The Wire

  • Assistant U.S. attorney to replace Hart in leading Special Prosecutions Division

    Excerpt:

    Multiple sources have told Yellowhammer News that Anna “Clark” Morris, the first assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, will take over the Special Prosecutions Division of the Alabama Attorney General’s Office.

    The announcement could be made as soon as Tuesday. Attorney General Steve Marshall accepted the resignation of Deputy Attorney General Matt Hart, who has led the division for years, on Monday morning.

    Morris served as the acting U.S. Attorney for Alabama’s middle district last year, in between President Donald Trump firing former USA George Beck in March of 2017 and now-USA Louis Franklin being confirmed that September.

  • EPA official resigns after indictment on Alabama ethics charges, replaced by Alabama native

    Excerpt:

    Even with Trey Glenn leaving his post as the EPA’s Region Four administrator, Alabama will still have strong ties to the leader of that office.

    According to The Hill, Mary Walker was named by EPA acting administrator Andrew Wheeler to fill the vacant role in an acting capacity after Glenn resigned on Monday following his indictment on ethics charges in Alabama.

    Walker is a native of the Yellowhammer State and had been serving as Glenn’s deputy.

  • Tim Tebow Foundation’s Night to Shine coming to Birmingham in 2019

    Excerpt:

    The Tim Tebow Foundation’s “Night to Shine,” a magical prom night experience for people with special needs, is coming to Birmingham.

    Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church will serve as one of the nearly 500 churches around the world to host Night to Shine on February 8, 2019.

    Night to Shine is an event for people 14 and older with special needs to receive royal treatment. Guests will enter the event on a red carpet filled with a crowd and paparazzi. Once they make it into the building, guests will be able to choose from an array of activities to partake in including hair and makeup stations, shoe shining areas and limousine rides. They can also choose their corsages and boutonnieres.

4 days ago

Where is your theology? An internal political assessment

(Contributed)

With the conclusion of the 2018 midterm elections, I have one question, specifically for the faith-based community: Where is your theology?

If you conduct a quick Google search you will find out the word “theology” means “the study of the nature of God and religious belief.” If theology is the study of God, then how does an individual apply theology in the real world? How does what we know about our theology affect our personal and political views? Conceivably, what we study becomes a part of our outlook, infiltrates our system of thought and helps to shape our day-to-day life.

According to the Pew Research Center (PRC), 80 percent of United States adults believe in God, 56 percent believe in the God of the Bible and 33 percent of those surveyed believe in a “higher power,” but not the God of the Bible.

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Whether we want to admit it or not, much of what we believe, and the way in which we vote, has to do with our religiosity. The majority of individuals surveyed by the PRC claim to believe in a god. Of these individuals, 84 percent of Republicans, 72 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of people with no political party leaning consider religion to be either a “very” or “somewhat” important part of their life. Our study of God, mainly the God we serve or do not serve, influences our morals, values and belief system. And most assuredly, what we believe impacts how we vote.

Therefore, to my Democratic, Republican and independent friends, family and colleagues, I say again, where is your theology? We live in a cultural climate that is not uncommon to man. Division has always seemed to creep into our institutions. Hate has always run marathons across our landscape. Racism has always plagued our societies like a never-ending disease. With these difficult realities in mind, I say again, where is your theology? We should not be surprised by what we see in our nation or our world. Division and dissension are a part of mankind. Trouble will always find its way into the hearts of man, and bad things will always happen as long as this Earth exists. The question now becomes: What should our response be?

Should it be to treat your neighbor as yourself and to show mercy and compassion, love and respect, gentleness and kindness? Should your response be to be of good cheer when you face trials and tribulations because your joy does not come from things of this present age? Should your response be to let your light shine brightly in dark places? Should your response be to be alert and vigilant, to be set apart, to be not conformed to the behaviors and actions of this
world? The answers are obvious, which is precisely why the question is not, “What is your theology?” but where.

Many of us know what our theology should be. We know what our religious literature says about how we should operate in life. And through spiritual revelation, we know how our God has called us to live. But many of us have lost our way. Some of us have lost sight of compassion, love, and respect for our neighbor. Some of us have forgotten “The Golden Rule.” We have misplaced our theology — but there is hope.

When politics gets involved, it seems as if answering questions regarding theology becomes difficult for people of faith. It seems as if our knowledge of God begins to take a backseat to the gods of greed, malice, anger, racism, temporary pleasures and those many other things that take one’s focus off the one true God. This truth should cause us to pause and ponder.

Where is your theology? Who is your God? What do you know about him? Would your God be okay with your behavior? Would your God be pleased with how you treat the least of your community? Would your God be satisfied with the way you treat your friends, foes, and other fellows? How has your knowledge of your God influenced your vote and your life? How should it?

I ask these questions because it seems as if people of faith can sometimes find themselves expressing their God with their lips, but their hearts are far from that very thing they claim to believe and worship. In America, especially during election season, we sometimes present God in two ways: a God of love or a God of hate. Sadly, even those who serve and represent a loving, merciful, compassionate God miss the mark sometimes. And their failure is understandable, for we all are merely human. This dichotomous image of a deity continues to project itself in various forms. For Christians, a misrepresentation of God is toxic to the society we claim to love and desire to reach.

Our nation saw these images during slavery, where some who believed in the God of the Bible would use biblical references to subjugate a group of people. Instead of relaying the words of God in the way they were intended, these enslavers presented apocryphal elements of God’s divine nature and desire, which led to a bloody, bloody war between the free and slave states. We then saw these same misguided “Godly” expressions during the Period of Reconstruction and then Jim Crow. In today’s political and social climate, we still see the complicated nature of theology play tug-of-war with right versus wrong, good versus bad, love versus hate.

With this in mind, I must raise the question once more: Where is your theology?

Is your knowledge of God exegetical in that it adequately represents the God you claim to serve? Is it committed to exuding what your God would find acceptable, reasonable, and honorable? Is your knowledge of God eisegesis, in that it has consciously or unconsciously pushed out the core principles and ideals of the theology you claim to know and believe? We should all examine the way we vote, how we treat people, if we support the least of these, and ask ourselves whether or not our actions are in line with our God’s will.

Our nation is in trouble. There is hate, division and intimidation around every corner. And, though these negative and tumultuous elements are not new to our society, I fear that we are on our way to digging a pit so deep, it will be nearly impossible to climb out of in the future. I also fear that people’s theological amnesia has caused this trouble.

For generations, counterfeit religion has been used as a tool to control, oppress and intimidate people. However, I believe that rediscovering proper theology can be the solution to our nation’s problem. Peoples’ knowledge of God is mixed with numerous theological theories, hypothesis, and critical observations. As humans, we may not — and we will not — agree on everything. But one thing we should strive toward is the ability to respect each other, treating each other with dignity and showing compassion to both our supporters and dissenters.

Are we as believers in God doing that in the United States?

Democrats, Republicans, and independents: Where is our theology?

Wherever it is, I hope we find it.

Our nation’s future, our children’s future and our future depends on it.

Christian Crawford is a graduating senior at Auburn University at Montgomery from Birmingham and will be receiving a Bachelor’s in Social Science and Liberal Arts in political science in December of 2018. In 2015, Crawford conducted an impromptu prayer at his high school graduation that went viral across the country, and the world. That prayer led him to be featured in numerous news and media articles, and it also allowed him to appear on local and regional news outlets such as “Good Day Alabama” on Fox 6, “Good Morning America” on Fox and Friends, and more. Crawford has been a motivational speaker for eight years.

Byrne: Words cannot express our gratitude to those who served

(B. Byrne/Facebook)

One hundred years ago, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the world’s largest, deadliest and costliest war to that date drew to an end. The guns that boomed over field and forest in Europe fell silent.

World War I was over.

Over 116,000 Americans had lost their lives.

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One year later, President Woodrow Wilson issued a statement to the nation in celebration of the first Armistice Day, expressing his thoughts on the war’s end: “To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations.”

In 1938, twenty years after the Armistice, Congress formally recognized Armistice Day as a national holiday “dedicated to the cause of world peace.”

Unfortunately, the “war to end all wars” was only the precursor to an even deadlier, costlier war.

The next year, World War II broke out across Europe, a war that would cost the lives of over 400,000 American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.

For a particular Alabamian and veteran of WWII, the celebration of Armistice Day was not quite recognition enough for the service and sacrifice of veterans who had served, not just in WWI, but for all those who had worn the uniform of our nation.

Raymond Meeks, a native of Birmingham, brought the idea of a national Veterans Day, to be held on what was then Armistice Day, to General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Gen. Eisenhower greatly supported this idea, and in 1947 Weeks led the first national celebration of Veterans Day right here in Alabama.

In 1954, President Eisenhower signed into law the formal celebration of Veterans Day here in the United States, dedicated to the memory of all those who served our country in the armed forces.

To this day, words cannot express our gratitude for that service.

Today, as I serve in Congress, it is an incredible honor to know that I am able to represent a free people thanks to the service, dedication and sacrifice of our veterans.

That is why I advocate so strongly for our nation’s veterans. We need to provide them with proper access to educational and workforce opportunities, we must work towards a health care system that actually gets them the care they need and we must help them get the benefits they earned.

Just this year, I voted to provide greater funding for programs in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), positive reforms to the G.I. Bill and better access to career and technical education for veterans to reenter the civilian workforce. Additionally, my office has helped to resolve hundreds of cases for veterans and their families right here in Southwest Alabama.

Service in the military is so much more than just a job. It is a dedication to support and defend the Constitution and the people of the United States, both at home and abroad. That service is immeasurable, and I am humbled to represent so many of those who have fought for our freedoms.

The words of President Eisenhower on the first official Veterans Day stand as a charge for today: “Let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting and enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.”

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

Martha Roby: YouthBuild Eufaula is making a difference in Barbour County

(M. Roby)

Did you know that there are an estimated 4.9 million 16 to 24-year-old individuals in this country who are not in school and are also unemployed? This is an unfortunate but true statistic, and roughly 3 million of these young people are living in poverty.

During the recent district work period, I had the opportunity to visit Eufaula Housing Authority’s (EHA) YouthBuild program, an organization in Alabama’s Second District that is really making a difference in the lives of these individuals in Barbour County. YouthBuild is a youth development program that serves these out-of-school youth by providing them with the opportunity, hope, and support to rebuild their lives while equipping them with the necessary skills to facilitate success in both the workforce and their communities.

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EHA’s YouthBuild program serves young people ages 16 to 24 who are not currently enrolled in high school or have recently dropped out and re-entered. Participants also represent at least one of these six disadvantaged groups: low-income household, parent(s) incarcerated, youth aging out of foster care, youth with a disability, homeless, and adjudicated. Students who meet these criteria must complete a three-week mental toughness orientation before being accepted into the program. During this time, applicants learn more about YouthBuild, participate in daily physical training exercises, teambuilding activities, various skills workshops, and a community service assignment designed to teach the importance of giving back.

This mental toughness orientation is important because leadership and giving back are two ideals YouthBuild works extremely hard to instill in each and every participant. The program is well-equipped to facilitate growth in these important areas because they’ve partnered with various organizations, such as Youth Leadership Barbour County, to offer skills training and leadership development workshops.

In addition to fostering personal growth and development, YouthBuild provides excellent educational opportunities for participants by partnering with Wallace Community College and the Eufaula Career Center. Because of these local partnerships, YouthBuild is able to offer classes for GED preparation, Ready to Work (soft skills certification), welding, air conditioning and refrigeration, and electrical line work.

On top of these great opportunities, YouthBuild also offers its participants exceptional professional opportunities in construction. If they desire, students have the option to receive classroom and lab training in addition to hands-on training on construction sites. Oftentimes, these opportunities lead to paying jobs for students.

It’s no secret that at-risk youth often, understandably, need strong support to overcome the conditions that contributed to their challenging circumstances. YouthBuild offers students supportive services to help them overcome these barriers. Each student has access to career coaching, legal advocacy, tutoring, transportation and childcare vouchers, a graduation stipend, job placement assistance, and post-graduate follow-up engagement.

When I stopped by EHA’s YouthBuild, I saw firsthand the positive impact these service-driven educators and mentors have on the students in the program, and I was especially moved by personal testimonies I heard about how YouthBuild and its staff helped two young men in particular turn their lives around. The YouthBuild philosophy is to convey the importance of post-secondary education as a vehicle for personal advancement and growth, and during my visit, it was very clear that this ideology truly guides the program and all the hardworking men and women who dedicate their lives and careers to making it successful.

YouthBuild is invaluable to at-risk youth and young adults in Barbour County, but when I talked with staff there, I was informed of a tough challenge they face: Demand is so high that they’re continually forced to turn away applicants due to funding and space limitations. As a member of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education (Labor-HHS) Subcommittee, I have proudly supported funding for YouthBuild, and I will continue to advocate for proper support for these important programs. They are meeting critical needs in our community, and it is imperative that we do all we can to ensure they are able to grow and thrive. I enjoyed my visit to YouthBuild and am already looking forward to next time.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby is a Republican from Montgomery.

1 week ago

The cost of employees

(YHN/Flaticon)

Most Americans have to work for a living. We must trade for the goods and services we want to consume, and for most of us, we trade our labor. Conflict over two legal work classifications, employees and independent contractors, illustrate how government’s rules can imperil economic prosperity.

People must work for a living, but people who want a job done, must secure assistance voluntarily through compensation. Difficult, physically demanding, boring, and dangerous tasks will require extra compensation.

Regulation heavily burdens business. According to a U.S. Small Business Administration study, federal regulations cost small businesses over $10,000 per employee. The National Small Business Association found that small businesses face $83,000 in regulatory costs during their first year of operation when owners struggle just to survive. Around 30 percent of a business’ labor cost is for benefits and paperwork.

How much do government rules affect hiring? Rules affecting employees include the minimum wage, overtime pay, workplace safety rules, collective bargaining and the National Labor Relations Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Civil Rights Act, immigration eligibility, worker’s compensation and unemployment compensation. Many regulatory rules do not apply to independent contractors. Furthermore, requirements imposed on larger businesses are generally based on employees, not contractors.

Consumers must eventually pay for a business’ costs of complying with state and federal laws and rules. And costs tied specifically to employment reduce hiring to do tasks which create value in our economy. Half of small businesses report having held off hiring due to regulation.

Why do politicians impose so many rules on employment? In part, because mandates cost the government little; politicians do not spend tax dollars to boost wages or pay insurance premiums. The complexity of employment relations also matters, helping sustain an illusion of significant benefits to workers.

Businesses care about the full cost of an employee, meaning the wage or salary plus the cost of benefits, training, required paperwork, and so forth. When government mandates better terms for employees on one item, businesses can trim back others to contain the cost. For instance, less on-the-job training or flexibility in scheduling can offset the cost of a higher minimum wage.

The adjustments can cancel out mandated benefits. A college student might consider an $8 per hour job with the flexibility to adjust work hours around exams equal to a $10/hour with no flexibility. Raising the minimum wage to $10/hour may lead employers to eliminate flexibility, leaving the college student no better off.

Such offsets of government policies often go unnoticed. Supporters celebrate a hike in the minimum wage, or mandatory overtime pay, or required health insurance. Adjustments like a loss of scheduling flexibility may never get linked back to the policy. The mandate appears like a better deal than in reality.

As rules increased the cost of employment, businesses have not surprisingly tried reclassifying employees as independent contractors. The IRS and state governments enforce rules regarding these classifications, but some employers clearly try to bend the law. Efforts by state and federal regulators to protect traditional employment, however, also frustrate Americans seeking new self-employment options.

Work flexibility will be crucial to realize the full potential of the sharing economy. Exploiting opportunities for sharing will require many people to perform small tasks. Scooter rental companies like Spin and Lime, for instance, need people to charge their electric vehicles left on city sidewalks. Power and gardening tools sit in garages most of the time and could be widely shared. Getting tools to paying users and back to their owners will require on-demand delivery service. Each rental is unlikely to generate enough surplus value to cover employees’ costly regulations.

A market economy enables voluntary action in pursuit of our goals. The labor market forces people to pay for tasks they want performed. Burdensome government rules should not prevent willing parties from agreeing to deals to get work done.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University.

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1 week ago

The Lodge at Gulf State Park opens with great fanfare

(Billy Pope)

The fanfare that accompanied last week’s ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open The Lodge at Gulf State Park, a Hilton Hotel, was unprecedented, a fact affirmed by a pair of experts in the field of lodging and hospitality.

With Governor Kay Ivey headlining a long list of dignitaries at the grand opening of the long-awaited facility, the Gulf Shores High School marching band played the National Anthem as Gulf Shores Navy JROTC cadets presented the colors in front of the large crowd that gathered only steps from the white-sand beaches of the Gulf of Mexico.

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One of those dignitaries was Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Herb Malone, who was curious if other venues celebrated the opening of similar facilities the way Alabama did last week.

“I asked the head gentleman from Valor Hospitality and the head gentlemen of Hilton Hotels if they had ever been to a ribbon-cutting where there was this much passion, love and energy behind a project,” Malone said. “They both said never, ever have they seen anything like this.”

Malone said he knows of several groups that have scheduled conferences at the new Lodge, including Jon Hand, CEO of Electric Cities of Alabama, a group that represents municipally owned utilities that serve about 1 million customers in the state. Hand jumped at the chance to book a conference at The Lodge.

“To my knowledge, we were the first group to sign a contract with the resort,” said Hand, whose organization is based in Montgomery. “And, we were the first to sign a multi-year contract.

“I grew up in Gulf Shores. We went to the State Park a lot growing up. So, we were really excited about the completion. I think it’s going to be great for Alabama. The location of the resort is great for us. The way the resort looks – it’s beautiful. It’s a great asset to the state. Whenever we can do business in Alabama, we like to do so. Our 35th anniversary will be our first conference at The Lodge.”

Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said the decision was made to forego the typical soft opening that new facilities hold before a general opening.

“Many of us were not sure if this day would ever come,” Blankenship said. “It has been a long journey, and I’m so glad to share this with you as we celebrate the work of so many who made the opening of this lodge a reality. This is truly a spectacular place.

“With the project’s high visibility and excitement in this community for the return of The Lodge, we wanted to open it as soon as possible to give the communities an opportunity to participate in the rebirth of this place. So, we opened the doors at the first possible moment.”

The Lodge will accommodate up to 1,000 people for conferences and conventions with a 350-room hotel that includes 20 suites. The beach-view ballroom is 12,160 square feet with an adjacent 7,500-square-foot outdoor terrace. Several other smaller meeting and conference rooms are available. A Gulf-front infinity pool will have a pool bar and grill. Meanwhile, a Gulf-front restaurant features terrace seating and a private dining room that will serve house-prepared dishes sourced from regional suppliers, including fresh Alabama Gulf Seafood.

The Lodge has been constructed under LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) protocols. The Interpretive Center is pursuing certification under the Living Building Challenge, a designation currently afforded to only 16 buildings in the world.

“We are caretakers of this creation,” Blankenship said. “The sustainable construction and the environmentally friendly management of The Lodge show how serious we are about that responsibility. We are very excited about how we can have this beautiful facility and still protect our environment.”

Most of the dignitaries who spoke at the ceremony were able to share memories of cherished family time spent at previous versions of the Gulf State Park Lodge, including Alabama U.S. Congressman Bradley Byrne, who marveled at the hotel facilities.

“Did you see the suite with the separate room with bunk beds and a TV?” Congressman Byrne asked. “That is perfect for a family. I wish they had had those when we used to stay at the park when my children were small. We definitely would have taken advantage of that.”

State Representative Steve McMillan, R-Bay Minette, who represents the district that includes Gulf State Park, said he is greatly relieved to see the new facilities open because of the numerous hurdles that had to be overcome to rebuild the lodge after Hurricane Ivan destroyed it in 2004.

“It’s just a dream come true,” Rep. McMillan said. “It’s better than I ever envisioned that it might be. And one thing most people don’t realize is that we came within three days of having to shut down construction while we waited on a court ruling. The judge finally ruled in our favor, and here we are today.

“I never had any idea we would have anything like this. It’s just unbelievable.”

Alabama Speaker of the House of Representatives Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, reiterated how the resort facilities at Gulf State Park factor into the economic well-being of the rest of the Alabama State Parks System.

“When the resort was here, and the lodge was up and running it was an economic engine to help all our state parks,” Rep. McCutcheon said. “So, when we lost this facility, it had a huge impact on our parks. When we came for a tour of the construction site, we walked out on the dunes, and I remember my children being there on the edge of the water when they were very, very little. Deb and I made a trip down here, and we stayed at the lodge that was here at the time. That was the first time my children got to feel the sand between their toes and feel the waves wash up on them. We built sandcastles. That was the first time for children who were raised in red land cotton fields to see what it was like to stand on the side of the Gulf of Mexico. That’s a great memory.

“Our best days are ahead of us in Alabama, and this great facility is symbolic of that.”

Governor Ivey echoed the sentiment that the opening of The Lodge has been a study in perseverance.

“I’m thrilled to be here to have this grand opening that we’ve been waiting a long time to have,” said Governor Ivey. “There’s just no more beautiful place than Alabama’s Gulf Coast with the white sand and sparkling waters. That’s why I made it my mission to protect this part of the state and grow it. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan came through and damaged parts of our great state. It also destroyed a very special spot on the Gulf Coast – the lodge. However, in the resilient spirit of Alabama, we find a way to make good out of a bad situation.

“And here we are today. I am proud to be with you for the ribbon-cutting for The Lodge at Gulf State Park. This will be a centerpiece for this area but also for the great state of Alabama. We’re located on the doorstep of the Gulf, and this will be a way to show a piece of Alabama to the world. Creating a new conference center has long been a part of discussions throughout numerous administrations. As Lieutenant Governor, I was a member of the Gulf State Park Committee. Today, I’m proud to take us across the finish line.”

Ivey said The Lodge’s partners, Valor Hospitality and Hilton Hotels, will help make The Lodge at Gulf State Park a world-class destination.

“There is so much to love about this state,” Governor Ivey said. “In this area, it’s our beautiful natural resources, especially our people. I really want to thank the locals in this area, who year-round, continually welcome visitors to our great state.

Governor Ivey said that more than 20 years ago Mercedes became the game-changer for our automotive industry, and she expects the same impact from The Lodge at Gulf State Park.

“Gulf State Park will be a world-class place to visit, and it will be the crown jewel of tourism,” said Governor Ivey, who presented Gulf State Park Project Manager Tye Warren with a certificate of commendation during the ceremonies. “People from around the world will want to come experience what we have in Alabama. I look forward to continued growth in the tourism industry. Thank you for allowing me to join you for this great event. May God continue to bless each of you and the great state of Alabama.”

After he was presented with the certificate from Governor Ivey, Warren’s young daughter jumped into his arms.

“As I hold my daughter, I will tell you there have been a lot of people who helped raise this place,” Warren said. “Thursday night, I listened to Valor Hospitality’s CEO talk to 200 employees, and the feelings I had were closure and complete comfort in what this is going to be. And I hope when my daughter marries that I have the same feeling on that day. I feel great about where this is going.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

2 weeks ago

The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles will be held accountable

(Contributed/C. Ward)

The members of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles aren’t doing their jobs.

In July, Jimmy O’Neal Spencer was charged with the brutal killings of Martha Dell Reliford, 65, Marie Kitchens Martin, 74, and Martin’s seven-year-old great-grandson, Colton Ryan Lee, in Guntersville. Spencer, a man with a violent rap sheet going back to the early 1980s, had been granted parole by the Board in November of 2017 and released from prison in January.

The Spencer case is one among many instances where the Board of Pardons and Paroles has made the wrong call. District attorneys, law enforcement officers and victims of crime are rightfully angry with the Board’s decisions to allow even murderers to go free, including some who have served as little as six years in prison.

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In some cases, the Board has paroled violent offenders (some of whom had troubling incarceration records) much earlier than its own rules and regulations recommend. That is frightening, and the lackadaisical response from the Board to critics’ questions about Jimmy O’Neal Spencer and other cases is unacceptable.

I understand that the failure of an individual part can shroud an entire system in doubt. But the recent news of poor decision-making by the Board of Pardons and Paroles should not take away from the significant improvements that Alabama has gradually made to its criminal justice system over the past few years.

Beginning in 2013, the State Legislature passed a series of reforms to change the punishment structure for non-violent offenders to ensure more fair and uniform sentencing. The underpinning philosophy behind Alabama’s change in sentencing was to divert non-violent offenders from prison, thereby reserving scarce prison space and resources for more serious and violent offenders. Why was that necessary? Alabama’s prisons were dangerously overcrowded, with the prison population rising to 192 percent of recommended capacity levels. Indeed, by 2015, Alabama faced the worst prison overcrowding-crisis in the country.

Thankfully, the legislative reforms started in 2013 have been effective: Alabama’s prison population has decreased by more than twenty percent since the sentencing changes were implemented, and data from 2017 indicate that violent crime is leveling off, too.

Recent improvements to community supervision programs hold the potential to further improve public safety. I am optimistic that these reforms, paired with the hiring of extra probation and parole officers, will gradually reduce recidivism in Alabama. But the truth is that legislation alone will not solve our criminal justice problems — the policies must be implemented correctly and properly funded to accomplish lasting change.

The Board of Pardons and Paroles has to be a part of a comprehensive solution, rather than a cause of problems, for the state’s criminal justice system. Thankfully, Governor Kay Ivey has directed the Board to produce a corrective action plan, and she has also designated a new chairman of the Board.

As a State Senator, I am closely watching the response to Governor Ivey’s directive.
The Board of Pardons and Paroles must and will be held accountable. The Board has an essential role to play in Alabama’s criminal justice system—but as the case of Jimmy O’Neal Spencer tragically illustrates, errors in judgment by the Board’s members can have catastrophic consequences.

Cam Ward represents District 14 in the Alabama State Senate, which includes all or parts of Shelby, Bibb, and Chilton counties. He serves as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Follow him on Twitter: @SenCamWard

2 weeks ago

Lawmakers must see the road ahead: Modernizing our transportation system benefits us all

(Pixabay)

Alabama’s manufacturing industry has always been at the heart of our state’s economy. Even today as Alabama’s economy is growing, the manufacturing sector is projected to have above-average growth according to a recent study from the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama’s Culverhouse College of Business.

As we look to continue this economic growth and expanded job base, Alabama must address several challenges, including those regarding our transportation and infrastructure systems. Alabama’s crumbling roads and bridges have garnered much-deserved attention, but there are other issues, too. For example, one of Manufacture Alabama’s primary focuses during the 2019 legislative session will be state funding for a critical port expansion project.

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It is important to understand, especially when lawmakers are constantly at odds over how to allocate limited resources, that infrastructure investments are not the only remedy to alleviate stress and congestion on our bridges and roads. Adoption of certain policies – such as increasing the length of twin trailers from 28 feet to 33 feet – should also be considered as a way to modernize our transportation systems.

The length of twin trailers – that is, trucks that pull two connected trailers – is currently capped by a national standard at 28 feet per trailer. However, some states, like neighboring Florida, have passed modern state regulations that allow for 33-foot twin trailers, known as “twin 33s.” By allowing a trailer length increase of just five feet, these states have created an environment for manufacturers, shippers and distributors to transport goods safely and more efficiently.

Twin 33s are a win-win-win proposition. If adopted nationwide, twin 33-foot trailers would result in 3.1 billion fewer vehicle miles traveled each year. From a safety standpoint, this would eliminate an estimated 4,500 truck accidents per year. From an infrastructure standpoint, it would reduce trucks’ impact on roads and bridges, thus improving longevity. And from an efficiency standpoint, it would increase the capacity per delivery by more than 18 percent, even with the current federal total truck weight limit of 80,000 pounds.

The current federal regulations were put in place more than 35 years ago and do not align with the demands of our 21st-century marketplace. Allowing twin 33-foot trailers to operate in all 50 states is a commonsense solution that would improve our transportation and infrastructure systems at no expense to taxpayers. In a time of innovative growth in the business and manufacturing sectors, twin 33-foot trailers will modernize the delivery of products and goods to businesses and consumers across the country. It will allow carriers to move more goods without putting additional trucks on the road and already crowded highways.

As leaders in Washington consider the future of our nation’s economy and our transportation and infrastructure systems, modernizing trucking standards should be an important part of these policy discussions. Our local, state and national economies are on the rise; we must look at the road ahead and support policies to better foster future growth and success.

George Clark is the President of Manufacture Alabama. Manufacture Alabama is the only trade association in the state dedicated exclusively to the competitive, legislative, regulatory and operational interests and needs of manufacturers and their partner industries and businesses.  

Stand for life — Vote yes on Amendment Two

(YHN/Pixabay)

As women, mothers and as the supporters of many other young mothers and their children, we have watched with outraged disbelief the absurd attacks that Planned Parenthood is hurling at Amendment Two, Alabama’s pro-life amendment on Tuesday’s ballot.

Planned Parenthood and its allies have spent nearly $1.5 million dollars in out-of-state, dark money to protect Planned Parenthood’s abortion mills in Alabama and defeat Amendment Two. We find it quite ironic that Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider where hundreds of thousands of babies are killed inside its clinics every year, and its allies are claiming that Amendment Two is “anti-family,” when the Amendment clearly declares the importance of protecting life.

Amendment Two is emphatically pro-family and pro-life, and that’s why the Amendment is a threat to Planned Parenthood’s radical agenda.

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Planned Parenthood is synonymous with the death of unborn children and its abortion-on demand agenda is dramatically out-of-step with the pro-life views of Alabamians. For years, the company trafficked in the sale of fetal body parts; indeed, the Washington Post reported in 2015 that a Planned Parenthood director said, as she haggled over the price of a fetus’s liver, “If it’s still low, then we can bump it up. I want a Lamborghini.”

Here is the truth about Amendment Two:

According to the independent, non-partisan Fair Ballot Commission, the amendment does two things:

-It is a general statement of public policy meant to demonstrate the state’s pro-life values towards the protection of unborn children.

-Second, the amendment clarifies that our state constitution does not support taxpayer dollars being spent to fund abortions.

We strongly urge you not to be fooled by Planned Parenthood’s false claims about Amendment two. Contrary to Planned Parenthood’s misinformation and lies, Amendment Two does not eliminate current exceptions to abortion, such as when the life of the mother is at stake. Further, Amendment Two would not criminalize or penalize anyone in cases of miscarriages, stillborn births, in-vitro birthing options, or ectopic pregnancies.

According to its annual report in 2014, Planned Parenthood’s combined annual revenue was $1.3 billion. These lies they are disseminating are about their massive income- not the health care of women.

As women and mothers in Alabama, we are voting for Amendment Two because it declares in writing what we already believe to be true: that all life is sacred and that the most vulnerable among us, unborn children, deserve to be loved and protected. Amendment Two is a statement that signals to our government and to each other that we, the people of Alabama, value life and that our laws should protect and defend the weak as well as the strong. Further, we support Amendment Two because it will help prevent groups like Planned Parenthood from using taxpayer dollars to line their pockets and further their industry of death and dismemberment.

We pray that the people of Alabama will see through the distortions and the millions of out-of-state, dark money in campaign ads and will join us in supporting Amendment Two.

The choice is clear: Alabamians can vote “yes” and take a stand for unborn life as well as stop Planned Parenthood. Our hope is that Alabama will stand for life, and vote “yes” on Amendment Two.

Mrs. Twinkle Cavanaugh, Mrs. Terry Lathan and Mrs. Mary Sue McClurkin, co-chairwomen for Alliance for a Pro-Life Alabama

Byrne: No place, no time for hate

(Pixabay)

At a recent church service, the sermon focused on the 12th chapter of Mark’s gospel, which describes Jesus’ answer to a question from a scribe about which Commandment is “first of all.”

In it, Jesus replies with the Shema. He says, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

Even though Jesus was not asked about a “second Commandment,” he adds to the Shema, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

In response, for once, a scribe agrees with Jesus.

It seemed timely to hear this verse and to hear a modern-day minister preach on it. Just a few weeks ago, 11 people were tragically killed at a Jewish synagogue near Pittsburgh. These innocent Jews were killed by a man filled with hate, much like the murders of innocent African-American Christians in a Charleston church three years ago. These horrific events remind us that evil is not a superstition, but an all too real presence in our society.

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The Old Testament and Jesus are crystal clear: the very essence of God is love.

Therefore, anyone who hates another person acts against God and his purposes for humankind. Jesus took it another step by joining the Commandment to love one another with the Commandment to love God. Saint John in his first letter is explicit. He writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

Our obligation to love one another applies to everyone. Indeed, the very presence of hate inside us is the work of evil, and we should all strive against that evil in our own lives. And when a particularly tragic work of evil happens, as happened in Pittsburgh, we need to speak out so that we reinforce our collective resolve against it.

In the heart of election season, it is especially important to remember that more unites us than divides us. As Americans – and as humans – we are united by common bonds of love, faith and understanding. Far too often, we get caught up in the areas of disagreement, instead of realizing that far more brings us together.

We are all imperfect humans made by our Creator. While we are often divided by where we live, our age, our background, our race or our gender, we are brought together by many important common factors.

My study of U.S. history long ago convinced me that our national principle of the equality of all people, explicit in The Declaration of Independence and reiterated by President Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address, is rooted in our Founders’ understanding of the Bible’s clear teaching that we are all created and loved by God, and therefore must love and must value one another. So violent attacks on people because of their race or religion are truly un-American as well.

An attack on any human because of their religious beliefs or the color of their skin or their background is an attack on all of us and the values we hold most dear. When we let these actions further divide, we only fuel the fire of hatred. Instead, we should use events like we saw in Pittsburgh to unite us and bring us closer together.

So, please allow me to add my voice with many others against the evil of these and other acts of violence. There is no place, and this is no time, to hate.

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

2 weeks ago

Roby: Reflecting on October

(Congresswoman Roby/Facebook)

There have been several exciting, noteworthy developments for our district, state, and country lately. For starters, now that November is upon us, President Trump has again declared this month the second annual National Veterans and Military Families Month to “salute the brave and dedicated patriots who have worn the uniform of the United States, and… celebrate the extraordinary military families whose selfless service and sacrifice make our military the finest in the world.”

I am glad that the president has once again demonstrated that we are committed to veterans and military families more than just on Veterans Day.

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Next, you may be aware that each year the month of October is recognized as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an international health campaign organized by major breast cancer charities to increase awareness and raise funds for research. It was recently brought to my attention that Medicare and Medicaid only cover two options for women following a mastectomy: surgical breast reconstructive surgery or a prefabricated breast prosthetic. The latter has been described as shapeless, heavier than the normal breast, and cumbersome to wear – but there’s another option.

Custom fabricated breast prosthetics exist, and while they are significantly less expensive than reconstructive surgery and are custom-fit to a woman’s body shape, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has deemed this option not reasonable or necessary for coverage. During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I sent a letter to the CMS Administrator urging her to modify this coverage determination. I believe it is only right that women who have battled breast cancer be given the options that work best for them and not be subjected to a one-size-fits-all approach. I will keep you informed on any developments.

In still more news, we recently learned that the Air Force is directing $18 million for the construction of a new air traffic control tower at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery. I have advocated for this project for years and have personally climbed up the antiquated tower. It badly needs to be replaced, so I am very pleased that this issue is being addressed through the recently passed military funding bill. I look forward to seeing this improvement become reality as Maxwell continues to support the needs of the Air Force in the River Region, including the 187th Fighter Wing’s missions. Construction is expected to begin in June of 2019 and conclude in December of 2020.

Amid all of this news, I also had the opportunity this past week to spend more time traveling throughout Alabama’s Second District as the October district work period continued. I had productive visits in Wetumpka, Montgomery, Tallassee, and Dothan.

In Wetumpka, I sat down with Keith Barnett, the new Director of the Elmore County Emergency Management Agency, and other community leaders to discuss infrastructure, rural broadband, prison reform, and economic growth in the region. I also appreciated this group giving me an update on Elmore County’s priorities. In Montgomery, I met with members of the Alabama Ag Credit, officials from New York Life, folks from Cardiovascular Associates, and more.

While in Tallassee, I had the opportunity to speak to the Lions Club during their lunch meeting. I appreciated being able to give them an update from Washington and fill them in on my priorities as their representative in Congress.

In Dothan, I spoke to our community leaders at the annual Second Congressional District dinner. Each year, this event serves as an excellent time for those of us in public service to discuss the ways we can better assist the people we represent. I reminded the group of the many ways my office can be of service to them as we work to serve our shared constituency.

The month of October brought several positive developments to our region, state and country, and I was glad to be part of the excitement on your behalf. I am looking forward to seeing what the month of November holds for Alabamians and all Americans, and I am eager to spend more time on the road visiting with the people I am grateful to represent in Congress.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby is a Republican from Montgomery.

2 weeks ago

Fake news and the market for ideas

(YHN/Pixabay)

Traditional social media have been criticized recently for purveying fake news. California may form a commission to investigate stemming fake news, while Congressional hearings have implored Facebook and Twitter to act. Is the news market failing?

Classical liberals back to John Milton and John Stuart Mill have stressed freedom of speech and expression as crucial in allowing citizens to control government. Free expression is vital for two reasons. The first is the value of free inquiry in discovering the truth. The second is the potential for government power to regulate expression to stifle criticism.

The metaphor of a marketplace of ideas illustrates the truth-seeking argument. Just as competition supplies us with cars, clothes or soft drinks, competition will work for ideas. Let truth and falsehood compete, and truth will win out. This reasoning believes that most citizens can distinguish good from bad arguments.

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Yet, I find the marketplace of ideas metaphor slightly off. In my research on media bias, I emphasize how our evaluations of public policies draw on our personal values and information about the world. Is the $15 per hour minimum wage recently enacted by some cities wise policy? The answer depends in part on values – whether one believes that government should try to raise poorer households’ income. And also on information – the number of $9 an hour jobs eliminated by a $15 minimum wage.

News deals with the information element of policy assessment. Peoples’ values differ, but to paraphrase former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, we all face the same facts. The news media hopefully provides truthful information for readers or viewers.

Information differs from ideas. Assessing the truth of information requires significant resources and not just common sense; specifically, a news organization’s reporters and editors. Ideas combine information and values. Citizens have no capacity to verify a report claiming that the $15 minimum wage eliminated 10,000 jobs.

Media bias involves deliberate manipulation of information to advance political values, not inevitable reporting errors. A story might deliberately exaggerate the job losses from the $15 minimum wage to influence people’s policy evaluation.

We can only identify some relevant factors about when biased reporting will advance specific values. For example, the persons we trust most can most easily mislead us. Blatant propaganda is often recognized and consequently ineffective. Information advancing an organization’s values may be discounted. And bad news is frequently denied; President Trump dismisses any report suggesting that his policies are not working perfectly as fake news.

President Trump has seemingly used evidence of liberal bias to convince his supporters to dismiss all news from prestigious news organizations as fake. Convincing analyses find that liberal bias is typically nuanced and subtle, involving misleading headlines, a lack of perspective, or perhaps omissions, not outright falsification. Biased news still contains truth.

Charges of liberal bias are decades old, so what has changed? The more explicit branding of outlets as liberal or conservative, I think, encourages wholesale dismissal. Hosts like Sean Hannity or Rachel Maddow with conservative or liberal views organize most cable news content (This is not necessarily bad; contrasting takes on current events may be a good way to assess the truth). Editorials set a newspaper’s brand, even though the rules of objectivity still apply to the news content. And conservative outlets like Fox News and the Washington Times makes liberal branding of CNN and the Washington Post more plausible.

The most surprising aspect in our more partisan news market has been the lack of an outlet building an information-only brand trusted across the political spectrum. The New York Times and Washington Post may think they occupy this space, but conservatives’ dismissal demonstrates otherwise.

The marketplace of ideas is a powerful metaphor, but information is not ideas. Common sense cannot substitute for a network of trained, experienced reporters. Is the market for news hopelessly broken? Fortunately, a missing product creates a profit opportunity for a clever entrepreneur. Perhaps trusted news sources are evolving right now, obscured by the noise of current events.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University.

2 weeks ago

Rep. Gary Palmer: There is a Republican plan to cover pre-existing conditions and the House already passed it

(G. Palmer/Facebook)

Here is a fact that Democrats are desperately trying to keep from the public: Not only do Republicans support providing health insurance coverage for those with preexisting conditions, but Republicans in the House actually passed legislation that did just that.

The American Health Care Act included an amendment that Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ) and I introduced. It ensured that anyone with a preexisting condition could purchase health insurance. The Palmer-Schweikert amendment established a risk-sharing plan that allowed any individual with a preexisting condition to purchase insurance at the same price as a healthy individual. This was not an unproven idea — in fact, the plan was modeled after a successful state-level program.

Instead of billions of dollars in bailouts for health insurance companies, the Republican plan was funded by having the majority of the premiums paid by those with preexisting conditions transferred into a fund. This represents an alternative approach to Obamacare’s guaranteed-issue provision, which priced everyone as sick, resulting in far more expensive premiums.

Our amendment put the money in a risk-sharing plan that targeted assistance to cover those with preexisting conditions, but also required the insurers to have some skin in the game. The result was more affordable premiums for all.

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By setting up this arrangement, the Republican plan not only guaranteed coverage to people with preexisting conditions, it reduced premiums for everyone else in every age group. According to an analysis by Milliman, one of the nation’s top independent actuarial firms, the Republican risk-sharing plan would have provided prompt assistance for people with high-cost claims, lowered premium costs by 12-31 percent, and increased the number of people with health insurance by up to 2.2 million.

The Republican bill with this amendment passed the House on May 4, 2017 without a single Democrat vote in favor. Even though the ACHA stalled in the Senate, the risk-sharing plan will be part of a legislative package that I, along with others, intend to reintroduce in the next Congress along with provisions that will be a huge step toward repairing and restoring health care in America.

The legislation will allow for the formation of Association Health Plans that help small businesses save money, and allow for the sale of short-term health insurance policies that can help the uninsured. The Trump administration has issued guidelines that allow for both. Our bill would protect these new options.

As a result of Obamacare, health insurance premiums more than doubled and the mandates forced small businesses to cut employees’ hours, lay people off, and stop hiring. Currently, only about 56 percent of small businesses can afford to offer health insurance. But the new guidelines allow for individuals and small businesses to qualify for these lower-cost association health plans — making affordable health insurance available to millions of workers.

Empowering people to purchase short-term health insurance will make coverage available to millions of Americans who are currently uninsured. Short-term plans would allow individuals to purchase one-year plans that are renewable for up to three years. These plans are 50 – 80 percent less expensive.

Republicans are advocating for these options to empower the American people, but Democrats are once again misleading the American public about healthcare. During the debate over Obamacare, they said we could keep our doctors if we liked them. That was a lie for millions of Americans. They promised premiums would be reduced by an average of $2,500 per family per year, but premiums more than doubled for tens of millions of people. They said that over 20 million people would be covered by government exchanges, but it was less than half that number — and insurance companies dropped coverage in many states.

Now, the Democrats are calling for government-run healthcare under the guise of “Medicare for All.” What they want is a Canadian-style health system. But in Canada, the average wait time to see a doctor in metropolitan areas is over 18 weeks, and it’s over 31 weeks in rural areas. A study by the Fraser Institute of Canada reported that from 1993 to 2009, an estimated 25,000 to 63,000 Canadian women died while waiting for treatment.

By contrast, the Republicans are on record with a sensible plan to cover preexisting conditions, a plan that will help individuals get the health insurance they need at prices they can afford, and which allows small businesses to provide health insurance coverage to their employees.

The difference between the Republican plan and the Democrat’s plan is that our plan will offer Americans more options and make health insurance affordable again.

Gary Palmer, a Republican, represents Alabama in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Byrne: Our farmers are our future

(Rep. Bradley Byrne)

This past week, I had the pleasure of visiting many fine farmers and foresters throughout Southwest Alabama to learn more about the incredible work they do on a daily basis. This was part of my annual “Ag Matters” agricultural tour, which brings me to farms and forests in each of the six counties that make up Alabama’s First Congressional District.

Forestry in Alabama first began in Clarke County, and that is where I began my tour. I was pleased to learn more about how the people at Canfor Southern Pine carry on the forestry tradition to this day.

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Not only are they the largest employer in Jackson, Canfor produces high-quality lumber products that are used all throughout the Eastern United States. At this mill alone, they produce around 110 million board feet per year in lumber products. To produce this much material, they rely on the sustainable harvesting of private timberlands throughout our region.

I had a chance to tour some of these private timberlands and learn more about ways owners are working with the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect endangered and threatened species. It is important that we find solutions that work for both our environment and for those trying to make a living through sustainable practices.

Animals such as the gopher tortoise and the black pine snake are threatened in certain areas of Alabama. Timberland owners and workers want to protect our environment, as a healthy environment is critical to their future. But, they should not be unduly limited by the government in the work they do.

I was able to talk with several foresters from all around Southwest Alabama at a forestry roundtable hosted at a local branch of Alabama Ag Credit. The people at Ag Credit also know that our farmers and foresters are our future and believe in providing them with sound financial options through responsible lending and thorough financial counseling.

As I continued my tour, I saw some excellent examples of topiary management at a garden nursery in Mobile, learned about the bumper crop of cotton this year at farms in Escambia and Baldwin counties and was informed of the status of this year’s peanut harvest.

This past year, I was one of the leading advocates to get cotton back in Title I of the Disaster Package to provide further assistance and recovery options for farmers adversely affected by unforeseen natural circumstances.

One of the biggest takeaways from my tour this year was just how fortunate we are that we were not more directly impacted by Hurricane Michael. I’m dedicated to working with Representative Martha Roby on continued recovery efforts for farmers in the Wiregrass and throughout South Alabama. We need to make sure they receive the necessary federal and state assistance they deserve to get through these unexpected and difficult times.

One thing is certain: as we enter the final legislative session of this year, we must reauthorize the Farm Bill. The Farm Bill will provide greater protections for the cotton and peanut growers in our area and for other farmers and foresters throughout Alabama and the nation.

Without the tireless efforts of producers all across the nation, life as we know it would not exist. From providing the food we eat, to the raw materials for the clothes we wear, to the foundational building elements all around us, our farmers and foresters impact our daily lives in truly tangible ways.

We owe it to them to fight for more protections to help create a stronger future for all of Alabama, and we must always remember that our farmers are our future.

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

3 weeks ago

Roby report from the road — Hurricane Michael, education and meeting with business leaders

(M. Roby/Facebook)

With Congress out of session for an October district work period, I have taken this valuable time to be on the road in Alabama’s Second District visiting with the people I represent and sharing with them an update from Washington. I believe this time we spend together is truly invaluable. It’s so important for me to hear from local leaders, business owners and employees about how the issues of the day impact them in their daily lives so that I can better represent their views in Congress.

During this district work period, I spent time in Columbia, Headland, Dothan, Gordon, Luverne, Goshen, Opp and Troy. Since parts of our district were ravaged by Hurricane Michael this month, I have been especially grateful for this time away from Washington to visit impacted communities to assess the damage and talk with our farmers on the ground.

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In Columbia, I met with Mayor Rhonda Freeman, and she updated me on the damage her town is facing. In Headland, I had lunch with a group of Henry County farmers, and we discussed agriculture recovery efforts. The farmers in our district are truly facing unprecedented losses, and I will remain engaged as we push through this rebuilding process together. In Dothan, I sat down with Chris Judah, Director of the Houston County Emergency Management Agency. In Gordon, I toured several farms to assess the Hurricane Michael damage.

In Luverne, I had the opportunity to address the Crenshaw County Chamber of Commerce during a lunch meeting. We had a conversation about the numerous successes our unified government has had over the last two years. As I told the group, the American people are much better off now than we were before. While in town, I also stopped by Hicks, Inc. They’re the number one national wholesale distributor of fishing, hunting, marine, archery and other outdoor products. I was very impressed by their extensive operations and impressive facility.

In Goshen, I visited the high school to check out their career tech facility. I was blown away by the numerous outstanding opportunities that are available to students right here in our district. Did you know that most Goshen High School students graduate having already obtained an Associate degree? It’s true. The students I met while on campus were truly remarkable young men and women.

In Opp, I participated in a roundtable discussion with local business leaders. We had a very productive conversation about ways we can work to bring new opportunities to Opp and the surrounding communities. While I was there, I also had the opportunity to meet former Alabama football Head Coach Mike DuBose and his wife Polly.

In Troy, I met with Troy University officials, and they briefed me on a $3.2 million grant the university recently received from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. This is the largest grant Troy University has received in the school’s history, and it will establish the Center for Materials and Manufacturing Sciences at the university. This research will focus on polymers and plastics recycling, and it will go a long way towards preparing the next generation of the workforce in this industry. We are so fortunate to have Troy University in Alabama’s Second District, and I’m always proud to learn more about the ways the school is growing and thriving.

It has been a productive month so far, and I really appreciate the many individuals who took time out of their busy lives to talk with me. I am looking forward to many more opportunities to hear directly from the people I represent. My priority is always to be the very best representative of our shared beliefs that I possibly can.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby is a Republican from Montgomery.

Alabamians can take a stand for unborn life with passage of Amendment Two on November 6

(Rep. Joe Faust)

In addition to selecting our governor, constitutional officers and lawmakers like me, voters in the November 6 general election will have the opportunity to cast their ballots on four proposed statewide amendments to our 1901 Alabama Constitution.

Amendment Two on the ballot allows all of us to take a stand in support of the traditional morals and values that make Alabama such a special place to live, work and worship.

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In my role as state representative, I voted in favor of Amendment Two when it came before the Alabama House, and I plan to support it again on Election Day.

I urge you to do the same.

The intent of the amendment is simple. It affirms that Alabama is a pro-life state and that our state constitution does not recognize a right to abortion.

Under current federal law that was set by the U.S. Supreme Court in the wrongheaded Roe v. Wade decision, the ability to seek an abortion is constitutionally protected, so passage of Amendment Two would have no immediate public policy effect.

But if Roe v. Wade is overturned, which is becoming increasingly popular with the addition of conservative justices like Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, Amendment Two allows Alabama to take swift and immediate action in protecting unborn life. Exceptions for cases of rape, incest or life of the mother would still be allowed to exist.

While a majority of Alabamians oppose abortion and wish to preserve unborn life, ultra-liberal special interest groups like Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Feminist Majority Foundation are working to defeat our historic opportunity to defend the most defenseless among us. These liberal groups have also endorsed Democrat candidates for governor, Congress and the Legislature here, in Alabama.

According to campaign finance reports filed with the Secretary of State, out-of-state leftist groups have donated almost $1 million to a Planned Parenthood PAC working against Amendment Two in order to preserve the abortion mill industry. The PAC is deceptively titled “Alabama for Healthy Families.”

Planned Parenthood, as you may recall, is the group that was caught discussing and advocating the sale of aborted fetal body parts during a hidden camera sting conducted by a conservative group.

The same leftist organizations that attacked Justice Brett Kavanaugh and attempted to destroy his life with unfounded, uncorroborated, decades-old accusations from his youth have now turned their full attention toward Alabama and defeating Amendment Two. These groups will spread distortions and misinformation in order to defeat the amendment just as they tried to defeat the Kavanaugh nomination.

The choice is clear. Alabamians can side with unborn life and support Amendment Two, or they can side with Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and the abortion industry by voting against it.

While out-of-state liberals are opposing this commonsense amendment, conservative groups within the state are working on a grassroots level to ratify it. The Alabama Republican Party, the Alabama Policy Institute and the Alliance for a Pro-Life Alabama are just a few of the groups that have endorsed the passage of Amendment Two.

Alabama’s Fair Ballot Commission was formed by the Legislature in 2014 in order to provide voters with a non-partisan, unbiased, and easy-to-understand description of constitutional amendments that come before voters.

Because you should have the information necessary to make an informed decision about Amendment Two, I am providing the commission’s description of the referendum measure, which reads:

“Amendment 2 provides that it would be the public policy of the state to recognize and support the importance of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life; and to protect the rights of unborn children. Additionally, the amendment would make clear that the state constitution does not include a right to abortion or require the funding of an abortion using public funds.”

Let’s stand up and represent our traditional morals and Alabama values, but, more importantly, let’s stand together and support the rights of unborn babies.

I would appreciate your support for Amendment Two — millions of children yet to be born would appreciate it, as well.

U.S. State Rep. Joe Faust is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Conservative policies are working

(B. Byrne/Facebook)

Rarely in today’s world of instant communication and “the loudest voice wins” politics do we hear positive stories in the news cycle. Now, though, I would like to draw attention to a story that has proven to be good news, but has, for the most part, not received the coverage it deserves: conservative policies are working.

In the past two years, the Republican-controlled Congress has passed over 1,000 bills out of the House of Representatives, and almost 250 of them were signed into law by President Trump. That’s roughly 28 percent more bills that have passed out of the House than in years past.

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With the bills that have been signed into law, we have funded around 75 percent of the government on time for the first time in a decade. About 80 percent of the bills passed have been through bipartisan efforts, and 100 percent of the bills are pro-growth, pro-defense and pro-America legislation.

Part of our pro-America agenda has focused on preparing our students to enter the workforce with the necessary skills they need to thrive in today’s job market. One of the most prevalent myths in society today is that students must have a four-year degree to succeed. That’s just not true.

Thanks to bipartisan reforms to our career/technical education programs, we can give students a stepping stool directly into jobs after graduation or into post-secondary education programs centered around tangible skills and real-world careers.

Thanks to legislation like last year’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, we are seeing confidence in our economy soar to record levels. Small business satisfaction and job openings are both at all-time highs, and our unemployment rate has dropped to the lowest level in nearly 50 years. Right here in Alabama, we are experiencing record low unemployment and more Alabamians are working than at any point in our state’s history.

We have fully funded the military to help rebuild our forces after cuts under former President Barack Obama. Our servicemen and women will receive the largest pay raise in nine years, better taking care of those who protect us. And, these funds will equip them with newer and improved systems so they can better execute the mission of keeping Americans safe both at home and abroad.

We have passed legislation to take better care of our veterans as well. Service to our nation doesn’t end when the uniform comes off, and our veterans deserve to have the benefits they earned.

Improvements to the Veterans Choice Program will allow veterans to better access the health care they need at a convenience they deserve. Additionally, changes to the GI Bill will allow education benefits to better work for both veterans and their families.

We have also made progress on improving our nation’s infrastructure. Landmark legislation will make it easier to improve our waterways, ports and airports. Right here at home, we are closer than ever before to building the I-10 Bridge and completing improvements to the Port of Mobile.

Even with all the above accomplishments, there is still much work to be done.

For example, securing our border for the future is a must to ensure American safety and protect our assets here at home. That’s why I have proposed the 50 Votes for the Wall Act, an innovative solution to fund the border wall and overcome Democrat obstruction in the Senate.

While there are still challenges ahead, there is no doubt that with conservative policies the American people are better off now and getting stronger for tomorrow. As long as I serve in Washington, I will always support policies that put Americans first and work for a stronger future for all of Alabama.

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

4 weeks ago

President Trump’s Affordable Clean Energy rule is a win for Alabama

(T. Cavanaugh Campaign)

Protecting ratepayers and ensuring that we have a reliable, secure and affordable supply of electricity in Alabama is the lens through which I view energy policy. It was through this lens that I saw the Obama administration’s so-called Clean Power Plan (CPP) as a significant threat to our state and that I now see President Trump’s replacement plan, the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, as a welcome step in the right direction.

The Trump administration’s ACE rule provides a path forward for us to achieve environmental progress but still provide a balanced, affordable electricity mix that doesn’t impose crushing costs on consumers. The CPP, while never fully implemented thanks to a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court, aimed to transform the nation’s energy grid with an enormous price tag.

When the CPP was proposed, I worried about the impact of rising electricity prices on Alabamians and what it would mean for Washington to dictate to us the right way to meet our energy needs. At its core, the CPP was a plan designed to punish the American coal industry and drive the nation’s fleet of coal plants into early retirement. Those plants – which play such a critical role in so many states, including ours – have long been a foundation for secure, reliable and affordable power.

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The ACE rule, in comparison, no longer aims to dismantle the coal fleet and instead allows individual states to craft emissions reduction strategies that work best for their unique needs. Instead of forcing utilities and power plant operators to close plants, the ACE rule provides a path forward for them to improve them. By improving the efficiency of existing power plants, we can generate more power using less fuel. It’s a reasonable approach that provides states the flexibility to keep well-operating, essential power plants running.

The Obama administration’s plan was just one more example of onerous federal overreach. President Trump’s pro-jobs approach applies welcome restraint, and that restraint is going to pay dividends for ratepayers. The Trump administration expects the ACE rule’s compliance cost to be $400 million per year less in comparison to the CPP, and that estimate may well be conservative.

Before the Supreme Court halted Obama’s rule, one analysis projected that the CPP could cost consumers an additional $214 billion for electricity between 2022 and 2030. According to the same analysis, Alabama would have been one of more than 40 states that faced double-digit increases in the cost of wholesale electricity.

Even marginal increases in the cost of energy can have profound impacts. They can erode the competitiveness of entire states or industries, and rising prices can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for families barely able to pay the bills. The U.S. Department of Energy recently reported that one in three American households is already facing a challenge in meeting its energy needs and that one in five households, or 25 million households, has reduced or foregone necessities such as groceries or medicine to pay an energy bill. These sobering statistics are a critical reminder of the importance of making energy affordability a priority.

The ACE rule provides states the crucial flexibility they need to balance environmental goals with power grid reliability, security and affordability. It is for that reason I’m so supportive of President Trump’s approach. We narrowly escaped a total energy disaster with the Obama CPP. Let’s lend our voices to supporting a far better replacement.

Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh currently serves as president of the Alabama Public Service Commission. The opinions expressed in this article are those of Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh and are not intended to convey the official position of the Alabama Public Service Commission.

1 month ago

Rep. Roby: Alabama farmers ‘in the midst of a very real crisis’ as Hurricane Michael recovery continues

(M. Roby/YouTube)

As Hurricane Michael recovery efforts continue, we are gradually learning the full scale of damages portions of our district are facing. The setback for the agriculture industry is severe, to say the least. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, I traveled to the Wiregrass to see firsthand what some of our farmers are experiencing. The devastation is heartbreaking.

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Agricultural damage from Hurricane Michael across Alabama, Florida, and Georgia is projected to top $1.3 billion in total losses, with cotton, pecans, and poultry commodities hit the hardest. An expert with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System estimates the loss to our state’s cotton crop alone could eclipse $100 million. That sum does not include the impact the storm had on livestock, peanuts, and timber. When I was on the ground in the Wiregrass, I even saw 1,500 acres of cucumbers that might not make it to harvest. Our farmers are in the midst of a very real crisis.

In Alabama’s Second District, agriculture is the backbone of our economy, and throughout my time in Congress, I have always made it a priority to fight for our farmers of all commodities. Their work to provide the food and fiber we depend on is vitally important. I will continue to advocate for them, especially at this very uncertain time as we work to put the pieces back together for these hardworking men and women who have suffered tremendous loss to their livelihoods.

In the wake of this disaster, Governor Kay Ivey requested that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue declare our hurricane-damaged counties in Alabama as agriculture disaster areas. She also requested the maximum assistance be made available to our state through existing Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Farm Service Agency (FSA) programs.

I, too, have been actively engaged with Secretary Perdue, and recently penned a letter to him voicing my support for the Governor’s request. It is imperative that our farmers receive the most fitting and best available assistance from USDA during this time, and I am confident Secretary Perdue understands the severity of the devastation that occurred to agriculture in our state. I will remain in close contact with USDA to address any further needs the Department may require in getting our farmers the help they need in the weeks and months to come.

As we work through this season of rebuilding together, I’ve been encouraged to see and hear about so many acts of kindness and charity in our district and throughout the Southeast.

As a local example, when Tate’s Supermarket in Hartford lost power during the bad weather, they were unable to keep their refrigerated food stock cold. So, they emptied their freezers, prepared the food, and gave it away on to-go plates for anyone in Geneva County who needed a meal. This time of recovery will not be easy, but if we continue to help each other in whatever ways we are able, we will get through this.

If you or someone you know needs assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, please contact one of my offices. My staff and I work for you, and we are committed to ensuring that you know the options available to you during this trying time. Most importantly, please continue praying for the families who were impacted by this disaster.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby is a Republican from Montgomery.

1 month ago

Government-owned broadband a path to financial ruin

(Capital Research)

It’s a day of reckoning as sure as a sunrise.  This week, the City of Opelika sold its city-owned broadband system for pennies on the dollar (or, to be fair, nearly a quarter on the dollar).  With $43 million in debt and about $15 million in cumulative losses, the city (or rather its constituents) has poured $58 million into the project.  To fund the losses, the city has raised electric rates by over $5 a customer and forgone millions in services the profits of the city’s electric utility once funded.

If it’s any consolation, Opelika is not the first city to fire sale its broadband systems, and it won’t be the last.  Despite a near 100% failure rate of government-owned broadband systems, city officials across the nation—including nearby Andalusia-Alabama, pointing to the “success” in Opelika—seem committed to the path of financial ruin.  Government at its finest.

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With a $14 million sale price (about half the going rate per-subscriber for cable systems), the electric utility is left with $28 million in debt on the books for this network.  The $15 million in cumulative losses are a bygone.  With an annual payment of $1.4 million on that debt, the city’s electric ratepayers are forced to pony up nearly $10 per month per customer to fund it.  For what?  The city officials will tell you its for a “smart grid,” but that’s balderdash.  Chattanooga’s officials said the same to justify hiding the debt on the electric utility, only later to admit the truth.  Smart grid technologies don’t require $28 million in fiber for a city the size of Opelika.  In fact, it is not clear that the city uses much if any of that fiber for smart grid, or that whatever it is used for couldn’t be done using other technologies costing a fraction of that cost.

Only last year the city’s broadband network was described as a “success story.”  Now blame for its failure is being directed at the state for its lack of “help” and at competitors for doing what competitors do—compete.  The thought that extending the network into the county would have saved the network is absurd.  At best, it would have had Opelika’s electric customers subsidizing broadband services outside the city’s limits in areas where the revenue potential is relatively low and the deployment costs relatively high.  Perhaps a good situation for those out in the county, but not Opelika.

Mayor Fuller hopes the fire sale of the network will make the city “shine brighter,” but that seems a pretty low standard in light of the facts.

In an effort at positive spin on this fiasco, city officials point out that the people of Opelika now benefit from “competitive prices.”  Not so.  Companies make money when they sell at “competitive prices.” Competitive prices do not require millions in subsidies from captive electric ratepayers, to the tune of $1,250 in electric rates from the past and $115 per year per customer going forward.  Sadly, the ratepayers are left holding this $28 million bag of debt and there’s likely no way out.

Opelika’s enormous financial loss is, put simply, the result of bad decisions by government.  Bad government, in turn, falls in the lap of the voters.

Dr. George S. Ford is a graduate of Auburn University and the chief economist of the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal & Economic Public Policy Studies (www.phoenix-center.org).  He is one of the nation’s foremost experts in municipal broadband projects.

1 month ago

The sky is holding up just fine in Alabama

(Mark Seton/Flickr)

“The sky is falling, the sky is falling,” cried Chicken Little in the ancient European folk tale about a manic chicken who believes the world is coming to an end. The expression “the sky is falling” has passed into the English language as a common idiom indicating a hysterical or inaccurate belief that calamity is looming.

Twenty-five centuries later, lets cue, stage left…Walt Maddox.   The Mayor’s recent stump speech to a business luncheon in Birmingham was a cavalcade of doom and gloom.  A melancholy prognosis based on a miserable catalogue of what the liberal mayor believes is wrong with Alabama.  The Democrat from Tuscaloosa has hitched his caboose to the Chicken Little express.  Destination “Glum Town, USA.”

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Maddox told the suit and tie audience that he fears the millions of Alabamians who drive over the state’s roads face death every day, simply by crossing a bridge.  By his account Alabama’s bridges will collapse at any minute, killing commuters in droves.

The Democratic nominee, wants to bring Obamacare to the state – as his number one priority.  Maddox inferred if Alabama took the “free money,” the state could “afford to build a new UAB, think about that’.  We did think about that Walt, the money isn’t free.  Cash doesn’t fall from the money tree to be scooped up by liberals paying for socialist policies.  He believes “…there are literally two Alabamas.”  Sorry, you are wrong Walt.

While on the subject of free money – a recurring theme throughout the Maddox pitch – he wants to provide every felon released from Alabama’s jails a free iphone, so they can get about their business.  Not sure why, or who pays, but this smacks of the Obama Phone vote buying scandal.

Maddox is endorsed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun group “Mom’s Demand Action.”  Despite assurances to the contrary, Maddox toes the liberal anti gun line and is fundamentally opposed to the Second Amendment.  “[L]et me make my position clear. I will never favor taking any existing constitutional right away from any American unless we, as a people, come to the conclusion that restraint of some rights helps ensure the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness by all.”  Ummm, ok Mr. Mayor.

Sure, Walt Maddox is erudite, speaks without notes and is photogenic.  But Bobby Kennedy he is not.  There was no uplifting message.   No inspirational vision for Alabama.  There was no call to action.  Instead there was a pall of pessimism.  As Mr. Maddox trashed Alabama’s constitution, he conveyed despondency.  The Democrat downplayed the strong state economy that has a record number of Alabamians working in the state. Dismissed Governor Ivey’s 2019 education budget, the largest in Alabama in a decade.  He seemed disinterested in Alabama’s historically low unemployment.  But he did want to teach felons how to work their new iphones….so there is that.  Seem’s Mayor Chicken Little is afraid of a leaf falling on his tail.

LCDR Greg “GW” Keeley, USN (ret) is the Managing Partner of Dreadnaught. Keeley is a contributor to The Hill, Washington Times, Daily Caller, Fox News. He is a veteran of Iraq and, Afghanistan and served in the U.S Congress as Senior Advisor to the Vice Chairman of the House Armed Service Committee, the Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee and the Chairman of the Republican Senate Policy Committee.

Byrne: Water infrastructure vital to Alabama’s economy

(M. Kittrell/Alabama NewsCenter)

There are very few places in the United States that can boast the sort of diverse infrastructure we have here in Alabama. There are 11 interstates, over 3,000 miles of freight rail, 5 commercial airports, and more than 132,000 miles of rivers and stream channels in our state.

One of our state’s most important pieces of infrastructure is the Port of Mobile, the 10th largest port and fastest growing container terminal in the United States. With 41 berths, 5 million square feet of warehouses and yards, and covering 4,000 total acres, it has an economic impact of around 135,000 jobs in Southwest Alabama and generates more than $22 billion per year in economic value.

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Recent expansions and developments at the Port will only further grow the economic impact of the Port on not only Southwest Alabama but our entire state. For example, the recent announcement about a new roll-on/roll-off vehicle processing facility at the Port will help our state’s automotive manufacturing industry continue to grow.

Even with these impressive facts, it has been clear that our infrastructure throughout the country is in need of updates, repairs, and overhauls to ensure that we are at the cutting edge of transportation and innovation in order to compete economically on the world stage.

Last week, in a major bipartisan effort, Congress sent a piece of legislation to President Trump’s desk that will help to unlock the full economic potential of our region and state.

America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 passed the Senate last week, after passing out of the House a few weeks back. This bill authorizes funding for waterway projects, port improvement projects, and other important water infrastructure projects in all 50 states. Not only will this allow for much-needed infrastructure improvements, but the bill reinstates a “Buy America” provision for federally funded projects, meaning a boost for American steel producers.

Commonsense legislation like this will create jobs, incentivize the use of American-made products, and build our nation’s capabilities to produce, package, and transport goods all around the globe. It will also make our drinking water safer, improve our wastewater systems, combat algae blooms, and restore our nation’s beaches through grant programs.

The Army Corps of Engineers can move forward on improving our dams, locks, reservoirs, and shipping channels. We have a major Army Corps project that needs attention right here in Southwest Alabama. The project to deepen and widen the Mobile Bay Ship Channel has the ability to fundamentally alter the economic potential of the Port and create more jobs in our state. Senator Richard Shelby has long been a champion for this project, and I am committed to working with him to make it a reality.

Our shipyards, airports, and rail yards will all see an impact from waterway projects like this, and I am thankful to the members of the Senate and my colleagues in the House for passing this water infrastructure legislation to help propel Alabama even further into the 21st Century.

The future of Alabama rests upon our ability to look beyond the short term and into what will set us up for success for years to come. Focusing locally on important infrastructure projects will spur economic growth through business investment and job creation, and it will open up opportunities we don’t even know exist yet.

Investing in our infrastructure today will lead to a stronger tomorrow. I applaud the work of my colleagues in both the House and the Senate in making a better economic future possible through this vital water infrastructure legislation.

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

1 month ago

Roby: Rebuilding together

(M. Roby/Facebook)

Hurricane Michael, the third most powerful hurricane to ever make landfall on the United States mainland, ravaged areas of Alabama, Florida, and Georgia on October 10th. While only early estimates are available at this point in time, it has been reported that more than 650,000 homes and businesses across the Southeast lost power, and 60,000 of those are in Alabama. Thus far, the Coast Guard says it has rescued 30 people, mostly from badly damaged homes. Hundreds of families lost everything, and it has been confirmed that at least half a dozen people were killed.

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While Hurricane Michael appears to have done its worst in Panama City, Florida, and the nearby areas, Barbour, Dale, Henry, Geneva and Houston Counties in our district were also impacted. It could potentially take days, or even weeks, before we know the full scale of the damage, but we do know that Hurricane Michael is the most powerful storm to ever hit Houston County according to recorded history.

According to The Dothan Eagle, Dothan Fire Chief Larry Williams said crew members performed 22 rescues during the storm. We’ve not yet received official word on how many injuries there are, but we have been told there are several, some of which are severe. Crews across the Wiregrass remain in search and rescue mode to date.

Our farmers face significant troubles as well. While the full scale of the damage to local agriculture is still being assessed, Hurricane Michael dealt a devastating blow to cotton farmers in the area. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to view some of the cotton crop firsthand, and it was clear that our cotton farmers were set up to have a very good yield this year. Wiregrass peanut farmers are waiting to see the full extent of devastation to their crop, too.

As our cotton farmers, peanut farmers, and farmers of other commodities in our district learn more about the impact of this storm on their crops, my office is eager to assist in any way and will continue to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on assistance that may be available to impacted farms. Agriculture and its related industries are the engine of our economy in Alabama’s Second District, and this catastrophic storm has unfortunately resulted in an economic setback.

Hurricane Michael was an unprecedented disaster for our district and the Southeast. While the threat of severe weather is no longer hovering over us, those who live in the Wiregrass – and not to mention the people across the Florida Panhandle and parts of Georgia – are facing terrible damage. My office has been engaged with FEMA, the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, the American Red Cross, and others throughout this difficult time. We stand ready to assist in whatever ways we can as we work through the aftermath of this storm. I encourage anyone who lives in Alabama’s Second District to contact my office for help, and we will do all that we can to provide assistance and point you in the right direction. We are committed to ensuring no one endures this time of rebuilding alone.

Above all, please join me in praying for all those impacted by Hurricane Michael. Some families have lost their loved ones, their homes and their livelihoods. I encourage everyone to help out with relief efforts in whatever way you can. We should all be deeply thankful for the first responders and all those working to repair the damage. This is a very, very trying and difficult time for so many people across the Southeast, and we will get through it together.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby is a Republican from Montgomery.

1 month ago

Jefferson County sheriff impacted by #MyTurn movement

Mark Pettway and Mike Hale/Facebook)

It’s not clear to me how or why it happened, but running for elected office has become a #MyTurn movement.

#MyTurn went mainstream with the failed candidacy of Hillary Clinton. She had no policies, no vision for America, no apparent rationale to be elected president – except one: she thought it was her turn. So did the Democrat Party. She was going to be the first female president of the United States. That was the Clinton campaign in a nutshell – it’s my turn.

Quick disclaimer, I created the hashtag #MyTurn writing this piece.

In a few weeks, Alabamians will go to the polls to elect a governor, members of Congress and local elected officials. The #MyTurn movement is well represented at the local level.

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Let’s take the Jefferson County sheriff race fter the mayor of Birmingham, arguably the most crucial role in the Greater Birmingham region. The sheriff provides law enforcement to the county and maintains full law enforcement jurisdiction in all cities and townships. It’s an important, difficult job. The best person for the job should have the job. The street they live on, where they shop, and where their parents went to school are not qualifications. Nor is #MyTurn.

The Democrat running for sheriff of Jefferson County, Sergeant Mark Pettway, is a poster child for the #MyTurn movement. Like Hillary Clinton before him, he is not campaigning on new ideas to keep the community safe. He seems oblivious to the strides and initiatives made within the department he is meant to be part of.

Don’t take my word for it, let’s look at Pettway’s four-point “Pettway Protective Plan,” outlined in his recent mailer:

1. “Protect our children in school” by “increasing the presence of both law enforcement and protective equipment…”

Good idea, except it has already been done. Sheriff Hale implemented a program earlier this year to place a School Resource Officer in every Jefferson County School.

2. “Equipping Deputies with Body and Dash Cameras”

Maybe Pettway failed to show up at work the day the fifth-generation body and dash cameras were rolled out in Jefferson County? Maybe he doesn’t understand the enormous cost savings resulting from a cloud-based system. Pettway does not seem to understand technology and has no grasp of the tremendous effectiveness of the Metro Area Crime Center (MACC).

3. “Criminal Justice Reform so inmates can earn a GED or learn a trade”

I guess Mr. Pettway missed the memos over the years?  GED programs have been available in Jefferson County for a number of years.  An average pre-trial inmate stay is 145 days. Despite the relatively short time frame, in recent years between 35 and 60 inmates have graduated with a GED.

4. “Law Enforcement Training”

Maybe the sergeant hasn’t been keeping up with his own training? To quote the county’s own website, “The Sheriff’s Academy is the only law enforcement academy in the state where the training curriculum is specifically developed for the unique duties and responsibilities of deputy sheriffs. This allows for the teaching of departmental specific topics”.

Like any bona fide #MyTurn candidate, Pettway is validating the incumbent’s initiatives. The cruellest blow, perhaps, is that by ineffectively plagiarizing Sheriff Mike Hale’s programs, Pettway has given a big thumbs up to the incumbent and his policies. A sheriff is charged with keeping the county safe by enforcing law and order.

#MyTurn is not and should not be a qualification. Democrat or Republican, your safety and security depend on it. I urge you to vote for the most qualified, innovative person to wear the sheriff’s star. #MyTurn politics should not impact your safety. #MyTurn is the siren call of the unqualified. Just ask citizen Clinton.

LCDR Greg “GW” Keeley, USN (ret) is the Managing Partner of Dreadnaught.

He was recently included on The Yellowhammer Power & Influence 50 the annual list of the 50 most powerful and influential players in Alabama. Greg is a contributor to The Hill, Washington Times, Daily Caller, Fox News. He is a veteran of Iraq and, Afghanistan and served in the U.S> Congress as Senior Advisor to the Vice Chairman of the House Armed Service Committee, the Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee and the Chairman of the Republican Senate Policy Committee.

1 month ago

Rental scooters and innovation

(KPIX CBS SF Bay Area/YouTube)

Rental bikes and scooters came to Troy University this fall, courtesy of the rental company Spin. Similar efforts by Spin, Bird, and Lime across the country, however, have been met with controversy. The so-called “Scooter Wars” reflect how government permission affects innovation and growth.

Technology makes such rentals, long available in resort locales, economical. The companies use GPS tracking and electronic billing, and rentals can be unlocked by scanning a driver’s license. People leave the bike or scooter at their destination and an app directs customers looking for a ride to the nearest rental.

The companies use public spaces like sidewalks to “store” their rental units. This makes the rentals convenient for customers, as walking several blocks to and from rental locations would offset most of the time savings on short trips. Yet bikes and scooters clogging sidewalks have contributed to hostile reactions.

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Numerous cities have banned the scooter companies, including Miami (which banned Bird and Lime within weeks), Seattle, Boston, Nashville and St. Paul. The bans have occurred in part because the companies entered some cities by just dropping off bikes and scooters on the streets for use. And Miami’s ban may not be permanent; Denver, Portland and Salt Lake City all eventually permitted scooter rentals after initial bans.

The government permission of relevance is more than simple business licenses, which are generally issued upon completion of required paperwork and payment of relevant fees. Instead, the permission requested here can be denied altogether. And this alters the prospects for innovation in our economy.

Should scooter companies need permission slips from cities? This is where the “Scooter Wars” highlight an important tension. Are people free to do whatever the law does not prohibit? Or do we need permission from government to start new businesses, offer new products and services, or use our property as we wish?

Rentals undoubtedly raise some valid concerns. Increased bike and scooter use can affect traffic safety. The rentals take up space on sidewalks, interfering with pedestrians. They could obstruct building entrances. Wouldn’t it be wise for city officials to evaluate the tradeoffs involved and impose rules to reduce potential problems?

Yes, but unfortunately requiring government permission does not produce only wise and benign oversight. Government permission empowers a NIMBY, or Not in My Backyard, society. NIMBY becomes the default response when people can object to a new venture for any reason, good, bad, or imagined. Do you find scooters unsightly, annoying, or threatening? Then pressure city officials to ban them.

Requiring government permission also allows economic interests to block competition. Economist Joseph Schumpeter described capitalism as a process of creative destruction: automobiles, cell phones, and email rendered horse-drawn buggies, landlines, and traditional mail largely obsolete. Existing businesses, often long-standing pillars of local economies and politics, have an interest in preventing innovation. If local governments must give permission, people’s natural NIMBY reaction and existing business’ interests create biases against innovation.

The scooter companies resorted to surprise deployments as a means, I think, of counteracting government’s status quo bias. Miamians took 30,000 trips on Lime scooters while they were available, and these users also spoke to city officials. Ridesharing company Uber similarly sought to develop loyal local customers to fend off local political efforts to ban ridesharing.

Progress requires innovation, even though the new and different can be frightening. Unfortunately, the need to get government permission becomes a formula for stasis, as Tyler Cowen examines in The Complacent Class. And dynamic innovation doesn’t mix well with permission. Computers and technology have been leading sources of innovation in recent decades in part because innovation here often still doesn’t require permission.

Personally, I’m too uncoordinated to try to use an electric scooter. So don’t expect to see me on a Spin scooter soon. But regardless of your age or coordination level, the Scooter Wars’ clash between NIMBY and innovation matters for us all.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University.