The Wire

  • Auburn University’s online programs ranked among the best in the nation

    Excerpt:

    According to U.S. News & World Report’s 2019 Best Online Program rankings released on Tuesday, Auburn University’s online graduate programs are among the best in the nation.

    The university’s online programs that received high marks include the Harbert College of Business’ MBA program at No. 9 and non-MBA, No. 13; Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, No. 12; and College of Education, No. 22

  • Marsh donates to border wall construction fund

    Excerpt:

    As a demonstration of his commitment to border security, Alabama Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh (R-Anniston) has personally donated to an online campaign to fund the construction of a wall on America’s southern border.

    “It is obvious that we cannot rely on politicians in Washington to do their job,” Marsh said in a statement to Yellowhammer News. “I have always believed that controlling our borders and our national security is of the utmost importance which is why I supported immigration reform in Alabama in 2011 and why today, I am putting my money where my mouth is and personally donating to build the wall.”

  • Brooks urges State of the Union be held in Senate chamber

    Excerpt:

    On Thursday, Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-5) and House colleagues sent a letter to President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) proposing the president’s annual State of the Union Address be held in the Senate chamber in light of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s historic move to revoke Trump’s invitation to deliver the address.

    In the letter, Brooks and his House colleagues explained, “Holding the State of the Union in the Senate Chamber is the best way to reveal the veracity of Speaker Pelosi’s alleged once-in-history reason for [canceling] or postponing the State of the Union.”

4 hours ago

Alabama WFF Ramps Up CWD Sampling Effort

(Billy Pope)

With positive tests for chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Tennessee and additional positives in Mississippi, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division has ramped up testing in north Alabama.

WFF officials set up manned sampling stations in Hackleburg the first weekend of the new year and followed with sampling last weekend in Waterloo.

Self-service sampling stations were recently set up by WFF in north Alabama to accommodate drop-offs 24 hours a day.

1066

WFF Director Chuck Sykes said testing for the always-fatal disease, which is caused by a rogue protein called a prion, has been ongoing since 2002, but the positive tests in neighboring states caused WFF to increase its sampling effort.

“The Mississippi positives made us test more in the areas that joined Mississippi,” Sykes said. “When the deer in Tennessee tested positive, it prompted an increased level of testing where it fell within the response zone. Those positives just prompted us to increase our surveillance in those areas.”

Sixteen deer were brought in for sampling at the Hackleburg station, but Sykes said the interaction with hunters who didn’t harvest deer may have been the most productive aspect of the manned sampling station.

“We didn’t know what to expect, but I consider it a success for a volunteer check station,” Sykes said. “More important than the 16 deer brought in, we had two times that many hunters stop by and ask questions. It was a really good way for our staff to get in front of the public, and the public to be able to ask questions one-on-one.”

Sykes and the WFF staff discovered that, although the Division has been immersed in the CWD Response Plan, it has yet to be widely discussed in the public.

“We (WFF) are up to our eyeballs in CWD,” Sykes said. “Even though we’ve offered seminars, done articles and put up billboards, a lot of people don’t pay attention until it hits close to home. A lot of the questions were just basic CWD knowledge that the average hunter in Alabama doesn’t understand. What is it? Why is it a problem? What makes it different from other diseases? These were very positive interactions. There was nothing negative about it.”

Sykes said the self-service sampling stations are part of the standard protocols of the CWD Response Plan (https://www.outdooralabama.com/deer-hunting-alabama/chronic-wasting-disease-what-you-should-know).

“With the positives in Mississippi and Tennessee within 50 miles of our border, that prompts us to do more testing in those areas,” he said. “It’s been shown time and time again that hunter-harvested deer and road-kills are the best ways to achieve samples and to get the most out of those samples. Just going in and randomly shooting deer is okay, but in areas that have had CWD for a long time, there is a higher predominance in road-kill deer and hunter-harvested deer because they lose their sense of wariness. The most effective way to sample is by hunter-harvested deer and working with ALDOT (Alabama Department of Transportation) to identify road-kills.”

Above all, Sykes said he wants hunters to continue to pursue deer just like they always have.

“Again, this is not something to cause people to quit hunting,” he said. “We need them to become educated on what CWD is. Don’t rely on what they’ve heard at hunting camp or what they saw on Facebook. Talk to us to try to understand the disease and what we’re doing to try to prevent it.”

Sykes reiterated how hunting, especially deer hunting, is a cornerstone in Alabama’s culture and economy. Hunting has an almost $2 billion impact annually on Alabama’s economy.

“This is not a hunter issue,” he said. “This is not even a deer hunting issue. This is a State of Alabama economic issue and a way of life issue. We need people to understand what’s going on, and we need their assistance to gather these samples in the most efficient way so we can stay on top of it. Heaven forbid, if it does get here, we will be prepared to mitigate the risks as much as possible.”

Previously, tissue samples had to be sent out of state to be tested for CWD. In 2018, WFF provided funds for the Alabama Department of Agriculture to purchase CWD testing equipment, which was set up at Auburn University. The equipment and technician have been certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and can test up to 90 samples per day.

Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship said the new CWD testing equipment speeds up the state’s response time considerably.

“We don’t have to wait on anybody,” Blankenship said. “We take our samples to the Department of Agriculture lab at Auburn University. We will get those test results quickly and be able to respond as soon as possible.”

The freezers for the self-service sample stations are located in Fayette, Lamar, Marion, Franklin, Lauderdale, and Colbert counties and are available to receive deer head samples 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

At the self-service locations, hunters must first remove the deer’s head with 4-6 inches of neck attached. For bucks, antlers can be removed at the base of each antler or by removing the skull plate before bagging the head. Hunters will then place the head in the provided plastic bag and tie it closed. They will need to complete all sections of the Biological Sample Tag, and attach the tag to the bag with a zip tie. Hunters will take the bottom receipt portion of the Biological Sample Tag before placing the bagged head in the freezer. All materials needed to drop off a sample are provided at each freezer location.

Locations of the self-service CWD drop-off sampling sites are:

Fayette County, Fayette County Extension Office, 650 McConnell Loop, Fayette, Ala., 35555

Lamar County, Hunter’s Gold Processing, 11634 County Rd. 9, Millport, Ala., 35576

Marion County, Watson’s Grocery, 5658 State Highway 19, Detroit, Ala., 35552

Franklin County, Fancher’s Taxidermy, 715 Newell Rd., Red Bay, Ala., 35582

Lauderdale County, Florence Frozen Meats, 1050 South Court St., Florence, Ala., 35630

Colbert County, Yogi’s Texaco, 17750 US Highway 72, Tuscumbia, Ala., 35674

Hunters can also have deer sampled at any WFF District Office (www.outdooralabama.com/wildlife-section) or at the WFF office in Marengo County at 1105 Bailey Dr., Demopolis, Ala., 36732, phone number 334-289-8030. WFF offices are open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Before dropping off the sample, hunters should call ahead to make sure a biologist is available.

Sykes said the test results will be emailed to the hunter within three to four weeks.

Currently, self-service freezers are located throughout northwest Alabama only because of the increased surveillance samples needed in the response zones of the CWD-positive locations in Mississippi and Tennessee.

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.

Byrne: Get the show on the road

(Screenshot / YouTube)

It is time for the Democrat leaders in Washington to stop posturing when it comes to border security and end the government shutdown.

The old expression “get the show on the road” is very apt in this situation. But, truth be told, the show is already on. There is no better way to describe the Democrat strategy right now than as a show, playing to their audience.

The Democrats have lost touch with what matters to Americans outside of their bubble. They continue to play to the far-left base of their party in order to placate the loudest voices. But the loudest voices don’t always have the best interests of the American people at heart.

466

President Trump has made many efforts to work with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on a deal, but those efforts have fallen on deaf ears.

Last Wednesday, the president asked Speaker Pelosi if she would be willing to negotiate for a deal to open the government quickly and provide funding for border security at a later date. Speaker Pelosi answered “no.” If Democrats aren’t willing to negotiate, then what is President Trump to do? He can’t negotiate with himself.

I have heard from many folks in Alabama expressing their disbelief that Congress has not yet provided the necessary funds to secure our border, build a wall and reopen the remaining 25 percent of the federal government.

I cannot help put echo the sentiment of my fellow Alabamians: why would a member of Congress not support something as commonsense as border security to end the partial shutdown?

In the past, Democrats have supported these commonsense national security priorities such as fencing, barriers, and increased border funding, but there is something different going on here.

It appears that it is not enough for the Democrats to earn a win. Instead, it must be that President Trump gets a loss. And the sad part is, the people that lose the most in this situation are the hardworking American taxpayers contributing their time, efforts, and skills to the betterment of our communities.

Roughly 800,000 federal employees are currently on furlough, some continuing to work without pay. Last Friday, many of those people missed a paycheck. That is simply unacceptable, especially when the solution is one that both puts these people back to work and improves our national security.

More than this, Americans have been greatly affected already by illegal immigration and the crisis taking place on our southern border.

A big issue is the flow of illegal drugs. Hundreds of thousands of men and women in the United States have fallen victim to the evils and unbelievable effects of drug addiction and overdose. Many of those illegal drugs have their origins in Central and South America.

All throughout the country, we have heard horror stories of illegal immigrants committing horrendous crimes. We had an illegal immigrant in Shelby County, Alabama rape a young girl, and everyone has heard the story of the police officer in California who was murdered by an illegal immigrant. In many of these crimes, the illegal immigrant had even been deported before and managed to reenter the country illegally a second time.

Crimes happen every day, but these crimes were preventable.

We must act, we must enforce border security, and we must provide the funds necessary to get the job done. I call on Democrats to stop with the show, come to the table, negotiate with President Trump, and let’s get the government back open.

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

6 days ago

Controlling the price of drugs

(AF Medical Service)

Can the government lower the price of prescription drugs? The effects of price ceilings provide a cautionary warning, even though price controls appear to work in other countries. Unfettered competition generally provides a more effective way to keep prices in line with costs.

Several government efforts seek to lower drug prices. The Trump Administration has proposed basing Medicare Part B prices on international prices. The Department of Health and Human Services found that the U.S. had the highest average price for 27 drugs, almost double the international average. Forty six states are suing 15 generic drug makers for price fixing. Senator Elizabeth Warren wants the Federal government to manufacture generic drugs to eliminate profit-seeking.

Price ceilings demonstrate government’s rather limited ability to reduce prices and ensure adequate supplies. A price ceiling is a legal maximum price for a good. For instance, a law might set a maximum price for gasoline at say $2 a gallon and prosecute anyone selling for more. Would this ensure drivers reasonably priced gas?

522

Not really. Market transactions require a willing buyer and seller. Businesses aren’t charities and will not operate at a loss. While occasionally businesses sell at a loss, they must normally expect to cover costs.

A price ceiling does not require any firm to sell. If the wholesale price of gasoline were $2.50, a station facing a $2 price ceiling will shut down. Price ceilings set below the market price produce shortages, meaning that some consumers will go without.

Price ceilings have long been popular with emperors and legislatures, as Forty Centuries of Wage and Price Controls details. Price controls were included in ancient Babylon’s Code of Hammurabi and contributed to the suffering of George Washington’s army at Valley Forge. A lower legal price appears to benefit consumers but does not make the good available.

Pharmaceutical companies charge more than $10,000 a month for some cancer drugs. To the extent that such prices reflect costs of research, development and manufacture, setting a $5,000 legal maximum price will reduce the quantity of drugs available. A shortage of life-saving drugs costs lives.

The development and approval process accounts for much of the cost of drugs. According to Tufts University’s Center for the Study of Drug Development, the development costs for drugs that reach the market are $2.6 billion. The cost of manufacturing many drugs is often low. Price controls may not prevent sales of already developed drugs, but rather reduce development of new drugs.

If price controls are generally ineffective, why do other countries pay less for prescription drugs than we do? Restrictions on importation allow the same drug to sell at different prices in different countries. If a company sells at a price covering most of the development cost on the U.S. market, it could accept a lower price in Europe. This makes price ceilings appear effective. Yet someone must pay for development costs. If we match other nations’ low prices, we may not have future wonder drugs.

Instead of resorting to price controls or litigation, I think we should try more competition. Let’s let pharmaceutical companies undercut each other’s prices in the pursuit of profit.

Two sets of policies currently limit competition. One is patents for medicines. Patents grant inventors a temporary monopoly to allow them to earn back the costs of research and development. The second is the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval, which requires demonstration of a new drug’s safety and effectiveness. Limiting competition facilitates price fixing as well.

Limited competition in generic drugs, whose patents have expired, illustrates the vulnerability of government rules to manipulation for profit. Generic drugs copy successful drugs and are clearly safe and effective, yet the FDA’s approval process limits the number of producers. Smart and greedy companies profit by manipulating the rules, like finding generics without approved alternative producers and raising the price.

More government regulation will not end the profitable manipulation of government rules, it will only create more rules to manipulate. Streamlining the patent and drug approval processes offers a better path to a steady supply of reasonably priced pharmaceuticals.

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

Roby: Congress and the administration are fighting human trafficking

(WhiteHouse.Gov, M. Roby)

In the spirit of welcoming a new year, I have recently spent time reflecting upon the many positive developments we experienced in our district, state, and country in 2018. Unemployment is historically low, our economy is booming, and hardworking Americans are getting to keep more of the money they earn thanks to our tax reform overhaul.

2018 brought many accomplishments that we should absolutely celebrate, but last year also included a devastating statistic that we cannot ignore: In the United States, more than 8,500 human trafficking cases were reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH) in the last 12 months alone. According to the NHTH, for the first half of 2018, there were 36 human trafficking cases reported in Alabama. There are nearly 25 million victims of human trafficking worldwide, and until this number is zero, we have work to do.

405

This problem is out of control, and I am glad to report that President Trump has designated the month of January 2019 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. In recent weeks, he has signed into law four bills that demonstrate our commitment to ending human trafficking and bringing these criminals to justice. Most recently, the President signed S. 1862, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which tightens criteria for whether countries are meeting standards for eliminating trafficking.

Last month, President Trump signed into law the Abolish Human Trafficking Act, which strengthens programs supporting survivors and increases resources for combatting this modern-day form of slavery. Here in Alabama, there are several organizations that provide shelter, transitional housing, and other services to individuals who have been trafficked. You can visit here to learn more about these critical resources available to survivors in our state.

The president also recently signed the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act. This legislation authorizes $430 million to fight sex and labor trafficking.

Finally, President Trump signed into law S. 1312, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, to establish new prevention, prosecution, and collaboration initiatives to bring human traffickers to justice swiftly. It is imperative that we hold these criminals responsible for their heinous crimes, and I am proud of this measure to do so.

Human trafficking is plaguing our country, but the underground nature of the problem often makes it difficult for authorities to estimate the full scale of its impact. Still, it happens in our communities every single day in plain sight, and it is our responsibility to tackle the issue head-on. It is especially important that we act quickly when we see these crimes occur. If at any point you have information or believe you see something questionable, immediately call the Alabama State Bureau of Investigation at 334-242-1142, or file a report online. The National Human Trafficking Hotline can be reached by calling 1-888-373-7888.

It’s hard to grasp the severity of a problem that often goes unseen, and it is especially difficult to combat it. That’s why I am very grateful that Congress and the Trump Administration are working together to make real strides towards addressing this crisis. We must continue to make it crystal clear that this horrendous form of modern-day slavery has no place in the United States and that we are committed to fighting it every step of the way.

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

Rogers’ report from Washington: Pelosi’s liberal agenda takes shape

(Congressman Mike Rogers/Facebook, Speaker.gov)

On January 3, the 116th Congress convened under the control of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

As folks across East Alabama know, a few days before Christmas, the federal government partially shutdown because of the Senate’s unwillingness to consider House passed legislation that funded the government for the rest of the fiscal year along with over $5 billion for the border wall system.

384

I, along with many of my House Republican colleagues, stand with President Trump that we need to build the border wall on our Southwest border with Mexico.

Now, we find ourselves in a new year and a new Congress with the federal government partially closed, as of this writing, and the crisis continues unabated at our border.

Thousands of people from Central America continue to make the extremely dangerous journey, putting themselves and their children in harm’s way, drawn here because of our porous Southwest border. The continued availability of this illegal entryway only exacerbates the humanitarian crisis. This is in addition to the national security crisis America faces because of all the things we don’t know about the folks coming here illegally.

As of now, Democrats are coming to the table with no solutions or offers of compromise, but just simple refusal to build a wall.

Nancy Pelosi, who supports open borders and sanctuary cities, has even gone as far as calling a border wall “immoral.”

As if the Democratic shut down wasn’t enough, when Pelosi took control of the House, Democrats hit the ground running to push a liberal agenda from day one.

Our first week back, Democrats voted to raise taxes on working families as well as allow our taxpayer dollars to be used for abortions in foreign countries.  Talk about what’s truly immoral.

They also passed what I called in my House Floor speech a “smoke and mirrors” vote to reopen the government without a cent of funding for the border wall.

But of course, instead of staying in town to do their jobs and find a way to reopen the federal government, Democrats blocked that vote and headed home for the weekend.

As the incoming Ranking Member on the House Committee on Homeland Security, securing our borders is a priority for me.

I will continue to stand with President Trump because I know firsthand how dangerous the situation is if we don’t take control of our borders. A sovereign nation is a nation with borders.

As always, I want to hear from you on this or any issue.

Please sign up for my e-Newsletter and the Rogers’ Roundup by visiting www.mikerogers.house.gov.

To stay up to date, you can also like me on Facebook,  follow me on Twitter and Instagram using the handle RepMikeRogersAL, and subscribe to my YouTube page.

1 week ago

Marsh: Washington politicians toy with American security

(Del Marsh/Facebook, ICE/Flickr)

Over the past several weeks, squabbling over the border wall has filled the airwaves and newspaper pages. Washington politicians have bickered endlessly about how much our sovereignty and our security is worth, but outside of the Washington bubble the need for the wall, and an immigration system rooted in the rule of law, is clear.

Alabamians were again reminded of the serious consequences of our open border and broken immigration system.

Last week, we learned Amancio Betancourt Martinez, who has been charged with raping a young girl in Shelby County, is in this country illegally. In fact, he has a criminal record that includes drug trafficking and giving false information to law enforcement. He was previously deported in 2015 and re-entered our country illegally.

456

Unfortunately, crimes like this are all too common, and they are preventable.

According to the White House, in fiscal years 2017 and 2018, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers arrested approximately 235,000 illegal aliens on various criminal charges or convictions inside the United States. It is estimated 60,000 illegal and inadmissible aliens seek to cross our southern border each month.

Securing our southern border would have prevented this horrific crime and other crimes committed by illegal aliens. Failure to secure our border and fully enforce immigration law undermines our sovereignty, our economic security, and most importantly, the safety of American citizens. Our nation is failing to meet its most basic obligations.

America is a nation of laws, and Alabamians want an immigration system that is rooted in the rule of law. They want criminals, like Amancio Betancourt Martinez, deported, and they want to be sure they cannot return to the United States. They want their state and their country to be free of sanctuary cities that welcome illegal aliens.

Washington politicians are to blame for the massive failure. They have played politics with our national security, and the American people have suffered because of it.

But no one holds more responsibility than Washington Democrats who are willing to shut down the government because they care more about satisfying their liberal base, protecting illegal aliens and pandering for votes than they do about our national security. Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats balk at the cost of a wall, but she gave over 10 times the amount the president is asking for to foreign governments. These out of touch Washington liberals put other countries’ interests before our own to the detriment American citizens. That’s just plain wrong.

Washington should take our national security seriously, provide the small amount of money for the border wall and end this needless government shutdown. Alabamians deserve better than to be treated like players in a political game of football, they deserve to feel safe in their homes. One Amancio Betancourt Martinez is one too many. He should never have been in this country.

In Alabama, we put the interests of our citizens first and foremost. We have worked to keep Alabamians safe and uphold the rule of law. In the state senate, I led the fight to implement sweeping immigration reform that stops Alabama cities from harboring illegal immigrants and protects our families from violent criminals.

We will always look for opportunities to strengthen immigration laws and keep our citizens safe. We will always put Alabamians first.

Del Marsh is president pro tempore of the Alabama Senate, representing the 12th District

Byrne: What’s ahead in 2019

(U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne/Facebook)

With 2018 behind us, it is time to start looking at what you can expect from Washington in 2019. Under Republican leadership, we in Congress aimed to make America better off, and thanks to our many victories through conservative policies, we accomplished that goal.

Under Democrat control, there is no telling what craziness will come out of the House of Representatives.

543

We have already seen this past week the extent House Democrats will go to in undermining our president, with one going as far as to use profanity at an event in describing her efforts to impeach President Trump.

Even more have spoken out against commonsense initiatives to fund border security and lower taxes.

It seems that the new Democrat majority has gone so far out there that they, like Alice, have gone “Through the Looking Glass” into a world of topsy-turvy nonsense for which the United States will reap the consequences.

Rest assured, though, that in spite of this atmosphere of negativity I will continue to advocate for the American people. To give you an insight into how I will accomplish that, below are just a few of my priorities this year.

Strong leadership will be needed to support traditional family values, conservative principles, and to stand up for President Trump and his “drain the swamp agenda.” I will seek to provide this leadership in opposition to Speaker Pelosi’s liberal priorities that are out of line with Alabama values.

Advocating for sound national security policy is vital for the safety of the American people. Regardless of Democrat obstruction, I will continue to fight for a border wall and increased security measures along our southern border to keep Americans safe.

Rebuilding our military is essential for the safety and security of the United States both at home and abroad, and Alabama is vital to our country’s national defense efforts. I will focus on ensuring Alabama’s service members, military installations and suppliers receive proper attention from the Pentagon and resources necessary for them to fulfill their important missions.

I will also ensure that the needs of Alabama’s large veteran population are met and continue to advocate to give our veterans better care both inside and outside of the VA system.

Although the economy is improving throughout Alabama, our rural communities continue to struggle, and our agriculture community faces many challenges. I will support sound federal investment in Alabama’s rural communities in areas like agriculture, broadband, healthcare and infrastructure to continue their revitalization.

The core element of economic development is leadership. I will continue to provide that leadership for Southwest Alabama to marshal resources, advocate for Alabama workers and foster a climate of business development in our great state.

Another element of this priority is developing Alabama’s workforce and providing for our diverse educational institutions. We must remain committed to building and training a workforce to meet the needs of the 21st Century economy.

A key bipartisan goal of this Congress will be to work with the President on an infrastructure package. Starting with the I-10 bridge, Alabama has a variety of infrastructure needs that should benefit from any such package. I will continue to see that the infrastructure needs of the state are properly accounted for and that attention is also given to projects in rural areas.

Every day I take immense pride in representing the people of our state and the people of our great nation. I will always take my role to heart because you depend on it, and I will always take the interests of Alabamians to the Floor because we cannot let the insanity of the left negatively impact the course of the United States.

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

2 weeks ago

Roby: Reflecting on 2018 and looking ahead to the 116th Congress

(M. Roby)

2018 was a fantastic year in many ways for our district, state, and country. From outstanding economic news here in Alabama’s Second District to a strong new farm bill and proper defense funding, there was a lot to celebrate last year and much work to continue as we welcome 2019. The 116th Congress was recently sworn-in, and I am honored to represent our district in the House for another two years.

556

For starters, in 2018, we began to see the results of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, our historic tax reform overhaul that fosters economic growth, creates jobs here in the United States, and allows hardworking Americans to keep more of the money they earn. As a direct result of tax reform, here in Alabama’s Second District, we saw several businesses open facilities in our communities, expand existing operations, offer pay increases to employees, hire additional workers, and more. I am looking forward to seeing this positive momentum continue in 2019 – Alabama is open for business!

2018 also marked the first year in a decade that we were able to fully fund our military on time. This measure included funding for Army Aviation programs important to Fort Rucker. The legislation also allocates funding for F-35 aircraft, some of which will soon be flown by the 187th Fighter Wing at Dannelly Field in Montgomery. Throughout my time in Congress, I have said time and time again that we must ensure our military remains the tip of the spear. I am proud of our efforts in 2018 to make good on that responsibility, and I’ll continue this important work through the 116th Congress.

This past year, we also received the exciting news that Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base will receive funding from the Air Force’s Fiscal Year 2019 military construction account for a new air traffic control (ATC) tower. I have personally climbed up the ATC at Maxwell and can attest to how dangerous it is and how badly it needs to be replaced. I’ve advocated for this project for several years, and I am thrilled it is finally becoming reality and that Alabamians will see some of their tax dollars at work in this tangible way.

In still more positive news for 2018, Congress passed and the President signed into law historic reforms at the Department of Veterans Affairs, including the VA MISSION Act, which funds the Choice Program that countless veterans depend on to receive care. I believe this important measure will make it easier for veterans to secure private care when they need it. While I am proud of this step, much work remains to ensure that our veterans receive proper treatment, and I will continue to fight for improvements at the VA in the year ahead.

Most recently, Congress passed and the President signed into law the 2018 farm bill to provide certainty to the American families who work every day to provide the food and fiber we depend on. In Alabama’s Second District, agriculture is the largest employer, so I know how important it is that Congress honor our commitments to the farmers and producers all over our country. I am very proud of our efforts to do just that, and I will continue to advocate for smart agriculture policy in the new Congress.

There are many more noteworthy accomplishments that our unified Republican government was able to deliver for the American people in 2018, and while the 116th Congress will bring some changes and challenges with a Democrat majority in the House, I will continue to fight for the commonsense conservative priorities I share with the people I represent. From my family to yours, Happy New Year. May God bless you, and may he continue to bless our country.

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

2 weeks ago

While the Supreme Court deliberates, Alabama should shine the light on asset forfeiture

(W.Miller/YHN)

The U.S. Supreme Court recently signaled that it’s ready to limit the government’s power to confiscate things like cars, houses, and cash that prosecutors have proven, or maybe just reasonably suspect, were involved in crimes.

The court heard oral arguments related to Indiana’s use of the power, known as asset forfeiture, to confiscate a $42,000 vehicle — a value nearly four times the maximum fine for the underlying crime. Specifically, the court is looking at whether the state is subject to the Eighth Amendment’s ban on imposing excessive fines.

666

But because the justices seemed so skeptical of asset forfeiture overall, some court watchers predict that while the impending ruling may not abolish the practice completely, it could have deep and wide-ranging impacts.

Including here in Alabama.

Our state’s asset forfeiture law has become increasingly controversial because it allows something called civil asset forfeiture, a maneuver in which law enforcement agencies legally seize assets based upon the mere suspicion of a crime.

Yes, you read that right.

Under state law, you don’t have to be charged or even convicted of a crime to have your property seized.

Originally intended to cut off the cash flow of drug cartels, civil asset forfeiture is a practice that is independent of personal guilt or innocence. Instead, police charge or suspect your assets of being involved in a crime, and then take them.

Civil asset forfeiture flips the innocent-until-proven-guilty mantra of the American judicial system because defendants must prove their innocence to get their property back. In the case that defendants decide to hire an attorney, the legal costs can rival the worth of the assets, making such attempts both prohibitively expensive and, at times, pointless.

A coalition including the Alabama Policy Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Institute for Justice supported efforts to reform the law during the last legislative session. But as negotiations in Montgomery waded into the details and potential unintended consequences arose, time ran out and the bill failed.

Why?

“It’s a complicated issue,” explained the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, in an AL.com postmortem of the effort.

Part of that complication lies in the delicate balance between liberty and order, and how much we’re willing to cede one for the other. That’s an age-old question and one that’s not easily resolved.

Proponents of asset forfeiture contend it’s an effective tool for law enforcement and helps keep drug dealers off the streets. Critics believe it goes too far and might even create a perverse financial incentive for police departments to take property from those who cannot defend themselves in court.

Both sides have valid points.

Another complication lies in the inability to know exactly how asset forfeiture is being conducted in Alabama. Law enforcement officials say they process forfeitures ethically, while some critics believe it’s a shadowy and unaccountable practice.

That, however, should be the simplest complication to settle.

The recent reform bill called for the creation and maintenance of a publicly accessible database containing relevant asset forfeiture information – what agencies were involved, what assets were seized, their value, the existence of any underlying crimes, etc.

Such transparency would not only build trust in the process, it would give both sides a common set of facts to discuss rather than rumors and disputed anecdotes.

Still, opponents of a database point to the fact that asset forfeiture cases are already public record since they’re all handled in one of Alabama’s 41 circuit courts.

That’s true, but that’s like telling concerned citizens to look for a needle in a haystack … or 41 haystacks, actually. We should expect more from our government when private property is being seized.

Another objection is, of course, the cost of maintaining such a database.

But if the purpose of seizing assets is to deprive criminals, or suspected criminals, of property used in the commission of crimes, and not as a method to fund their agencies, then shouldn’t they be okay with a portion of whatever is seized going to fund a database that would build trust in the system?

Meanwhile, supporters and opponents of asset forfeiture are eagerly anticipating the court’s ruling in June. Regardless of the decision, Alabama’s asset forfeiture law should take a step in the right direction … and into the light.

Pepper Bryars, author of American Warfighter, is a senior fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute. Follow him on Twitter at @jpepperbryars.

2 weeks ago

Corps’ announcement good for Dauphin Island, all of coastal Alabama

(Contributed)

The announcement by Republican U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne, (AL-1) that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will have the budget to place sand dredged from the Mobile Ship Channel in a newly expanded disposal site may ensure the long-term survival of Dauphin Island itself.

The dredged sand can now be placed in shallower water depths closer to the island, where it will migrate to the beaches. And this is great news for the broader ecosystem that we love about the coast, including beaches and dunes as well as speckled trout fishing, oysters, shrimp and crab.

424

For the past 50 years, the corps’ dredge disposal practices have cut off the natural pathway that has fed sand to the island for centuries. We need to dredge the beach-quality sands from the channel for safe navigation and a robust port economy. But we now, finally, may have the budget to put that sand where Mother Nature naturally placed it before the ship channel was built. Depositing sand in shallower depths will allow wave action to more rapidly drive it onto Dauphin Island’s west end beaches. It is a process called “artificial sand by-passing” because machines replicate the natural sand bypassing mechanisms that allow beach sands to migrate west across Mobile Pass.

The recently released National Climate Assessment outlined the impacts and risks of climate change, along with the adaptations that will be required. Along the coast, it is clear that sea level rise is already impacting many of American cities with increased flooding. Alabama is not immune.

The average sea level in coastal Alabama in 2016 and 2017 was the highest ever on record. It was roughly six inches higher than the average in the 1980s and 1990s. That is every low tide and every high tide. And sea level rise rates are projected to increase dramatically this century.

Dauphin Island, as Alabama’s only barrier island, protects and defines Mississippi Sound and all the marshes of the Bayou La Batre area and coastal south Mobile County. Those marshes are the very habitat where almost every juvenile fish, whether a sport species or a commercial species, is born and raised. When the island breached in the major hurricanes of 2004 and 2005, the state’s oyster industry collapsed and the marshes suffered.

But barrier islands like Dauphin Island have a natural ability to heal themselves and survive both sea level rise and hurricanes. The sands move and the island rolls over itself as it migrates landward. But those natural processes can only work if there is enough sand in the littoral system. And that is why this announcement by the Corps of Engineers is such good news. Keeping all the sands in the littoral system will allow the island to survive for future generations.

This is wise management of the beach sand resource, which is going to be vital for our coast’s long-term health. Several million dollars spent wisely now, and in the future when we dredge the ship channel, will save hundreds of millions through increased resiliency during hurricanes as sea levels rise — by preserving our barrier island.

Scott Douglass is a principal in South Coast Engineers in Fairhope, Ala., and a co-author of the National Climate Assessment. He is also author of the book “Saving America’s Beaches: The Causes of and Solutions to Beach Erosion.” His email address is scott@southcoastengineers.com.

3 weeks ago

Marshall: A personal New Year’s message

(AG's Office)

My fellow Alabamians, for many of us 2018 has been a year of hardship, of pain and loss. Our state as a whole has had its challenges, too. We’ve seen headlines of lives shattered by addiction, crime and violence. We’ve seen families torn apart and communities at odds. I am sure that I am not alone in my eagerness for a new year and a new chapter. Yet, as I reflect on the past year, I recognize that a year of hardship has brought to light some new perspectives that I want to carry into 2019. I share them with you in hopes that, as a state, we can look back over the coming year and say that we did our best to make Alabama a better place to live.

In 2019, I want to be kinder than I would normally be because, as the saying goes, everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle. As everyone now knows, my family was fighting a quiet battle for many years. The conversations that I’ve had with families across the state have opened my eyes to the fact that we were not alone in that. You really never know what burdens people are carrying and how your words can build them up or tear them down. I read something by Stephen Covey recently that resonated with me. He said, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” How different would our interactions with others be if we kept this in mind? In the New Year, I want to be more compassionate and patient with people I meet who may not be as easy to understand.

317

In 2019, I want to be more forgiving. If I have learned anything over the past year, it’s that life is too short to carry around anger and bitterness. And unforgiveness is a heavy load to carry. As evidenced by the local news around our state, the determination to settle a score has repeatedly resulted in the loss of life in some communities. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that the wrong done to us was right, and it often doesn’t come with an apology from the person or people who hurt us, but it frees us to focus on what is ahead rather than what is behind.

In 2019, I want to invest more in people. Admittedly, before I became attorney general, I was able to give more of my time to a variety of philanthropies — one of which remains very close to my heart, mentoring at-risk youth. Although my involvement may have to look a little different now, I want to make time to stay involved. The truth is, if we are tired of high crime rates and bad neighborhoods, then we have to be willing to play a small part in the solution. Alabama is blessed with numerous non-profits organized to serve children and teenagers who are statistically more likely to end up in prison. Find one in your area and get involved. Everyone can’t commit to mentoring, but studies show that simple hospitality, even just sharing a meal, can make a difference in the life of an at-risk youth. The first step is believing that you can have an impact.

Despite the difficulties of the past year, it was a great honor to be elected to serve as your attorney general. I appreciate your confidence in me and your support, even in the midst of some of my darkest days. I pray God’s blessings upon you and your families.

Happy New Year!

Steve Marshall is the Alabama attorney general

Bradley Byrne’s 2018 year in review

(U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne/Facebook)

2018 was a landmark year in many ways for Alabama and the United States. From defense funding to town halls, agriculture to red snapper, there was much to celebrate this year and much to anticipate in the next. Join me as we take a look back at the past year.

I kicked things off in January by celebrating my 100th town hall meeting in Grove Hill. I always enjoy meeting the folks in our area and hearing about the issues that matter most to them. This year, I hosted 25 town hall meetings throughout Southwest Alabama.

503

We made real strides in 2018 when it comes to our national defense, including passing much-needed funding for Alabama’s many defense priorities. I was proud to vote in favor of a funding bill that allows for the construction of three Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) and one Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF), which are built by Austal USA in Mobile. This funding helps us move toward a 355-ship Navy.

This marked the first time in ten years that we were able to fully fund our military on time, and in a bipartisan way. We funded critical Alabama defense priorities like the Austal shipyard; additional UH-60M Black Hawk, Lakota and Apache helicopters, which are critical to the Army aviation mission at Fort Rucker in the Wiregrass; $22.4 million went to the Stryker Upgrade program, which supports the work at the Anniston Army Depot; we increased funding to address cyber threats to our missile defense systems, which is critical to Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville.

This year, we were able to celebrate great developments for our local fishermen and coastal communities. In April, a 47-day red snapper season for recreational fishermen was announced. And just this December, NOAA Fisheries published a new rule to increase the annual catch limits and annual catch targets for the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico. These latest numbers further drive us forward in the fight for greater state control over the red snapper fishery.

Thanks to bipartisan reforms to our career and technical education programs, we are better able to give students tangible skills that help them succeed in real-world careers. In July, the House passed the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, which made reforms to the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act to ensure more Americans enter the workforce with the skills they need.

In 2018, we made real progress on infrastructure. We passed critical legislation to support our nation’s water infrastructure, including the Port of Mobile. We are also closer than ever before to building the I-10 Bridge.

And lastly, we were able to reach a bipartisan agreement on the 2018 Farm Bill to benefit our farmers and foresters in Alabama. The Farm Bill will allow for improved crop protections and loan options for farmers, incentivize rural development, support animal disease prevention and management, and will continue our nation’s commitment to agriculture and farmers. I am especially pleased to see the substantial resources provided to improve rural broadband access to communities.

The many victories we were able to secure for the American people cannot be condensed into this brief article, but rest assured that this year, Alabama and America are better off for the accomplishments made by the 115th Congress.

The next year will bring many changes with the Democrat majority in the House, but my New Year’s Resolution is simple: I will continue to fight for the people of Alabama each and every day.

From all of my staff, my family, and myself, we wish you a Happy New Year!

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

4 weeks ago

Zeigler: The birth of Christ changed the world

Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” At least, that is what the song claims. Is it, though? I choose to believe that it can be.

In this busiest of seasons, people take joy in helping others. There are toy drives and food drives; there are visits to nursing homes and hospitals. We reach out and help the unfortunate. We show our concern for each other in countless ways at Christmas because that is the focus of Christmas — showing Christ’s love.

120

When God sent Jesus to the earth in the form of a helpless infant, He demonstrated the unfathomable depth of His love for us. Even knowing that Jesus would be rejected and mocked and eventually killed, God still willingly sent His precious son. When we share ourselves with those we love, and especially with those we do not know, we are celebrating Christmas in its most real sense.

We celebrate Christmas with gifts, lights, music and feasts. When we remember the one small child whose birth changed the world, we celebrate the most wonderful time of the year in the best possible way — by sharing God’s love with a hurting world.

Jim Zeigler has been Alabama State Auditor since January 2015.

4 weeks ago

Roby: Sharing the true spirit of the season

(M. Roby/Facebook)

For many of us, life can get really busy during the holiday season. There are countless errands to run, meals to prepare, friends and family to visit, and so much more. It is all too easy to become distracted from what really matters during this special time of year.

I hope we will all commit to making a dedicated effort this year to demonstrate the true spirit of the season by spreading joy and hope in our communities. In particular, I encourage all of us to spread these holiday blessings to those who will spend this time of year in more difficult circumstances than most of us.

419

At this very moment, there are brave men and women, moms and dads, in our Armed Forces who are stationed overseas. They won’t experience the joy of spending this Christmas at home with their families. During my time in Congress, I have had the opportunity on several occasions to participate in the American Red Cross’ Holidays for Heroes campaign by writing holiday greeting cards to our active duty military personnel stationed around the world. For me personally, this has always been a moving experiencing. Sitting down to write directly to the men and women who spend their holiday away from family so that I might be able to spend the season with my own is incredibly humbling. I encourage you to reach out to the American Red Cross Central Alabama Chapter to find out how you and your family can spread joy to our troops overseas this Christmas. The Central Alabama Chapter is located at 5015 Woods Crossing in Montgomery and can be reached by calling (334) 260-3980.

At the same time, there are individuals right here in our own communities who are less fortunate and could greatly benefit from our efforts to offer hope by lending a helping hand. For those among us who are struggling financially, fighting an illness, or dealing with emotional difficulties, the holiday season can especially challenging. There are many organizations, including charities, shelters, volunteer organizations, and food banks, in our state that help connect individuals in need to others with the means to help. There are local opportunities to provide Christmas gifts to children in families who need assistance providing them. There are other opportunities to help organizations provide food for families who are unable to afford a nice holiday meal. If you cannot commit to some of these efforts for financial reasons, you can always serve your community by volunteering. The Alabama Governor’s Office of Volunteer Services is a great place to start if you’d like to find ways to give back and offer hope to those who need it. You can reach them by visiting this link or by calling (334) 242-1549.

As the busyness of the holiday season continues, let us all commit to making a special effort to spread joy to our service members overseas and offer hope to those who are less fortunate by giving back to our communities.

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas! We have so much to be thankful for, and I am thankful to serve you in Congress.

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

Byrne: Christmas traditions old and new

(Rep. Bradley Byrne/Facebook)

I was recently asked what my favorite Christmas tradition is and found that a surprisingly hard question to answer.

It seems that nearly every moment is a tradition with my family, and that makes it hard to pick just one.

From making gumbo Christmas Eve morning to wrapping presents to gathering on Christmas Day, there are so many individual moments that add up to make the season special.

523

This year, we have added new traditions to our family’s celebration with our grandchildren, MacGuire and Ann-Roberts. There was no greater scene of pure joy than when we picked out our Christmas tree with them, and then as they helped Rebecca and me decorate the tree.

After I thought more on my what favorite Christmas tradition is, I reflected on why we celebrate the Christmas season in the first place.

The church’s liturgical calendar begins with the season of Advent. From the lighting of the first candle, the new year has begun, anticipating the birth of our Savior on Christmas. The entirety of the year depends upon the preparation for and celebration of the birth of Christ. Epiphany, Lent, and Easter all rely on that first candle’s light proclaiming the coming of the Lord, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

Similar, yet still very different, to our holiday preparations today, there were many small moments that added up to the joy of that first Christmas night. From the angel proclaiming the news to Mary, Mary telling Joseph, and the long trek to Bethlehem, many small parts had to come together in the Town of David.

My favorite Christmas tradition is without a doubt going to church as a family on Christmas Eve and worshipping Jesus on his birth.

From the light of the first candle, all those in attendance on Christmas Eve light their own candles. No one person’s candle could light the church, but together, we all fill the church with the soft amber glow.

In the same way, the good news of the birth of Christ cannot be proclaimed by one person alone. His light must be carried by millions, proclaiming His word and salvation.

After the readings, hymns, prayers, homily, and communion my favorite portion of the service occurs.

The first few bars of Silent Night are played, and the church joins in together with the choir. Slowly, all the lights in the church are extinguished, and we are left to sing the last verse in darkness.

The last line fades into the dark of the night, “sleep in heavenly peace…” and all is still.

That moment of calm reflection on the entirety of the past year, the highs and lows, rejoicing and tears, makes one think of how truly blessed we are in our daily lives.

Those living in the darkness of fear, illness, poverty, or other challenges this year, I hope you take comfort this Christmas season in the words written in John 1:5, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

For my family, friends, and staff, I am thankful for the past year we have shared together and anticipate the joys of the next.

And to the people of Southwest Alabama, I say thank you for your generosity, kindness, and prayers throughout the years. I look forward to hearing from you and serving you next year.

As you celebrate your favorite Christmas traditions this year, I hope you take a moment to give thanks for your blessings and remember the birth of our Savior.

From my family to yours, we wish you a very Merry Christmas!

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

4 weeks ago

Perkins V will require group effort

(AlabamaWorks!)

On July 31, 2018, the president signed the Strengthening the Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V) into law.

This provides the primary source of federal direction to states regarding the implementation of Career and Technical Training programs for secondary and post-secondary students. The new law maintains the general structure and themes of the previous Perkins law, but provides some new opportunities for tighter alignment of programs of study to data-driven workforce needs.

321

One new component of Perkins V is a local needs assessment which must be completed every two years. The data from this assessment will include labor market information to identify the high-wage, high-skill, in-demand occupations so that local colleges and school systems can tailor their programs to match. The needs assessment will also look at strategies to address the needs of underserved populations to identify ways to close their performance gaps.

The new Perkins law is also intentionally aligned with the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act so that the two workforce plans can be developed in concert and submitted as one combined workforce development plan. Alabama leaders will maximize this opportunity and are building a coalition of state workforce agencies and partners. Through joint planning, we aim to fully realize the availability of training for Alabamians and make the best possible use of federal funds to support our citizens with the highest quality services.

The full Perkins V and WIOA plans will take effect in June of 2020. In the meantime, there is a lot of work to do. The governor’s office, the Alabama State Department of Education, the Alabama Community College System and the long list of WIOA partners are beginning now to gather the data and shareholder input needed to write an effective combined plan.

We will be calling heavily on our workforce partners in the AlabamaWorks! network to play key leadership roles in the development of this plan, which will ultimately result in adding an extra 500,000 Alabamians who hold a post-high school credential (AlabamaWorks Success Plus). It will take all of us working together to make sure every business in Alabama has access to a ready workforce, and all citizens have the skills they need to gain meaningful employment and advance along their chosen career pathway.

You will be hearing more about this assessment in your local area and how you can participate. We hope all of you will join us in this valuable endeavor.

Josh Laney is the senior director for Workforce Development for the Alabama State Department of Education

1 month ago

Andy Andrews: Meteor smoke trail at Orange Beach

(Andy Andrews)

Good morning again, from Orange Beach!

The photograph above is what the sky looked like at the beach this morning. It was about 6:15, the water was beautiful, but it was an odd sunrise. At least I’d never seen one like it. Was that a straight cloud coming out of the bigger one? Yep. What the heck?

As the morning grew brighter, the straight line began to take on a pink color, then a deep pink. And suddenly, I could see that the straight line extended above the cloud as well. Very cool, but I still didn’t know what it was.

262

As I drove back home, I considered what I had seen. To me, it looked as if something big had pierced the cloud. And according to the American Meteor Society, founded in 1911 (thank you, Google), that’s exactly what happened!

In Google’s words:

Several thousand meteors of fireball magnitude occur in the Earth’s atmosphere each day. The vast majority of these, however, occur over the oceans and uninhabited regions, and a good many are masked by daylight. Those that occur at night also stand little chance of being detected due to the relatively low numbers of persons out to notice them.

Occasionally, however, the fireballs develop one of two possible types of trails behind them: trains and smoke trails. Most trains last only a few seconds, but on rare occasions a train may last up to several minutes.

The second type of trail is called a smoke trail and is more often seen in daylight fireballs than at night. Generally occurring below 80 km of altitude, smoke trails are a non-luminous trail of particulate stripped away during the ablation process. These appear similar to contrails left behind by aircraft and can have either a light or dark appearance according to the time of day and amount of sunlight available.

(Andy Andrews)

So, wow! Here is the photo I took at 6:25. Notice the smoke trail above, as well as below, the cloud.

Andy Andrews new weekly podcast, “The Professional Noticer” is being broadcast from Orange Beach, Alabama and already has listeners in 63 countries. Subscribe for free on your favorite media platform or at AndyAndrews.com/Podcast.    

Byrne: A week of good news

(Rep. Bradley Byrne/Facebook)

There was much to celebrate this past week in Washington.

That sentence may surprise you if you just go off what you hear from the national news media, but the reality is we continue to get work done here in the People’s House.

559

To be clear, there is still work to be done, and that starts with passing funding necessary to secure the border and protect the American people. That said, I think it is worth pausing for a moment and reviewing the wins from this past week.

One of the biggest wins last week was passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.

As I have said before, our farmers and foresters are our future. I am pleased to have voted for this bipartisan legislation to better support our farmers in Alabama and throughout the country.

The 2018 Farm Bill will allow for improved crop protections and loan options for farmers, incentivize rural development, support animal disease prevention and management, and will continue our nation’s commitment to agriculture and farmers.

I am especially pleased to see the substantial resources provided to improve rural broadband access to communities. Providing Internet access to people in rural Alabama is absolutely critical to economic development and the success of these communities in the 21st Century.

A few of the other provisions in the bill will greatly benefit the cotton and peanut growers here in Alabama; help maintain access to crop insurance through reduced premiums and waived fees; boost critical funding for feral swine control; and restore funding for trade promotion efforts in an attempt to keep pace with trading competitors around the world.

Most importantly, the 2018 Farm Bill will help equip and train the next generation of farmers both here in Alabama and throughout the United States. I was proud to support this bill, and I look forward to President Trump signing it into law.

Another piece of good news we received this week was the passage of a bill to help drain the Washington swamp.

The American people are sick of Congress being able to play under different rules than the rest of the country, and that must change.

That is why I am proud to be one of the leaders on the effort to reform the way sexual harassment claims are handled on Capitol Hill to increase transparency and accountability.

No longer will members of Congress be able to use taxpayer dollars to pay settlements for their own misconduct when it comes to sexual harassment. No longer will members of Congress be able to cover up their personal wrongdoings at the expense of the American people.

It was important for Congress to make this statement. With this legislation, we did the right thing. By doing the right thing, we not only do right by the people who work around us and for us, but we do right by the American people.

This has been a tough fight, but with these reforms, we will make the Washington swamp a little less swampy and shine light on what is happening in the halls of Congress.

With this week of good news, it is also important to remember that the best news of all will be celebrated next week: a small baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

This good news is the birth of our Savior, bringing God’s light directly into the world through His son.

It is easy to lose sight of the meaning of Christmas with all the bustle of daily life and routine. But this week, I challenge you to stop and remember what this season is about in preparation for the good news yet to come.

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

1 month ago

Artur Davis: What the next Montgomery mayor needs

(Artur Davis/Facebook)

The coming mayoral race in Montgomery matters whether you live in city limits, or whether it is simply important to you or your business that Alabama’s capital thrives. The conversation on the ground is that the outcome could be the next historic milestone for the city that launched civil rights.

Former U.S. Magistrate Judge Vanzetta McPherson caused a stir with a recent Montgomery Advertiser column that argues “it is time for the occupant of the mayor’s office to reflect the predominant (African-American) citizenry.” She further suggests that there is a burden on black voters and leader to “filter black candidates early,” so that the ranks be purged of those who by some test fail, in her words, to “serve the best interests of the African-American community.”

629

I know the judge’s sentiments are well-intentioned but as one of the seven or eight folks who will be running for Mayor, as the only contender who has officially registered a campaign committee, I view this election through a different lens. Montgomery has challenges at every turn. The test is not the mayor’s color or gender but whether the city’s next leader is visionary and substantial enough to unlock those opportunities disguised as challenges.

Mayor is not an entry-level job, as the judge correctly observed. The mayor-to-be will have to learn and master the details of making urban policy work for ordinary people. The job demands persistence and a clear eye about the questions that threaten Montgomery’s future.

Can our schools be rescued? For a while now, the leadership of our school system has resembled its population demographically: that by itself has meant nothing to the children in our eleven failing schools, or the 37 percent of children who graduate high school without core reading and math skills. The next mayor must join forces with the new school board to extricate the schools from the state takeover, a mismanaged event that creates the kind of uncertain chain of command that makes it impossible to attract a national caliber superintendent. The next mayor will have to sell the neighborhoods whose children are in magnets or private schools on the imperative of financing traditional schools adequately. He or she will also need to overcome forces who resist innovative reforms or stricter accountability.

Can we make a real dent in Montgomery’s poverty problem? West and North Montgomery are statistically identical to the chronically poor Black Belt. The southern boulevard is one long patch of neglect and collapsed businesses. Too many of our working people are still poor and trapped in dead-end jobs. For decades, the struggling parts of our city have had representation that “looks like them.” That fact has not yet stopped the decline.

Can we roll back crime and the root causes of crime? An overwhelming majority of criminal defendants are drop-outs. Our city has yet to fashion a comprehensive plan to identify and engage students who have encounters with the law or are chronic disciplinary problems. At the same time, if a city as complex as New York can reduce its rates of gun violence and murder, the next mayor of Montgomery should be expected to devise an anti-crime plan more robust than empathy and short-term anger management courses.

I could go on. We have reached new heights in corporate investment in the city but more of that newly infused wealth must be targeted toward creating jobs that pay high wages. Promoting minority investment is an urgent, consistently unmet need that takes more than conferences at the Renaissance to solve. Our municipal government structure has not been reorganized since the time when smartphones had not been invented and the internet in this city was limited to government offices.

The record of the mayor who is leaving, Todd Strange, will loom over this election. I ran against him but will grant him this: in an era when national politics has degenerated into all or nothing partisanship and what the experts call tribalism, Mayor Strange has kept the volume temperate and moderate in Montgomery. The next mayor should emulate that decency. He or she must match it with a boldness and a capacity to challenge old assumptions and challenge 21st Century problems.

I do agree that this city is on the edge of making history. But the test for candidates is not how well we represent one community or satisfy that community’s insiders and gatekeepers. It is whether any of us has what it takes to make Montgomery a trendsetter in repairing failing schools and blighted neighborhoods and in forging a more prosperous, more equitable future.

If you live in Montgomery, vote for the guy or lady you think just might know how to get us there.

Artur Davis is a former four-term congressman from Montgomery running for mayor.

1 month ago

Roby: The 2018 Farm Bill includes key wins for farmers and our communities

(Congresswoman Roby/Facebook)

Agriculture is the largest revenue-producing industry in the State of Alabama, responsible for more than $70 billion in economic impact annually. Our state is a national leader in food production and a global competitor in the livestock, peanut, cotton, poultry, timber and catfish industries. In Alabama’s Second District, agriculture is the largest employer, responsible for more than 93,000 jobs.

Agriculture is at the core of countless issues that impact the Second District and our state as a whole. Throughout my time in Congress, I have been proud to serve as a strong voice for our farmers of all commodities and to ensure that we craft smart agriculture policy that they can rely on in their important work. It is imperative that Congress honor our commitments to the hardworking farmers and producers across the country.

404

That’s why I am glad to report that both the House and Senate have approved the 2018 farm bill. This legislation now heads to the White House where it awaits President Trump’s signature. The 2018 farm bill provides certainty to the American families who work every day to provide the food and fiber we all depend on. I was proud to support it on behalf of our Second District farmers.

The 2018 farm bill includes key wins for farmers and our rural communities. It improves farm policy by providing a nationwide yield update for the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) commodity program, beginning with the 2020 crop year and allowing PLC to better respond to market conditions; making several key improvements to the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) commodity program, including increased yield plugs and yield trend adjustments; protecting and improving crop insurance; investing in research, extension and education projects, and protecting farmers from additional costly, burdensome red tape.

The bill also lays the groundwork for an improved Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by preserving the Trump Administration’s flexibility to rein in SNAP work requirement waivers for able bodied adults without dependents. We are focused on improving welfare integrity by encouraging able-bodied Americans to work rather than enabling dependency on the federal government.

Additionally, the 2018 farm bill dedicates funding to rural health projects to help Americans battling opioid addiction and other substance abuse disorders. It’s no secret that the opioid epidemic is gripping our state and the entire country, so it is imperative that we utilize every tool available to combat it. I’m especially proud this legislation allocates increased resources to that end.

Importantly for Alabama’s Second District, the farm bill also makes significant improvements to rural broadband delivery. This includes the implementation of forward-looking standards to ensure we are meeting the next generation’s rural broadband needs.

This farm bill makes good on our commitment to farmers, producers, and all of rural America by providing certainty moving forward. My goal with agriculture policy is always to create a responsible framework of laws and programs that promote a sustainable and profitable agriculture industry in Alabama while allowing our farmers to do what they do best: provide the sustenance that feeds our state, our country and the world. I am proud of Congress’ action to make this happen, and I’m eager to see President Trump push the farm bill over the finish line.

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

1 month ago

Dreadnaught’s Keeley: I called it — Heather Nauert for UN ambassador

(U.S. Department of State/Flickr)

The political and media hubris regarding President Trump’s nomination of Heather Nauert for United Nations ambassador is as predictable as it is tedious. Somewhat surprising however, is that the chattering classes – the courteous prevaricators, the obsequiously well-mannered, yet mendacious diplomats, reporters and academics, did not see Ms. Nauert coming.

Back in October, following the resignation of Ambassador Nikki Haley, I was interviewed by Sean Ross at Yellowhammer News, Alabama’s leading political outlet. Heather Nauert was one of my two picks to replace Haley – along with Senator Bob Corker, whose relationship with President Trump disqualified him from the job. I have never before quoted myself in print, but here goes:

628

A dark horse, I think, is the Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy at the State Department,” Keeley advised. “Heather Nauert – she’s formerly of Fox News, and she’s been in that position for a couple of years. She really understands Russia. She travels with the secretary of state to the U.N., across the world. … She would be a great choice.

The pundits and politicians conveniently overlook the fact that Nauert has held down two of the most demanding jobs at the State Department, concurrently – Under secretary of state for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and Department spokesman. She is responsible for public diplomacy in 275 overseas U.S. embassies and foreign missions, oversees the Global Engagement Center and guides the U.S. Agency for Global Media.

Nauert tackled the challenging and grueling workload with grit, professionalism and grace against a backdrop of international upheaval, predicated by eight years of diplomatic apology and foreign policy indecisiveness. An ambassadorial baptism of sorts, unrivaled in decades. A belligerent Russia, an emboldened Iran, state-sponsored terrorism, an unstable Korean Peninsula, Syria, Hezbollah, South Sudan, Yemen, unrest in Europe and a bombastic China occupying the South China Sea.

Nauert stepped into the breach and has the battle scars to prove it. She was not born into the role, nor did political, blue blood family connections play a part. She earned her nomination to lead the U.N. mission for the United States.

The role of U.N. ambassador has morphed somewhat in the last decade. America’s top United Nations diplomat is America’s global spokesperson. Nauert has been at the forefront of foreign policy and execution at Foggy Bottom for two years. Granted, she has not been reading academic papers, lolling around a Senate office, or advocating a cause célèbre like many of her predecessors – she has been at the head table of American diplomatic power.

The U.N. Ambassador’s first charge is to protect and project American will, values and power. They must clearly and explicitly edify and disseminate America’s tenets, principles and ideals; stand up for the weak when the cause is just and punitively call out nation states that support international terrorism, menace global norms and flout human rights. Nauert has proved herself formidable. She survived, and despite adversity, thrived in the wake of the tumultuous Tillerson tenure. Importantly she has earned the personal trust of the President of the United States. In turn, she must mold her own team. Dispense with the political holdovers and surround herself with trusted advisors and advocates.

Ambassador Haley was widely criticized when nominated. Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), charmingly stated that Haley could not possibly be effective. The U.S. ambassador to the international body should be an “expert on international affairs,” Coons said, adding, “not someone who will be learning on the job.” Governor Haley won strong support despite having zero foreign policy experience. Conversely, Nauert is the fourth most senior officer at the Department of State. Senator Coons has been eating humble pie cold.

Ambassador Haley’s comment is revelatory.

She said, “At the United Nations, the number one comment I get is they’re just so happy to see the United States lead again.”

If Nauert can build a loyal, savvy team; stare down the excessively bureaucratic, globalized naysayers; defend America’s values and ideals; stand with Jerusalem against the anti-America, anti-Israel viper pit of the U.N; do it with poise, she will be a long way toward a successful tenure as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Nauert has been underestimated before.

Greg Keeley is Managing Partner of Birmingham based, Dreadnaught With service in both the U.S. and Australian Navies. He is a former NATO & ISAF spokesman. LCDR Keeley served as Senior Advisor to the Vice Chairman of the House Armed Service Committee and Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee in the US Congress. tw – @thedreadnaught

1 month ago

Greg Reed: A Medicaid program built around families and communities

(Pixnio)

The elections of November 6 are over, and now, in Washington and in Montgomery legislators again take up the task of governing. As the leader of Alabama’s 27 Republican state senators, my focus is on working with other lawmakers and Governor Kay Ivey to make state government more efficient and to keep job growth strong.

Reforming the state’s Medicaid program is one of the toughest challenges we face in the coming year. Medicaid, the federally-mandated health insurance program for pregnant women, children, low-income adults, the elderly and the disabled, is by far the largest line item in the state’s General Fund — Medicaid by itself accounts for 37 percent of all non-education state spending and its budget for the current year is $755 million. For context, state prisons consume 23 percent and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (state troopers) uses 2.5 percent of non-education spending.

435

The aging of America’s population as the Baby Boomers retire puts enormous stress on government-run health insurance programs like Medicaid. About 10,000 Boomers retire every day, and the U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2035, the number of adults aged 65 and older in America will outstrip the number of children under the age of 18. In Alabama, the population of folks aged 65 and older is expected to grow by 25 percent between now and 2025. This coming demographic tidal wave threatens to swamp a number of government programs, including Medicaid.

For the past five years, I have worked with Medicaid Commissioner Stephanie Azar to craft a new health care model that better serves the growing number of senior citizens in Alabama who are in Medicaid’s long-term care. Thankfully, this year Alabama received approval from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Washington to move ahead with the Integrated Care Network (ICN). This reform will offer senior citizens on Medicaid additional health care choices and is projected to save, over the long run, tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.

Here is how the ICN will work: in October of this year, the state Medicaid agency partnered with an Alabama health care provider that will now serve the medical needs of the 23,000 senior citizens who are receiving Medicaid’s long-term care services, 70 percent of whom are in nursing homes. By partnering with an expert health care provider based in Alabama, Medicaid can offer its long-term patients better care — and thus allow more Medicaid recipients to stay longer in the comfort of their own home.

Medicaid recipients can still opt for a nursing home, and no benefits are changed under this new system. But by partnering with a health care provider that is an expert in managed care, Medicaid can bend the cost curve down, offer improved health care, and give more of Alabama’s senior citizens an opportunity to stay a little longer in their homes and communities.

For my wife and me, one of the greatest privileges in life is spending time with our parents — and as the years have passed, we, like so many Alabama families, have discussed the future and begun to plan for the day when our parents will need additional help.

As a legislator, I think often about how the policies that I vote on will affect the lives of my friends and neighbors. The Integrated Care Network is just getting started, but I am optimistic that this reform will improve the quality of life for many families in Alabama and put Medicaid on a sounder financial footing.

Greg Reed (R-Jasper) is the Alabama Senate Majority Leader and represents Senate District 5, which is comprised of all or parts of Winston, Walker, Tuscaloosa, Jefferson and Fayette counties.

1 month ago

Alabaster Mayor Marty Handlon: A municipal perspective on Alabama’s infrastructure

(Contributed/Alabaster Mayor's Office)

Alabamians use municipal infrastructure throughout the state to access jobs, schools, grocery stores, hospitals, parks, entertainment venues and church services – making infrastructure a significant and urgent quality of life issue.

The state’s infrastructure needs are at a critical point, especially relative to their impact on our cities.

1092

Alabaster, a medium-sized municipality, is struggling to provide the road infrastructure to adequately move a population of approximately 34,000 (and growing) in and around our city, as well as accommodate the traffic associated with our economic footprint of over 100,000. Alabaster is not alone in this struggle. Infrastructure challenges will continue to escalate through the trickle-down effect as metro/urban areas understandably remain in the posture of revitalization and attracting additional growth in the surrounding suburb communities. Like many suburbs, Alabaster is appealing to families for the quality of life provided through excellent public safety, great schools, plenty of parks with children’s programs and safe roads to travel.

Motor Fuel Tax Increase – Why this is imperative

The Legislature is considering adopting an additional motor fuel tax to address the rapidly escalating statewide demands of infrastructure maintenance and enhancement. Therefore, it is important for the citizens of Alabaster and our surrounding communities to be knowledgeable about road funding and how it is distributed so they can boldly and confidently express to legislators the need for adequate and equitable funding for all local governments.

Alabama’s demographics have shifted significantly in the last 50 years. Across the state, greater than 4 percent now live in cities or towns. In Shelby County, 148,641 of the total 213,605 population – almost 70 percent of citizens – live in cities and towns, according to the statistical data for 2017. As the largest city in Shelby County, Alabaster encompasses 25.46 square miles, almost 10 percent of the County’s incorporated land area, which includes a combination of state, county and city roadways.

The city currently faces more need in minimum maintenance projects on city streets than the current gas tax allocation supports. For educational purposes, the current annual gasoline tax allocation of approximately $260,000 provides for the resurfacing of three to five residential neighborhood streets each year, depending on distance and the degree of repair necessary. However, when the base of the roadway is severely impaired due to earth movement or sink-hole conditions, repairs must be completed in phases pending availability of funds.

Our city has experienced this multi-phase type project with Alabaster Blvd – approximately one mile of city street repairs (not resurface) with a low bid of more than $600,000 in 2014 to complete all at one time. The total cost of the project increases dramatically when done in phases, due to mobilization and other economic factors. This multi-year project, in progress for the last four years, is still not complete. We are consistently addressing roads in priority order as it relates to safety – and we’re more often reactive instead of preventative.

The major arteries for traffic to move through and around our city belong to either the state or county. In order to address a major congestion issue, the city has to become a willing partner contributing funds in a collaborative effort towards improvements. One example is the widening of State Highway 119, which moves traffic from one end of our city to another into the city of Montevallo. In 2013, Alabaster was awarded a Federal grant of up to $10 million for approximately two miles of roadway widening, with the city participating in a 20 percent match to the 80 percent of federal dollars. Currently, no state funds are allocated to this project. The project was put on hold earlier this year because the estimated cost of $20+ million exceeded the grant funding and ALDOT had no available resources to assist in the completion of the project. After two months of conversations with representatives of the Federal Highway
Administration, we were granted permission to break the project into two phases and move forward utilizing our existing grant funds.

Many times, collaboration between government agencies allows for projects a local government cannot afford to do on its own. However, as it relates to roads, excessive time and additional requirements, as well as other inefficiencies, are the downsides when collaborating with the Federal Highway Administration and the State due to so many other ongoing projects. It is not quite as bad when a municipality partners with a local county government, but the efficiency inhibitors are still present.

Alabama counties and municipalities, as well as the taxpayers statewide, benefit from savings in eliminating red tape and inefficiencies. Future economic and community development projects in the Shelby/Jefferson County areas will be defined by the infrastructure it can offer. The same is true with every region of the state.

Current Motor Fuel Tax Distribution Is Inadequate

The current motor fuel tax distribution formula, which provides 50 percent of funds to the State and 50 percent to local governments with counties receiving 80 percent and municipalities receiving 20 percent, was developed in the 1960s and is no longer equitable to citizens living in municipal jurisdictions to address the growing demands on our municipal infrastructure. Therefore, municipal officials are advocating that the Legislature adopt a 21st Century distribution formula that would provide 50 percent of the funds to the State, 25 percent to counties and 25 percent to municipalities.

Alabaster’s community actively engaged with its legislative delegation on this critical issue as they experienced the dangerous bottleneck contributing to more accidents and lengthy delays on the Shelby County portion of Interstate 65, and even more so after the delay in widening Highway 119 where emergency vehicles can’t get to the scene of an accident due to the congestion. Our delegation listened.

The voices of voters make the difference!

We are proud of the state’s history of fiscally conscientious leaders making Alabama a great and affordable place to live. No one is to blame for the rising cost of goods and services over periods of time; it just costs more to maintain the same in every industry, including government. That being said, Alabama is not the same as it once was – we have grown and developed, shifting from rural areas to bustling suburbs.

I can’t stress enough how important it is for our legislators to hear from their constituents about the public safety issues and escalating need in their communities. It would be wonderful if the voice of local government and public safety professionals were enough; however, it is always going to take the voices of the voters to make the difference between crumbling congested roads and safe highways.

State and local leaders cannot afford to sacrifice the public’s safety and quality of life by adhering to inadequate funding formulas of the past. As we have implored people and businesses to invest in our communities and our state for the benefit of our citizens, we owe them the return on their investment of providing the infrastructure needed for safe success in their mobility.

Please contact your legislators and let them know that infrastructure is a priority issue for you as a citizen and for us as a state!

Marty Handlon is a Certified Public Accountant with a Master’s in Business Administration and more than 20 years’ experience in accounting and financial management. She was elected Mayor of Alabaster in October 2012.

Bradley Byrne: The light and life of President George H.W. Bush

(AJ Guel/Flickr)

Our nation came together last week as we mourned the loss of a truly great American. No matter our race, religion, creed or political party, we were drawn toward the light that was President George H.W. Bush.

His life spanned nearly 100 years of American history and was dedicated to serving the United States.

History often records the works of great leaders. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill all led with a sense of service and devotion to their people. But what makes a leader truly special is humility, humor and a deep moral code guiding their every day.

516

President Bush embodied those very attributes.

His biographer, Jon Meacham, summed up the Bush life code best in his eulogy, saying, “Tell the truth. Don’t blame people. Be strong. Do your best. Try hard. Forgive. Stay the course.”

In every walk of life, President Bush did just those things. Integrity guided everything he undertook, and his lifetime of achievements testify to this. He was a decorated war hero in the Navy during WWII, an extremely successful businessman in Texas, congressman, ambassador to the United Nations, chairman of the Republican National Committee, chief of the U.S. Liaison to the People’s Republic of China, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Vice President and president of the United States of America.

His sense of humor was always charming, sometimes teasing, but never out of malice or needling. He knew how to tell and take a good joke, and he loved to make people laugh.

He took everything he did seriously and with dignity. His first and foremost goal was to serve the American people to the best of his ability and let the thousand points of light in our communities shine bright by one small act of kindness and devotion to each other at a time.

In his inaugural address, President Bush emphasized this point: “What do we want the men and women who work with us to say when we are no longer there? That we were more driven to succeed than anyone around us? Or that we stopped to ask if a sick child had gotten better, and stayed a moment there to trade a word of friendship?”

Since his presidency, George H.W. Bush has remained an example of leadership. For him, it was never about accolades as much as it was about service to the American people.

He was the brightest of those thousand points of light in everything he did. The light that shone through him came from his devotion to his country, to his family, and to God.

I had the honor to pay my respects to President Bush in the Capitol Rotunda and attend the funeral service held in the National Cathedral last week. It was the most moving church service I have ever attended. The testimony shared by everyone there spoke to a life well lived and firmly grounded.

He loved life and loved the people he spent it with. As his son, President George W. Bush, said at the service, “The idea is to die young as late as possible. … As he aged, he taught us how to grow old with dignity, humor and kindness. And, when the good Lord finally called, how to meet Him with courage and with joy in the promise of what lies ahead.”

President George H.W. Bush will be remembered as a true American leader; someone who served totally, cared deeply, laughed fully and loved completely.

As we move on to the New Year, I hope that in some small way we can embody just a small measure of those traits. If we do, one can only imagine how much brighter the light of our nation will shine.

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