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.

8 hours ago

What Jobs to Move America misses as we reopen Alabama

(New Flyer/Facebook)

As the economic crisis due to the coronavirus has impacted our state, Alabama’s job creators and our state’s workers have been focused on reopening our state and getting back to work.

Before the coronavirus, Alabama’s economy was strong and one of the biggest challenges many Alabama businesses faced was filling vacant jobs with skilled workers. The gap in skills and lack of training prevented many in our state from connecting with Alabama’s job creators to receive a good-paying job.

That is why I was encouraged to see companies like New Flyer, North America’s largest bus manufacturer with a world-class manufacturing facility in Anniston, released a Community Benefits Framework (CBF). Among many principles of the CBF were increased opportunities for Alabamians with apprenticeship programs in addition to the execution of sustainable business practices and diversify hiring for management and manufacturing jobs.

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But like many businesses in Alabama, this pandemic quickly shifted priorities for New Flyer. New Flyer focused on short-term survival to ensure their long-term viability in Anniston so that many Alabamians would have a job waiting for them.

Like many businesses across the country, New Flyer of America made the difficult choice to halt production and idle their facility in Anniston due to the speed and gravity of coronavirus. While there was short-term pain for many in our community, New Flyer’s decision to reopen earlier this month has put many in Anniston back to work.

Sadly, Jobs to Move America (JMA), a progressive Astroturf organization with a chapter here in Alabama, chose to amplify their self-righteous campaign against New Flyer. JMA since engaging in Alabama has worked alongside out-of-state labor unions to spread baseless mistruths and targeted Alabama’s job creators, including Mercedes-Benz that employs over 4,000 in our state.

While Alabamians were concerned where they would get their next paycheck, JMA accelerated the pace of their baseless and unfounded attacks. As Alabama business fought to stay open, JMA elevated the attacks that only proved their intense focus on pursuing anti-jobs and anti-Alabama policies far outweighed anything else.

Be sure, JMA’s self-serving game here in Alabama is not over. As New Flyer has judiciously moved to reopen the Anniston facility and put our neighbors back to work with good jobs that offer economic mobility with extensive on-the-job and classroom training, pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs, JMA continues to employ its same tactics to endanger workforce morale when all people want is to work again and earn a living.

New Flyer has undertaken extensive measures to protect employees with stringent social and physical distancing guidelines, continuous cleaning and sanitization measures and additional Personal Protective Equipment requirements for employees, while JMA in return, continues to strike fear through false claims.

450,000 people in our state are out of work. Now is not the time to take advantage of a crisis but rather it is time to reopen and give employees their jobs again without outside groups like JMA setting up even more obstacles between Alabamians and their next paycheck.

If we want good-paying jobs in Anniston and across our state, especially as our country faces historic job loss, vilifying companies that provide those jobs and mentorship opportunities puts no one at an advantage. On the contrary, it damages our state’s reputation of being pro-business and pro-jobs that could stunt further job creation when so many in our state need a good-paying job.

Sen. Del Marsh is President Pro Tempore of the Alabama Senate. He represents District 12, including Calhoun and Talladega counties. Marsh was elected to the Senate in 1998 and was reelected for a fifth term in 2014. He was first elected President Pro Tempore in 2010.

1 day ago

The RESTORE Alabama Agenda

(API/Contributed, YHN)

The 2020 regular session of the Alabama state legislature is behind us. Did anyone notice? It was a session marked more by what didn’t happen than by what did. One minute the lobbyists were being paid well to try and get marijuana legalized, state budgets were flush, and gambling bills were once again all that the media could talk about. And then the coronavirus came through like a bullet train on greased rails and Goat Hill became a ghost town.

When the Alabama House and Senate finally returned the only matters given any real attention were social distancing and the quick passage of streamlined budgets. Somewhere in that mix a schism surfaced between the legislature and the governor’s office over the right to sign checks on $1.8 billion in federal relief dollars. In the end, the governor made friends with the House and left the Senate wondering who took their lunch money. It was not a pretty picture, and on that note, the legislature went home.

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But there is work yet to be done. Important work. Work that is timely and necessary and the leaders of our wonderful state have been elected to their positions for such a time as this.

The Alabama Policy Institute believes that the governor and legislature should put aside any differences and work collaboratively toward a special session within the next 30 days. There are matters that must be tended to in the wake of the pandemic and its resultant shutdown of our society and the economic engines of private enterprise. API proposes a six point “call” for the governor to consider for which the House and Senate could take swift bipartisan action. This six-point plan of action calls for legal protections, government accountability, increased broadband access, tax relief, lessened license restrictions, and education reform. API presents this proposed agenda as “the RESTORE Alabama Agenda” with RESTORE standing for “Responsible Efficient Solutions To Open and Revive Economy.”

First and foremost, API believes that Senator Orr’s bill to limit the ability to bring frivolous and costly lawsuits against businesses, churches, and non-profits related to alleged corona infection must be given top priority. Without such legislation, it is to be expected that a host of lawsuits will be filed that will only serve to further ravage Alabamians who are just now putting the pieces of the private sector back together.

Secondly, and likely with some potential for controversy, legislation must be passed that puts the Alabama legislature in as much of a position of responsibility for quarantines and economic shutdowns as the governor. To be sure, the office of the governor must be able to declare a state of emergency if and when needed. But no governor should be required to carry that burden alone. And looking at the mess ongoing in other states we must also be aware that future Alabama governors might be less judicious than Governor Ivey and therefore certain checks and balances should be emplaced. API believes that any quarantine or economic shutdown that extends longer than thirty days should require legislative sanction and an equal share of the responsibility that goes with it. Senator Whatley’s prior attempt to pass such a Bill should be resurrected, amended and passed in short order.

As a third point API begins with the question: “Can anyone ever say again that we don’t need to roll out broadband internet capability on a statewide basis?” Our children have been forced to home school. Businesses have taken to daily telecommuting to survive. Alabama’s court system nearly stalled until online hearings were established. Telemedicine is a real thing now. The legislature must convene with the intent to completely blanket the state with internet access that assures its citizens that they will have equal access to education, business, medicine, and the rule of law. Budget amendments should be considered for both the Education Trust Fund and the General Fund with appropriations to cover this measure. To be clear, API does not advocate incurring debt to accomplish this goal. To the extent possible, state leaders should use one-time federal monies from the CARES Act and supplement that as needed with funds from Alabama’s rainy day trust fund. This is too important and the past three months have only made it more apparent of the outright need.

Fourth, we must open the gates a bit wider. On April 2, Governor Ivey rightfully suspended the licensure and certificate of need (“CON”) requirements for medical practitioners and first responders to enable them to more easily come to Alabama’s assistance during the pandemic. And guess what? The sky did not fall. If licensure is a hurdle that must be removed for emergencies then the legislature should consider removing those barriers to essential personnel and medical facilities for more than just this present day. API has long advocated for the reduction of licensure and CON barriers. But for now, the governor should call upon the legislature to enact her current suspension of licensures and CON requirements for the next 12 months to ensure that we get fully past this current crisis. After a year, the leaders of our state can reassess the implementation of both. API calls upon Alabama’s elected officials to remove the barriers that impede private enterprise and restrict the availability of quality healthcare by suspending licensure and CON requirements now.

Fifth is the regeneration of Alabama’s business climate. Economically speaking there is much that can be done in a post-pandemic Alabama to ensure that our citizens have every opportunity for success. State legislators must return to the debate on the renewal of the Alabama Jobs Act to incentivize the growth of existing business and the recruitment of new employers to the state. As we come out of the coronavirus shutdown, this legislation must by necessity also include incentives to small businesses who have suffered losses to invest in their own infrastructure and to hire/rehire from Alabama’s great labor pool. Additionally, tax relief should be granted so that federal funds received for relief do not become taxable income to the state, and to grant an income tax credit for any federal relief for which repayment to the feds is necessary. The governor, the House and the Senate must show the people of Alabama that they will not attempt to earn revenue for government on the backs of suffering private citizens.

Lastly, any post-pandemic review must include a discussion on education. Alabama ranks dead last in the nation for education quality. In just the past week, an independent review of the State Department of Education called for education leaders in Alabama to embrace and own reforms. For the past two months, our children have been forced to adjust on the run, many seniors lost their graduation ceremonies, and if you think that failing schools got better, you’re dreaming. It is time for the legislature to give firm debate to the concept of education savings accounts for any child who is in a failing school to be allowed to move to a school that better serves their needs. Education tax dollars are for the education of the child, not to feed a failing system. This is a fair and equitable solution to a problem that is not going away without game-changing action.

We are getting through this. Alabamians are resilient and we always rise to the occasion. I am mindful of a quote from Andrew Jackson who said, “I was made for the storm, and a calm does not suit me.” The governor and state legislative leaders must gather around the table, break bread, and make a plan. Alabama’s leaders did not create the coronavirus, but they did create the shutdown. Now they must make sure the impediments to the regeneration of Alabama society are not felt because they did not equally embrace responses such as those just proposed. The RESTORE Alabama Agenda can bring that to reality.

Phil Williams, API Director of Policy Strategy and General Counsel, is a former State Senator from Gadsden. For updates, follow him on Twitter at @SenPhilWilliams and visit alabamapolicy.org.

2 days ago

To close the homework gap in our schools, let’s close the partisan divide in Washington

(Gulf Shores Schools/Contributed, YHN)

As Alabama shut down its schools on March 16 and moved classes online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was saddened but not surprised when many Gulf Shores students told me they didn’t have broadband at home needed for their coursework.

Having headed school systems in Piedmont, Huntsville and now in Gulf Shores’ first year as an independent district, I am passionate about closing the digital divide. At Gulf Shores, I gave 6th through 12th graders computers to take home early in this school year. Kindergarteners through fifth graders had assigned devices at school. As we shuttered the schools, we ordered 100 mobile hotspots for our students to access the internet.

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But schools can’t – and shouldn’t have to – close opportunity gaps all by themselves. The crisis that has closed our schools has created a rare opportunity for national leaders to close the digital divide and homework gap through the next economic stimulus.

With schools closed, the digital divide looks more like a socioeconomic chasm. More than a quarter of Alabama’s population are not online at home. As a math teacher by training, I believe in using data to analyze problems like the digital divide, which comprises two challenges – adoption and availability.

Adoption is the greater problem – about 25% of American households with broadband access in their neighborhood haven’t even subscribed to it. The major barriers to adoption appear to be households not having basic computer hardware, digital literacy or an understanding of the internet’s importance to their lives.

But, while 95% of Americans have access to high-speed fixed broadband, about 22% of rural households don’t. And, because of problems with availability and adoption, over 30% of African American and Latino youngsters didn’t have home internet and nearly half don’t have a laptop or computer at home.

For the sake of our students and their families, we need all hands-on-deck – educators, broadband providers, computer companies and tech leaders – to address the challenge.

With broadband deployment, we need a process driven by public spiritedness, not political patronage. The best companies and technologies should compete to serve every community from isolated rural areas to the inner cities.

Let’s learn from the 2009 stimulus: Legislators and lobbyists funneled funds to favored companies and technologies. The results of that anticompetitive practice? Just what one would think: Duplicative networks in areas where broadband was already available, with billions of dollars squandered, while many communities remained without service.

I’m skeptical of one-size-fits-all solutions. Wireless hotspots can close homework gaps in some communities. But elsewhere, wired connections may be more cost-effective and less expensive with faster download speeds for e-learning.

And we also need to regulate broadband intelligently. This crisis is a teaching moment. U.S. broadband has risen to the challenge of a 34% surge in internet demand during COVID-19. But, in Europe, over-regulated networks are slowing down.

Why? While Europe regulated broadband as a utility, and investment suffered, the U.S. opted for a “light touch” approach that encouraged nearly $2 trillion in private investment. Our wise policy choices built robust networks that we can rely upon in these difficult times — and to rebuild our economy for better times.

To achieve what’s needed, Congress needs a bipartisan compromise, including an end to anti-competitive practices that exclude qualified providers and technologies—and an effort by broadband and computer equipment companies to help attack the divide.

We have a job to do, and no time to waste.

Alabama’s Senators – Doug Jones and Richard Shelby – are well-prepared to reach across the aisle to form bipartisan consensus. Broadband providers are providing free and discounted broadband to low-income homes. But everyone needs to step up.

I wish Congress could have watched our students in the Piedmont schools after we provided them with computers and connectivity. Many mastered subjects such as advanced algebra they had previously struggled with because they couldn’t do homework online.

When our leaders in Washington bridge their partisan divide, communities across Alabama and America will bridge their digital divides. And many more students will bridge the gap between their performance and their potential.

Dr. Matt Akin is the Superintendent of Schools in Gulf Shores, Alabama, having held similar positions in Huntsville and Piedmont.

Byrne: Tough times show what makes our country great

(B. Byrne/Facebook)

This year, during the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Memorial Day provided an even more unique opportunity to reflect upon what makes our nation great and the shared values we hold as a people. Though our celebrations may have been scaled down, the greatness of our country is, in many ways, more apparent in challenging times like these.

The struggles we are going through together as a nation are real and impactful. The coronavirus overwhelmingly targets seniors and those with preexisting conditions. As a result, nursing homes and long-term care facilities have been hit hard. More than 36,000 residents and staff have died after coming down with COVID-19, more than a third of all deaths in our country that have been attributed to the virus. Sadly, many of our cherished veterans have been among those lost to the virus. Of all the tributes to those we have lost, the stories of our veterans are especially moving.

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But there are bright spots in coronavirus medical research. Testing quality and access has improved significantly. And as we learn more about the virus, we are better able to prevent and treat Covid-19. The hospitalization rate for those diagnosed with the virus is 3.4%, and the CDC estimates that 35% of all infected people are asymptomatic. Taking this into account, the infection fatality rate is likely around 0.2% or 0.3%. While that is still two to three times higher than the flu, the coronavirus is nothing like the killer some predicted early on.

Without question, the economy has taken a hit. Unemployment levels are higher than any time since the Great Depression. Our small businesses shed more than 11 million jobs in April. That’s more than half of the 20 million private sector jobs lost last month.

However, congressional action to cushion the blow has helped. More than 4.4 million small businesses have been approved for a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program, and over $511 billion has been processed in aid. In Alabama, at least 60,457 loans have been made for a whopping $6,136,772,466. The bulk of this aid to small businesses must go towards employee paychecks, ensuring that more Americans are able to keep their jobs. In addition to the Paycheck Protection Program, nearly 431,000 Economic Injury Disaster Loans have been processed to assist small businesses during this crisis. Alabama businesses have received 4,728 EIDL loans for $376,897,450.

There is no question that small businesses will face new challenges going forward. Evolving ways we interact with one another and patronize businesses, including new occupancy limitations, will make staying in business more difficult. That’s why it is so important for our economy to continue opening sooner rather than later. You and I can do our part by visiting businesses and restaurants in our community. Importantly, the foundation of our economy was strong before coronavirus spread prevention measures were enacted nationwide. So, the country can and will rebound from this. Prosperity will return.

One only needs to look at what is happening on the other side of the globe to be thankful for our nation. The brutal Chinese Communist Party, whose mismanagement and dishonesty during the initial outbreak of the virus cost countless lives across the globe, is using the pandemic as an excuse to ramp up authoritarian measures. The people of Hong Kong are suffering a loss of freedom that dwarfs the sacrifices we have made to stop the spread.

The American people have responded to crisis after crisis with resilience and togetherness, and we will do so again. We may not have participated in all of our Memorial Day traditions, but we can still honor the fallen by treasuring the country and values they sacrificed to preserve. That’s what makes our country great.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Roby: The importance of Memorial Day

(M. Roby/Facebook, PIxabay, YHN)

This Memorial Day comes at an unprecedented time for our country. Americans for several weeks have dealt with the harsh reality of having to face major challenges accompanied by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. At a time when the American people are suffering devastating loss and experiencing hardships, it is vital to remain united, hopeful, and grateful.

Although Coronavirus has greatly affected the health and well-being of our people, it cannot touch the founding principles and values of our country. As the end of another month nears in our efforts to combat against COVID-19, let’s not ever take for granted those who were willing to lay down their lives to fight for and preserve the freedom we have today.

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Memorial Day is a time for all of us to pause and remember the courageous Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend this great nation. Everyone should take this opportunity to honor and reflect on those men and women in uniform who lost their lives fighting to protect the freedoms we enjoy.

On Memorial Day and every day, it’s important to remember and honor the sacrifice made by the members of our military – those who gave their lives in service to our country, the veterans who are still with us today and those who have passed, and the brave men and women who are currently wearing the uniform. I extend my sincere condolences to those who lost a family member in the line of duty and my gratitude to those who served or are currently serving. America continues to shine as the Land of the Free, even in the midst of a global pandemic, because of the heroic men and women who sacrificed their lives for our country’s future and prosperity.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

5 days ago

The future of college

(Pixabay)

COVID-19 has disrupted almost all aspects of life, including higher education. Colleges moved classes online during the spring semester and some observers believe that this will permanently change higher education. I think this will create new focus on how college creates value.

Online education has existed for years. Arguably though, the willingness of the nation’s most prestigious universities to shift online affirms the quality of online instruction. I would caution about reading too much into any response to this unprecedented pandemic.

Higher education’s predicament becomes much greater if the 2020-21 year ends up online. I will not try to forecast the progression of COVID-19 here, but the California State University system recently announced online classes for fall. An online year would produce an immediate financial crisis and a longer-term viability challenge.

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Universities take on considerable debt for classrooms, dorms, dining halls, and recreation centers. Tuition may pay for classroom buildings, but room and board payments service the bonds for dorms and dining halls. Similarly, many football schools have financed stadium improvements using revenue from long term television contracts. Universities will almost certainly create a need for a government bailout.

The longer-term issue would begin when campuses reopen. Will students return in the new normal? Focusing on college’s value proposition for students helps here.

Most traditional academics believe that online education is low quality, but this may simply reflect our biases. I see student learning styles as more relevant; some students’ can learn readily online. A parallel I think is the large state university versus a smaller college. Some students can succeed with the anonymity of the giant lecture hall; others need a personal connection with professors and classmates.

Why employers value college degrees is also relevant and there are three competing sources here. First and most prominent is human capital. In this view, classes teach skills and knowledge used in jobs. A second explanation is signaling, in which a college degree provides valuable information about a student’s talents even though course content is not used in jobs. Finally we have legal restrictions; laws, primarily licensure, require a person hired for certain jobs to have a specified degree.

Online education can most readily supply legally required degrees. When job seekers and employers view the degree as merely checking a legal box, both will want to meet the requirement with minimal cost.

The signaling function might be the most difficult to replicate online. Education works as a signal when only students possessing certain traits (e.g., the ability to learn challenging material quickly) earn a degree or high grades. Credible signaling requires a level of familiarity only face-to-face interactions have traditionally afforded.

The usefulness of online education for human capital depends on the skill or knowledge. Consider learning to play a musical instrument (something I know only from reading about). Such instruction is usually one-on-one or in very small groups; watching a how-to video by one of the world’s leading musicians does not work well. Music teachers have offered lessons on Zoom during the pandemic; perhaps virtual instruction will prove effective.

Higher education involves valuable experiences outside of the classroom. While this might sound like an apology for parties and football games, for many people, college is a valued part of growing up. People make lifelong friends and often meet their spouses. College is about more than just book learning.

A four-year party might seem unnecessary, but life is about more than mere survival. Fine food and elegant dining is not just about efficiently ingesting calories. Clothes for many people are fashion statements. This is normal in a prosperous society; the quality of the journey becomes paramount, not merely getting from A to B.

The economic slump, I think, threatens higher education’s long term viability more than COVID-19. The pandemic may trigger a depression leaving the United States and the world substantially poorer than at the start of 2020. If so, we will be able to afford fewer luxuries, including traditional college.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

Palmer: Democrat messaging from Washington

(G. Palmer/Facebook)

Last week, Democrats forced a vote on their so-called HEROES Act, a bill that Nancy Pelosi concocted with zero Republican input. This is perhaps the most extreme leftist, socialist bill ever brought to the House floor, and it has no chance of passing in the Senate. This was not a serious attempt to help our nation through the COVID-19 crisis or to restart our economy. It was nothing more than a political messaging bill, and American voters ought to pay attention. This bill and others like it are what would regularly become law if the Democrats control the House, Senate, and the White House.

The Democrats touted the testing provisions and other forms of relief in the HEROES Act, but hidden in this 1,800 page monstrosity are get-out-of-jail-free cards for criminals, studies to benefit marijuana users and those who sell it, millions of dollars for the arts, stimulus payments for illegal immigrants, and an open invitation for voter fraud in state elections, not to mention $915 billion to bail out fiscally irresponsible states.

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This bill should show Americans that if the Democrats have control, they will pay you not work, load up future generations with insurmountable debt, compromise the fiscal stability of Social Security and Medicare, shackle the economy so that wages stagnate and incomes decline, control your healthcare decisions, and undermine national security. In the end, families will be so dependent on the government they will never be voted out of power.

It always comes down to power and who has it.

Currently, when one compares how various governors and mayors across the country have handled the COVID-19 crisis, it gives an idea of what life would be like if Democrats hold all the power. There is heavy-handed control in places with Democrat officials, such as Michigan, California, New York City, and Los Angeles. People are being told what to do and are expected to do it if they want any help from the government that took away their jobs, closed their businesses, cut them off from their professions, shut their churches, and took their independence.

The recent actions of Pelosi and her Democrat colleagues will test our resolve to not let government dependency and astronomical debt destroy the United States. The HEROES Act will not become law right now, and Nancy Pelosi and her Democrat conspirators know that. They just wanted to use it to send us a message about the Democrats’ agenda. I hope everyone fully understands the message and what it means for our future.

Gary Palmer is a congressman from Hoover representing Alabama’s Sixth District

6 days ago

Speaker Sam Rayburn and Congressman Bob Jones

(Wikicommons, Encyclopedia of Alabama/U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Life Cycle Management Command/Redstone Arsenal, YHN)

The legendary Speaker of the U.S. House Sam Rayburn coined a famous phrase he used often and imparted to young congressmen when they would arrive on Capitol Hill full of vim and vigor. He would sit down with them and invite them to have a bourbon and branch water with him. The old gentleman, who had spent nearly half a century in Congress, after hearing their ambitions of how they were going to change the world, would look them in the eye and say, “You know here in Congress there are 435 prima donnas and they all can’t be lead horses.” Then, the speaker in his Texas drawl would say, “If you want to get along, you have to go along.”

Mr. Sam Rayburn ruled as speaker during the Franklin Delano Roosevelt post-Depression and World War II era. The Democrats dominated Congress. Mr. Sam could count on the big city congressmen from Tammany Hall in New York and the Chicago machine politicians following the Democratic leadership because they had gotten there by going along with the Democratic bosses who controlled the wards that made up their urban districts. But the country was still rural at that time and Mr. Sam would have to invite a backsliding rural member to his Board of Education meeting in a private den in the basement of the Capitol and occasionally explain his adage again to them – in order to get along, you have to go along.

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One of Mr. Sam Rayburn’s young pupils was a freshly minted congressman from Alabama’s Tennessee Valley. Bob Jones from Scottsboro was elected to Congress in 1946 when John Sparkman ascended to the U.S. Senate.

Speaker Rayburn saw a lot of promise in freshman congressman Bob Jones. The ole Texan invited Jones to visit his Board of Education meeting early in his first year. He calmly advised Jones to sit on the right side of the House chamber in what Mr. Sam called his pews. He admonished the young congressman to sit quietly for at least four years and not say a word or make a speech and to always vote with the Speaker. In other words, if you go along you will get along.

Bob Jones followed the sage advice of Speaker Rayburn and he got along very well. Congressman Bob Jones served close to 30 years in the Congress from Scottsboro and the Tennessee Valley. He and John Sparkman were instrumental in transforming the Tennessee Valley into Alabama’s most dynamic, progressive and prosperous region of the state. They spearheaded the location and development of Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal. Bob Jones was one of Alabama’s greatest congressmen.

At the time of Bob Jones’ arrival in Congress in 1946, we had nine congressional seats. By the time he left in the 1960s, we had dropped to eight. We now have seven. Folks, I hate to inform you of this, but population growth estimates reveal that we are going to lose a seat after this year’s count.

Our current seven-person delegation consists of six Republicans and one Democrat. This sole Democratic seat is reserved for an African-American. The Justice Department and Courts will not allow you to abolish that seat. Reapportionment will dictate that you begin with that premise.

The growth and geographic location of the Mobile/Baldwin district cannot be altered, nor can the urban Tennessee Valley 5th District, nor the Jefferson/Shelby 6th District. They are unalterable and will reveal growth in population. Our senior and most powerful Congressman Robert Aderholt’s 4th District has normal growth and you do not want to disrupt his tenure path.

The old Bob Jones-Huntsville-Tennessee Valley area is where the real growth in the state is happening. The census numbers will reveal that this area of the state is booming economically and population-wise. Therefore, you may see two seats spawned from this Huntsville-Madison, Limestone-Decatur-Morgan and Florence-Muscle Shoals-Tuscumbia area. The loser in the new reapportionment plan after the census will probably be the current 2nd District.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

Guest: Cleaner air during pandemic shows need for alternative fuels and electric vehicles

(Mark Bentley/Facebook)

Photos of a smogless Los Angeles skyline set against a brilliant blue sky have emerged as an iconic image to showcase the impact of decreased air pollution during America’s COVID-19 quarantine.

Similar photos from around the world, including what are usually smog-filled cities in India, China and Europe, provide a glimpse of a world with improved air quality.

It’s no secret that poor air quality has historically been caused by traffic, but due to tighter regulations by the federal government, industries’ contribution to pollution has decreased significantly. Scientific research is beginning to show how social distancing measures and stay-at-home orders have created an unintended consequence of improving worldwide air quality.

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For nearly two decades, the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition has been advocating to improve Alabama’s air quality by increasing the use of cleaner alternative fuels and expanding the market for advanced technology vehicles. Cleaner burning alternative transportation fuel options like biodiesel, ethanol, propane and natural gas also reduce pollution just like electric vehicles.

Air pollution remains a global public health crisis, as the World Health Organization estimates it kills seven million people worldwide annually.

But is the COVID-19 pandemic showing us the wisdom of transitioning to cleaner vehicles, whether electric vehicles with drastically lower emissions or vehicles using cleaner-burning alternative fuels? The answer is an emphatic yes.

Recent research shows global carbon dioxide emission had fallen by 17 percent by early April when compared to mean 2019 levels. In some areas, including the United States and the United Kingdom, emissions have fallen by a third, thanks largely to people driving less, according to research published in Nature Climate Change.

Numerous organizations, including NASA, continue to study the environmental, societal and economic impacts of the pandemic, and researchers view recent air quality gains as promising evidence that the use of alternative vehicles could have long-term positive impacts.

“If I could wave my magic wand and we all had electric cars tomorrow, I think this is what the air would look like,” Ronald Cohen, a professor of atmospheric chemistry at UC Berkeley who studies the effects of the stay-at-home orders on air quality, told the Los Angeles Times.

Wider use of electric vehicles and the other domestically produced alternative fuels would lessen America’s dependence on foreign oil while also helping our environment. Poor air quality already causes negative consequences for millions of Americans.

Alabama could also see economic benefits from increased production of electric vehicles, with Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz operating plants in the state and working hard to produce the next wave of electric vehicles. As part of a $1 billion investment in Alabama, Mercedes began construction of a high-voltage battery plant in Bibb County in 2018 for its all-electric EQ brand of vehicles, as well as batteries for its hybrid plug-ins.

“This is a teaching moment,” Viney Aneja, an air quality professor in the Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at North Carolina State University, told the Raleigh News and Observer. “We should learn from it. We should promote behavior that will allow air quality to be as good as it is outside right now.”

This is a prime opportunity for America to embrace alternative and cleaner-burning transportation fuels, as well as electric vehicles, while also decreasing reliance on foreign oil and creating jobs here at home.

It could also make those picturesque photos of the big-city skylines become commonplace instead of a rarity.

Mark Bentley has served as the executive director of the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition since August 2006.

Phillip Wiedmeyer serves as the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition’s chairman of the board of directors and president and is one of the ACFC’s original founders. He also serves as the executive director of the Applied Research Center of Alabama, a non-profit dedicated to public policy issues impacting Alabama’s growth, economic development and business climate.

About the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition

Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition serves as the principal coordinating point for clean, alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicle activities in Alabama. ACFC was incorporated in 2002 as an Alabama 501c3 non-profit, received designation U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities program in 2009 and was re-designated in 2014. A national network of nearly 100 Clean Cities coalitions brings together stakeholders in the public and private sectors to deploy alternative and renewable fuels, idle-reduction measures, fuel economy improvements and emerging transportation technologies. To learn more, visit www.alabamacleanfuels.com.

6 days ago

Are swimming pools safe during COVID-19? Tips for safely enjoying the water

(Pixabay)

Visiting the pool or lake is synonymous with summer fun. As hot weather approaches, parents and swimmers alike are concerned about what COVID-19 means for water-based activities this season. The key question people have is whether COVID-19 can be transmitted through pool water.

“If a pool is maintained with chlorine or bromine and managed, there is a very low chance of getting coronavirus through the water,” said Ellen Eaton, M.D., assistant professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Division of Infectious Diseases. “Years of research around pool maintenance ensures that, if a pool is using the chemicals per standard guidelines, it’s a relatively sterile environment. Although there are some viruses and parasites that are waterborne, coronaviruses are not among them.”

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Eaton cautions pool-goers to worry less about coronavirus spreading through water, but rather, focus more on practicing proper physical distancing and hygiene tips when near the water.

“When kids play in the water at a pool, they are often very close to one another, playing on the same ladders and rafts and grabbing the same pool noodles. That’s what worries me — transmission due to close proximity and not properly sanitizing common items found in a pool setting.”

As a way to beat the crowds, she encourages pool visitors to go at off hours — right when the pool opens or toward the end of the day when there are not lines and group gatherings. If there are large pockets of people congregating and socializing, it is not the best time to let your family attend.

“I know that my children want nothing more than to cool off in the pool during the heat of the day; but realistically, that is the most crowded time to visit the pool,” Eaton said. “If we can visit during less popular days or hours, I think that will be the best way for us to continue to enjoy fun family time together while also being responsible and mindful of minimizing any spread of the virus.”

Another tip Eaton shared is to decrease opportunities to touch items and surfaces that do not belong to you. Whether that is using the restroom before you visit the pool, sanitizing the pool chair you may use, or not sharing sunscreen or pool toys, these measures can help make a difference and keep your family safe.

While Eaton stresses that practicing social distancing and being mindful of the virus is important, she does not want a family’s fear of the virus to stop scheduled activities, specifically swim lessons. Water safety should still be a priority for parents. It may mean reorganizing swim lessons to be in a smaller or more private group. Eaton emphasizes that it is still critical that children receive proper swim training and instruction through classes that are often taught during the summer months.

As some families visit a community pool, others will be visiting the lake or beach. Eaton is not as worried about transmission of COVID-19 through either of those types of water — primarily due to the capacity and size of the water body — but reinforces visitors to practice the same physical distancing, hand hygiene and wearing a mask when not swimming, similar to when visiting any public place.

“At the end of the day, it’s important to still make memories and enjoy time with our families this summer. We can still accomplish that, but just in a way that keeps the health and safety of ourselves and others top of mind.”

(Courtesy of UAB)

Prioritizing HBCU during the global pandemic and national recovery

(ASU/Facebook)

On March 18, 2020, Vice President Mike Pence announced, “In the fight against the coronavirus, the Trump administration is not just taking a whole of government approach, but a whole-of-America approach.” Historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) are important contributors to our “all hands” approach to navigating our nation through these unprecedented times. Matching the urgency of the moment, the Trump administration continues to provide unprecedented support for HBCU.

Recall that just five weeks into his term, President Trump invited HBCU leaders to meet with him and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in the Oval Office. After the meeting, Vice President Mike Pence, the president’s Domestic Policy Council and representatives from several executive departments and agencies hosted a listening session with over 60 presidents and chancellors of HBCU. Trump administration engagement with and prioritization of HBCU began early and is robustly sustained to this day. During fiscal years 2017 – 2020, discretionary appropriations for HBCU programs authorized under the Higher Education Act total a record high of over $2.5 billion.

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Importantly, HBCU have not been forgotten during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) global pandemic. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law by President Trump, created a relief package of more than $2 trillion. Under the CARES Act, HBCU are recognized for their disproportionate impact on our Nation. Comprising only about 2% of all postsecondary degree-granting institutions, HBCU received about 7% of the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief funds. That’s nearly $930 million. An additional prime resource for assistance is the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, which collaborates closely with the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities to effect economic change and is committed to supporting HBCU’s as they work to plan and implement their economic development strategies. The bureau has $1.467 billion in CARES Act Recovery Assistance available to help eligible grantees, including institutions of higher education or a consortium of institutions of higher education, prevent, prepare for and respond to coronavirus.

HBCU support under the CARES Act continues the Trump administration’s ongoing recognition of the extraordinary contributions these institutions have made, and continue to make, to the general welfare and prosperity of our country. Under this Administration, President Trump has signed bills that have secured the largest level of Federal funding for HBCU ever recorded. This includes signing the FUTURE Act, which provides $85 million in funding to HBCU each year, and the historic Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (Farm Bill), which provides more than $100 million to HBCU land-grant institutions to fund student scholarships, research, and centers of excellence. Crucially, the Department of Education has also relieved four HBCU from $322 million of hurricane relief loans.

Looking ahead to post-COVID-19 America, HBCU will stand in shoes not unlike their founders who conquered the challenges of establishing enduring institutions to meet pressing national needs. President Trump’s 2021 budget proposes important investments to sustain meaningful HBCU support, strengthening HBCU contributions to the national recovery and renewed American prosperity. The 2021 budget includes $749 million in discretionary funding to HBCU programs authorized under the Higher Education Act, an increase of $44 million compared to the fiscal year 2020 level. The 2021 budget also maintains funding support for HBCU grant programs, including direct funding to Howard University. Finally, the budget requests $50 million to support science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) activities at HBCU located in Opportunity Zones, which complements Opportunity Funds for STEM-focused projects that will help prepare the future generation of STEM professionals.

Without doubt, United States education and economic competitiveness challenges are exacerbated by COVID-19. The Trump administration is cognizant that those challenges are not fleeting and will require sustained public and private action. The Trump administration will continue to prioritize HBCU during and after the national emergency, recognizing their indispensable contributions to building an inclusive, competitive and enduring national recovery, post-COVID-19 and beyond.

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. is the Chairman of the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Johnathan M. Holifield is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Palmer: Pelosi’s power grab

(Washington Post/YouTube)

By passing a House Resolution to allow voting by proxy, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats sent a clear message that they crave power, and for them, there’s no better time for a power grab than when the American people are vulnerable and suffering.

Instead of making provisions to return to Washington, the Democrat majority took steps to undermine representative government. They voted to change the rules of the House so that a member from California can vote for a member from Alabama. Can you imagine a member from California fairly representing the views of the people of Alabama? This is called proxy voting – one member voting for another – but it cannot be called anything close to representative democracy, which our Founders envisioned and fought for.

To be fair, proxy voting has previously been allowed in committee hearings, but never in the history of the Republic has it been allowed when members are casting the final vote on the House floor for a bill to become law. Not all members serve on every committee, and committees are not sending bills to the President for his signature. Votes on the House floor are what make representative democracy most critical, because it is those votes that make the country bound by lawmakers’ decisions.

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Despite the health concerns amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the fact remains that if elected representatives are not willing or able to be present, we do not have a representative government. I know members in both parties whose health is compromised for one reason or another and should avoid being in Washington. But their absence does not mean Congress should shut down.

By instituting this power grab, Nancy Pelosi will now be able to avoid calling Congress into session. She can stay in California and collaborate with her colleagues on continued legislative assaults on American lives without going through the committee process or including Republicans. In fact, ethics complaints have already been filed regarding Democrats holding committee meetings without Republicans. And that was before the rule change.

What this rule change does is consolidate power in the hands of Nancy Pelosi and her Democrat cabal. During the Democrats’ 40-year control of Congress, proxy voting made Democrat committee chairmen incredibly powerful, and this change will do that again. Every American – whether Democrat, Republican, or Independent – should be greatly concerned.

The Democrats claimed this power grab was necessary because they are unable to travel from home. Yet they made sure enough of them traveled from home, without incident, to cast their votes for the resolution so that they would not have to come back to work.

For all intents and purposes, Pelosi is no longer the Speaker of the House, but the Supreme Leader of the House. She decides who has power in the House because she decides who chairs the committees. Until last week, we operated under the premise that House of Representatives is the People’s House. Last week, it took a big step toward being Pelosi’s House.

Gary Palmer is a congressman from Hoover representing Alabama’s Sixth District

Electric vehicles next wave to drive Alabama’s continued auto-manufacturing success

(Senator Gerald Allen/Contributed, Pixabay, YHN)

Alabama has long been a leader in the automotive manufacturing sector in the United States and, now, we have the opportunity to sustain that momentum for years to come through significant investments in the electric vehicle (EV) industry.

Dating back to 1993 when Mercedes-Benz announced the opening of their only U.S.-based assembly plant in Tuscaloosa County, our state has continued to provide a favorable business climate that has helped recruit Hyundai, Honda, Toyota and Mazda. The substantial investments of these companies have only furthered economic activity through the numerous tier 1 and tier 2 automotive suppliers that have also located to our state.

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Combined, these Alabama-based automakers and suppliers produced nearly 1.6 million engines in 2018 and created over 40,000 automotive manufacturing jobs. Alabama currently ranks as the number three auto exporting state in the country, and exports of Alabama-made vehicles and parts totaled $7.5 billion in 2018.

Now, as we continue toward a 21st century transportation system and economy, we must acknowledge – and prepare for – the electric vehicle wave that is coming.

Significant research shows that consumer interest in electric vehicles is exponentially on the rise and so is the production of EVs by manufacturers. Globally, total EV sales surpassed 1 million vehicles in 2017, then quickly doubled to cruise past 2 million in 2018 and that number is expected to double again in 2020 to reach 4 million total sales. According to a Deloitte report, it is expected that global EV sales will top 21 million by 2031.

In recognition of the growth in EV sales, Mercedes-Benz broke ground in the fall of 2018 in Bibb County to build a plant producing high-voltage batteries for the all-electric EQ brand of Mercedes vehicles, as well as batteries for Mercedes hybrid plug-ins. This project alone is well over a billion-dollar investment in Bibb County and, with it, Mercedes has now invested more than $6 billion in its operations here in the state.

We know that expanding EV sales and production in Alabama will require a number of investments from the industry, the legislature and eventually the consumers of this state. To cement our reputation as a forward-leaning automotive leader, we must prepare for the future of electric vehicles, production of electric vehicles parts and ensure the necessary EV infrastructure is in place to be competitive for generations. Doing so will show that our state supports this burgeoning sector of automotive manufacturing and help recruit even more of these projects that will provide numerous high-paying jobs and produce significant economic benefits.

The Rebuild Alabama Infrastructure Plan, approved legislatively in 2019, provided a foundational first step as it included a provision that helps propel Alabama toward the cutting-edge of EV infrastructure. The landmark legislation established a grant program that proactively facilitates the installation of new EV charging stations across the state. These stations will supplement the Electrify America charging stations currently being installed in the state and add to Alabama’s EV infrastructure.

Additionally, the full body of the state Senate and our colleagues in the House have shown a commitment to the expansion of EV production in Alabama with a $2 million investment in this year’s budgets to educate and promote the use of electric vehicles to the public. We believe this will further Alabama’s reputation as a premier automotive manufacturing state as these funds will go toward developing an EV industry educational website with mapping of charging stations and other useful resources, as well as funding to further build out Alabama’s EV charging infrastructure.

Mercedes-Benz has been a game-changer for our state. With their initial investment in 1993 to their significant investments in EV batteries, it’s clear the electric vehicle wave is coming and, with it, significant opportunities for automotive manufacturing growth in Alabama. Now is the time for us to show our state’s ongoing ingenuity by supporting this sector’s transformation to electric vehicle production with these significant investments and overall support of the growing EV industry.

Gerald Allen is a member of the Alabama State Senate (R-Tuscaloosa) representing District 21. Senator Allen can be reached at Gerald.Allen@alsenate.gov.

1 week ago

Access to the internet essential for Alabama’s future

(ACOHE/Contributed, Pixabay, YHN)

We all have had our lives disrupted during this period of health and economic crisis. Students, faculty and staff at Alabama’s colleges and universities are no exception. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported that three-fourths of higher education faculty had not taught an online course prior to the coronavirus pandemic and two-thirds of college students had not taken an online course. Over a period of a few days, all college and university students became dependent on digital tools to continue their spring semester coursework. And by most accounts, the transition from in-person to online instruction went well, so long as students and faculty had internet access.

The effort to make this change possible began much earlier with the foresight of institutional leaders and pioneering IT staff. In 2003, Wake Forest University Provost David Brown challenged the higher education community to not only embrace technology, but to make computing ubiquitous on campus. This defined the goal of ensuring that colleges were fully wired and wireless, therefore giving students and staff access to campus digital resources from their own devices anywhere on campus. The majority of institutions achieved this goal within a decade of Provost Brown’s call to arms.

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Higher education’s pivot to online instruction is commendable and encouraging, but broadband access is not ubiquitous off-campus. Connectivity is particularly sparse in our rural communities. The Montgomery Advertiser recently reported that in nine of Alabama’s 67 counties less than 30% of the residents have access to high-speed internet. These “internet deserts” result from the lack of infrastructure of fiber optic cables and wireless networks, contributing to a digital divide between those who can continue their education and training online and those who cannot.

Funding broadband access is essential in the 21st century. Even before the pandemic, Alabama’s lawmakers recognized the need to expand broadband services and appropriated funding to do so for the current year. Governor Ivey is asking the legislature to keep broadband funding in next year’s budget. This investment is on par with important 20th century contributions to our collective growth and prosperity, such as electrifying rural America, ensuring postal delivery to every home and converting farm- to-market dirt roads to paved highways. Without these investments, small towns and remote communities cannot flourish.

Education continues to be the most effective method for garnering the skills to succeed in the world and to sustain America’s middle class. Post-COVID-19, higher education will be a major contributor to economic recovery. As many in Alabama and across the country seek additional education and training, the prevalence of online courses will grow. A recent report from Strada’s Center for Consumer Insights found that one-third of Americans believe that if they lost their job, they would need more education and training to re-enter the job market at the same income, particularly in the fields of information technology and finance. Of those who responded, 54% said if they needed training to get back to work, they would prefer online courses.

But for this recovery to be possible, we must ensure that every Alabamian has access to affordable, reliable, high-speed internet.

Jim Purcell is the Executive Director of Alabama Commission on Higher Education

1 week ago

Tuberville: Mueller anniversary offers sad reminder of the day Jeff Sessions ran away when needed most

(Tuberville for Senate/Contributed)

Three years ago this week, one of the biggest hoaxes in American history began as Robert Mueller was appointed to lead the Democrats’ Russia witch hunt, and the man most responsible for birthing that national nightmare was U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is now running to reclaim his former Senate seat.

Throughout this campaign, Sessions has claimed that nameless, faceless Justice Department bureaucrats demanded that he recuse himself from the investigation, and he had no other choice than stepping down.

So, without even a courtesy call to the man who appointed him, Sessions abandoned his president and fed him to the wolves, and he almost brought down the entire Trump presidency in the process.

The truth is that Sessions did, in fact, have several other options, but he lacked the courage and selflessness to seriously consider any of them.

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If Sessions was unsure he could remain loyal to the president, perhaps the easiest option would have been to decline the cabinet post when it was first offered, but, instead, he went in the other direction.

Just two weeks ago, President Trump appeared on the “Fox & Friends” morning show and said that Sessions literally begged him to be appointed attorney general on four separate occasions, so he made the appointment despite severe misgivings.

“(Sessions) wasn’t, to me, equipped to be attorney general, but he just wanted it, wanted it, wanted it,” Trump said. “Jeff was just very weak and very sad, and when ‘Russia’ was mentioned, just the word ‘Russia,’ he immediately, instead of being a man and saying, ‘This is a hoax,’ he recused himself.”

In response to the nationally-televised comments, Session released a harshly-worded statement that accused President Trump of lying.

Another option available to Sessions would have been to ignore the urgings of the Deep State bureaucrats at the Justice Department who supposedly told him that he must recuse himself according to “regulations.”

Ongoing revelations about inappropriate actions by entrenched liberals at the Justice Department and the FBI indicate that many of those who advised Sessions were likely working against President Trump and pushing for him to fail from the first day he took office.

But even if Sessions felt so strongly that insulating himself from the investigation was the proper path, he should have first marched into the Oval Office with his recusal in one hand and his resignation in the other and said, “Mr. President, which one of these do you want me to sign?”

That way, it would have been Donald Trump’s choice, not Sessions’, but he was too fearful of the answer, so he recused first and boxed-in the president.

Yet another option available to Sessions was to quit his job and walk away as soon as President Trump’s loss of confidence in him became obvious, which happened quickly. But like a bad houseguest who will not leave when the party is over, Sessions overstayed his welcome for months on end and forced the president to fire him.

Sessions was likely reluctant to resign because he felt he had given up his U.S. Senate seat in order to become attorney general, but when you work for the president, what you gave up, what you sacrificed, and what you think you deserve must simply be set aside and forgotten.

Selflessly doing what is best to protect the president and the nation you serve should be your one and only focus.

As a retired football coach, I know a good bit about teamwork and winning.

In order to win, each player has to be willing to put the team ahead of themselves. They have to set their own interests aside so the team can succeed, and they have to take incredible risks in order to score a win. Jeff Sessions proved too selfish and unwilling to do any of those things for the Trump team to win.

Finally, Sessions had at least one other option, and it is the one I would have taken.

He could have remained loyal to the president, watched his back against the Democrats’ fake news sneak attacks, and helped him fulfill the promise of making American great again.

President Donald Trump knows that he can depend upon Tommy Tuberville to remain loyal to him come Hell or high water, and that is why my campaign proudly carries his full endorsement and support.

Tommy Tuberville is a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Alabama

RELATED: Letter from Jeff Sessions to the people of Alabama on recusal

McCutcheon: Alabama House members answer the call to duty

(Representative Mac McCutcheon/Facebook)

When the legislature convened its 2020 regular session in February, Alabama enjoyed record low unemployment and record-high revenues in our state budgets.

Pay raises for educators and state employees were foregone conclusions, unprecedented improvements in mental health services offered to Alabamians were being passed, and new and expanded education programs were on the table.

But as legislators returned to Montgomery from the mandatory COVID-19 shutdown period — a little less than three months removed from the sessions’ start — an entirely new landscape greeted us.

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Our record-high employment numbers have turned into record-high applications for unemployment benefits, and our state revenues have been negatively impacted by an economy gone sour.

But Alabamians have always risen to meet a challenge, and I am confident that the historic economy that our state once enjoyed can be rebuilt and made even stronger.

All of us who serve in the House of Representatives have publicly offered ourselves as leaders in our communities and our state, and as Alabama continues its journey on the path back to normalcy, it is important us to lead the way. We cannot expect average Alabamians to feel safe and confident in returning to work and resuming their jobs if the men and women they elect to represent them in Montgomery are not willing to do the same.

So on May 4, we convened at the Alabama State House to resume the regular session and complete the tasks that remained before us.

Our members came from the Tennessee Valley, the Gulf Coast region and dozens of cities, towns and crossroads in between, and we took important steps to safeguard their health in a cramped and aged State House where proper social distancing is difficult at best.

House members were required to wear face masks in all public areas, and once they entered the building, they proceeded directly to their personal offices to await the gavel to fall each meeting day.

In order to accommodate the House members at safe distances, only a handful were able to sit at their desks in the House Chamber while the others were spread across the spectators’ gallery and an adjacent overflow room and cast voice votes by microphone.

With one exception, House Democrats boycotted the session and cited on-going concerns over the potential spread of COVID-19 as their reason, which was certainly their right.

I do want to commend State Rep. Rod Scott (D-Fairfield), the ranking minority member of the education budget-writing committee, for being the lone member of his party to attend the remainder of the session. His input was valuable, and his participation was much appreciated.

In addition, social distancing and health concerns prompted us to take the unusual step of closing access to the State House to the public, lobbyists and other visitors, but video streaming of every public meeting was made available on the Internet.

Drafting responsible and prudent General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets that accurately reflect the current economic climate is the Legislature’s only constitutional obligation and became our highest priority.

By approving Alabama’s spending plans now, rather than waiting until later in the year, many local systems avoided unnecessarily pink-slipping their non-tenured teachers, plans for the coming school year could take shape, and state agencies could begin implementing the adjustments in services that COVID-19 will likely demand.

We were also able to craft balanced budgets because budgeting and spending reforms enacted over the past decade have ensured that several hundred million dollars remain accessible and available in times of crisis, so Alabama is better prepared than many other states to weather this economy.

General Fund Chairman Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) and Education Trust Fund Chairman Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) worked hard to assemble budgets that are fiscally-responsible, conservative, and disciplined.

Because of federal mandates and rulings in on-going lawsuits over state prison conditions, General Fund spending increased by 7.5% under the budget that was signed by the governor, but the increase was dramatically less than originally expected when the legislature first convened in February.

The $7.2 billion Education Trust Fund budget that was approved included new funding for our award-winning “First Class” Pre-Kindergarten program and the reading and literacy initiatives. Additional dollars were also appropriated to help school systems absorb the loss of local revenues due to the Coronavirus.

Lawmakers also approved a $1.25 billion bond issue for school construction, which is the state’s largest capital improvement investment in history and the first in more than a decade. The bond issue will provide money to every city and county K-12 school system and to two-and four-year colleges and was made possible by retiring old debts and taking advantage of today’s historically low interest rates.

Public officials at all levels of government are often subject to criticism, and I will admit it is often well-deserved, but they should also be recognized for jobs well done.

The men and women who participated in the unusual, extraordinary and unforgettable final week of the 2020 regular session put their responsibilities ahead of their own health concerns and answered the call to duty. They stood tall when Alabama needed them most.

The members of the House of Representatives are some of the finest people I have ever known, and serving with them reinforces my confidence that Alabama’s best days still remain ahead of us.

Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) serves as Alabama’s Speaker of the House and represents District 25

Byrne: The absent Congress

Bradley-Byrne-House

Last Friday, the House of Representatives took a truly unprecedented step. The Democrat majority voted to change our rules and allow members to vote online in committee action on bills, and to vote by proxy on passage of bills and resolutions. That’s right, members of Congress can now vote from the comfort of our homes and not set a foot in Washington. We no longer have to show up for work, like millions of Americans do every day, even during this pandemic.

Article One, Section 5 of the Constitution clearly requires a majority of members to be present for the House to do business. Indeed, if a majority is not in attendance, those present have the power to compel absent members to attend. The framers could have provided for proxy voting but did not. The young nation was brought into being by two Continental Congresses and was governed by one under the old Articles of Confederation. So, our forebears knew the importance of representatives of the people to come together in one place to do the nation’s business, to work together and debate together in passing laws.

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James Madison was perhaps the most informed and influential member of the Constitutional Convention. He kept records of the daily debates. Along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, he wrote the Federalist Papers. Yet he, like other members of the very first Congress under the new Constitution, met for days in March of 1789 without being able to conduct business because they didn’t have a quorum present for nearly a month. He and his colleagues knew a majority had to be there.

This wasn’t just any Congress either. Once it achieved a quorum, it established the departments of Treasury, State and War, as well as the Attorney General and Federal court system, and passed and sent to the states for ratification the Bill of Rights. Yet no one in March of 1789 thought they could act without a quorum physically present.

For 231 years the Congress has met, in person and in one place, and done its business together. Through the War of 1812, even when the British sacked Washington, and the Civil War with the Confederate Army sometimes just miles away. Through World Wars I and II and in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Through yellow fever epidemics, and the 1918 flu. Through the 1890s and early 1900s when Washington was the nation’s hotspot for typhoid fever.

The House has at its disposal the professional help of the Capitol Attending Physician’s office, the Sergeant at Arms and Capitol Police. We have shut down the Capitol building and offices to outside people. An army of House staff continually cleans our buildings under new strict guidelines. We are provided masks, and plenty of sanitizer. We distance when voting and are called to vote in small groups. We’ve met three times in the last two months and achieved a quorum every time. Nearly 400 members were in attendance last week.

So, we know how to do it, even during a pandemic like this one. The President has been in the White House working every day. The Senate has come back, in person. Federal workers all over the country are physically present doing their jobs which are frequently essential.

The Constitution makes the House and its work truly essential. And it requires us to be there. Not only that, in this time of political polarization, it’s even more important that we work together to get the people’s business done, and it just doesn’t work as well on the phone or in virtual meetings. We miss the opportunity to really hear one another, and it’s certainly easier to dismiss or demonize representatives from the opposite party or other places when we’re not together.

This change is historic and very damaging to the House as an institution and to the work of the nation. It sets a very bad precedent and a very bad example to the people of this country. For those in the House who are vulnerable, I understand that they can’t come, and they shouldn’t. We have members who miss votes all the time due to illness or injury. But, that doesn’t mean we should disregard the Constitution or good practice. Remember, we only need a majority for a quorum.

Now, however, 22 Democrats with proxies in hand can control the House. Indeed, the real winner here is the speaker who easily controls everything, drafting bills in her office with the influence of unelected interests and with no hearings or committee work, just like she did with her $3 trillion far left giveaway last week. This rule change is the culmination of Speaker Pelosi’s calculated effort to disempower individual members which has debased the institution. And don’t buy her arguments that this rule change is temporary. Should the Democrats return next January as a majority in the House, they will do it again.

I’m greatly saddened by this development. America is reopening and getting back to work. The House of Representatives should, too.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

2 weeks ago

The state has reopened — what does that mean for me?

(Alabama Retail Association/Facebook, YHN)

Alabama has started to reopen, but does that mean the risk of contracting COVID-19 has been eliminated? Epidemiologists from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health answer questions about what reopening the state means, the impact it may have on people in urban and rural areas, what will happen to prevent the spread, and what you can do to protect yourself and your family.

Does this mean COVID-19 is gone?

The answer is no, according to epidemiologists Suzanne Judd, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Biostatistics, Bertha Hidalgo, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology, and Cora E. Lewis, M.D., MSPH, chair of the Department of Epidemiology. As of May 12, there were more than 10,000 cases in the state of Alabama.

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“Because we know that COVID-19 can be spread even by people who aren’t feeling sick, and because we’ve only tested about 2.7 percent of Alabamians, there are probably far more cases that we don’t know about,” Judd said. “Approximately how many? Well, studies conducted in Florida, New York and California suggest that the actual number of cases is probably six times the number of documented cases.”

That means, in Alabama, there might be approximately 41,200 COVID-19 positive infections. While that is less than 1 percent of the total population in Alabama, it means there are plenty of people who could spread the virus. This means that many more people could become sick in the upcoming months.

Since COVID-19 is still out there, how will we work to prevent people from getting the virus once businesses begin to reopen?

There are many strategies that can help you stay healthy while COVID-19 is still circulating:

  • Wash your hands before you eat, wipe your eyes, blow your nose, bite your nails — basically wash your hands before you touch your face.
  • Do not touch your face. When you leave home, keep your hands off your face.
  • Try to maintain at least 6 feet of distance between yourself and others where possible. Respect others’ space so that, if they or you do accidentally sneeze or cough, there will be less risk of spreading the virus.
  • Wear a face mask while in public. It is important for you to wear a face mask at all times in case you are a silent carrier. Silent carriers are people who have the virus that causes COVID-19, but do not know they are sick. Because you do not know who is sick, you have to assume everyone is sick, and live life accordingly.
  • If you are sick, stay home. Even if you think it is just a cold, it could be COVID-19 because some of the symptoms are the same. Work with your employer to develop a plan so that you do not have to come into your workplace. If that is not possible, be sure you wear a face mask whenever you are feeling unwell.
  • If you have been contacted by a health department official saying someone near you recently had COVID-19, stay home for 14 days. If it is not possible to stay home for 14 days, be sure to wear a face mask when you go out, and pay attention to how you feel over the next 14 days.

Is it OK to see family and friends in person now?

According to Hidalgo, it is best not to do so, especially if friends and family fall into high risk categories for COVID-19.

“We recognize that people are eager to see their friends and family. Our infection and death counts have not decreased, which means that our risk for infection and infecting others remains as high as it was before stay-at-home orders went into effect,” Hidalgo said. “If you have family members who are considered high risk, it is very important to continue physical distancing.”

People with higher risk for severe COVID-19 infections are those who have:

  • Asthma
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Diabetes
  • Serious heart conditions
  • Kidney disease and on dialysis
  • Severe obesity
  • People age 65 years old and older
  • People in nursing homes or long-term care facilities
  • Compromised immune systems
  • Liver disease

More information about high-risk groups can be found on the CDC website.

Will guidelines be different depending on if you live in a rural or urban area?

Whether you live in an urban or rural area, public health recommendations continue to be to maintain a distance of 6 feet whenever possible, covering your face when in public and frequent handwashing.

“Maintaining a 6-foot distance between you and others may be challenging in certain locations within urban areas simply because there are more people. However, just because there are fewer people in rural areas does not mean that COVID-19 will not spread in all areas. It is important to be very careful, no matter where you live. Physical distancing is especially important to consider in the context of gatherings, and especially in enclosed spaces. Close interactions with others is how the virus spreads most easily.” Hidalgo explained.

What is contact tracing?

Contact tracing is the process that health departments use to identify who has been exposed to an infectious disease like COVID-19.

“This is a vital part of our public health system and is routinely done during outbreaks of dangerous infectious diseases like measles or the novel coronavirus,” Judd said.

How will I know if I can trust the information if someone calls or texts me to say I have been in contact with someone with COVID-19?

An employee or volunteer from the health department will interview a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 and ask them where they have been in the past 10 to 14 days and with whom they have had contact. The health department staff member will then call, text or write to each of those people who have had contact with the person with COVID-19. The purpose of this is to let the person know they may have been exposed so they can self-quarantine for 14 days.

“According to the Alabama Department of Health, investigators will never ask for social security numbers or money, or try to sell products, which is what many scammers will do,” Hidalgo said. “If patients live in Jefferson County or Mobile County, they will be contacted by someone from

those health departments, and not the ADPH.”

This means that you will likely be contacted by someone from your local health department.

Hidalgo adds that you should never give someone your social security number, send money, or buy any products if you get a call related to COVID-19.

“When someone you do not know calls and begins to ask you questions about where you have been and tells you that you may have been exposed to a virus, it can be scary,” Hidalgo said.

Follow these steps to make sure you are receiving accurate information:

  • Ask the person to provide identification about who they are and why they are calling.
  • You can also ask to be provided with official documentation about who they are and why they are calling you.
  • When in doubt, call the health department directly and ask if the person who called you is working for them as a contact tracer.

What do I do if I have been contacted by a contact tracer?

If you have been contacted by a health department official saying someone near you recently had COVID-19, you will be advised to stay home for 14 days. If it is not possible to stay home for 14 days, be sure to wear a face mask when you go out, and pay attention to how you feel over the next 14 days. If you become ill, seek a COVID-19 test. You should also consider reporting your symptoms in the UAB COVID-19 symptom tracker.

For more information about the novel coronavirus, visit uab.edu/coronavirus.

(Courtesy of UAB)

2 weeks ago

Guest: Jeff Sessions is a 21st century profile in courage

(Alabama Supreme Court Justice Champ Lyons, Jr./Contributed, Gage SKidmore/Flickr, YHN)

As is the case with many of my fellow Alabamians, I am a strong supporter of President Trump in the substance of what he has accomplished but I am from time to time disappointed by his style. The president’s repeated attacks on my old friend, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself when he was attorney general from an investigation in which he was also a subject and a witness are a good example. In addition to our friendship, I also have the perspective of being a member of the Alabama State Bar for more than 50 years. I therefore cannot stand mute as the president criticizes this highly respected member of the Alabama State Bar for courageously adhering to the rule of law.

What adds to my frustration is the reality that Jeff’s compliance with the law was essential to the favorable result of complete and wholly credible exoneration desperately needed by the President in the investigation of the charges of collusion by the Trump campaign with Russia. The Mueller report stated, “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” No one has even hinted that the Mueller report should be dismissed as the product of bias in favor of the president.

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Had Jeff ignored ethical standards and led the investigation the media would have swiftly and derisively dismissed any ensuing exoneration as the product of pro-Trump bias. The charges of Russia collusion would then have been a large part, if not exclusively, the basis for the recent impeachment proceedings. The charges of collusion were never mentioned. These charges would also be an ongoing issue in the 2020 election; they are not mentioned because the Mueller report came up empty. The ordeal of the Mueller investigation to which the president was exposed, while extremely painful, pales in comparison to the trauma of having had the issue of collusion the focus of the impeachment proceedings and then again front and center in the coming election.

The president’s wrath, while understandable, is, I respectfully submit, misplaced. His anger should not be directed toward Jeff; it should be focused entirely on the officials of the Obama administration who clandestinely set up the groundless allegations of Russia collusion in the days, weeks and months before Jeff became attorney general and Donald Trump became president. We who support the president’s agenda should be grateful to Jeff Sessions, the man whose faithful discharge of his duty made possible the President’s complete and total exoneration by a panel not remotely subject to attack for bias.

Jeff’s courageous and selfless stance in support of the rule of law led to the conclusive rejection of the serious charge of corruption of a presidential election. His conduct incidentally benefitted the president but, most of all, it benefited the United States of America to whom his oath required faithful service. His adherence to the rule of law is a wonderful example for all members of the Alabama State Bar and is justifiable cause for great pride on the part of all Alabama citizens, regardless of political persuasion. Jeff deserves to be commended, not condemned.

Champ Lyons, Jr. was an Associate Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court from 1998-2011. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Alabama School of Law.

2 weeks ago

Did we give informed consent?

(Pixabay, YHN)

Our federal and state governments implemented unprecedented measures beginning in March to stem the spread of COVID-19. Informed consent provides a foundation of medical ethics. Did our elected officials and public health experts get our informed consent for policies that have put 30 million Americans out of work?

Medical experiments have often been performed on unsuspecting subjects, like the infamous Tuskegee Experiment. The U.S. Public Health Service in 1932 began studying the health effects of syphilis on African-American men recruited with a promise of free health care. Even after penicillin emerged as a treatment, the study participants still only received placebos and went untreated until public revelation in 1972.

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Informed consent became the ethical dividing line. According to the American Medical Association, “The process of informed consent occurs when communication between a patient and physician results in the patient’s authorization or agreement to undergo a specific medical intervention.” A patient should be provided information on “the burdens, risks, and expected benefits of all options, including foregoing treatment.”

We canceled sports and public gatherings, closed schools and universities, and shuttered nonessential businesses to “flatten the curve.” The new coronavirus can be transmitted by persons without any symptoms, so isolating the sick is not necessarily effective for COVID-19. Millions of cases over just a few months would overwhelm hospitals; avoidable deaths would result from critically ill patients not receiving the best possible care.

Several epidemiological studies offered frightening worst-case scenarios. The highly influential study from Imperial College in London projected that 81% of Americans would get the illness with 2.2 million deaths. Stay-at-home orders seemed prudent to prevent such a disaster.

Yet, even extreme social distancing will not prevent COVID-19 cases and deaths, only delay them. Everyone is potentially susceptible to a brand-new virus; staying home to keep from getting sick does not change this fact. That two weeks or two months of lockdown would prevent the feared deaths from ever occurring was a false hope.

The epidemiological models did not hide this. The Imperial College study warned that with relaxation of suppression measures, “transmission will rapidly rebound, potentially producing an epidemic comparable in scale to what would have been seen had no interventions been adopted.” To avoid these 2.2 million deaths, our current policies would “need to be maintained until a vaccine becomes available (potentially 18 months or more).”

Herein lies the potential lack of informed consent. Was it ever clearly explained that our policies were merely going to delay the health crisis? Would we have chosen to bear such immense economic pain for only a stay of execution?

The policies implemented in March will likely prove unsustainable. The nationwide lockdown was inevitably going to either be relaxed or simply collapse as Americans began ignoring the orders, and long before a vaccine or cure would be available. The policy debate has been couched as a choice between public health or the economy, an unconstrained pandemic or a depression. Our unsustainable policies might deliver a depression and a pandemic.

Our delaying action though has bought us time. We have learned more about the foe. We have controlled trial evidence that Remdesivir effectively treats COVID-19 (it is not a cure, but it helps). Doctors have learned that some healthy young persons who have fallen seriously ill were having an immune system overreaction to COVID. And some patients may have been ventilated too quickly.

We have also expanded health care system capacity. Temporary hospitals have been established and ICU beds added. We can test many more people for the virus now and have antibody blood tests as well. We should soon have adequate supplies of protective equipment for health care and nursing home workers.

Knowledge and preparedness should save lives in a potential “second wave.” We can use lessons learned to help reopen businesses and schools safely. Buying time may prove to be the shutdown’s greatest benefit.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

2 weeks ago

Roby: We are safer at home

(Martha Roby/Facebook)

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to spread across the nation, impacting individuals and families from coast to coast. As the American people have been under various stay-at-home and public health orders for the last few months, several states are beginning to move into the next phases of modified guidelines. Governor Kay Ivey last week announced Alabama’s amended Safer at Home guidelines which went into effect on May 11 at 5:00 p.m. While Alabamians begin to gradually return to the workplace, visit retail stores, and dine in at local restaurants, it is critical to continue to abide by the advice given by government leaders and public health officials.

The most recent Safer at Home guidelines issued include key changes to note:

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  • Non-work gatherings remove 10 person limit but must keep six feet distance between those not from the same household.
  • Restaurants, bars, and breweries may open with limited seating, six feet between tables, and subject to additional sanitation rules.
  • Athletic facilities may open subject to social distancing guidelines and additional sanitation rules.
  • Close-contact service providers may open subject to social distancing guidelines and additional sanitation rules.
  • Beaches are open with no limit on gatherings but must maintain six feet of separation.

These changes now allow for many to leave their homes and visit various local establishments for the first time in several weeks. I urge Alabamians to follow all guidelines implemented by Governor Ivey, Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Plus, people across the state are still encouraged to only leave their homes when necessary. Remember to continue practicing social distancing when you must leave, as well as proper hygiene practices. The continuation of these important protocols will protect you and others around you, especially the most vulnerable.

The American people have sacrificed and adapted to several unfamiliar lifestyle changes in order to contribute to the mitigation practices helping to slow the spread of coronavirus. While these practices have certainly contributed to flattening the curve of coronavirus, this vicious virus is still very much present in our country. As of right now, it has taken the lives of over 85,000 American men and women. As time passes, Alabama will continue to move into the next phases of amended guidelines. Although there is no way to predict when these changes will occur, please remember full participation with all safety precautions is necessary to make our communities healthy and well again. The state of Alabama is full of resilient people, and this virus will not knock us down.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

2 weeks ago

Jeff Coleman: Broadband access more important now than ever before

(Jeff Coleman for Congress/Facebook, Pixabay, YHN)

In a world of viruses that can shut down global economies, shutter schoolhouse doors, and even physically keep us separated from one another, broadband access to our rural communities must rise to the forefront of our priorities. In the past two months, we have seen how difficult everyday education, communication, and commerce can be without the ability to utilize high-speed internet. Every day, though, there are communities in rural Alabama who live this even without stay-at-home orders.

Broadband access will be the key to the success of our next generation of students and businesses. Our state is poised to be a leader in rural broadband expansion thanks to leaders such as Senator Clay Scofield and former State House Member, now Senator, Donnie Chesteen and many others.

Children should not be forced to complete their homework in their parent’s car in a church parking lot due to connectivity issues or speed-related problems. Doctors should not be forced to ask sick patients to repeatedly come into clinics because they cannot monitor their health remotely. Farmers should not be forced to use outdated equipment because the newest and most efficient equipment is too technologically advanced for our outdated infrastructure.

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In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly every educator has been forced to evolve their way of teaching. Nearly everything our children are learning from their teachers is coming via the internet. However, in many rural areas of our state, parents and students are being forced to go to a local church, government building, or drive miles away from home to find an area with Wi-Fi connectivity — or even worse spend hundreds of dollars a month on hotspot devices, all so homework can be completed.

Now more than ever, physicians are relying on in-home medical capabilities. With our hospitals being rightfully focused on patients affected by the Coronavirus, many doctors are utilizing remote methods for care, except in rural communities either underserved or unserved with broadband. Patients in rural areas affected by a mild illness are not able to utilize telehealth options because the video connection is weak and communication is nearly impossible. This forces patients to make the difficult and sometimes dangerous trek to a metro area to receive care for a mild illness, while possibly being exposed to an even more dangerous virus.

Farmers cannot be forgotten in this discussion either. We rely on farmers to provide the food that feeds the world, and fiber that clothes the world. Now, they are relying on us to bring the tools needed to increase efficiency and ability on their farms. The use of precision agricultural equipment, customer communications, monitoring global commodity markets, and even reading up on the latest regulatory burdens from over-bearing bureaucrats are all modes that require high-quality broadband. We rely on our farmers, and now they need us.

Industry leaders are waiting for Alabama to become the manufacturing and innovation hub of the south, but the common topic of discussion is access to high-quality broadband. A priority of mine in Congress will be to work with internet service providers, cooperatives, public utilities, state and local leaders, infrastructure leaders, and other stakeholders to bring accessible, affordable, and quality broadband to every corner of our state. We must tackle this issue head on; otherwise, we will be left behind economically and educationally.

Our teachers and students need broadband. Our farmers need broadband. Our physicians and patients need broadband. It’s time for the state of Alabama to bring many voices together to solve this issue. As the Congressman from Alabama’s Second Congressional District, this will be one of my top priorities.

President Donald J. Trump emphasized the importance of rural broadband access in his 2020 State of the Union Address. President Trump said, “I am also committed to ensuring that every citizen can have access to high-speed internet, including — and especially in — rural America.” I look forward to being a champion, fierce fighter, and a strong advocate for rural broadband access alongside President Trump.

Jeff Coleman is the CEO of Coleman Worldwide Moving. He is currently a Republican candidate vying to represent Alabama’s Second Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives

2 weeks ago

Front line nursing homes need front line resources

(Pixabay, YHN)

As health professionals across Alabama this week commemorate National Skilled Nursing Care Week, it is important that we don’t forget the women and men fighting on the front lines of Alabama nursing homes to protect the lives of vulnerable seniors. This special week, which was established in 1967 by the American Health Care Association (AHCA), was created to recognize the critical role skilled nursing care centers play in caring for America’s elderly and disabled. As we grapple with the COVID-19 crisis, it is more important than ever to celebrate the skilled professionals dedicating their lives to caring for seniors.

There is no doubt that Alabama’s 231 nursing homes have faced unprecedented challenges in past weeks as they care for patients with special and complex needs, many of whom are at high risk for a virus such as COVID-19. We have seen numerous photos of continued lockdowns at nursing homes and the touching images of families separated from the nursing home residents they love. While technology and social media have eased this burden to some extent and many have used the Facebook and Twitter hashtags #NSNCW and #CareNotCOVID to send messages of support, the social distance separation still affects us all.

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Often overlooked are the 31,000 people who each day care for these residents, risking their own lives and working long hours for their second families at Alabama nursing homes. These skilled workers are heroes in their own right and deserve our applause. They also deserve all of the resources they need to wage their fight, especially as state lawmakers consider how to allocate emergency funds.

“Like other health care providers, nursing homes need a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment (PPE),” explains Alabama Nursing Home Association President & CEO Brandon Farmer. “Infection control measures will only be as effective as our ability to secure PPE.”

The reality is that our admiration and applause aren’t enough to make sure nursing home professionals meet the needs of vulnerable residents. The staff at these facilities need access to personal protection equipment (PPE) and adequate testing to make sure both the staff and residents stay safe. Shortages have threatened these resources as most shipments of PPE are being directed toward hospitals, where they are also, of course, sorely needed. Alabama nursing homes have coped well and have gone above and beyond to protect their workers, but elected officials must remain aware of the critical importance of equipping these front line heroes.

Help should soon be on the way as the Trump administration recently announced plans to ship protective gear directly to nursing homes in need. Alabama leaders, too, are in the process of deciding how to allocate emergency dollars to cope with the COVID-19 crisis, which could provide additional support.

“We are literally contracting to ship direct what amounts to PPE packages to all 15,000-plus nursing homes in the country. And it’s going to be a supply for a specific set of weeks,” said Vice President Mike Pence, according to ABC News.

Nursing home workers are on the front lines during the coronavirus pandemic, leaving their families each day and putting themselves at risk to care for their residents when most of us are still sheltering in place and spending time with our loved ones. These essential workers need our support more than ever before, and we all can make a difference by raising our voices to advocate for them the way they’ve always advocated for our family members. We owe it to them to make sure they are fully protected.

Conwell Hooper is the Executive Director of American Senior Alliance

Byrne: Opening economy now, not later, best for Americans

(Rep. Byrne/YouTube)

Last week, Governor Ivey issued orders allowing Alabama’s restaurants, hair salons, barbers and other personal service businesses to reopen Monday under social distancing guidelines. This is an important step towards safely reopening our state’s economy and ending extreme measures put in place to flatten the curve and limit the spread of the virus. While Alabama – and our district – continue to see cases and sadly some deaths, we have been successful in preventing our hospitals and ICU units from being overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases—the original goal of social distancing and business shutdowns.

With our Alabama economy taking steps to open in line with the White House coronavirus task force recommendations, we still must use common sense, practice social distancing and good hygiene, and limit certain types of gatherings. There are capacity limitations for open facilities such as restaurants, childcare centers and public spaces like our beaches. And most entertainment venues, including movie theaters and bowling alleys, remain closed.

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On Monday, I spent the morning in Orange Beach with our local law enforcement and first responders. I was pleased to see that those taking advantage of the beautiful day on the beach were observing guidelines to limit gatherings and social distance. While law enforcement was on hand to ensure compliance, it was encouraging that our citizens were taking steps on their own to remain safe and in compliance with the governor’s orders. I believe most Alabamians want to do the right thing and will take steps to be safe. At the end of the day, there is really little law enforcement can do to stop the spread. All of us must do our part.

Here in the district, we continue to see federal aid distributed to individuals and small businesses. The Treasury Department continues to work down the unprecedented backlog to make economic impact payments to individuals. And while all payments have not been made as quickly as Congress hoped, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program and the Paycheck Protection Program are continuing to issue loans and grants to help small businesses in our district remain open and keep employees on the payroll. In addition, the Coronavirus Relief Fund, created through the CARES Act, will distribute around $1.9 billion directly to Alabama to alleviate damage from the coronavirus.

While it has been good to see Congress act quickly in a substantive and bipartisan manner to aid Americans, we must be increasingly vigilant of efforts by those on the far left to use this crisis as an excuse to enact their radical agenda. Behind closed doors, Speaker Pelosi has been working on another coronavirus aid package that, even according to Democrats, is more of a “wish list” than a serious legislative proposal. By many accounts, she is negotiating a messaging bill with the most liberal and “progressive” wing of her party, certainly not with Republicans. In short, she is not making an effort to produce a coronavirus aid bill that will become law but is instead working to lay down an extreme liberal negotiating point. This is no way to run a railroad. In fact, just last week, I wrote in the Wall Street Journal about the need for Pelosi to stop negotiating alone and allow Congress to return to Washington and get back to work for the American people. While I continue working hard from the district to help constituents, talking daily with leaders throughout our community, representatives from both sides of the aisle should reject Speaker Pelosi’s power grab and demand we return to Washington to ensure all our constituents have a voice at the negotiating table.

However, government can never replace the American economy. The best thing we can do for the American people is to begin safely reopening the economy now, not later. I am glad we have started doing that in our state, and I am hopeful we will soon be able to do more to safely return Alabamians to work, school and church, and for more of our businesses to open their doors.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.