The Wire

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

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

45 mins ago

Ainsworth opts against 2022 U.S. Senate run

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL) on Friday announced he will not be a candidate in Alabama’s 2022 U.S. Senate contest.

The seat is being vacated by U.S. Senator Richard Shelby’s (R-AL) decision not to seek a seventh term.

Ainsworth, who is serving his first term as lieutenant governor, is the prohibitive favorite to be the Yellowhammer State’s next governor.

“After discussions with my wife, Kendall, and prayerful consideration, I have decided that I will not be a candidate for the U.S. Senate,” he wrote in a social media post. “Because our twin boys and daughter are young and need a father who is present and deeply involved in their lives, I feel strongly that God’s plan currently calls for me to continue leading on the state, not federal, level of government.”

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“The encouragement to run that I have received from every corner of the state is humbling, and the support of my fellow Alabamians is deeply appreciated,” Ainsworth continued. “Sen. Shelby has served Alabama well, and his shadow will loom large over all those who run to fill his seat. As lieutenant governor, I will continue seeking conservative solutions to the problems facing Alabama and will keep working each day to bring more jobs, hope, and opportunities to the citizens of our state.”

Lynda Blanchard is currently the only announced candidate in the 2022 U.S. Senate race.

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

1 hour ago

East Alabama’s Russel Medical receives ‘transformational’ $25M gift

(Russell Medical Center/Contributed, YHN)

Russell Medical, a hospital located in Alexander City that serves a large portion of East Alabama, announced a multi-facility expansion on Thursday that is being made possible by a $25 million gift.

Making the donation to the nonprofit hospital are Ben and Luanne Russell. Ben Russell is the CEO of Russell Lands, the company that has developed much of the area around Lake Martin. His grandfather, affectionately known as “Mr. Ben,” built the famous Russell clothing company.

The gift from the Russells is the largest in the history of Russell Medical. It will provide for the construction of a new large-scale project focused on providing care for the elderly.

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To be built on the hospital’s campus in Alexander City, the Russell Legacy Project will include 26 units of independent living single-family cottages, an assisted living facility with 32 units.

The Russells’ donation will also provide for the construction of the Benjamin Russell Center for Advanced Care, a new project for the hospital that will “provide comprehensive geriatric health care and specialty health care services,” per a release.

“Ben and Luanne’s extraordinary act of generosity reflects a caring family who are great supporters of Alexander City, the Lake Martin area, and the medical community in Alabama. The Russell Legacy Project allows us to grow services centered on the largest sector who are in need of healthcare services, those citizens 65 years and older,” stated Jim Peace, president and CEO of Russell Medical.

In addition to the new facility, the gift from the Russels will create the Benjamin Russell Endowed Chair in Geriatrics, pending approval by the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees. Russel Medical is a member of the UAB Health System.

“Each day for the next 20+ years, approximately 10,000 adults will turn 65, and with this trend, the demand for Geriatricians is expected to skyrocket,” remarked Dr. Cynthia Brown, director for the Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics, and Palliative Care at UAB.

The advanced care facility will be constructed in front of the hospital’s cancer center and will look out onto Highway 280. In addition to its primary focus on elder care, the center will house Women’s Health and other specialty clinics.

“As lifelong residents of Alexander City, Luanne and I have supported the Lake Martin area and this hospital and are pleased to be able to make this gift, honoring my grandfather, Benjamin Russell. Mr. Ben did much for this state and its people. This gift is one way Luanne and I can recognize his contributions,” said Ben Rusell.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

6 hours ago

PSC President Cavanaugh: Measures implemented to protect Alabama against Texas-like widespread electric utility failures

(Cavanaugh Campaign)

Last week, the nation watched as Texas suffered electricity outages during an unprecedented winter storm that wreaked havoc on the Lone Star State.

Could that happen here in Alabama? Public Service Commission President Twinkle Cavanaugh said although no utility is completely invulnerable, measures have been taken to protect customers.

During an appearance on Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” Cavanaugh elaborated on why Texas and Alabama are uniquely different and why Alabama may have fared differently under similar circumstances.

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“[I] did not know a whole lot about Texas until this started happening,” she said. “Since then, I have studied and tried to make sure we have covered all our bases here in Alabama, and that does not happen. Now, let me give this disclaimer — there is never 100% on any utility. Obviously, there are things utilities must do to be prepared. But there are things that can go wrong no matter how prepared you are. I always give that disclaimer.”

“However, Texas and Alabama are completely different in their setup,” Cavanaugh continued. “Alabama Power is the largest power utility in Alabama, and it is a regulated utility. The other utilities that produce electricity in Alabama are TVA, which is a federal-run utility — it is a quasi-government-run utility in North Alabama. We also have some cities that have their own system. They’re called municipals. And then, there are co-ops in some of your rural areas. In fact, I believe Baldwin County has some co-ops. And so, those are run by their members.”

“We regulate Alabama Power Company, which many of your listeners in Mobile have,” she added. “They are regulated. In Texas, 90% of their power is not regulated. In other words, they are deregulated, is what the industry calls it. And after reading this — I think the easiest way to put this is when you’re regulated, we look at everything as how do we protect the people, or how do we protect the customers. In a non-regulated arena, it is how do you protect the profits of these companies.”

According to Cavanaugh, the difference in governing utilities makes such a scenario that Texas faced less likely in Alabama.

“There’s just a completely different philosophy in the two,” she said. “And one of the things in a regulated environment like Alabama Power Company, we always want to weigh things on how it will affect customers. We do that through — is it reliable for consumers? And is it affordable? They have to present to us, I say, on a monthly basis, but it is actually a continual basis. They are audited. And we ensure they do what it takes to be able to handle the load, no matter what the load problems may be.”

Cavanaugh also explained how that given Texas is on its own grid, which covers 90% of that state, prevents it from bringing power in from other states, which is a protection that exists with Alabama’s electric utilities.

She added that there is also less of an incentive to undergo the expensive effort of winterizing in a deregulated environment like Texas.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

7 hours ago

State Rep. Treadaway on anti-rioting bill: ‘This is not a race thing — This is a law and order thing’

(Birmingham Police Department)

State Rep. Allen Treadaway (R-Morris) on Thursday morning interviewed with Talk 99.5’s “Matt & Val Show” regarding his HB 445, which would create new crimes and penalties for individuals who incite or participate in riots.

His interview came the day after State Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) took to the Senate floor to lambast the legislation — and those who support it — as wanting to “snatch” up Black Lives Matter protesters and “take us back 60 years.” Smitherman said the legislation was part of a general oppressive movement he compared to the killing of George Floyd.

Treadaway recently retired as Birmingham Police Department assistant chief following a 31-year career on the force; he was on the ground when protesting turned into violent and destructive rioting, looting and arson for one night in the Magic City this past summer. Speaking to co-hosts Matt Murphy and Valerie Vining, Treadaway reiterated his firsthand — and the city’s — experience was the genesis of his bill.

“We all saw what played out across the country last year,” Treadaway said. “And then it came to Birmingham — was actually brought to Birmingham.”

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“So, I’m just going to go over some facts for you real quick just to put a backdrop to this thing,” he outlined. “We know for a fact the night before the protest in Birmingham, folks came in and they planted incendiary devices, gasoline, bricks, and somebody’s funding that. So, there’s a very organized effort going on in this country to keep chaos up. And when they did that, the protesters came in, and — for the most part — our local protesters were peaceful.”

The career law enforcement officer noted that this protest was different than the many peaceful ones he had personally experienced beforehand in the city.

“In this instance, the outsiders that came in to the city of Birmingham were hell-bent on destruction. And that’s a fact,” Treadaway remarked. “Approximately 70 people were arrested. But out of that 70 people, probably 1/3 of them were local.”

He added that most of the locals were arrested for “minor offenses like failure to disperse and things like that.”

“But there was an element that was embedded into those protesters that came into the city of Birmingham and started rioting, started inciting a riot,” he continued. “And when that happened, they went to the shrubbery, the plants, that were around these buildings downtown where they had planted these devices. And they used them to try to destroy the city. Sledgehammers, the incendiary devices, gasoline.”

Treadaway stressed that this factual account was the motivation and basis for the bill.

“And the whole race issue that’s been coming up, I want to talk about that for just a second. Because many of the folks that were arrested from out of town were college-age white kids, OK. And the ones that were bashing windows in. So, this is not a race thing,” he stressed. “This is a law and order thing.”

“I knew when I brought the legislation it would be controversial — with some,” he acknowledged. “But I firmly believe that the masses of Americans — black, brown and white — that they don’t want this (rioting) in their city. They don’t want folks hijacking a cause. And they don’t want them hell-bent on trying to destroy and burn down their city.”

The fourth-term legislator from Jefferson County further highlighted that “law enforcement needs more protection.” He shared that an individual from outside the state was behind the jail the night of the rioting “with a sack full of cash.”

“And why is that? We have a $300 cash bond,” Treadaway explained, outlining that the individual was helping others bond out straight back onto the street to rejoin the rioting. His bill would prevent that by instituting a mandatory hold period for those arrested for rioting or inciting a riot.

“You can’t have a situation where we’re trying to put this type of riot down and people are bonding out and coming back in and joining the fray,” he underlined. “It just doesn’t work.”

Murphy then asked if the Birmingham rioting could have easily resulted in much worse property damage and physical bodily harm.

“There’s no doubt about it, we dodged a bullet,” Treadaway responded. “And then there was those who tried to hang around and reignite the situation.”

He praised the police department’s community policing emphasis for warding off a worse outcome.

“We dodged a bullet that day. They tried to reignite that situation,” he reiterated. “And I think we did a really good job in making sure that that did not happen.”

Treadaway shared that Mobile similarly had a problem with out-of-state people traveling to the city “trying to incite riots there.”

“These folks are sharing information with one another, and when there is a legitimate protest — a peaceful protest — being organized, there’s an element now that’s out there — a criminal element — that’s hell-bent on embedding themselves in those type of causes,” he advised. “That’s just a fact. So, the legislation is an attempt to address some of that.”

He subsequently went on to define what participating in or inciting a riot entails pursuant to HB 445, differentiating those activities from peaceful protesting.

“The First Amendment is something I believe in greatly,” Treadaway reaffirmed.

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

19 hours ago

State legislature recap: Bills on license plate scanners, dogs at restaurants, historic renovation tax credit pass their respective chambers

(S. Ross/YHN)

MONTGOMERY – Both chambers of the Alabama State Legislature met on Thursday for the ninth day of its 2021 regular session.

The Senate met for around 90 minutes in the morning and moved quickly through a limited calendar, much of which was left over after a filibuster prematurely ended the chamber’s Tuesday business.

Most notably, the upper chamber passed a bill regulating the use of license plate scanners by law enforcement, as well as legislation updating the standards required of local school board members.

The House spent much of the day in session, dealing with sunset bills in the morning before passing legislation extending a popular tax credit and a bill allowing dogs to be brought to the outdoor portions of restaurants.

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Alabama Senate

Sponsored by Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), SB2 would more closely regulate the use of license plate recognition systems by law enforcement agencies.

It would require that agencies keep confidential all data gathered from the scanners and destroy it after five years. Among other holdings, law enforcement agencies would have to adopt and publicize their policy governing use of the data gathered.

Another impactful bill passed by the upper chamber on Thursday was SB170 from Senator Vivian Figures (D-Mobile). The legislation would establish a new set of standards, training and discipline for local school board members.

The bill would have the State Board of Education adopt a model code of conduct for school board members. Local boards would be allowed to implement their own codes of conduct, but they would have to include at minimum the standards provided by the state.

Members not following the code of conduct would be subject to censure, sanction and removal from their position.

A similar measure, HB338 sponsored by Rep. Tracy Estes (R-Winfield), was considered in the lower chamber on Tuesday. It did not receive a vote after the sponsor asked for it to be carried over following a lengthy debate.

Both SB2 and SB170 were passed unanimously.

The Senate’s full activity from Thursday is accessible here.

Alabama House

After slogging through numerous sunset bills, the first major legislation passed by the House on Tuesday was HB220 from Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville).

The legislation would shift the authority to build and renovate on the grounds of certain educational institutions from the Department of Finance’s Division of Construction Management to the institutions themself. More simply, educational institutions with their own governing boards would have more authority to build or renovate on their respective grounds.

HB 220 passed with a vote of 96-1.

House members also passed an extension of the popular Alabama Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit. Sponsored by Rep. Victor Gaston (R-Mobile), HB281 would extend the tax credit through 2027 if the bill is enacted. It also passed 96-1.

In one of the chamber’s more genial efforts, a bill to allow pet dogs to accompany their owners at the outdoor dining sections of restaurants passed the House on Thursday.

HB235 from Rep. Steve McMillan (R-Gulf Shores) allows the owner of any restaurant to set the establishment’s policy on dogs, but it does overrule some county and city level statutes that prevented any non-service animal from joining their owner for a meal.

Only restaurants whose outdoor space is accessible without walking through the indoor dining area are eligible to allow pets under the proposed law.

A full record of the House’s activity on Thursday is available here.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

21 hours ago

USDA investing over $3M to improve distance learning and telemedicine in Alabama

(Pixabay, YHN)

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced an investment of over $3 million in rural Alabama on Tuesday.

Five Alabama projects related to telemedicine or distance learning will receive a share of the investment, which was publicized by the Department’s Office of Rural Development in Montgomery.

“USDA is helping rural America build back better using technology as a cornerstone to create more equitable communities. With health care and education increasingly moving to online platforms, the time is now to make historic investments in rural America to improve quality of life for decades to come,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a release.

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Vilsack, once a governor of  Iowa, was President Barack Obama’s Agriculture secretary from 2009-2017. He was confirmed this week to that same position under President Joe Biden. Both of Alabama’s U.S. Senators supported Vilsack’s confirmation.

All projects being funded in Thursday’s announcement are a part of the Agriculture Department’s Distance Learning & Telemedicine Grants program. The organization requesting the grant had to provide a 15% match.

USDA Rural Development provided a summary of each of the projects in Alabama:

In west Alabama, USDA’s investment of $916,948 will be used by the University of Alabama to connect 23 ambulances to seven hospitals in eight different rural counties in west-central Alabama. This network of ambulances will be equipped with telemedicine services to relay patient data to emergency room physicians. This technology will allow emergency room physicians to interact with emergency medical technicians, which will help to provide more efficient care for patients.

In Lauderdale County, USDA’s investment of $245,618 will be used by the Lauderdale County Board of Education to install distance learning systems in Lauderdale County’s elementary and secondary schools, as well as at the Board of Education’s offices. The Board will purchase mobile carts, bridging software and wireless access points to create a remote teaching system. The distance learning system will enable teachers to provide lessons and educational opportunities to more students.

In Clarke, Marengo, Wilcox and Monroe counties, USDA’s investment of $744,150 will be used by Physicians Care of Clarke to create a telehealth system across several regional healthcare systems. Leveraging primary health care sites, school-based health care sites, and administrative sites, rural residents in the region will now have access to primary and specialist physicians. This project will help install telemedicine carts and videoconferencing equipment at each clinic to capture diagnostic information, provide clinical supervision, and consultation services. This will help rural residents who are geographically isolated and have difficulty accessing serving primary and specialty care providers.

In Bibb, Dallas, and Talladega counties, USDA’s investment of $580,308 will be used by the University of Montevallo to establish a telemedicine system to provide access to mental health through its Community Counseling Clinic. Telemedicine end-user units will be installed in high schools in Bibb, Dallas and Talladega counties that will be used to offer telemental health services to students, teachers and community members. The University will also use distance learning equipment to offer distance education for professional educators and instructional leaders, as well as high school students in dual-enrollment courses.

In Bibb, Perry, Chilton, and Jefferson counties, USDA’s investment of $789,150 will be used by the Cahaba Medical Care Foundation for teleconferencing equipment, to offer distance learning for its family medicine residents. This program helps medical school graduates achieve medical licensure or board certification, while applying their skills in rural areas. In addition to educational uses, the equipment will also be used to provide telemedicine services in response to the influx of patients due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

22 hours ago

Keep your money in-state: Why now’s the time to book your Alabama beach vacation for this spring, summer

(City of Orange Beach/Facebook)

Time is running out to book your vacation rental or hotel for the coming warm-weather months, however it is not because things are returning to a non-COVID “normal.”

The pandemic has put the national tourism and travel industry under siege for the last year, and Alabama’s 32 miles of white sands on the Gulf Coast have been especially hit hard.

With the climate still tough for communities and small businesses in Baldwin County that rely on visitors for their livelihood, another obstacle continues to play a part for the upcoming spring — and, perhaps, even summer — travel season. It’s also a reason why Alabamians looking for a beach getaway should act now and plan ahead.

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Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism (GSOBT) is the official destination marketing organization for the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, as well as the unincorporated area of Fort Morgan. The organization proudly showcases the gems that are Alabama’s Gulf beaches — a major source of tourism and revenue not just for the local area but for the state as a whole.

Beth Gendler, who is currently serving as chief operating officer of GSOBT while she transitions into the CEO role, told Yellowhammer News that Hurricane Sally’s aftermath has significantly limited the availability of rentals in the area for the spring.

“While most restaurants and attractions have reopened, there is still roughly 40% of vacation rental inventory out of service due to damage from Hurricane Sally,” she explained. “Repairs to vacation rentals and hotels have been ongoing since late September, and we expect those to start to come back over the next several months.”

That being said, it would be prudent to lock in rentals for the upcoming months now instead of waiting until the last minute.

“With reduced inventory, the early bird truly gets the worm … in this case the worm being the hotel or condo they want,” Gendler advised. “We definitely advise people to make reservations far in advance because not as many options are available to rent this spring. And as COVID vaccinations increase and people feel more comfortable traveling, we expect demand to increase as summer approaches.”

She also noted that while travel is still relatively down year-over-year so far in 2021, the outlook is encouraging compared to the worst of the pandemic.

“Occupancy for first quarter – normally our snowbird season – is down compared to last year, but that is expected with COVID still being an issue, especially for the seniors who normally stay with us for the winter,” Gendler outlined. “Right now, early March is down, but we are very much still seeing the same short booking windows we saw most all of last year (less than 30 days), so we know the second quarter could surprise us. It is very encouraging to see our local businesses ramping up their hiring for spring and summer, just like they do in normal ‘non-pandemic’ years, in anticipation of what will hopefully be a busy late spring and summer.”

At the end of the day, the past year has been extremely challenging for the industry and local communities across Alabama’s Gulf Coast. With herd immunity potentially a few months away, Alabamians have the opportunity to support their own when choosing where to travel and how to spend their money.

“The COVID pandemic has hurt a lot of destinations and so, so many small businesses,” Gendler remarked. “The travel industry as a whole has just been decimated. We really encourage Alabama residents looking for a vacation spot to strongly consider coming to their own beaches and supporting their fellow Alabamians.”

“Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are two small towns with a majority of businesses being small and locally-owned, especially our restaurants and attractions. Those business owners would so appreciate the support after such a difficult year. Similar to a ‘Buy Local’ campaign, we hope Alabama residents will ‘Spend In-State’ with their vacations this year,” she concluded.

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

24 hours ago

Dynetics achieves key milestone in bid to carry first woman, next man to the moon

(Jim Bridenstine/Twitter, YHN)

Huntsville-based Dynetics on Thursday announced it has successfully completed the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) of the Dynetics Human Landing System (HLS) for NASA’s Artemis Program, marking another major milestone in human spaceflight and Alabama’s continuing, indispensable contribution to space exploration.

The Rocket City company, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Leidos, was named last year as one of three prime contractors awarded a contract to design a HLS and compete to build the system that ultimately is used in Artemis — the program which aims to return Americans to the surface of the moon by 2024 and eventually take the first humans to Mars. Blue Origin and SpaceX were the other two prime contractors awarded contracts, with Blue Origin’s work also being centered in Huntsville.

Since that award 10 months ago, the Dynetics team has now submitted its HLS proposal and successfully completed four reviews: a systems requirements review, a certification baseline review, the continuation review and, as of this week, the preliminary design review.

According to a company release, this latest review provided NASA with insight into the design of the human lander that Dynetics hopes will carry the first woman and the next man to the moon.

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“This review, a culmination of nine months of intense design and analysis, included a robust portfolio of development and risk reduction testing,” stated Robert Wright, Dynetics HLS program manager. “The PDR demonstrated that our team’s preliminary lander design meets all the system requirements with acceptable risk while remaining within current cost and schedule constraints.”

Additionally, the team reportedly presented detailed technical descriptions of design trades, analyses conducted and a design status to NASA. Verification methods were also explained.

“This is another step toward the lunar surface,” said Kim Doering, vice president of Space Systems at Dynetics. “The PDR confirmed that our team is ready to proceed with a detailed design as we approach the next milestone, Critical Design Review. This is yet another notable review that brings us one step closer to landing the next Americans on the moon.”

Dynetics is not the only Alabama connection to their HLS proposal. As prime contractor, Dynetics leads a global team of industry-recognized experts with human spaceflight and hardware/software experience directly applicable to the HLS. All members have made significant contributions to the team’s progress to date, a past release noted.

Decatur rocket builder United Launch Alliance (ULA) is one of these partners and subcontractors, as is Tuskegee University. This continues the theme of Artemis being driven by Alabama.

The Dynetics HLS can be fully integrated and launched on the Space Launch System (SLS) Block 1B vehicle, which is the world’s most powerful rocket ever that will be the centerpiece of Artemis. Boeing is the lead contractor for the SLS core stage, with the company’s Huntsville-based Space and Launch division managing that SLS work.

For commercial launches, the Dynetics HLS can be flown aboard ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket, which is built in Decatur.

NASA’s HLS program is managed out of Marshall Space Flight Center.

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

1 day ago

Pentagon launches Aerospace Education Research and Innovation Center at Tuskegee University

(Tuskegee University/Facebook, YHN)

The Department of Defense (DoD) this week announced the launch of the Aerospace Education Research and Innovation Center (AERIC) at Macon County’s Tuskegee University. According to a release, the center will support undergraduate research in materials and aerospace sciences relevant to the defense and aerospace sectors.

AERIC’s launch was funded by a $2 million appropriations measure sponsored by Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) when he was chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations and its Subcommittee on Defense.

In a statement to Yellowhammer News on Thursday, Shelby said, “I am proud that this funding has been secured for the Department of Defense Aerospace Education Research and Innovation Center at Tuskegee University. The selection of Tuskegee University for the establishment of this center is great news, particularly due to the renowned history of the Tuskegee Airmen, and will expand the aerospace technical workforce in the region through research and educational opportunities.”

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The DoD’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (OUSD(R&E)) is overseeing the project, which was directly awarded through the DoD historically black college and university (HBCU) and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) Research and Education Program.

“Established at an institution that was the home of the Tuskegee Airmen and is now the No. 1 producer of Black aerospace engineers in the nation, AERIC is devoted to expanding the future aerospace technical workforce with a particular focus on underrepresented populations in the United States,” the Pentagon release stated. “To help fill the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) pipeline, AERIC will support two-year research projects in the areas of fatigue damage tolerance, experimental aerodynamics, and the performance of materials and components under extreme environmental conditions.”

Housed by Tuskegee’s Engineering Department, AERIC is positioned to grow the DoD aerospace technical workforce through speaker series with DoD staff and summer internship placements at defense laboratories, ultimately preparing scholars for careers in critical defense industries. In addition to partnering with DoD, AERIC will collaborate with Wichita State University, Boeing, Dynetics and Chevron to further the center’s research and education agenda.

Dynetics is headquartered in Huntsville, and Boeing also has a huge presence in Alabama.

“The establishment of centers of excellence plays a vital role in our defense enterprise by stimulating research and innovation for the next generation of STEM leaders,” commented Dr. Jagadeesh Pamulapati, director of the Office of Research, Technology, and Laboratories in OUSD(R&E). “Notably, beyond conducting research that enhances our ability to respond to threats and remain technologically superior, HBCUs serve the nation by educating a significant number of talented scientists and engineers. By supporting HBCUs and MSIs, we are cultivating a research enterprise that broadens idea sharing while expanding the pool of reliable STEM professionals able to meet both our mission and our workforce objectives.”

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

1 day ago

State Sen. Rodger Smitherman: Anti-rioting bill ‘to take us back 60 years,’ really aimed at peaceful protesters

(S. Ross/YHN)

MONTGOMERY — Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) is already fighting against Rep. Allen Treadaway’s (R-Morris) bill to create new crimes and penalties for individuals who incite or participate in riots.

Although that bill has not even been heard in front of a House committee yet, Smitherman took to the Senate floor on Wednesday afternoon to speak out against the legislation.

Smitherman began his remarks by vaguely decrying “things that were being put in place to, for a lack of a better word, put the foot on people’s necks to try to hold them down.” This would appear to reference a lengthy, impassioned speech he delivered the previous day in which he compared what he sees as voter suppression and systemic forms of oppression to the death of George Floyd.

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“Back in the ’60s and the early ’70s, people — because they protested — were arrested, put in paddy wagons and thrown in jail,” he remarked on Wednesday.

He told his colleagues this flashback was relevant due to HB 445, Treadaway’s bill.

Smitherman said that legislation “seeks to take us back 60 years to where we were at that particular time.”

“The bill on its surface makes you think that you’re doing something so wonderful and great,” he stated.

He then spoke about the bill creating the crime of Assault Against a First Responder in the first and second degrees; those arrested for the offenses are initially held for 24 hours before becoming bail-eligible. A First Degree conviction, which would be a Class B felony, results in at least one year in jail, a $15,000 fine, and an order of restitution, and a Second Degree conviction, classified as a Class C felony, carries a minimum six-month jail sentence, a $5,000 fine, and a restitution requirement.

“Now, you’re going to see that and you’re going to say, ‘Smitherman, we should protect our first responders.’ And I agree,” Smitherman commented. “I agree with you all. But that ain’t all this bill does.”

He then honed in on a few aspects of the bill, respectively pertaining to: altering the definition of what constitutes a “riot,” a crime classified as a Class A misdemeanor; creating the new Class C felony crime of “Aggravated Riot,” which requires bodily or property damage to result; upgrading the crime of purposely blocking an Interstate to a felony; instituting a 48-hour hold for any person who is arrested for knowingly participating in or inciting a riot; and mandating a 30-day jail sentence for any person who is convicted of knowingly participating in a riot.

“What this bill is trying to simply do is to shut folks’ mouths [who are] oppressed,” Smitherman then claimed. “That’s what it’s doing.”

He asserted that under the provisions of the bill, people simply “protesting” would be criminalized.

“Protesting — I didn’t say nothing about breaking into the White House,” Smitherman said, potentially meaning to refer to the U.S. Capitol. “I said like Black Lives Matter, protesting out in the streets — protesting. They want to snatch them up, throw them in the paddy wagon, charge them, keep them there 48 hours before they could even go before the judge and then find them guilty — and you can’t get no parole or probation. You’ve got to serve all the time, because you’re out there trying to speak up for being oppressed.”

“I keep telling y’all, why do we keep trying to hurt people? Why do we keep planning to do this as a body? Why as a body of legislators in this whole process that we want to try to do that and hide it under the name that we’re protecting first responders? Send a bill that just does something for first responders — fine,” he added.

He lamented, “[H]ere again, another bomb [has been] laid on us as a body to try to suppress, keep the foot on — in this case it’s not the neck, it’s to keep the foot in people’s mouths, so they can’t say anything about what they’re being suppressed about.”

“We can’t allow to go back 60 years in time to try to oppress people from being able to … speak out,” Smitherman stated. He then asserted that the bill is not about people destroying property or committing physical violence; in reality, the bill explicitly targets those very things on definitional levels.

“We’re talking about people protesting out there like they do with signs and everything else about things they like and don’t like,” he concluded. “So I hope to God that we don’t have to deal with this in the manner that it is now on this particular floor.”

For context, Treadaway, who recently retired as Birmingham Police Department assistant chief following a 31-year career on the force, said in a previous statement that he began drafting the legislation this past summer after a protest in downtown Birmingham became a violent riot that resulted in damage and burglaries for multiple businesses, the vandalization of public property, and injuries to bystanders.

“Because the freedom of speech is so important, our founding fathers made it the first enumerated right in the U.S. Constitution, but when protest turns to violence, that liberty no longer applies,” Treadaway stated last week.

“We must protect Alabama businesses, public property, and first responders from the kind of mob rule that took over the streets of Birmingham this summer, and my legislation establishes a firm first step toward achieving that goal,” he concluded.

HB 445 lists 50 original cosponsors, including House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) and Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville).

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

1 day ago

Tuberville: Investment in fiber infrastructure, rural broadband access needed for Alabama ‘to move out of the bottom rung in education’

(Tuberville/YouTube)

U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) on Wednesday gave an update on his work in Washington, D.C. and some critical issues facing the state of Alabama.

Speaking to reporters on a teleconference, Tuberville first outlined the tours he took last Thursday and Friday of the Wiregrass and Mobile, respectively.

As those visits reflected, the bulk of Tuberville’s priorities right now are closely intertwined with his committee assignments: the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC); Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee (AG); Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee; and Veterans’ Affairs (VA) Committee.

He also touched on the latest supposed relief bill — which would cost about $1.9 trillion — proposed by the Biden administration that is currently working its way through the congressional process.

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“Honestly it’s a mess,” the freshman senator said. He lamented that Democrats are now using the budget reconciliation process to circumvent needing any Republican support in the Senate.

“You know, it’s been a bipartisan workload [since the pandemic began with past COVID-19 relief legislation], but now for some reason the Democrats are refusing to negotiate with Republicans. And they’re trying to ram through this partisan bill,” Tuberville advised.

He then outlined examples of the COVID relief package disguising unrelated items on the Democrats’ “wish list,” including millions of dollars for infrastructure projects in California and New York.

“We need targeted relief,” Tuberville stated. “We need targeted relief that actually goes to the Americans who need it now.”

The Republican decried that after delaying the most recent relief package until December, Democrats now “want to jam this $2 trillion down the throats of the taxpayers of this country.”

“We need targeted relief that will help open this country safely,” he commented. “We need to get the country reopened. Our economy needs it.”

Tuberville expressed appreciation for declining COVID case counts and hospitalizations as well as increasing vaccination numbers, while memorializing the more than 500,000 Americans who have already lost their lives from the virus.

“Now’s not the time to let up, though,” he added after outlining some of the positive recent trends related to the pandemic. “We need to continue wearing masks, keep social distancing, wash your hands — when you’re running the ball well, you keep on running.”

“But if we don’t open the country up to the workers and get students back in school, we’re going to be doing this again in the very near future and passing another stimulus bill,” Tuberville warned. “And we don’t need to be spending more and more of the taxpayers’ money. … The taxpayers can’t afford another massive stimulus bill.”

He focused a significant portion of his subsequent remarks on reopening schools.

“I’m on the HELP Committee — the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee — and that’s one of our big topics,” Tuberville said. “The science is clear. Schools can safely reopen without putting teachers and students at risk. I mean, that’s the science. They (Democrats) keep saying, ‘Let’s go by the science.’ Well, there it is. … For some reason, a lot of the schools, especially up north, they’re keeping our kids at home — virtual learning. And that’s not working. We’ve got to get them back in school, learning.”

“Especially students from families and parents who can’t stay at home — they need to go to work,” he continued. “You know, I was a coach and educator and mentor for more than 30 years, and I know firsthand the impact that teachers and mentors have on the lives of young students.”

He lamented reports from across the nation of markedly increased suicide rates among youth during the pandemic.

“Some of my former athletes would not have made it to college football without the strong support of teachers and mentors,” he added. “We’re going to see a huge drop-off [of] kids going to college probably because of less interest. We’ve got to get them away from these computer screens. Our children are losing out … because Democrats keep moving the goal posts. Every time we have something good happen, they keep moving the goal posts. Only 6% of the funds Congress gave K-12 schools in 2020 in these stimulus bills — only 6%, only 6% — has been spent so far. And they want to turn around and give a lot more. Ninety-five percent of the education funds in President Biden’s package that we’re getting ready to look at over the next couple of weeks, 95% will not be spent until 2022. We’re hoping this virus is gone by then. So you can tell, this is not about anything other than just loading up with money — probably to give to the teachers unions. Money is clearly not the issue for reopening. We need to get our kids back in school so they can have a future that they deserve.”

Space Command

Tuberville next addressed the recent announcement that the Department of Defense’s inspector general is investigating the Air Force process that led to Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal being chosen to house the permanent headquarters of Space Command.

The junior senator from Alabama reiterated his stance voiced earlier this week that Redstone was a deserving choice for the important basing decision.

“Our staff — we’ve had several briefings with the Air Force about their decision,” Tuberville shared. “And they confirmed that Alabama, which they already knew, was the best place to have Space Command. Huntsville is the best fit.”

“We knew that because of the change in administrations that it’d be looked at,” he continued. “But it was based on a merit-based decision, and it was looked at from all different directions — low cost of living, good schools and job opportunities — that Huntsville was the best place. So, they’re welcome to review this.”

Tuberville underlined that new Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has already publicly backed the Air Force on the matter.

“So, we welcome the decision for them to look at it,” he remarked. “But at the end of the day, I’m confident that they will find the decision is the right one for the future of Space Command and our national security and the American taxpayer. … This wasn’t a political decision. This was a decision based on facts.”

‘One of our biggest obstacles’

One issue that continues to be of paramount importance across Alabama is the access of high-speed, reliable broadband internet service, especially in rural and other underserved areas. Asked by Yellowhammer News, Tuberville talked about his support for investing in broadband infrastructure, especially fiber, across all levels of government.

“That’s probably one of our biggest obstacles, Sean,” Tuberville said of the lack of broadband access in rural Alabama.

“It takes a lot of money to put fiber into some of these rural areas, but we’ve got no choice,” he outlined. “If we’re going to educate our kids and we’re going to move out of the bottom rung in education in the state of Alabama, we have got to get fiber. And there’s a lot of talk about it; I know our governor, Governor Ivey, is on top of this.”

He also explained how this relates to the pandemic and suggested some relief funds should be utilized to address the issue.

“Hopefully, if we spent $2 trillion, you’d think we would have a lot of money going into fiber. Not just in Alabama, but a lot of other states across the country,” Tuberville stated. “You can’t even have virtual learning if you don’t have internet at home. You can’t do it. … [W]e have to have not just a state and local plan, but we have to have a national plan for fiber optics, to get people the internet they need.”

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

1 day ago

What Alabamians need to know about the latest activity on Goat Hill — Feb. 25, 2021

(State of Alabama)

The Alabama Legislature on Wednesday met for the eighth day of its 2021 regular session.

Neither chamber gaveled in for a particularly long period of time on the floor, due to most of the day being occupied by a lengthy and productive slate of committee meetings.

Here is a rundown of the day’s proceedings:

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Alabama Senate

The Senate gaveled in at 4:00 p.m. and handled a one-bill special order calendar of SB 46.

This medical marijuana bill sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson (R-Florence) passed in a 20-10 vote; read about that here.

Before that, the upper chamber’s committee day kicked off with Judiciary. That committee advanced several bills, including Sen. Rodger Smitherman’s (D-Birmingham) SB 153 expanding the list of criminal offenses eligible for expungement.

The Tourism Committee subsequently gave a unanimous favorable report to Sen. Chris Elliott’s (R-Daphne) SB 62, which would allow certain eligible municipalities in Baldwin County to establish three entertainment districts within their jurisdictions.

Also of note, the Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee favorably reported Majority Leader Clay Scofield’s (R-Guntersville) SB 249 relating to call centers.

View the full list of the Senate’s floor activity from the day here.

Alabama House

The House convened at 1:00 p.m. and spent its floor time taking up local bills.

The lower chamber also had a robust, and — at times — controversial, committee day.

Ways and Means Education got started at 8:45 a.m.; the committee gave a favorable report, among others, to HB 281 as amended. This bill sponsored by House Pro Tem Victor Gaston (R-Mobile) would extend the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program through 2027.

The committee also advanced two pro-military bills, SB 83 and SB 106, that are part of a package discussed in a press conference shortly afterward the same day.

In Constitution, Campaigns and Elections, one notable item that received a public hearing but no committee action on the day was HB 39 by Rep. Laura Hall (D-Huntsville). This bill would provide for no-excuse absentee voting in Alabama and is supported by Secretary of State John Merrill, a Republican. However, local elections officials from three counties voiced opposition to the bill during the hearing.

Education Policy took up some significant bills on Wednesday; this included advancing Rep. Jeremy Gray’s (D-Opelika) HB 246, which would legalize yoga being offered in public K-12 schools. The same committee gave a favorable report to Rep. Scott Stadthagen’s (R-Hartselle) HB 391, the bill mandating public school students can only compete in athletic competitions aligning with the gender on their birth certificates.

In the next room over, the Judiciary Committee favorably reported as amended Rep. Ginny Shaver’s (R-Leesburg) HB 237, a bill to protect “born-alive” abortion survivors. The committee also advanced Rep. Wes Allen’s (R-Troy) HB 1 as amended, the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act.

View the full list of the House’s floor activity from the day here.

Looking ahead

The legislature on Thursday will meet for the ninth day of its 2021 regular session; this will conclude the legislative week. The Senate is scheduled to get in at 9:30 a.m., followed by the House at 10:00 a.m.

Livestreams of legislative proceedings can be viewed on the legislature’s website here.

Next week is also set to be a three-day legislative week.

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

2 days ago

Alabama Senate passes bill that would legalize medical marijuana; Fate uncertain in House

(Tim Melson for State Senate/Facebook, Pixabay, YHN)

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate on Wednesday wasted no timing in passing a bill that would legalize medicinal cannabis, commonly referred to as medical marijuana, in the Yellowhammer State.

The upper chamber passed Senator Tim Melson’s (R-Florence) SB 46 in a bipartisan 20-10 vote, with two floor amendments tacked onto the legislation.

Those voting against the bill included the pro tem and the majority leader of the body.

Previous versions of the bill have passed the Senate the past two years only to stall out in the House (it was waylaid by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020). Melson — a board certified anesthesiologist — on Wednesday expressed relative optimism about SB 46’s fate this year.

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“We’ve been here before,” he told reporters after the Senate vote. “We’ll just see what happens.”

“A poll shows that — I think y’all are going to be surprised by some people who are going to vote for it,” Melson added. “Because they have had that family member who needs it. Or they realized they have a friend or neighbor who needs it. And I think you’ll be surprised.”

Melson, as he has in the past, explained that he was a skeptic of medical marijuana as recently as four or five years ago.

“I started listening to patients instead of biased people,” the doctor advised. “And this is where we’re at today. … Look, I’m not a recreational marijuana [supporter]. I don’t want that in this state. I just want the patients who need it to have it.”

He also directly addressed the vocal opposition to the bill by Senator Larry Stutts (R-Tuscumbia), a fellow doctor.

RELATED: State Sen. Stutts still a ‘no’ on medical marijuana: ‘It’s just marijuana — they don’t say ‘medical Tylenol’ or ‘medical aspirin”

“One of my colleagues, who I respect, is hung up on the term ‘medical’ for marijuana. And that medical marijuana term he says shouldn’t exist,” Melson said. “Well, that’s OK. That’s his opinion. But if I go to Google Scholar and type in ‘medical marijuana,’ over 580,000 articles pop up just like that — in less than a second. … Look it up in Webster’s, Stedman’s Medical and some other dictionaries, there’s a definition there. I’m not saying he’s wrong, but there’s a lot of people who disagree with him. And I’m one of them.”

This article originally said the Senate vote was 21-8. This article has been updated to reflect that this vote count changed after it was announced on the floor.

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

2 days ago

State board expands allowable number of collaborators for practicing physicians

(W.Miller/YHN)

The Alabama Board of Medical Examiners announced Wednesday that the number of licensed professionals with whom a practicing Alabama physician can professionally collaborate is increasing from four to nine.

Examples of collaborators, or advanced practice providers, include certified registered nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives and physician assistants.

Physicians can collaborate with nine individuals or their full-time equivalents. The change was agreed to by the Alabama Board of Nursing in addition to the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners.

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“This is a positive joint effort that recognizes patients’ interests are best served when they are treated by a physician-led team of health professionals. It will help ensure patients in Alabama receive safe, quality care,” said Dr. Mark H. LeQuire, Chairman of the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners, in an emailed statement.

According to the Board’s announcement, the changes will take effect in the middle of June.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

2 days ago

Ainsworth continues push to make Alabama the nation’s most military-friendly state

(S. Ross/YHN)

MONTGOMERY — Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL) on Wednesday joined with a bipartisan group of legislative leaders, military officers and Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed to highlight the importance of a pending package of bills that is designed to retain, safeguard and improve the military presence and investment across Alabama.

The legislative package, which has already passed the Senate and is now working its way through the House process, is the result of work by the Alabama Military Stability Commission, a statutory panel that is chaired by Ainsworth. The commission is comprised of several elected officials, cabinet members and regional appointees from areas around the state with a heavy defense concentration.

Since he assumed the office of lieutenant governor in January 2019, Ainsworth has consistently stressed his desire to “make sure Alabama is the most military-friendly state in the country.” Under his leadership, the Military Stability Commission also unveiled the “Heroes Welcome” website last year.

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The legislative package now moving through the lower chamber stalled last year when the 2020 regular session was abruptly halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The federal military bases located in Alabama play an important role in our state’s economy and job climate, so retaining and, when possible, expanding their footprint must always be a top priority,” Ainsworth stated. “And mayors in the cities and counties that house them will attest to how vital our military bases are in providing employment opportunities and revenues in local economies across the state.”

Among the bills in the package are measures that will allow military dependents attending public colleges and universities in Alabama to pay in-state tuition while stationed here; extend the enrollment deadline for military families to apply for magnet schools; guarantee the acceptance of out-of-state occupational licenses for military dependents in various professions; and others.

The legislative group present for Wednesday’s press conference in front of the State House included Senate Pro Tem Greg Reed (R-Jasper); House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia); Senator Tom Butler (R-Madison), chair of the Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Committee; Representatives Dickie Drake (R-Leeds), chair of the House Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee; and Representative Kirk Hatcher (D-Montgomery).

“The strong military presence in Alabama is important not only to our nation’s security, but also to our state’s economy. That is why this package of bills was one of the first the Senate took up and passed this session,” Reed remarked. “These bills show that supporting the thousands of service members and veterans across our state are a top priority of the legislature, and I appreciate Lieutenant Governor Ainsworth for all of his work and leadership in delivering this support to the military families who call Alabama home.”

McCutcheon underscored this pro-military package is also a priority for the House.

“Even the smallest advantage we put in place can tip the balance of whether a base stays here, leaves here, or expands here, and the legislative package put forth by the Military Stability Commission signals that Alabama is serious about keeping and building upon our military bases,” said McCutcheon, who represents parts of defense-centric Madison County. “Offering items like in-state college tuition and additional job opportunities for military dependents not only makes Alabama more attractive to Pentagon decision-makers, it also demonstrates a needed measure of our state’s famous southern hospitality.

Butler noted that addressing issues important to military families is especially timely since Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal was recently announced as the permanent headquarters for the U.S. Space Command.

“Redstone Arsenal has been the backbone of the Tennessee Valley’s economy since its founding 80 years ago, in 1941, and that role is continuing to grow even more with the recent decision to locate U.S. Space Command at Redstone,” Butler commented. “There’s no better way to roll out the red carpet for Space Command than by passing this legislative package and offering even more advantages and opportunities for the military personnel who will soon call Alabama home.”

A military retiree with 42 years of service in the U.S. Air Force and Alabama National Guard, Drake has firsthand knowledge that improving the quality of life for armed forces personnel and their families is a factor in determining where assets are allocated.

“As a career serviceman, I can tell you that whenever a military family receives a new posting, the first thing they do is research the schools, the job market, and the quality of life in the city where they are being assigned,” Drake outlined. “Dissatisfaction in any of these areas spreads quickly throughout the ranks, and it soon reaches the brass that makes the decisions at the top. Those are the folks who decide if military bases live or die.”

The group of military officials present included Alabama National Guard Adjutant General Sheryl Gordon. Reed and Hatcher empathized the strong, mutually beneficial relationship between the local community and Montgomery’s Maxwell Air Force Base.

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

2 days ago

SPLC report: 12 Confederate markers in Alabama were removed in 2020

(YHN/Wikicommons)

A report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) published recently noted that 12 confederate symbols that had been publicly displayed in Alabama were removed in the last year.

“2020 was a transformative year for the Confederate symbols movement. Over the course of seven months, more symbols of hate were removed from public property than in the preceding four years combined,” SPLC chief of staff Lecia Brooks said in a statement.

SPLC, based in Montgomery, tracks the status of Confederate markers and monuments and urges local officials to remove them.

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“Our public entities should no longer play a role in distorting history by honoring a secessionist government that waged war against the United States to preserve white supremacy and the enslavement of millions of people,” reads a post about removing Confederate memorials on the SPLC’s website.

In several cases, the decision to remove Confederate memorials in Alabama was made in the wake of George Floyd’s death while being apprehended by Minneapolis police, and the ensuing wave of summer protests.

Three of the cases that garnered press attention were in some of Alabama’s most populous cities. The City of Birmingham removed a confederate memorial in Linn Park, the City of Mobile removed a statue of Confederate Admiral Raphael Semmes from a downtown location, and Madison County Commission removed a monument to Confederate soldiers from the grounds of a county courthouse in Huntsville.

Many of the other removals in Alabama were statues or markers on public ground in less populous counties. One was a renamed elementary school and five were removals and renamings at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The full list can be found here.

Alabama tied with Texas for third-most Confederate markers removed among all states. Virginia had the most with 71 removed followed by North Carolina with 24. The SPLC says 167 Confederate remembrances were removed in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

Alabama’s 2017 Memorial Preservation Act punishes the removal or destruction of any historical item or location in Alabama with a one-time $25,000 fine.

Two legislative efforts have been introduced during the 2021 regular session regarding that law. State Rep. Juandalynn Givan (D-Birmingham) wants to repeal the act while State Rep. Mike Holmes (R-Wetumpka) wants to change the punishment for local governments that violate the law to $10,000 per day.

Givan’s bill was referred to a subcommittee during a recent hearing while Holmes’ has not yet been taken up by the House Committee on State Government.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

2 days ago

City of Mobile to commence with $1.1M upgrade of Bienville Square

Concept art for Bienville Square improvments (City of Mobile/Contributed)

One of Mobile’s most famous locations, Bienville Square, is set to receive several improvements as a restoration project gets underway.

Bienville Square, located in the heart of the downtown Mobile area, suffered a great deal of damage including the uprooting of several of the park’s famous oak trees when Alabama’s coastal area was struck by Hurricane Sally in September 2020.

“From the moment we first surveyed the damage sustained during Hurricane Sally, we began a discussion about how we would repair and revitalize this vital part of downtown Mobile,” Mayor Sandy Stimpson stated in a release.

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The city is set to proceed with updates to the park that were commissioned by its Downtown Parks Conservancy (DPC) in 2019.

“With slight alterations to the central plaza around the fountain, the replanting of trees, and the addition of lush landscaping, this revitalization will restore and improve our treasured public space,” said Kellie Hope, president of the Downtown Parks Conservancy.

The City of Mobile is committing $200,000 and Regions Bank is donating $50,000 to kick off the Bienville improvements. DPC aims to launch a fundraising campaign to secure the remainder of the financial resources necessary to complete the project.

“Regions Bank is committed to supporting community partners that are making an incredible difference in helping the Gulf Coast recover from Hurricane Sally,” said Christian White, Mobile market executive for Regions Bank. “Bienville Square supports downtown Mobile’s tourism and economic development, and it provides a special place for community engagement.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

2 days ago

Supported by Huntsville, Air Force conducts 237th test of Boeing-built Minuteman III ICBM

(U.S. Space Force photo by Brittany E. N. Murphy)

The U.S. Air Force on Tuesday completed its first Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test launch of 2021, marking the 237th such maneuver since testing of the Boeing-built strategic deterrent began in August 1970.

The Minuteman III, which is managed by Boeing’s Huntsville-based Missile and Weapon Systems division, is as fast as a seismic wave, traveling up to four miles per second and up to 15,000 miles per hour.

Since the program first went on alert more than 50 years ago, Boeing has supported every test flight of the Minuteman III, which represents the land-based prong of the United States’ nuclear triad.

The latest test, which was routine, demonstrates that America’s nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, reliable and effective to deter 21st-century threats, a press release emphasized. It also underlines the nation’s continued commitment to ensuring peace through strength around the world.

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Air Force Global Strike Command Airmen launched an unarmed Minuteman III equipped with a test reentry vehicle at 11:49 p.m. local time from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. During this test, the ICBM’s reentry vehicle reportedly traveled approximately 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. These test launches verify the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM weapon system, providing valuable data.

“Our nation’s ICBM fleet stands ready 24/7,” stated Lt. Gen. Anthony Cotton, deputy commander of Air Force Global Strike Command. “Operational tests validate our Minuteman III readiness and reliability. It further demonstrates to our citizens, our allies and our partners that men and women across three missile wings provide credible overwatch with a strategic deterrent that is safe, secure and effective.”

Watch a video of Tuesday’s test here.

Boeing’s Missile and Weapon Systems division supports the design, sustainment, maintenance and modernization of the Minuteman system. Boeing employs more than 3,000 people in the Rocket City, indispensably supporting our nation’s defense and space capabilities, as well as commercial aircraft and services work.

“Over the last year, our highly professional and dedicated team of Airmen, civilians and contractors have showcased phenomenal initiative and adaptability while continuing to run a successful ICBM test launch program despite the challenges of a world-wide pandemic,” said Air Force Col. Omar Colbert, 576th Flight Test Squadron Commander. “Today’s launch sends a visible message of deterrence to the world, and I couldn’t be more proud of our team, which includes task force members from the three ICBM wings along with key expertise and support from HQ Air Force Global Strike Command, HQ Twentieth Air Force, and the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center.”

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

2 days ago

Alabama House committee advances anti-infanticide bill over Democratic opposition

(Ginny Shaver for Al House 39/Facebook, PIxabay, YHN)

MONTGOMERY — The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday gave a favorable report as amended to HB 237, State Rep. Ginny Shaver’s (R-Leesburg) “born-alive” bill that would be known as “Gianna’s Law.”

Shaver has introduced a version of this bill for three consecutive sessions.

The legislation is named after a survivor of an attempted abortion who now travels the world telling her story. Shaver has met the woman (Gianna Jessen) and called her an inspiration. The bill in 2019 passed the House, with Democrats in the chamber unanimously opposing the legislation. The legislation then stalled in the Senate over concerns from the medical community.

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The state representative from Cherokee County introduced the bill last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic stopped it from advancing in the legislature.

The 2019 legislation was introduced by Shaver after the publicized rise of support for infanticide amongst national Democrats, especially following in the wake of statements by policymakers in New York and Virginia. Her current legislation would also purport to safeguard against infanticide by requiring a doctor to administer the same level of medical care to a child born alive after an abortion attempt as they would any other child.

Shaver has said, “There is no such thing as post-birth abortion. Think about those three words. That’s infanticide.”

“That’s what it is and what my bill does is in this situation where a child survives an abortion attempt and is born alive, it would require a physician to exercise the same reasonable care to preserve the life of the child that is born alive,” she continued. “When this happens, if there is any sign of breathing or any other sign of life … there would then exist a doctor-patient relationship between the doctor and the child so that he would be required to exercise the same degree of physical skill and care to make an effort to reasonably preserve the life and health of that child.”

Wednesday’s committee action came over the dissenting votes of Reps. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) and Merika Coleman (D-Birmingham), the chair of the Alabama Democratic Party and deputy leader of the House Minority Caucus, respectively.

Coleman remarked that she was trying to hold her tongue regarding her opposition to the bill.

“Because I know you’re going to pass it,” she added. “I can talk until doomsday, but I know what’s going to happen with it.”

The committee vote was not totally on party lines, as Rep. Prince Chestnut (D-Selma) voted to give the bill a favorable report.

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

2 days ago

Senator Tuberville releases list of in-state office locations, staffers

(T. Tuberville for Senate/Contributed)

U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) this week announced 14 appointments to his Alabama state staff, as well as the five physical office locations from which they will serve the people of Alabama.

The freshman senator’s in-state team will be located across the Yellowhammer State and includes regional directors, caseworkers and subject matter experts on diverse issues important to Alabamians.

Tuberville previously announced the hire of Jordan Doufexis as senior advisor and state team coordinator. Doufexis leads and oversees the day-to-day operations of the senator’s in-state team.

“I want Alabamians to know that no matter where you live my state staff is close by and ready to assist with any questions, issues, or concerns facing the people of Alabama,” stated Tuberville.

“It was incredibly important to assemble a robust, knowledgeable team with strong Alabama roots, and I am confident the team constructed we have will serve the people of Alabama well. My team understands that the government works for the people, not the other way around,” he added. “We’re here to help.”

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A release from Tuberville’s office advised that constituents with casework concerns should direct all calls to the Montgomery office at this time.

The following information was provided about Tuberville’s state team and office locations:

Montgomery Office:
Frank M Johnson Jr. Annex
One Church Street, Suite 500-B
Montgomery, AL 36104
Phone: 334-523-7424

Jordan Mills will serve as Auburn Regional Director. Mills was born and raised in Montgomery, AL. After high school he received a scholarship to play baseball at Lurleen B Wallace in Andalusia, AL. After finishing his career at LBW Jordan attended Troy University at Montgomery. Jordan found a passion for entrepreneurship at the age of 21 when he helped start the first of 3 businesses. He now lives in Auburn, AL. with his wife Riki of 16 years and their 3 children.

Cindy Pate will serve as Montgomery Regional Director. Pate is a native Alabamian with fourteen years of experience serving as a state staffer for three previous members of the U.S. Congress. Most recently, she worked in Montgomery as a Field Representative for U.S. Representative Martha Roby. Prior to her service with Rep. Roby, she served as a Caseworker for U.S. Representative Spencer Bachus and as a Caseworker and Agricultural State Representative for U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions. Pate is a graduate of Samford University. She has two sons and a daughter-in-law.

Zandra Wilson will serve as Montgomery Constituent Services. Wilson is a native of Montgomery, Alabama where she attended Auburn University at Montgomery obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Master of Science in Justice and Public Safety/Judicial Administration. As a veteran Congressional Constituent Service Representative/Caseworker, she has served as a liaison monitoring federal, district, and local agency matters for U.S. Senators Sessions, Strange and Jones while advocating for the constituency within the Middle District of Alabama. Wilson has served as a U.S. Senate staff member for over 25 years. She is the mother of one son.

Huntsville Office:
2101 Clinton Ave W, Suite 300
Huntsville, AL 35805
Phone: to be announced

Gwen Shelton will serve as Huntsville Regional Director. Shelton has spent over eighteen years in elected office, culminating as the first female Mayor and Economic Development Director of Fayetteville, Tennessee. Gwen and her husband Scott are the proud parents of active-duty Army Aviator sons, Captain Nevada Shelton and 1st Lieutenant Cooper Shelton. A resident of Huntsville, she enjoys running marathons internationally, her favorite being The Great Wall marathon in China.

Shanderla Dionne McMillian will serve as the Huntsville Constituent Services. McMillian is a native of Troy, Alabama with 22 years of service as a staff member for three United States Senators. A graduate from Auburn University at Montgomery, she has supported 17 counties in the northern Alabama region as a caseworker for Senator Jeff Sessions, as field representative and caseworker for Senator Luther Strange, and as caseworker and service academy coordinator for Senator Doug Jones. McMillian currently lives in Madison County with her husband Louis C. McMullian, Jr. She is the proud mom to two sons.

Col. Brian Naugher will serve as Senior Defense Liaison. Colonel (Retired) Brian Naugher is a 34-year veteran of the Alabama National Guard with two deployments supporting the Global War on Terrorism. During his service he held several Command and key staff positions. His culminating assignments were the Commander of the 226th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade / Joint task Force Tarpon and the Support Plans and Operations Officer for the 167th Theater Sustainment Command supporting Army North. In his civilian capacity he worked at Caelum Research Corporation as the Assistant Vice President of Department of Defense growth. He also held numerous positions while working in the healthcare information technology field during his tenure at The SSI Group. Naugher is a native of Opelika Alabama and currently resides in Guntersville.

Hoover Office:
Galleria Tower
3000 River Chase, Suite 915
Hoover, AL 35244
Phone: to be announced

Terri Connell will serve as the Hoover Regional Director. Connell is a native of Alabama with 36 years experience in Health Care Management and Governmental Affairs. A graduate of Auburn University, Terri is a member of various state and local boards, including Alabama’s Statewide Health Coordinating Council where she was appointed by Governor Kay Ivey in 2017. Connell has served as the CEO of various healthcare entities and has extensive experience working with Alabama state legislators. She lives in Clanton with her husband John Wade Connell, son John Patrick Connell, and Daughter-in-law Courtney George Connell.

Deanna Frankowski will serve as the Hoover Constituent Services. Frankowski has been extensively involved in local, state, and federal campaigns and conservative grassroots causes for 25 years. A resident of Alabama since 1985, she currently serves as Secretary of the Jefferson County GOP Executive and Steering Committees and is active in various local organizations. Frankowski lives in Leeds, Alabama with her 3 dogs Foster, Margi and Mandy. She enjoys outdoor activities, home improvement, and is a member of St. Theresa Catholic Church.

Gil Hanahan will serve as the state Healthcare Liaison. Hanahan spearheaded the first graduate medical education program at East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika, Alabama. He received his Bachelor’s Degree with distinction from Auburn University in Health Services Administration with a minor in Business and also received his Master’s of Science Degree in Health Administration from UAB.

Dothan Office:
U.S. Courthouse
100 West Troy Street, Suite 302
Dothan, AL 36303
Phone: 334-547-7441

John Ferguson will serve as Dothan Regional Director. A native of Dothan, Ferguson has been an elected member of the Dothan City Commission since 2013, and is currently serving as the commission’s appointment to the Southeast Wiregrass Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. A graduate of Rehobeth High School and the University of Alabama, Birmingham’s School of Industrial Distribution, he is an active member of the Dothan community having served on the Board of Directors of the Southeast Alabama Child Advocacy Center; Board of Directors for the Wiregrass Auburn Club; and is a past member of the Dothan Planning Commission and the Advisory Board of the Dothan Technology Center. Ferguson and his wife Tina Grantham Ferguson have two children and are active members of the Ridgecrest Baptist Church.

Mobile Office:
BB&T Centre
41 West I-65, Service Road North, Suite 2300-A
Mobile, AL 36608
Phone: to be announced

Andrew Hinkebein will serve as Mobile Regional Director. Hinkebein served almost seven years with Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker’s southern regional office, where he oversaw all operations and constituent services. Hinkebein specialized in economic development, defense and space initiatives and supported southern Mississippi assets including ports, airports, shipbuilders and military installations. Hinkebein has also served on former Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant’s Ocean Task Force and Defense Initiative Task Force and was the Director of Government Relations for the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.

Annette Stokes will serve as Mobile Constituent Services. A native of Mobile and graduate of South Alabama, Stokes joins Senator Tuberville’s team after 17 years as a caseworker in Georgia for Senators Saxby Chambliss and David Perdue.

Patty Etheridge will serve as State Projects and Grants Coordinator. In this role, Etheridge will promote economic growth and community development efforts around the state. A resident of Foley for over a decade, Etheridge is an experienced campaign staffer, having served as Baldwin County Coordinator for Senator Tuberville’s campaign.

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

2 days ago

Shelby, Tuberville support Vilsack’s confirmation as USDA secretary

(Senator Richard Shelby/Facebook, Lorie Shaull/Flickr, Tommy Tuberville/Facebook, YHN)

U.S. Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) on Tuesday voted to support the confirmation of Tom Vilsack to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The nominee of President Joe Biden was confirmed in a 92-7 vote. Vilsack served in the same position during the Obama administration from January 2009 through January 2017.

Tuberville was recently named to the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee.

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“Though Secretary Vilsack has previously held this position, our agriculture challenges are not the same,” Tuberville said in a statement following the confirmation vote. “Farmers are facing unfair trade retaliation and pandemic-related supply chain disruption, while also continuing to deal with the most unpredictable business partner of all – Mother Nature.”

“I plan to work with Secretary Vilsack and my Agriculture Committee colleagues on the upcoming Farm Bill, restoring trade routes and markets damaged by the pandemic, and improving disaster relief programs so that farmers can get the timely relief they deserve,” he continued. “Agriculture is the largest driver of Alabama’s economy, and I look forward to ensuring our farmers, producers, and foresters have a seat at the table during upcoming policy debates.”

Vilsack was governor of Iowa from 1999 until 2007. His confirmation as agriculture secretary in 2009 came on a voice vote, signifying resounding bipartisan support.

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

2 days ago

What Alabamians need to know about the latest activity on Goat Hill — Feb. 24, 2021

(State of Alabama)

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Legislature on Tuesday met for the seventh day of its 2021 regular session, with the chambers working off of respective special order calendars.

The return to action came following a scheduled one-week break for the legislature as part of COVID-19 protocols.

Senate Pro Tem Greg Reed (R-Jasper) and Majority Leader Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) have outlined some of the key priorities that the legislative leaders foresee for the remainder of the session.

Here is a breakdown of the day’s proceedings:

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Alabama Senate

The Senate’s day was marked mostly by what did not happen, as Senator Del Marsh (R-Anniston) announced that he will not bring his comprehensive gaming proposal to floor consideration for another two weeks. Read more about that development here.

The Senate did make some progress working through a 24-bill special order calendar, however they quickly got off track when Senator Coleman-Madison’s (D-Birmingham) SB 118 came to the floor. Following an amendment offered by Senator Sam Givhan (R-Huntsville), Senator Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) spoke at the podium for the better part of two hours before Reed successfully moved to adjourn for the day. Smitherman had just quipped that he was drinking his “10-hour energy,” otherwise known as Mountain Dew, so there was no end in sight before Reed shut the show down with over half of the calendar going untouched.

Before the train derailed, the Senate passed seven bills, all of which originated in the upper chamber and now head to the House.

This included Senator Arthur Orr’s (R-Decatur) SB 113, which passed as substituted. This bill would ensure that facial recognition software or other artificial intelligence technology results cannot be the sole basis for an arrest in Alabama.

Orr’s SB 1, related to contact tracing privacy protections, also passed as amended.

View the full list of the Senate’s floor activity from the day here.

Alabama House

The House also got into some spirited debate on Tuesday, ultimately passing over a dozen bills. Read more about the lower chamber’s nearly six-hour day here.

Looking ahead

Wednesday is set to be another busy committee day, especially on the House side of the equation.

The Senate committee day will begin with Judiciary at its normal 8:30 a.m. time slot. Tourism convenes at 10:00 a.m., with a much less anticipated agenda than its last gathering; Health is set to meet at noon; Confirmations will be at 2:00 p.m.; and Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development (FRED) wraps the Senate committee day up at 2:30 p.m.

The House’s committee schedule is jam-packed, starting with Ways and Means Education at 8:45 a.m. Three pro-military bills that originated in the Senate will be on that committee’s agenda, as will House Pro Tem Victor Gaston’s (R-Mobile) HB 281 to extend the Historic Preservation Income Tax Credit to 2029.

Two of the most-watched House committee meetings on the day will start at the same time, 1:30 p.m., when Education Policy and Judiciary commence.

Education Policy’s agenda includes: HB 246, Rep. Jeremy Gray’s (D-Opelika) annual bill allowing yoga in public schools; HB 391, Rep. Scott Stadthagen’s (R-Hartselle) bill mandating public school athletes can only compete in athletic competitions aligning with the gender on their birth certificates; and Rep. Kerry Rich’s (R-Albertville) HB 248 related to the broadcast of public K-12 school sporting events.

Meanwhile, House Judiciary will tackle an agenda that includes Rep. Ginny Shaver’s (R-Leesburg) HB 237, a bill to protect “born-alive” abortion survivors. Another hot-button bill the committee is scheduled to take up during its meeting is Rep. Wes Allen’s (R-Troy) HB 1, the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act.

Both chambers will also gavel in for the eighth legislative day of the session; the House gets in at 1:00 p.m. and the Senate should follow suit at 4:00 p.m.

Livestreams of legislative proceedings can be viewed on the legislature’s website here.

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

3 days ago

Alabama House recap: Sexual Assault Survivors Bill of Rights among several criminal justice bills to pass

(Henry Thornton/YHN)

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives passed several bills on Tuesday; among them were several involving criminal justice, including one that would create a Sexual Assault Survivors Bill of Rights.

Other notable pieces of legislation approved by the lower chamber included the unanimous passage of “Aniah’s Law” and the passage of a bill requiring students to attend kindergarten or demonstrate readiness via a state test in order to enroll in 1st grade.

Tuesday was the seventh day of the legislature’s 2021 regular session.

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The legislation to create a Sexual Assault Survivors Bill of Rights, HB 137, is sponsored by Rep. Chip Brown (R-Hollinger’s Island)

The bill establishes certain standards for how the government handles evidence collection and storage in sexual assault cases. It would also require the government to inform each victim of how their evidence will be treated, what they can request of law enforcement, and what other resources are available to them as survivors.

More information on the legislation is available here.

Several of the other criminal justice measures were sponsored by Rep. Jim Hill (R-Moody).

Among those was HB 73 that requires every judicial circuit to establish a community punishment and corrections program. Such programs provide alternatives to traditional sentencing methods while improving communities, and are cited as ways to reduce prison overpopulation.

Also from Hill that passed Tuesday was HB 23 that allows judges to have greater flexibility in the time a parolee who has their parole revoked must serve if the judge had previously handed down a split sentence.

HB 110 was also from Hill. It holds that an individual who violates the terms of their probation can serve their required confinement period in county jails instead of state facilities. The State of Alabama would be required to reimburse the county facilities for the costs associated.

The House also approved several smaller measures on Tuesday, including:

HB 187 from Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur) making small changes to the regulations governing how local governments carry out competitive bids for contracts.

HB 191, also from Collins, that makes small changes to annexation policy for property in overlapping police jurisdictions.

HB 162 from Rep. Kyle South (R-Fayette) creating a lease tax exemption for certain entities.

HB 99 from Rep. Jeremy Gray (D-Opelika) that adds electric bicycles as a type of vehicle the state has classified in law and can regulate.

HB 77 from Rep. Ritchie Whorton (R-Owens Cross Roads) that adds a one-dollar fee on firefighter license plates with the proceeds from the fee being split between the Alabama Joint Fire Council and the Alabama Fire College.

HB 76 from Rep. Thomas Jackson (D-Thomasville) that allows parents of students who suffer from seizures to submit a seizure treatment plan to their school. The bill also has other seizure-related measures.

HB 143 from Rep. Joe Lovvorn (R-Auburn) requiring the Alabama Emergency Management Agency to adopt guidelines for identifying and designating places that can serve as shelters during extreme weather events.

HB 335 from Rep. Alan Baker (R-Brewton) revising the laws around competitive bids for waste collection and disposal contracts.

HB 201 from Rep. Hill making minor changes to where on courthouse grounds a sale of land for taxes can take place.

HB 210 from Rep. Paul Lee (R-Dothan) requiring the Alabama Department of Public Health to collect and make public more types of anonymized data about who is admitted to and discharged from hospitals in the state.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

3 days ago

Marsh: ‘Extremely optimistic’ on gaming bill — ‘We’ll get a piece of legislation out to the people to make a decision on’

(S. Ross/YHN)

MONTGOMERY — Senator Del Marsh (R-Anniston) on Tuesday afternoon provided an update on the status of his comprehensive gaming proposal that is currently awaiting the consideration of the Alabama Senate.

Before the legislature took a scheduled one-week break last week, the Senate Tourism Committee gave the legislation a unanimous favorable report and the full upper chamber began debate on the measure.

In the time since, Marsh has been working with his colleagues on fine-tuning the proposal, with the original hopes of it hitting the Senate floor again on Tuesday.

“It’s been a very productive week,” he told members of the press.

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However, as he added, that collaborative process is still ongoing and. Marsh said he did not want to rush things by bringing the legislation back up this week.

“I feel very positive about where we are,” Marsh stressed. “I’m convinced we’re going to get a comprehensive piece out to the people (on which they can vote in a referendum).”

SB 214, the gaming proposal, proposes a constitutional amendment that would need to pass a referendum of the people if approved by the legislature.

Some of the finer details of how the provisions of SB 214 would be implemented still need to be codified through enabling legislation, which would come in the form of a regular bill. Marsh had originally intended on working on and passing that enabling bill later in the session after the hypothetical passage of SB 214 by the legislature; however, on Tuesday, he said he believes it will be better to consider them both at the same time.

As a result, he will be working on the enabling legislation for the next two weeks, so all aspects of the gaming proposal are on the table at the same time for the legislature to look at before either chamber takes a floor vote.

Marsh’s new timeline would have both SB 214 and the enabling legislation ready for consideration on the Senate floor as soon as Tuesday, March 9.

“I’m positive about the whole process,” he reiterated. “Everybody has been great participating in this process. And I am as confident as I’ve ever been that we’ll get a piece of legislation out to the people to make a decision on.”

When asked, Marsh clarified that he thinks he could have passed SB 214 through the Senate on Tuesday if he needed to.

“I had the votes today,” he commented. “What I’ve tried to do in this process — this is an issue that truly is going to have a significant, be a significant change for the state. And so it does not need to be rushed. Some of the questions I’m getting have been the ‘fine print’ questions — how I would characterize those questions. So I think that even though I have 21 votes today, I would rather have 25 votes in two weeks and show a strong, bipartisan consensus of the Senate. I think that would play well as it goes to the House. Because I want as strong a showing in the House, in that this is about getting something to the people of Alabama that addresses gaming once and for all, and how those revenues are going to be spent to the best ability of the state to better the lives of the citizens of Alabama.”

A key change that Marsh is considering to SB 214 would see the number of authorized casino locations rise from five to seven; there would be one casino per congressional district under that potential change. This would likely see the Dothan area have a licensed casino, in addition to another North Alabama location to be determined by the newly created Alabama Gaming Commission.

To this specific issue, Marsh provided the results of a poll he commissioned last week showing that only 26% of respondents indicated that they do not support casino gaming at all; the poll only surveyed likely Republican voters, and a poll including Democrats would likely show even higher support for gaming.

Whether the number of casinos allowed by the legislation is ultimately five or seven will come down to “a numbers game” with the vote count within the legislature, Marsh further advised; whichever option has the most legislative support will win out, although he underlined that his polling will help inform legislators in making the decision.

“I’m extremely optimistic about where we are on this piece of legislation,” he concluded, ultimately predicting the proposal will gain the approval of the Senate in two weeks or so and advance to the House.

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