2 years ago

Democrats united in opposition to lottery bill — Proposal not expected to get another vote

MONTGOMERY — Leadership of the Alabama House Democratic Caucus on Wednesday hosted a press conference to explain their opposition to SB 220, a constitutional amendment that would legalize a lottery in Alabama.

This came after the lottery legislation failed on a procedural vote on the House floor Tuesday afternoon, with only three Democrats voting for the lottery. Immediately before the Wednesday press conference began, State Rep. Merika Coleman (D-Birmingham) took issue with Yellowhammer News reporting that Democrats had blocked the lottery bill from advancing, with Coleman calling it “a bullshit article.”

However, House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) then said that after a meeting, the Democratic Caucus is now indeed unanimous in their opposition to SB 220, with Daniels saying that the three prior “yay” votes are prepared to revert to the caucus position and vote “nay” if the proposal comes back up this session.

Daniels later said he does not personally think the lottery bill will be voted on again this session, however.

Daniels and Coleman in the press conference both said that they are not opposing the lottery to simply oppose a lottery. Coleman outlined that she has supported a lottery for the state of Alabama for the last 17 years, though the Democratic Caucus believes there are “deliverables” or priorities of theirs that are more important than allowing the people of Alabama to vote on just any lottery proposal.

These priorities – the ones that the Democratic leaders advised were leading to their opposition – primarily include the belief that more of the lottery revenues should go to education and that essentially all of the lottery revenues should be earmarked.

The House minority leader said he needed these earmarks in writing in the legislation because that was the only way to guarantee the funding would go to where he wants it.

SB 220 as approved by the House Economic Development Committee would send 75% of revenue to the general fund and 25% to the Education Trust Fund. The only earmarked revenues would be 0.25% going to resources and treatment for gambling addicts.

The bill passed beforehand by the Senate did not allow for any revenue to benefit education.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) has said that lottery money benefitting the general fund would protect the education fund.

The general fund has obligations that are expected to grow significantly in the coming years, including Medicaid and the corrections system.

The Democratic Caucus leaders on Wednesday emphasized that a higher percentage of the revenues need to go to education and proposed some earmarking ideas for that education revenue, including a capped scholarship fund for higher education and pre-k, increases for retired teacher compensation and setting money aside for greater active teacher incentives, pay and resources.

That same type of earmarking is a demand for any general fund revenue, too. Daniels multiple times mentioned that the “rumor” floating around is that the general fund lottery revenues currently under SB 220 would go towards prison construction and even funding lawsuits brought against the state regarding recently passed laws, including the HB 314 abortion ban.

Coleman called it “deeply troubling” that un-earmarked lottery revenues could fund prison construction. She said her father asked her to vote against SB 220 so as to not fund “Kay’s prisons,” speaking of the governor.

The House Democratic leadership wants to see general fund lottery revenues earmarked for healthcare. Coleman explicitly advocated for this earmark going to “Medicaid expansion.” Daniels earlier in the day on “The Dale Jackson Show” called this “a rural healthcare expansion program,” seemingly avoiding the Obamacare stigma that “Medicaid expansion” has in Alabama.

Yellowhammer News reported Tuesday that the Democrats’ best chance for Medicaid expansion was the lottery bolstering general fund revenues. This is the same article Coleman took issue with.

Daniels was asked at the press conference if the Democratic Caucus would require that the clean, paper-only lottery proposed by SB 220 be expanded to include other electronic gaming to win their support. He acknowledged that was probably not a realistic expectation for a lottery to be able to pass, saying, “I’ll take it how I can get it.” Daniels reiterated that he just wants the paper lottery revenue going more to education proportionally and that essentially all of the lottery revenue must be earmarked similar to how the Democrats are proposing.

Near the end of the press conference, Daniels emphasized he will not “move forward on a new deal” with Republicans until the commitments Daniels said they made to him during the Rebuild Alabama talks are met. Daniels specified that means “a number of issues,” not just Medicaid or healthcare. He named the higher education funding structure as one of these other outstanding issues, saying Auburn and Alabama State did not get a fair shake from the nonpartisan ACHE formula that was used for the governor’s budget recommendations this year.

The sponsor of the lottery legislation, State Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore), also appeared on “The Dale Jackson Show” on Wednesday and said he is not optimistic that SB 220 will pass out of the legislature and get to a vote of the people.

State Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), who is carrying the lottery bill in the House, reportedly told WSFA on Wednesday that the lottery will not come back up for a vote this session, meaning SB 220 is dead in his eyes.

Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) told reporters two hours after the Democratic press conference that the lottery bill is “probably” dead.

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

12 hours ago

Tomorrow is officially Small Business Saturday in Alabama

Governor Kay Ivey (R-AL) has formally proclaimed November 28, 2020, to be Small Business Saturday.

The proclamation issued by Ivey stressed that “the state of Alabama believes that small businesses are the backbone of our economy and the glue that holds communities together.”

Ivey subsequently recognized that small businesses comprise 99.4% of businesses in the Yellowhammer State, employing 48.1% of the private workforce.

“Alabama supports our local small businesses that create jobs, boost our local economy and preserve our neighborhoods,” the governor wrote.

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The proclamation concluded by asking residents to support small businesses this Saturday, as well as throughout the year. Small businesses have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

RELATED: Why Small Business Saturday really matters in 2020

This year’s Small Business Saturday comes amid the Keep Alabama Open campaign.

Ivey recently pledged, “I will not shut down businesses; the business community certainly has my support. As I’ve said many times, you cannot have a life without a livelihood.”

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

13 hours ago

Alabama, Auburn students participate in third annual Operation Iron Ruck to support veterans

Not even the COVID-19 pandemic could stop members of the University of Alabama Campus Veterans Association and Auburn University Student Veterans Association from holding the third annual Operation Iron Ruck, an initiative to bring awareness to the rash of veteran suicides in America.

Beginning Wednesday and culminating ahead of Saturday’s Iron Bowl, participants from the two schools are marching with each other from Auburn to Tuscaloosa’s Bryant-Denny Stadium, where this year’s game will be played.

During the trip, each student veteran will hike approximately 50 miles total. The participants walk for 2 ½ hours consecutively before climbing into a support vehicle for about five hours of rest before their next hike. The trip is about 151 miles long and takes approximately three days to complete.

Operation Iron Ruck supports Mission 22, a veteran suicide campaign recognizing that 22 veterans die by suicide daily across the nation.

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To bring attention to this statistic, student veterans from UA and Auburn this year are each carrying 22 pounds of materials in their rucksacks to be donated to Three Hots and a Cot, a Birmingham-based nonprofit organization that assists homeless military veterans transition from life on the streets into a self-sustained lifestyle.

“Veteran suicide is a serious issue in the veteran community,” commented Ben Shewmake, president of the UA Campus Veterans Association. “The loss of camaraderie, along with service-related problems leave some believing their only way to fix their issues is to end their life. This can be attributed to some people not transitioning back into society, sexual assault issues, family problems and military-related illnesses.”

“The awareness is not to say, ‘hey this is happening,’ but more to tell the ones who are thinking about it that there are people who care and are here if they reach out,” Shewmake added. “There is also a newer message that is popping up that is to tell everyone to keep in touch with their former colleagues and that one random text or call to someone may keep them from committing suicide and no one will probably ever know that. It’s as much to tell those who may be struggling that people care as it is to tell the people who care to reach out rather than wait on being reached out to.”

This initiative has attracted widespread support, including when Governor Kay Ivey last year offered her backing of the program and even formally declared Operation Iron Ruck Day in the state of Alabama.

“Since our country’s inception, our military members have shown their patriotism, their bravery, and ultimately, their willingness to lay their lives on the line for the sake of protecting our freedoms. That sacrifice does not end in combat, because even when our men and women return safely home, many continue to struggle with the impacts of war,” Ivey said in 2019.

“Sadly, in our country, suicide claims the lives of around 22 veterans each day. I urge Alabamians and people all across our country to continue fighting for those who fight for us. I am proud to see this committed group of students from Alabama and Auburn come together to bring awareness to this issue facing veterans in our country,” the governor concluded.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or have concerns about someone else who potentially is doing so, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You will be routed to a local crisis center where professionals can talk you through a risk assessment and provide resources in your community.

Additionally, veterans and service members, as well as their loved ones, can call the Veterans Crisis Line and Military Crisis Line to connect with qualified, caring U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline (1-800-273-8255, Press 1).

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

14 hours ago

Alabama’s game against LSU rescheduled for Saturday, December 5

The University of Alabama Crimson Tide’s game against LSU, which was originally scheduled for November 14, will reportedly be rescheduled to Saturday, December 5.

The game was postponed earlier this month because of positive COVID-19 test results and subsequent contact tracing within the LSU football program.

It had since become doubtful that the game would be rescheduled, as LSU already has a make-up game against Florida scheduled for December 12, the designated weekend set aside by the SEC for games postponed due to coronavirus protocols.

Yahoo Sport’s Pete Thamel on Friday was the first to report that the SEC plans to readjust the remaining regular season schedule to allow Alabama to play LSU — the defending national champions — this season.

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It is expected now that Alabama will travel to play LSU in Baton Rouge next weekend.

Alabama’s game at Arkansas, originally scheduled for December 5, will thus be pushed back to December 12.

The SEC Championship Game will be December 19.

It has been reported that this planned schedule adjustment by the SEC is contingent on this weekend’s relevant games not being postponed.

The Tide face Auburn in the Iron Bowl at 2:30 p.m. this Saturday. Head coach Nick Saban will not be on the sideline due to a positive COVID-19 test result on Wednesday.

UPDATE 2:50 p.m.

The SEC confirmed the schedule change.

Alabama at LSU will now be played December 5 at 7:00 p.m., and CBS will broadcast the game.

“The cooperation and flexibility of our coaches, athletics directors and campus leaders along with the dedication of our student-athletes now provides the opportunity to reach this point in the season with the ability for each SEC team to play ten football games in 2020,” stated SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. “We knew before the season there would be interruptions and scheduling challenges related to COVID-19 and we will continue to manage the remaining weeks of the football schedule to allow for as many games to be played as possible, with a continuing focus on determining an SEC champion.”

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

16 hours ago

Lockheed Martin completes acquisition of Huntsville company’s hypersonics portfolio, boosting Alabama-based national security work

Lockheed Martin this week announced it has closed on the acquisition of Huntsville-based Integration Innovation Inc.’s (i3) hypersonics portfolio.

Terms of acquiring this portion of the Rocket City software and systems engineering company were not disclosed.

A release advised that the acquisition expands Lockheed’s capabilities to design, develop and produce integrated hypersonic weapon systems for its customers.

Lockheed’s hypersonics program is based in Courtland, Alabama, which is less than an hour away from Huntsville.

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“Our customers require the most forward-thinking, advanced technology that anticipates and addresses their national security requirements. This business combination not only reinforces our commitment to their missions, but also expands our portfolio in a strategic way,” stated Eric Scherff, vice president of Hypersonic Strike Programs at Lockheed. “Combining i3’s talent and domain expertise with our shared vision for hypersonic strike will expand how we think about and deliver this critical capability to the warfighter across domains.”

Mike Wicks, the former CEO of i3, has been named vice president of the Hypersonic Engineering & Accelerated Technologies program within the Hypersonic Strike Portfolio for Lockheed Martin Space.

“We’re proud to be a part of the Lockheed Martin family, as they are a technology authority and employ some of the best and brightest in the industry,” said Wicks. “We have invested much time and energy into developing strategic solutions at i3. And, we’re finding the need to synergize these offerings with Lockheed Martin is more timely than ever and unlocks the value to our joint customers.”

The U.S. Army last year awarded Lockheed a $347 million contract to serve as its Long Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) prototype system integrator.

In addition to much of this work being conducted in Lawrence County, Lockheed chose Huntsville-based Dynetics (now a Leidos company) to work on this project, developing launchers with hydraulics, outriggers, power generation and distribution for the ground platform. Dynetics will further provide flight test and training support. Moreover, i3 was named as a part of that Lockheed-led LRHW team.

Separately, Dynetics Technical Solutions last year was also awarded an Army contract in the amount of $351.6 million to produce Common-Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB) prototypes in Huntsville. In turn, Dynetics selected Lockheed as a subcontractor on this project.

Both contracts are part of the Army’s work to advance the fielding of a prototype hypersonic weapon by Fiscal Year 2023 and transition the development of Army hypersonic capabilities out of government laboratories and into commercial production.

Beyond North Alabama’s private sector expertise in hypersonics, this collaboration is administered by the Army Hypersonic Project Office, part of the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO), which is headquartered at Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal.

The C-HGB is intended for use by not just the Army but also the Navy and the Missile Defense Agency, which is anchored in Huntsville.

Hypersonic Strike capabilities have been identified by the federal government as a critical capability that must be addressed in support of the U.S. National Security Strategy. Hypersonic weapons are unique in that they are capable of flying at five times the speed of sound and operate at varying altitudes.

U.S. Senator Richard C. Shelby (R-AL) has been a key supporter of hypersonics programs, including in his roles as chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations and its Subcommittee on Defense.

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

17 hours ago

Birmingham’s Regions Center once again lighting up ahead of Christmas

Regions Bank’s iconic headquarters tower in Birmingham will once again be transformed into a beautiful holiday lights display starting on Friday.

This is an annual Magic City hallmark going back to the late 1970s.

Each year, red, green and white lights installed above the windows surrounding the 30-story tower are illuminated in the forms of Christmas trees, a massive wreath and a giant stocking.

The lights come on just before sunset each evening beginning the day after Thanksgiving, and the nightly display continues until January 1.

“The lighting of the Regions Center is a tradition going back more than 40 years, and Regions Bank is proud to keep the tradition alive, especially during a year in which so much has changed,” stated Joe Holcombe, senior facilities project manager in Regions’ Corporate Real Estate division.

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“In recent weeks, crews have been installing and testing lights, working hard to get Birmingham’s tallest holiday display ready for the season,” he continued. “As the lights come on this evening, we wish everyone a happy holiday season and a brighter new year to come.”

The Regions Center tower rises nearly 400 feet over 5th Avenue North at 20th Street North in downtown Birmingham.

While some of the best views are from Railroad Park or from Vulcan Park on Red Mountain, the customary lights are visible across the city, including to travelers on nearby Interstate highways and planes landing at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport.

Emilio Cerice, senior vice president of Corporate Real Estate for Regions Bank, said in a statement last year, “It’s something we look forward to every year – and it’s something the city looks forward to. In recent years, it’s been fun to watch social media and see people sharing creative photos of the building or sharing their memories of coming downtown to see the lights.”

In addition to this annual seasonal display, the Regions Center has also been illuminated to celebrate the Regions Tradition golf tournament, as well as the 1996 Summer Olympics (when Birmingham hosted Olympic soccer games) and in a patriotic display to support American troops during the Gulf War in 1991.

“Birmingham is our headquarters city. We’re proud to occupy a prominent spot in the city’s skyline,” Cerice added. “And we’re proud to carry on this tradition.”

You can read more about the history of the tradition and the process of displaying the lights here.

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