when he was pursuing his bachelor’s degree and searching for purpose in his life.

“I remember asking God to use me as his vessel,” he told GMA.

It was 2015, Smith said, and he was driving home in the Rocket City when he saw an elderly Huntsville man desperately trying to mow his lawn.

“It looked like he was struggling, so I pulled over and helped him,” Smith reminisced. “That’s when I got my goal to mow lawns for free for the elderly, single moms and veterans.”

This immediately became his mission, and when he realized the high-level of need just in his community alone, Smith began recruiting young people in the Huntsville area to get involved as well, helping give them a purpose bigger than themselves at an early age.

“We have boys and girls taking part in the program. We are trying to encourage boys and girls to get out there and make a difference, one lawn at a time,” Smith emphasized.

That recruitment has since expanded across the country.

Smith said that approximately 400 kids and teens nationwide are currently participating in the “50 Lawn Challenge,” which encourages young people to help those in their respective community who are struggling with their yardwork on their own by voluntarily mowing 50 lawns.

Smith estimates that he has mowed at least 2,500 lawns since 2015.

He went searching for his mission in life, turning to God, and Smith said he was shown the way.

“My true purpose in life is helping people,” he said.

You can read more about Smith here.

RELATED: Alabama Community Lifts Up Local Hero

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

3 days ago

Birmingham pastors: ‘Planned Parenthood is not welcome and has no place in our city’

(CBS 42/YouTube)

An interdenominational group of Birmingham-area pastors and clergy on Thursday held a press conference at the site of the under-construction Planned Parenthood abortion facility in the Magic City, with faith leaders of different genders and races coming together to say “all lives matter.”

The new abortion center is being built at 1019 1st Avenue North. Planned Parenthood Birmingham has not been able to perform abortions at its existing facility located at 1211 27th Place South since 2017.

Metro Birmingham Life Forum, spearheaded by Charismatic Episcopal Church’s Fr. Terry Gensemer, organized the press conference.

In a press release ahead of Thursday’s gathering, Gensemer emphasized, “Planned Parenthood is not welcome and has no place in our city.”

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“Every abortion clinic that has ever existed in Birmingham has failed – including Planned Parenthood, which hasn’t done abortions in nearly two years,” he said. “But our pregnancy centers continue to thrive, offering compassion, resources, and legitimate medical care, all at no cost to the woman. The church has been a huge part of that progress, and as pastors we are called to uphold that which is good.”

This group of faith leaders was created in response to the new Planned Parenthood abortion center, which pro-life Alabamians have been campaigning against for over a year now.

Leadership is represented from a whole spectrum of denominations, including Anglican, Catholic, Baptist, Charismatic Episcopalian and Presbyterian, as well as non-denominational.

Several leaders from predominantly black churches are a part of the group and have lamented that 60% of babies aborted in Alabama are black despite the state’s population only being approximately 1/4 black.

Pastor Zanthia Turner of Bread of Life World Outreach Ministries said, “As an African American woman, I am concerned that if we as a Black community and community leaders allow this abortion center to be built, we will not only bring shame to our culture but also send a mixed message about whose life matters.”

“If all lives matter, why not the All? We stand as one voice to break the silence and defeat the lie that we don’t care about our children, communities and families,” she continued. “Planned Parenthood, we will no longer accept your lies. We Matter!”

Evangelist Scott Dawson was a featured speaker at the event.

He said this is an especially personal issue for him, as his mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when she was pregnant with him and still carried him to term.

Dawson applauded Alabama’s state legislature and Governor Kay Ivey for “the most aggressive pro-life stance in our country.”

“Every life has purpose,” he emphasized, also mentioning that the Yellowhammer State set a record for adoptions just last year.

‘Injustice’

Another black faith leader who spoke at the press conference, Bishop Jim Lowe of Guiding Light Church, stressed that abortion is an “injustice being perpetrated against the innocent, living human beings” in the womb.

“This crime is an injustice that cannot escape the righteous justice of an almighty God,” he added.

Lowe called abortion “murder” and said “all life is precious,” whether born or “pre-born.”

He continued to compare abortion, as an “injustice,” to slavery. Lowe passionately stated that eventually ending abortion in America would be as righteous and just as codifying the 14th Amendment to end the injustice of Dred Scott.

“A nation with its foundations crumbling can no longer stand,” he lamented. “We must learn to stand together against injustice wherever injustice is.”

Other speakers at the event included: Dr. Harry Reeder, Briarwood Presbyterian Church; Dr. Chris Peters, Cross Creek Church PCA; Fr. Michael Novotny, Christ the King Anglican; Bishop Demetrics Roscoe, Living Church Ministries; Fr. Josh Altonji, St. Stephen the Martyr; and Pastor Sam Bryant, Vestavia Primitive Baptist.

Watch:

Other local pastors who attended or are in support of this effort include: Fr. Gerry McDermott, Christ the King Anglican; Pastor Joshua Winslett, Beulah Primitive Baptist Church; Fr. Mark Finley & Fr. Bill Xenos, Church of the Reconciler; Pastor David Haynes, First Baptist Church of Center Point; Pastor Justin Wallick, Christ Church Branch Cove; Pastor Josh Coker, Vestavia Primitive Baptist; Pastor Paul Hughes, Birmingham Prayer Furnace; Al Baker, Evangelist PCA; Dr. Jim Maples, Pleasant Grove Presbyterian Church; Pastor Phil Chambers, Christ Community Church; Pastor Jeff Lowman, Evangel Church, PCA; Rev. Rick Hutchinson, Christ Community Church Springville, PCA.

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

3 days ago

Byrne, Brooks slam House Democrats for politicizing national defense

(M. Brooks/Facebook, Jeff Poor/YHN)

Congressmen Bradley Byrne (AL-01) and Mo Brooks (AL-05) on Thursday voted against what they criticized as a hyper-partisan Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) during a meeting of the House Armed Services Committee.

The vote occurred at approximately 6:30 a.m. EST in the morning, coming after an all-night debate and markup session. The committee advanced its version of the NDAA by a 33-24 vote, with all Democrats voting in the affirmative compared to all but two Republicans voting against the measure.

This comes in stark contrast to recent precedent. The NDAA has been signed into law for 58 consecutive years, and the House Armed Services Committee usually passes the NDAA by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote. For example, that committee passed the Fiscal Year 2019 NDAA on a bipartisan 60-1 vote when Republicans held the majority last year.

This time around, Republicans like Byrne and Brooks are calling out Democrats for putting politics over the safety of the American people.

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By reducing the overall topline, the Fiscal Year 2020 NDAA reduces the total resources available to improve and maintain the nation’s defense readiness. The bill also expressly prohibits the use of funds to address the humanitarian and security crisis at the United States’ border with Mexico.

“National security and military programs are critical to Alabama, so I could not support the Democrat-written defense authorization bill that did not include the resources necessary to support our military men and women and restore our defense readiness,” Byrne said in a statement.

Byrne introduced amendments during the committee meeting to prohibit the transfer of Guantanamo Bay (GTMO) detainees to the U.S. and to eliminate prohibitions on President Donald Trump modernizing Air Force One. However, Democrats defeated those amendments.

“Despite growing threats to our national security, Democrats used what has traditionally been a bipartisan defense bill to weaken our border security, harm our nuclear posture, and ease the transfer of Guantanamo detainees into the United States,” he lamented. “Democrats included a provision to block President Trump from picking the paint in the new Air Force Ones, but they couldn’t even provide the base amount of resources Pentagon leaders say is necessary to defend our country.”

“The defense of our country is too important an issue, so I hope Democrats stop with the political games and decide to work together to ensure our military has the policy and resources necessary to keep the American people safe,” Byrne concluded.

‘Blinded by their hatred for President Trump and crass love for political power’

Brooks also released a statement after the committee meeting, explaining that “on the whole, the FY20 NDAA undermines America’s border security and national security.”

“It’s unfortunate Socialist Democrats on the committee in bad faith refused to consider or support constructive Republican amendments that were repeatedly and overwhelmingly voted down on party-line votes,” he decried.

Brooks opined that in its current form as advanced by the House committee, the FY 2020 NDAA would be vetoed by the president.

“While the FY20 NDAA has good parts, 24 Republican Members of Congress, including myself, concluded that this FY20 NDAA draft simply puts too many American lives at risk,” the north Alabama congressman advised.

Remainder of Brooks’ statement as follows:

For starters, Socialist Democrats blatantly used the FY20 NDAA to promote open borders by attacking, thwarting, and undermining President Trump’s existing yet rather meager border security powers and policies. To be clear, border security IS national security. The FY20 NDAA blocks President Trump from using existing law and existing funding to build a border wall or otherwise promote border security that protects and saves American lives. In so doing, Socialist Democrats supported the deaths of over 30,000 Americans each year (2,000+ American deaths/year via homicides by illegal aliens on American soil [per Immigration and Customs Enforcement data] plus another 30,000+ American deaths/year from overdoses on poisonous drugs shipped across America’s porous southern border [per Center for Disease Control and Drug Enforcement Agency data]). To be absolutely blunt and clear about America’s border security threat, more Americans have died as a result of America’s porous southern border than have been killed in any American conflict or war, excepting World War II and the Civil War. Yet, HASC Socialist Democrats, blinded by their hatred for President Trump and crass love for political power over country, not only blocked ANY new, effective border security measures, they also voted to deny President Trump the use of some of the few border security powers he has under existing law to save and protect American lives.

Further dangerous weaknesses in the FY20 NDAA include, but are not limited to:

  • The FY20 NDAA is significantly below President Trump’s defense budget request for Fiscal Year 2020. Socialist Democrat spending cuts include: hypersonic weapons development, ballistic missile defense, and the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program— all of which are vitally important to America and the Redstone Arsenal defense community;
  • The FY20 NDAA endangers American lives by making it easier to move Guantanamo Bay terrorists to American soil;
  • The FY20 NDAA weakens America’s nuclear capabilities by eliminating funding for the deployment of low-yield nuclear weapons needed to deter attacks by near-peer adversaries; and,
  • The FY20 NDAA takes aim at Redstone Arsenal’s Missile Defense Agency (“MDA”) by preventing MDA from developing the space-based ballistic missile intercept layer that helps protect America from nuclear missile attacks. A space-based intercept capability is likely the best, and perhaps only, opportunity America has to employ boost-phase missile defense measures for nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles (or hypersonic weapons) fired from nations with strong anti-access/area denial systems (including Russia and China). MDA should have the option to pursue a wide range of technologies in missile defense, and must have the flexibility to research and develop systems that work, no matter if the platform is air-based, sea-based, land-based, or space-based.

Notwithstanding that this FY20 NDAA draft has an overall detrimental effect on both America’s border security and national security, I am pleased my office helped successfully insert into the FY20 NDAA provisions beneficial to both America and Redstone Arsenal, to-wit:

  • $38 million is authorized for construction of an Aircraft and Flight Equipment Building on Redstone Arsenal;
  • $40 million is authorized for construction of a new air traffic control tower and airport terminal on Kwajalein Atoll (a key component of America’s missile defense assets);
  • A Department of Defense report to Congress on progress made to enable accelerated integration of new missile capabilities into the Army Integrated Air and Missile Defense (AIAMD) program;
  • Full funding for the development of the Army’s Precision Guidance Kit – Anti-Jam (PGK-AJ);
  • A Department of Defense briefing to defense committees regarding on board vehicle power technology; and,
  • A Department of Defense report (validated by MDA) to the defense committees on the conduct and results of the Lower Tier Air and Missile Defense Sensor (LTAMDS) sense-off.

Other plusses include authorization of the Space Corps (popularly known as the Space Force), lifting of the prohibition on standing up U.S. Space Command, support for the MDA’s request to develop a space sensor layer to detect and track hypersonic weapon threats, and a provision ensuring the Phase 2 National Security Space Launch program remains on schedule.

It is unfortunate HASC Socialist Democrats refused to work in a bipartisan manner— as Republicans did when we held the House majority— to craft a bill that both Republicans and Democrats could support. I’m hopeful the FY20 NDAA is improved in the House floor amendment process and the eventual Senate-House compromise bill is worthy of a ‘Yes’ vote. Such is life in a House of Representatives governed by radical Socialist Democrats who too often complain that Nancy Pelosi is ‘too conservative’ to be House Speaker.

The FY 2020 NDAA approved by the House Armed Services Committee would authorize the “Space Corps” being formed. Congressman Mike Rogers (AL-03) spearheaded that aspect of the legislation.

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

3 days ago

Muscle Shoals mayor endorses Byrne for Senate

(City of Muscle Shoals/Contributed, B. Byrne/Facebook)

Muscle Shoals Mayor David Bradford on Thursday endorsed Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) in Alabama’s 2020 Republican U.S. Senate primary.

The endorsement came in a video released by Byrne’s campaign on social media.

“Bradley Byrne’s heart is in economic development and job creation,” Bradford said.

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“He’s worked with the state of Alabama, he’s worked with municipalities all of the state of Alabama, and he’s served in the Unites States Congress for several years now,” he added. “Bradley Byrne would make an excellent United States Senator and have Alabama values, Alabama quality of life and work for job and economic development.”

Watch:

Bradford’s endorsement came after Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller endorsed Byrne last week.

Tracie West, Alabama State Board of Education member for District 2, also endorsed Byrne this week. She is the former president of Auburn City Schools.

An early primary poll first reported on Wednesday by Yellowhammer News showed former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville leading the field (including potential candidates Roy Moore and John Merrill) in all media markets except Mobile, as Byrne represents southwest Alabama in Congress and enjoys high name identification and favorability there.

Byrne’s campaign team could very well be trying to show that his support is growing outside of his congressional district by rolling out endorsements like Fuller’s, West’s and now Bradford’s.

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

4 days ago

Rogers spearheads House committee approving new ‘Space Corps’

(Congressman Mike D. Rogers/Facebook, U.S. Air Force/Flickr)

Congressman Mike Rogers (AL-03) continues to be a leading national proponent for creating a new military branch for space.

In the overnight hours of Thursday morning, Rogers and Congressman Jim Cooper (D-TN) during a meeting of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) introduced an amendment during the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) mark-up for Fiscal Year 2020 that would create the “Space Corps.”

The Rogers-Cooper amendment was unanimously adopted and the NDAA was approved by the committee, sending the measure to the full House.

“I am thrilled my colleagues on HASC recognize the importance of focusing on this proposal. As I have said time and time again, the future of warfighting will be fought in Space. Russia and China are surpassing us in Space capabilities and we must have a military branch focused solely on this mission,” Rogers said in a statement on the importance of meeting the threats that China and Russia pose in space.

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This is an initiative Rogers has been tirelessly advocating for over the last few years, predating President Donald Trump’s creation for the “Space Force.”

“I also applaud President Trump’s vision and unwavering support in creation of this military branch. Our national security truly depends on it,” Rogers added.

Defense News reported Rogers advised that the Rogers-Cooper amendment approved by the HASC on Thursday is “almost identical” to an idea previously offered by Rogers that the same committee approved during the FY 2018 NDAA markup.

While it is similar to and in line with Trump’s vision for the Space Force, Space Corps would fall under the Air Force, like the Marine Corps currently falls under the Navy.

The Space Force proposal would have separated the new branch out entirely and necessitated more bureaucracy and spending, according to Space Corps proponents.

Cooper, speaking on Space Corps, explained, “It is not a $13 billion expenditure, a gold-plated plan like had been proposed to us by the secretary of the Air Force. It is instead a reorganization so that space professionals can be properly recognized for their skill and ability and promoted.”

Space Corps as proposed by the Rogers-Cooper amendment would create its own streamlined acquisition system, a four-star commandant on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and its own civilian undersecretary.

The Secretary of Defense would be required to provide a report on Space Corps’ structure and personnel needs by 2021. The corps, if created, would experience a transition period that begins January 1, 2021 and ends no later than December 31, 2023.

Initially, Air Force personnel would be transferred to create the new branch, although there would exist the ability for Navy and Army members to volunteer to move into the corps.

“This is the initial standing up of the service. We can come back next year and look at bringing those professionals in,” Rogers said of requiring Navy and Army space personnel to transfer to Space Corps, according to The Hill. “This is going to be an evolving product over the next four to five years and we’re going to have time to deal with those.”

Assuming the proposal survives the House floor, there will still be more hurdles to overcome.

The Rogers-Cooper amendment differs from the proposal in a Senate committee’s NDAA version, which backs the formation of a new service outside the Air Force, fully funded at $72.4 million, but still deviates from the White House’s Space Force proposal.

The House and Senate are expected to reconcile their competing versions of the bill before it can head to Trump’s desk.

Additionally, as the NDAA is authorizing legislation, separate appropriations legislation would also have to back this new military branch before it could become a reality.

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

4 days ago

University of South Alabama Hospital opens Gulf Coast’s first ‘small baby unit’ for babies born at 28 weeks, earlier

(WKRG/Youtube)

There is new hope for babies born before 28 weeks gestation, thanks to the University of South Alabama (USA) Children’s & Women’s Hospital in Mobile.

WKRG reported that a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on Wednesday for the newly operational “small baby unit” at the hospital. The outlet added that there are less than ten similar units in the United States, and USA’s facility is the first of its kind throughout the Gulf Coast states.

Cathy McCurley, a registered nurse at USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital, explained why the unit is so significant.

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There are numerous advantages to putting babies born so prematurely (being born before 37 weeks is considered premature) in the same room together, which is one focus of the unit at USA.

“We were trying to put babies with specific needs together that were similar. So those babies that are born before 28 weeks and before 1,000 grams have a lot of not only medical needs, but neuro-developmental needs. So they are born and having to process our environment much earlier than they should have to and so not only do they have medical needs that need to be met, but they also have neurological needs,” she outlined to WKRG.

“We have to be careful about lighting and sound, and good touch, bad touch, and all of those kinds of things as well as their medical concerns,” McCurley continued. “And grouping them together allows us to focus on them as a group rather than… when they’re spread out amongst the other patients you may not have them paired well, and that runs into problems in trying to manage that aspect of their care.”

Research has shown that babies born before 28 weeks gestation or weighing less than 2.2 pounds have better health outcomes when a specially trained team provides care, and the survival rate for these babies is improving, according to WKRG. USA’s new small baby unit can hold up to 22 babies at a time.

Additionally, housing these babies together gives their parents the opportunity to share their experience with each other and know that they are not alone.

WKRG shared two examples of babies born before 28 weeks who have thrived at USA.

One baby named Tatum was born on March 7 of this year, weighing just over a pound.

Now, about three months later, he is reportedly gaining weight and getting healthier every day, thanks to the hardworking doctors and nurses in the new small baby unit.

Cullen Potter is another example. This is the baby born “barely bigger than a Coke” who went viral last year after “graduating” from USA’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

His mother, Molli Potter, said that he needed to be delivered almost four full months early. However, she had a hard time finding a hospital with doctors who would even attempt delivering before 24 weeks, with many writing her son off as a lost cause.

That changed when she called USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital, and Cullen was born at 22 weeks, weighing 13.9 ounces.

Cullen reportedly had to stay in the hospital for 160 days, up until what would have been his regular delivery date.

“He was the size of my hand and didn’t even look like a baby,” Potter said.

Due to the facilities at USA, Cullen is doing much better now. In fact, he recently celebrated his first birthday in March.

Potter shared, “He just got a complete clean bill of health from every single doctor that he’s seen. No medications, nothing. He’s working on walking just like every other baby his age.”

She wants other parents in her situation to know that there absolutely is hope for babies born even this prematurely.

“So many give up on them without even trying,” Potter emphasized. “[Another] hospital point blank said, No. He’s not worth it, two-percent chance, we’re not going to do anything.’ I want people to see that they can make it. That they not only can make it, but they can have a good quality of life just like any other baby.”

RELATED: Volunteer who rocks babies donates $1 million to USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital

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

4 days ago

Blount County Jail offering baptisms to inmates — ‘I’m somebody totally different in Jesus’

(Blount County Jail/Facebook)

The Blount County Jail in Oneonta is offering voluntary baptisms to inmates as a way for them to help turn their lives around.

ABC 33/40 reported that Blount County Sheriff Mark Moon has partnered with Reedemed Ministries, which is run by a former convict who found faith and turned away from a life of crime, to start the program.

The first baptisms at Blount County Jail reportedly occurred Tuesday night, with 24 male inmates choosing to accept Jesus Christ in their lives.

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Baptisms will also be offered to the female prison population at the jail in six months.

Moon told ABC 33/40 that baptism is “an outward showing” that an inmate is serious about seeking true forgiveness and rehabilitation.

The sheriff explained the thought process as, “This is who I was before I met Jesus Christ, and now, I’m dead and I’m buried. My old self is gone, and I’m resurrected new. And I’m somebody totally different in Jesus.”

Moon emphasized that inmates are free to practice whatever religion they choose — or none at all.

ABC 33/40 added that 29 female inmates in the Walker County Jail chose to get baptized this week at that facility. These inmates are part of a weekly Bible group that totals 67 female inmates in that county’s jail.

Watch below or here:

Yellowhammer News has previously reported on other Alabama correctional facilities offering baptisms and various voluntary faith-based services, including at Calhoun County Jail and Bibb County Correctional Facility.

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

4 days ago

Roby introduces amendment to block taxpayer funded abortions in D.C. — ‘Helps guard the innocent’

(Rep. Roby/Twitter)

Representative Martha Roby (AL-02) continues to make her staunch pro-life bonafides well known across the nation.

During a meeting of the House Appropriations Committee this week, Roby offered a pro-life amendment to a Fiscal Year 2020 funding bill during markup that would prevent taxpayer funds from being spent on abortion in Washington, D.C.

Known as the Dornan Amendment, the policy introduced by Roby has been in place in some form since 1979. However, some members of Congress over the years have partially nullified the policy by insisting it should only govern federal funds and claiming that all locally-collected revenues, such as taxes and fines, are local and not federal.

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Since the District of Columbia is a federal territory and is uniquely controlled by Congress, all locally-collected funds in D.C. go to the U.S. Treasury. Those funds must then be appropriated by Congress as laid out in Article I of the U.S. Constitution.

“Calling some federally-appropriated money ‘local’ and therefore eligible to be spent on abortion and some ‘federal’ and not eligible for abortion is just an accounting gimmick to allow the District of Columbia to disregard Congress’ authority and fund abortions, which the District currently permits during all nine months of pregnancy for any reason,” Roby said in a statement.

“Because of the authority given to Congress by the Constitution, pro-life members are necessarily involved and would be complicit if we allowed the District to fund abortions using ‘local’ funds,” she continued. “I can’t begin to express my concern with these policies and laws surrounding taxpayer dollars being used for the destruction of human life. My amendment upholds the basic duties of government and helps guard the innocent.”

This comes as prominent Democrats around the country, including leading presidential candidates, are coming out against the Hyde Amendment, which is the longstanding policy that prohibits federal funds from being spent on abortions, with certain exceptions.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has performed a complete flip-flop in the matter of days, going from supporting the Hyde Amendment his entire career to now being against it in a primary field that continues to lurch further and further to the left.

Biden is being supported by Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) in his presidential bid. Alabama’s junior senator has become known as a loyal supporter of abortion in the Senate.

The full text of Roby’s Tuesday committee remarks as prepared as follows:

Madam Chair, my amendment prevents taxpayer funds from being spent on abortion with the same exceptions as the Hyde Amendment.

The Dornan Amendment has been in place in some form since 1979. Over the years, opposing members have nullified it by insisting the ban should only govern “federal” funds and then claiming that all locally-collected revenues, such as taxes and fines, are “local” and not “federal.”

Due to D.C.’s status as a federal territory, like a federal agency or department which might collect money in the form of sales and fines, all the District’s funds go to the U.S. Treasury, whether collected locally, contributed by the federal government, or from other sources. Those funds must then be appropriated by the normal federal appropriations process, as stipulated in the first article of the Constitution.

Therefore, calling some federally-appropriated money “local” and eligible to be spent on abortion and some “federal” and not eligible for abortion is just an accounting gimmick and would allow the District to disregard Congress’s authority and fund abortion, which D.C. permits in all nine months for any reason.

Because of the authority given to Congress by the Constitution, pro-life members are necessarily involved and would be complicit if they allowed D.C. to fund abortion using “local” funds or by turning over all budgetary control to the District.

Again, I can’t begin to express my concern with these policies and laws surrounding taxpayer dollars being used for the destruction of human life.

Our nation was founded on the belief that every human being has rights, dignity, and value. Each and every child should be welcomed into life and protected by the law.

My amendment upholds the basic duties of government and helps guard the innocent. I ask that you support this amendment.

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

4 days ago

Early poll sets the stage for possible Alabama GOP U.S. Senate primary field

(Republican Women of Huntsville, B. Byrne, Stand with Judge Roy Moore, J. Merrill, A. Mooney for Alabama/Facebook)

Yellowhammer News has obtained an early Republican primary poll for Alabama’s 2020 U.S. Senate race.

The poll was conducted by a prominent national pollster, Erik Iverson of The Moore Information Group, who is working for former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville’s campaign in the race. The survey polled 650 likely Republican voters on Monday and Tuesday of this week. The margin of error was four percent.

This early in the race, with only light social media advertising having taken place, the poll is almost entirely based off of pure name identification.

The survey measured a ballot test between the credible candidates who have already announced their candidacy (Congressman Bradley Byrne, Tuberville and State Rep. Arnold Mooney) as well as former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore and Secretary of State John Merrill.

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Tuberville is leading with 23% of voters choosing him, followed by Moore at 18%, Byrne at 16%, Merrill at 7%, “Other” at 6% and Mooney at 2%, with 28% undecided.

The former football coach led in all media markets except Mobile, the area Byrne represents in Congress.

The poll went deeper than that, measuring those candidates’ and potential candidates’ name identification and favorability, along with at least one biography test on Tuberville and the popularity of President Donald Trump.

The survey showed 80% of respondents having a favorable opinion of Trump, with 18% responding unfavorably.

Tuberville had a 49%-17% favorable-unfavorable rating, compared to Byrne at 35%-16%, Moore at 38%-48%, Merrill at 28%-13% and Mooney at 12%-13%.

Tuberville performed best both among respondents who identified as “very conservative” and as Trump supporters, two demographics key in the 2020 Republican primary.

Moore has a “very favorable” rating of 17%, while his 32% “very unfavorable” mark shows the deeply rooted opposition to his candidacy even within the GOP grassroots.

Only 1% of respondents never heard of Moore, while the rest of the candidates have significant room to grow in name identification and strengthening soft favorability and unfavorability.

One question showed that 65% of respondents preferred an “outsider like President Trump who has never been a politician.” 17% percent preferred a “career politician who has spent the last two decades in office.”

The eventual Republican nominee will go on to likely face Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) in the general election.

President Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jr. and other allies of the president have warned that a possible Moore-Jones rematch could once again hand this ruby-red seat to the Democrats in 2020.

This polling should give observers some sense of relief that if the other GOP candidates do not tear themselves apart during the primary, Moore’s built-in unfavorable numbers give him a huge hill to climb out of the gates in seeking the nomination.

You can read a memo from Iverson on the poll here.

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

5 days ago

Doug Jones cosponsors bill forcing Trump to support Paris climate agreement, falls in line with far-left environmentalists

(Office of Sen. Doug Jones/Facebook, WH/Flickr, Pixabay, YHN)

Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) has signed onto a bill supported by far-left environmentalist groups that would force President Donald Trump’s administration to adhere to the Paris Agreement, which was reached in 2016 through the United Nations to combat greenhouse gas emissions.

Trump announced in June 2017 that the United States would exit from this global climate deal, citing losses in American energy production and independence, as well as significant job losses, as some of the economic disadvantages of the Paris Agreement.

Since then, the president has often celebrated his decision to leave the agreement as a boost to the nation’s economy, especially manufacturing and energy sector jobs.

However, as reported by Oregon’s KTVZ Channel 21 News,  Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) have now introduced legislation directing the Trump administration to fall in line with the Paris Agreement.

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The legislation – the International Climate Accountability Act – would reportedly prevent Trump from using funds to withdraw from the Paris climate deal. Jones joined most Democratic senators in signing up as cosponsors on the bill.

House Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), last month passed their version of the legislation, entitled the “Climate Action Now Act.”

The International Climate Accountability Act has been officially endorsed by the BlueGreen Alliance, Earthjustice, Environment America, Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Sciences, Green The Church, GreenLatinos and additional special interest groups listed here in a letter of support.

“No matter how much Trump tries to bury his head in the sand, climate change is real and it’s here. Withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement will only set back America’s environmental leadership and quicken the destruction of our planet,” Wyden said, according to KTVZ. “If Donald Trump continues to deny science, Congress must force his hand.”

“We can’t stop President Trump from holding bizarre, anti-science climate denial beliefs, but we can work to make sure those beliefs don’t damage Americans’ health and livelihoods,” Merkley added. “Climate chaos is a global crisis, and we need every nation on the front lines of this battle. America can and should lead the world to meet this challenge.”

Wyden and Merkley were the two senators who joined Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) in introducing the Green New Deal.

Jones was undecided on how he would vote on the Green New Deal just hours before a procedural vote occurred on the legislation in the Senate earlier this year. That floor vote has become synonymous with Jones, as he memorably looked to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) right before voting.

Alabama’s junior senator has vowed to back whomever the Democrats nominate against Trump in 2020, no matter how radical that individual is, including on climate activism like the Green New Deal.

It is estimated that up to 271,000 Alabama manufacturing jobs could be wiped out by this proposal. Tens of thousands of agricultural jobs would also be on the chopping block, along with high-paying jobs in the aerospace, defense and automotive sectors.

Additionally, it should be noted that Jones has endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden in the Democratic presidential primary. Biden has come out with his own climate plan that has been called a “radical Green New Deal knockoff.”

The United States cannot officially withdraw from the Paris Agreement until next year, raising the stakes of the 2020 election cycle even more.

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

5 days ago

State Rep. Matt Fridy running for Court of Civil Appeals

(Fridy campaign/Facebook)

State Rep. Matt Fridy (R-Montevallo) on Wednesday officially announced that he is running in 2020 for the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals seat being vacated by Judge Scott Donaldson.

Fridy filed his paperwork with the secretary of state’s office last week to form his campaign committee. He starts the judicial race out with over $73,000 on hand already just from money transferred from his House campaign account.

“The law has always been a passion of mine,” Fridy said in a statement. “Having spent years in private practice as an appellate lawyer, and having served for several years as a staff attorney for the Court of Civil Appeals and the Supreme Court, I believe I am uniquely qualified to serve as a Judge on the Court of Civil Appeals.”

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Fridy describes himself as a life-long Republican and Reagan conservative. He has served in the state House of Representatives since 2014, serving in various leadership roles, including vice chairman of the Judiciary Committee and chairman of the Committee on Constitution, Campaigns, and Elections.

Drawing on his estimable background in constitutional law, Fridy has prominently fought to uphold our rights to free speech, due process and the rule of law. A recent example is Fridy shepherding his campus free speech bill through the legislature to becoming law this year.

“I have always stood up for the constitution, and I will bring a fair-minded, conservative judicial philosophy to the bench,” he added. “I have helped pass a number of judicial reforms to the Alabama Court system, and I have a deep understanding of how the courts work.”

Fridy is an attorney with the distinguished law firm of Wallace, Jordan, Ratliff, and Brandt, a full-service law firm, where he focuses on appellate practice with an emphasis on constitutional law, agricultural law, critical motions and corporate litigation.

He is a magna cum laude graduate of Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law, where he served as the executive editor of the Cumberland Law Review. Following graduation, Fridy served as a federal law clerk to United States District Judge Edwin Nelson. Fridy has served as an adjunct professor of business law at the University of Montevallo.

He and his wife Kimberly, a pharmacist, have five children: Jack, Beth, Cate, Emily and Caroline. They attend Spring Creek Cumberland Presbyterian Church, where Fridy serves as an elder.

You can visit his campaign website here.

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

5 days ago

Alabama’s Corey Maze confirmed to federal bench

(Attorney General's Office/contributed)

Corey Maze of Montgomery on Wednesday was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in a 62-34 vote to be a federal District Judge for the Northern District of Alabama.

Maze, a native of Centre, was nominated for the judgeship by President Donald Trump in May 2018. In October, he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration of his nomination and was favorably reported out of the committee.

Sens. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Doug Jones (D-AL) voted “yea” on Maze’s confirmation on the floor Wednesday.

In a statement afterwards, Shelby lauded the successful outcome.

“Corey Maze’s confirmation to be a district judge for the Northern District of Alabama is another important step in the shaping of our courts,” Shelby said. “His strong commitment to the rule of law and ability to adhere to the highest standards of judicial efficacy will allow him to excel in this esteemed role. Corey Maze exemplifies all of the characteristics of a model judge, and I am honored to have played a part in his confirmation today.”

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Until his confirmation, Maze was serving as a special deputy attorney general for the state of Alabama, where he was also chief of the attorney general’s Special Litigation Unit.

Prior to that role, Maze served as the solicitor general of Alabama from 2008 to 2011.

He has a distinguished record of public service, beginning his career as an assistant attorney general in 2003. Maze earned his Bachelor of Arts in criminal justice, summa cum laude, from Auburn University and his Juris Doctorate, cum laude, from Georgetown University Law Center.

Additionally, his experience in the courtroom is impressive, as Maze has served as lead counsel at all three levels of state and federal courts, including three cases in which he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. He also authored three Supreme Court amicus briefs and won a National Association of Attorney’s General “Best Brief” to the Supreme Court Award in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

In a statement on Wednesday, Attorney General Steve Marshall extolled the confirmation.

“Through its confirmation vote today, the U.S. Senate acknowledged what those of us in the Alabama Attorney General’s Office already know,” Marshall emphasized.

“Corey Maze is abundantly qualified to serve on the federal bench,” the attorney general outlined. “His record as Solicitor General of the State of Alabama and Special Deputy Attorney General is deep and exemplary. He shepherded the State’s Special Litigation Unit acting as primary counsel in many complex cases ranging from the landmark 2010 BP oil spill case to the state’s opioid litigation.”

After Andrew Brasher’s confirmation in May to serve as U.S. District Judge for the Middle District of Alabama, Maze becomes the second employee from the attorney general’s to be confirmed to the federal bench this year. Brasher was serving as solicitor general until his confirmation.

“I was pleased to support Mr. Maze’s nomination by President Trump, and I join all of his colleagues and friends in congratulating him on his confirmation as federal judge for the Northern District of Alabama,” Marshall concluded.

Maze’s confirmation marks the ninth of Alabama’s federal judicial nominees to have been nominated by Trump and confirmed by the Senate, many having been originally nominated by the president in 2017.

Shelby has consistently decried the historic obstruction by Senate Democrats that has occurred during the Trump administration’s attempt to confirm judges.

The previous six presidents combined faced a total of 24 procedural votes on judicial nominees while Trump faced more than 100 during his first two years in office alone.

However, in April, the Senate voted to reduce post-cloture debate time from 30 hours to two hours for certain executive and federal judicial nominations, including district court appointments like Maze’s, preventing further delay on confirming hundreds of qualified nominees. Since this change, the Senate has confirmed nearly twice as many nominees in half the time.

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

5 days ago

University of Alabama launches plan to double research awards within five years

(University of Alabama)

The University of Alabama Office for Research and Economic Development (ORED) has launched an ambitious five-year strategic plan to help facilitate the growth and impact of research enterprises on campus.

UA made the announcement in a release, saying the new plan focuses on growing and developing faculty as well as significantly increasing the size and impact of research and scholarly activity.

One of the ultimate goals will be to double the amount of research awards to the university within five years.

The strategic plan builds on the university’s designation by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education as a “Very High Research Activity” doctoral university, the nation’s highest level of research activity for institutions that grant doctoral degrees.

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“The University is uniquely positioned to become one of the premier comprehensive research institutions in the southeastern United States over the next five years and in so doing translate research productivity and innovation to economic and societal development,” said Dr. Russell J. Mumper, UA vice president for research and economic development.

Mumper reportedly spent the first five months of his tenure at the university working collaboratively across campus to develop this strategic plan that emphasizes the UA’s research mission. The plan originates directly from the university’s strategic plan that also aims to increase impactful research.

The ORED plan has six strategic themes including research environment; research institutes; transformative initiatives; translating intellectual property; economic and business engagement; and assessing progress and impact.

“The strategic plan was inspired by guiding principles that serve as both a compass and gauge for framing the strategic themes and strategic objectives within each theme,” Mumper advised. “A dominating guiding principle is that ORED must support and foster the initiatives and innovation of faculty and staff, and support and foster students as the future workforce talent for the state, nation and world.”

Major goals, or themes, of the strategic plan include:

  • providing world-class core analytical facilities to support the research enterprise,
  • significantly enhancing and expanding opportunities for undergraduate research,
  • nominating faculty for more external honorific awards,
  • growing the Alabama research institutes and their impact,
  • establishing a new state-of-the-art research and creative conference program,
  • launching an intellectual property gap fund,
  • establishing an Office for Economic and Business Engagement to develop robust funded partnerships and retaining more opportunities to retain alumni in the state
  • doubling research awards to the University within five years.

“We greatly appreciate all the critical input and feedback we received around campus in helping us to create a strategic plan we all can be proud of and that best represents our collective ambitions,” Mumper concluded.

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

5 days ago

Federal government awards Huntsville $8 million for infrastructure improvements to prepare for Mazda Toyota plant

(Pixabay, YHN)

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has granted the City of Huntsville $8,000,000 for rail infrastructure and safety improvements along Old Highway 20.

Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) announced the grant in a statement.

The funding will provide for an overpass initiative to eliminate congestion and improve traffic conditions in light of the under-construction Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA plant, which is located along the two-lane highway and will bring 4,000 new commuters to the highway daily when completed. The project also includes the repair of potholes and resurfacing of roads in order to improve motorists’ travel experience and boost drivers’ safety.

“I am pleased to hear that this funding will allow for improvements to Old Highway 20 in Huntsville,” Shelby said. “This project will preserve and enhance the city’s transportation system for years to come, as well as make necessary safety developments that are crucial to the success and reliability of North Alabama’s rail system.”

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The Old Highway 20 project is being conducted in three phases. The first phase began in the fall of 2018 and the second and third phases are anticipated to be completed by late 2020. The project is funded through both local and federal funds.

“These investments in intercity passenger and freight rail will benefit surrounding communities, make grade crossings safer and improve service reliability,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao advised.

This comes on the heels of Shelby announcing two major DOT grant batches that will benefit 25 airports across Alabama. The total airport grant amount was over $46 million and was made possible by Shelby’s historic leadership as chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

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

5 days ago

Gary Palmer on UA vs. Culverhouse: ‘I am proud of the university’s decision’

(House Budget Committee GOP/YouTube, UA)

Congressman Gary Palmer (AL-06) is standing fully behind the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees’ decision to return Hugh F. Culverhouse, Jr.’s record donation and strip his name from the UA law school.

The University of Alabama System on Sunday definitively proved that returning Culverhouse’s donation was never about abortion, providing emails that showed the recommendation was made four days prior to any public remarks he made about the subject.

However, Culverhouse has continued to try peddling his abortion-gate conspiracy even after the System’s irrefutable records release.

In a statement on Tuesday, Palmer emphasized that the facts of the matter are clear, despite the wishes of many media outlets in the state and across the country.

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“I am proud of the university’s decision to return the funds,” Palmer said. “This is about academic integrity and institutional independence.”

“In returning the funds, The University of Alabama is setting an example that I hope other colleges and universities will follow,” he concluded. “While donors may designate the use of their donations, they do not have a right to dictate how our academic institutions conduct business related to admissions, scholarships, and hiring. To do so would undermine institutional independence and integrity.”

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

5 days ago

One anti-human trafficking bill signed, another pocket vetoed due to drafting error

Ivey signing SB 228 on May 30, 2019 in her Capitol office. (Governor's Office, Sydney A. Foster)

Governor Kay Ivey has officially signed into law one anti-human trafficking bill that was passed by the Alabama legislature, but another bill had to be pocket vetoed due to a drafting error in a last-minute amendment.

HB 261 has been signed into law and could receive a ceremonial public signing in August.

This legislation requires all new commercial driver licensees to undergo industry-specific human trafficking training. Truckers Against Trafficking, a national organization that trains truckers on identifying human trafficking victims in their daily work life, will work with junior colleges and trade schools to facilitate the training.

However, HB 262 has not become law.

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This bill would have clarified existing law to prohibit publishing photos of those charged with the act of prostitution, while allowing for publishing photos of those charged with soliciting or procuring prostitution. The bill was aimed at deterring “Johns” from purchasing sex and supporting human trafficking, while protecting potential victims of human trafficking from public identification.

Unfortunately, a last-minute amendment by State Sen. Tim Melson (R-Florence), intended to protect innocent people accused of being “Johns” from public exposure, contained a drafting error that, after careful legal review by the governor’s office, was discovered to have made HB 262 more ambiguous and potentially detrimental for victims. For that reason, Ivey’s staff advised her to pocket veto the bill, which she has done.

House Assistant Minority Leader Merika Coleman (D-Birmingham) sponsored both bills and Senate Judiciary Chairman Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) carried the bills through the Senate. State Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur) and State Sen. Linda Coleman- Madison (D-Birmingham) also provided integral leadership in the process.

With passage of HB 261, Alabama becomes the ninth state to partner with Truckers Against Trafficking and pass a law mandating human trafficking training for new CDL drivers.

A new version of HB 262 will be introduced during the legislature’s 2020 regular session, and Coleman’s team plans to work closely with the governor’s office and her Republican counterparts to ensure passage of a clean bill next time around.

“We are disappointed that HB262 was not signed, but are thankful for the diligence of the Governor’s staff in catching the drafting error,” Coleman said in a statement. “I look forward to working more closely with her office and my Republican colleagues on future human trafficking related legislation.”

Ivey has also signed two human trafficking resolutions: HJR 145 and HJR 244.

HJR 145 encourages ALEA to continue developing curriculum to ensure that every law enforcement officer and agent in the state is trained regarding human trafficking victim identification.

HJR 244 creates the Alabama Healthcare Human Trafficking Training Program Commission, which is tasked with developing a training module for all healthcare related employees to readily identify and provide trauma-centered care for human trafficking victims.

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

5 days ago

Alabama legislature, Ivey stand up for coal during 2019 session

(Contributed)

The Alabama legislature and Governor Kay Ivey stood up for the Alabama coal industry in two major ways during the 2019 regular session.

First, the legislature passed and the governor signed a bill sponsored by State Rep. Connie Rowe (R-Jasper) and State Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) to update the state’s archaic, WWII-era mine foreman law. This updated law puts the state on equal footing with other coal states, increasing Alabama’s economic competitiveness, and also increases safety for hardworking Yellowhammer State coal miners.

Additionally, the legislature and the governor backed coal through the now-signed Education Trust Fund budget for fiscal year 2020-2021.

This education budget includes $950,000 in funding to expand Bevill State Community College’s groundbreaking mine training facility to include longwall mining training. Bevill State is the only college in Alabama that offers Mine Technology curriculum.

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“Bevill State Community College strives to set the standard of excellence for education, workforce training, partnerships and economic development in our service area. The Legislature’s support to expand the training opportunities provided by our mine training program is exemplary of government, education, and private industry working together to facilitate economic strength and development,” Dr. Kim Ennis, president of Bevill State, said in a statement.

Longwall mining is a highly productive coal mining technique. The expansion of the mine training center will enable all Underground New Miner Trainees at Bevill State to have a greater understanding of the coal extraction process from not only a continuous miner section but longwall mining as well.

Miners will also be shown the safest way to handle all aspects of assigned tasks. The focus of the training center is to instruct on how to do the job right with safety at the forefront. Protecting the health and safety of miners is the absolute top priority.

Warrior Met Coal has been a leading private sector partner with Bevill State.

“Bevill State’s mine training center is a perfect example of how much can be accomplished when the private sector and colleges are working together. The coal industry is a driving force of our state’s economy—it’s an industry that employs thousands of Alabamians—and Bevill State’s program gives young people the skills they need to earn a good living and support their families,” Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) said.

Reed is known as a staunch supporter of Alabama’s coal industry, and his leadership in the Senate was integral during the 2019 regular session.

“I was honored to work with President Ennis to help secure these funds in the state education budget for Bevill State,” Reed added. “This was an extremely busy legislative session, and the budget chairmen had a lot to weigh as they wrote the budgets, but I made sure legislators knew how important Bevill State’s mine training center is to west Alabama and the entire state. I am very excited to see how this program expands in the coming years.”

Currently, the training center, located on Bevill State’s Sumiton Campus, has a mock continuous miner section where miners are trained on the safest way to build and maintain all of the necessary equipment. The expansion will give the training center a state-of-the-art mock longwall with all of the necessary equipment and processes, including a modern classroom inside the mine.

The additions to the facility will also make the center a world-class training venue for mine rescue team scenarios.

“This funding will expand one of our State’s most successful workforce development programs. We appreciate the leadership of our legislative delegation who worked with the budget chairs and Governor Ivey to secure the resources that will make our mine training center one of the most advanced in the country,” Patrick Cagle, president of the Alabama Coal Association, commented.

Met coal exports accounted for 80% of Alabama’s total coal production in 2018, while steam coal accounted for the rest. The state has large reserves of both steam and high-quality met coal, with underground coal miners in the state enjoying a starting salary of $85,000.

The expansion of this program at Bevill State will allow for more training in an industry that currently provides high demand, lucrative job opportunities.

“Met coal is a Made in Alabama product that is quietly helping fuel our state’s economic engine,” Cagle emphasized. “The industry’s impact is irreplaceable, from the thousands of high-paying jobs at underground met coal mines in the Tuscaloosa and Jefferson County area to generating almost half the revenue at Alabama’s Port.”

The funding for Bevill State’s training program was also celebrated from the perspective of coal miners themselves.

Larry Spencer, international vice president for United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) District 20, which includes the entire state of Alabama, said, “This is exciting news.”

“The United Mine Workers of America represents over 1,500 workers at four mines across Alabama, and our number one priority is the safety of each worker,” he explained. “Bevill State’s Mine Training Center plays an essential role in Alabama’s coal economy, from the annual training offered to veteran coal miners, to the intensive training programs offered for workers just entering the field.”

He also singled out Reed for his exemplary leadership.

“Senator Greg Reed has been a champion for Alabama’s coal miners. There isn’t a better friend in state government to the coal industry than Senator Reed, and I appreciate him working to secure these resources to expand Bevill State’s Mine Training Center,” Spencer outlined.

Bevill State is a member of the Alabama Community College System (ACCS). The ACCS is focused on being Alabama’s gateway to first-class, affordable education and technical training to compete in a constantly evolving workforce.

More than 168,000 Alabamians benefit from the various certification, credential, dual enrollment and degree programs ACCS offers alongside leading industry partners.

ACCS Chancellor Jimmy Baker applauded this new offering from Bevill State, made possible by the legislature and Ivey.

Baker advised, “The Alabama Community College System is grateful for the Alabama Legislature’s support of the education and workforce training programs our colleges provide across the state.”

“Bevill State’s Mine Technology Program is a key example of our successful efforts to work directly with industry to provide valuable, real-world training that prepares our students to be job ready on day one. This additional funding will ensure that Bevill’s students continue to train on state-of-the-art equipment that mirrors the industry standard and ensures a smooth transition from classroom to industry,” he concluded.

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

5 days ago

Ivey appoints Garner as communications director, promotes two comms staffers

(L. Garner/Contributed, Gov. Kay Ivey/Contributed)

Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday announced the appointment of Leah Garner as her office’s communications director and the promotion of two members of her communications staff.

Garner comes to the governor’s office from the Business Council of Alabama (BCA), where she served as director of governmental affairs and advocacy and has recently been assisting with the organization’s media efforts.

This is not her first stint in communications leadership for the state, as Garner spent time working in communications at the Alabama Department of Homeland Security and for then-Governor Robert Bentley’s office prior to her time at BCA.

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Similar to Ivey, Garner’s career began in the classroom. She was a social studies teacher in Tuscaloosa before entering into governmental affairs and communications work.

Her appointment to Ivey’s staff is timely, coming a day after the start of the “Take the Lead, Alabama” initiative intended to raise support for SB 397’s referendum on the March 2020 primary ballot. In addition to her background in the classroom, Garner is well known for recently serving as the BCA’s liaison to the Business and Education Alliance of Alabama (BEA) and for her advocacy for education issues in the state.

Garner earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Alabama.

“Leah will be a strong addition to my Administration, and I am confident she will effectively lead the Communications Office,” Ivey said in a statement. “From her time as a teacher to her wide range of experience in state government, Leah has a unique perspective and a true heart for service.”

Ivey also announced two internal promotions within the governor’s communications office.

Gina Maiola will now serve as press secretary, having been deputy press secretary. Additionally, Lori Jhons will assume the position of director of digital media relations, having been deputy director of digital media relations.

“Gina and Lori are two outstanding young women who have demonstrated their talents and professionalism during their time in the Governor’s Office,” Ivey added. “I’m pleased to see both of them gain added responsibilities with these changes in our communications shop.”

All three staff changes are effective Monday, June 17.

The position of communications director for the governor has been vacant since the resignation of Joshua Pendergrass in late July 2018. The position of press secretary has been vacant since the resignation of Daniel Sparkman in April of this year.

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

5 days ago

Ivey signs equal pay act into law

(Governor's Office, Sydney A. Foster)

Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday held a signing ceremony for HB 225, entitled the “Clarke-Figures Equal Pay Act,” which was passed by the Alabama legislature near the end of the 2019 regular session.

The new law mandates that employees in Alabama cannot be paid less solely based on their sex or race than another employee of a different sex or race for performing the same job.

Objective reasons allowed under the law why pay could be different include when an employer uses a seniority system, a merit system or a “system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production.”

“This bill is important to ensure equal pay is given for equal work,” Ivey said in a statement to Yellowhammer News on Tuesday.

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HB 225 was sponsored by State Rep. Adline Clarke (D-Mobile). A Senate Republican amendment attached to the legislation named the law after Clarke and State Sen. Vivian Davis-Figures (D-Mobile).

Clarke has previously said that she believes most businesses in the Yellowhammer State are paying employees equitably.

However, she emphasized that it is important to have a state law for when problems arise. Clarke called it “a great day in Alabama” when HB 225 was approved by the legislature.

Mississippi is now the only state without a pay equity law.

HB 225 passed both chambers of the legislature unanimously. The bill becoming law came as many national media and some state media figures, along with Democratic politicians, accused Alabama’s leaders of being “anti-women.”

Lilly Ledbetter and legislators from both parties were on hand Tuesday for the ceremonial signing.

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

6 days ago

Alabama WWII veterans return home after attending D-Day anniversary in Normandy

(T. Dawson/Facebook)

Four World War II veterans received heroes’ welcomes Monday evening after they returned to Alabama after traveling to Normandy for the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

As reported Thursday by Yellowhammer News on the historic anniversary, George Mills, 98, of Decatur and Sherwin Callander, 99, of Madison were featured on “CBS This Morning” last week a day before the D-Day commemoration.

WHNT and WAFF reported that Major Wooten, 102, and Harold McMurran, who just turned 95 on Monday, also made the trip and returned with Mills and Callander on the last flight into Huntsville International Airport that night.

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Even at the late hour, a large crowd of Alabamians greeted them at the airport, cheering them on and waving American flags.

However, this was not the first time these Yellowhammer State veterans were hailed as returning heroes in recent days. Mills told WAFF that they could hardly move around in France without someone stopping to thank them.

“The people all over France, really humbled you.” Mills said. “I’ve never seen so many people that come up and told you how much they appreciate you, and those people were no older than [being in their 20’s].”

You can watch their return to Alabama below, via WHNT and WAFF.

WHNT:

WAFF:

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

6 days ago

Alabama airports awarded total of $25.9 million in federal grants — ‘Driving development’

The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded 20 local airports across Alabama over $25.9 million in Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grants, which are expected to boost the economic impact these facilities have in the Yellowhammer State.

In a statement, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) announced the grants, explaining the funding will directly support infrastructure construction, safety advances and equipment acquisition.

“The FAA grants awarded to these local airports across Alabama support key projects that aim to improve safety, security, and efficiency,” Shelby said. “Airport infrastructure impacts overall economic success, and as a result of this funding, twenty of Alabama’s airports will receive the upgrades and advances needed to continue serving communities and driving development.”

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The FAA grants – which range from $10.4 million for the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport to $100,200 for the Camden Municipal Airport – are funded through the Airport and Airway Trust Fund and federal appropriations. Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport received two separate grants, making the total number of grants for Alabama 21.

Shelby is the powerful chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, which authors and advances the FAA funding legislation. The funding distribution is based on both entitlement and discretionary awards.

The 21 FAA grants, totaling $25,902,595, will support the following airport projects in Alabama:

This came just weeks after five additional local Alabama airports received $20.8 million in FAA grants.

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

6 days ago

Group of Alabama TV stations to play national anthem daily

(W.Miller/YHN)

Gray Television stations, including six affiliates that reach Alabamians, will return to a long-held American tradition of playing the national anthem every day.

After completing the purchase of Montgomery-based Raycom Media earlier this year, Gray is now the third-largest television station owner in the country.

The company has announced that its affiliates in 93 American markets will soon begin making The Star Spangled Banner a daily feature.

“It was a tradition for years — the playing of the national anthem at the end of television stations’ broadcast day,” a press release announced.

Now, that tradition is about to be back in a big way.

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WSFA in Montgomery, WBRC in Birmingham, WAFF in Huntsville and WTVY in Dothan, will all take part. WTOK in Meridian, MS, and WTVM in Columbus, GA, both of which reach Alabama audiences, will also participate.

Gray Television produced the first version of the anthem that will run across all of the participating affiliates.

WTVY added a 15-second introduction to their version, embracing the idea enthusiastically.

Watch:

Until television stations went to 24-hour operations, playing the national anthem was traditionally how the country’s television stations went off the air and returned back to broadcasting the following morning.

This aspect of the tradition is being maintained, as most participating stations will air the anthem at the respective times that they use as the official end of one broadcast day and the beginning of another.

For WTVY, this will be 5:00 a.m. each day.

Then, WSFA will air the national anthem shortly before 4:00 a.m. daily,

“I am thrilled that WSFA is joining all of the Gray Television Stations across this country for but one minute and forty five seconds to honor this great country of ours,” WSFA 12 News Vice President and General Manager Mark Bunting said in an article on the station’s website. “Whether one sees it as a fitting way to end the day or a great way to start the next, playing this version of the national anthem so beautifully sung is a perfect way to pay tribute to the greatest country in the world. God Bless America!”

Starting June 18, WBRC will also air the national anthem shortly before 4:00 a.m. each day, again marking the official end of one broadcast day and the beginning of another.

“Alabamians are proud of this country, and of the men and women who serve or have served for us,” WBRC Vice President and General Manager Collin R. Gaston stated. “We live in the land of the free and the home of the brave, and it’s important to honor those who sacrificed so much to allow WBRC FOX6 News these liberties. That’s why I am proud WBRC will be joining other stations in the Gray Television family and broadcast the national anthem each and every day.”

WAFF will air the national anthem on a more nuanced schedule rather than at the changing of broadcast days.

That schedule is as follows:

After the 10 p.m. newscast on Monday
After the noon newscast on Tuesday & Thursday
Immediately before the 4:30 a.m. newscast starts on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday
Immediately before the 5 a.m. newscast starts on Saturday and Sunday

The Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) held a large stake of shares in Raycom – which it helped found – and is now a major shareholder with Gray after the acquisition.

Update 8:45 a.m.:

A reader sent in an example of WAFF’s sign-off from 1979.

Watch:

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