1 month ago

Ivey announces support for corrections reform bills

Governor Kay Ivey on Thursday announced her support for a major, bipartisan package of bills that have been introduced in the Alabama legislature upon recommendation from the Governor’s Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy.

Ivey established the study group in July 2019, which came after the Department of Justice concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that the conditions in Alabama’s prisons for men violate the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution regarding “cruel and unusual punishment.” Ivey inherited decades-old systemic problems in the state’s prison system upon becoming governor and has been working to improve the Alabama Department of Corrections since taking office. The issue was a major focus of her 2020 State of the State Address.

Upon conclusion of the study group last month, the members presented the governor with their recommendations for comprehensive reform.

RELATED: Governor’s Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy yields positive recommendations

“I tasked the Criminal Justice Study Group with the mission of finding data-driven solutions to our longstanding challenges in our prison system,” Ivey said in a statement on Thursday. “I’m not only proud of their efforts, but I’m pleased there were solid recommendations, which came as a result of their hard work. Through these legislative items, we can build upon steps my administration has already begun taking to improve our criminal justice system.

The package of bills she is recommending as follows:

• SB 226, by Sen. Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville), will establish a Deputy Commissioner of Rehabilitation within the Department of Corrections (DOC), as well as within the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles. This bill will refocus these agencies toward reducing recidivism among those in the state’s custody while promoting public safety.

• SB 244, by Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), will ensure that all inmates coming to the end of their sentences undergo mandatory, pre-release supervision. A 2015 law accomplished this result for offenders sentenced after its enactment; this bill will make that statute retroactive. While reducing burdens on DOC, this bill will also improve public safety by helping inmates successfully re-enter society.

• HB 323, by Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa), will require the Department of Corrections to report more information to the Legislative Prison Oversight Committee. This bill will provide lawmakers with information to make knowledgeable decisions during the appropriation process. It will also update the Oath of Office that is taken by Correctional Officers to reflect the Department’s renewed focus on the rehabilitation of inmates.

• HB 329, by Rep. Jim Hill (R-Moody), will make retroactive the state’s existing “presumptive sentencing guidelines.” Prior to October 1, 2013, offenders were sentenced to lengthy sentences, even life imprisonment, for nonviolent crimes. This bill will allow nonviolent offenders who are currently incarcerated under the previous guidelines to be eligible for resentencing under current, presumptive sentencing guidelines if they have demonstrated acceptable conduct while in prison.

• HB 342, by Rep. Connie Rowe (R-Jasper), will provide former inmates the ability to receive a non-driver photo identification card. One of the greatest barriers of joining the workforce for those coming out of incarceration is a viable form of government identification. This bill will require the DOC and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) to work together to assist an inmate in obtaining a Social Security Card, Birth Certificate and Non-Driving Photo ID prior to release from a state facility.

• SJR 25, by Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro), will establish a study group to address uniformity and increasing access to pre-trial and diversionary programs while also looking at best practices. The study group will be made up of legislators, members of the Alabama Sentencing Commission, counties, district attorneys, judges and legal researchers.

In addition to this package of bills, Ivey is working with the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles to grant parolees increased access with their probation officers.

The governor has also made recommendations within both the proposed Education Trust Fund budget and the General Fund budget to further strengthen initiatives aimed at helping inmates.

Those recommendations as follows:

• An increase of $4.2M to expand prison education programs.

• An increase of $1,829,250 to expand the Stepping Up program which is a national initiative to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jail. Alabama has a goal of implementing the program in every county by Fiscal Year 2022.

• An increase within DOC’s budget to continue to expand the number of Correctional Officers in order to comply with the federal court order and add 104 mental health professionals within the prison facilities.

The governor also met with legislative leaders on Thursday regarding corrections reform. Speaking to reporters after the chamber adjourned for the week, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) expressed optimism that the corrections reform package is on track to be passed towards the end of the regular session.

“We’re very happy where we are on prison reform,” he remarked.

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

39 mins ago

Alabama Ag Commissioner Rick Pate: ‘We’ve got a safe, abundant, sustainable food supply here in Alabama’

On Tuesday, Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI) Commissioner Rick Pate reiterated his sentiment about the stability of Alabama’s food supply not being a cause for concern during an interview with Huntsville radio’s WVNN.

Pate told “The Jeff Poor Show” that despite a run of grocery stores and other retailers in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic, the in-state food supply remains safe and abundant.

However, during the wide-ranging interview, he said the coronavirus spread had not come without some challenges for Alabama’s farmers, including labor difficulties as legal migrant workers are no longer able to come to Alabama with the closure of borders.

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Nonetheless, he assured listeners there was no threat to the food supply.

“People go in the grocery stores, and they see shortages – but I want to promise you we can sustain that, and we’ll refill that two days from now, two weeks from now, two months from now, two years from now,” Pate said. “Our food supply in this country is secure. It’s abundant. It’s safe. And the thing is – our government officials, at least around food, haven’t given me any indication that they don’t understand that – the federal USDA people, the Homeland Security people, our own state governor’s office, our own public health.”

“I mean, anything is possible,” he continued. “But we’ve got a safe, abundant, sustainable food supply here in Alabama, and I would assume across most of the country.”

Pate urged those to be in touch with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI), either through the website or by phone (334) 240-7100, for further information about farming issues or to verify something is misinformation or rumor.

“[Y]ou might hear some rumors,” he said. “I’d like to know what they are because you might hear some rumors.”

Pate recounted a smaller stockyard that was under the impression the state government wanted it to shut down because to prevent the coronavirus spread.

“I don’t want you to close down,” he said. “I don’t even want the rumor that the smallest one in the state closed down. It will get said all the stockyards in the state are closing down. That’s just not the case. Every stockyard is still up and running, cattle being sold.”

Pate added that while demand is up at the consumer for some agriculture products, prices are low. He also warned of continued falling prices for beef given it is a staple of many upper-end restaurants that are unable to serve dine-in customers due to the pandemic.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly and host of Huntsville’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN.

14 hours ago

Website seeks to connect still-operating local restaurants with Alabama customers

The Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality Association (ARHA) has created a website to try and connect local restaurants with Alabama consumers.

The precautions being taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus have devastated the restaurant industry. A website that tracks the industry estimates that 3% of America’s restaurants have permanently gone out of business since the virus began spreading in the United States.

The website created by ARHA — carryoutal.com — is seeking to prevent that fate for restaurants in Alabama. Visitors are asked to select Carryout, Curbside or Delivery and the site then provides them with the options in their area.

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The site currently has around 300 restaurants in its database.

There is an option for any locally-owned business to list their establishment for free.

“Most restaurants in Alabama remain open and they need your support more than ever,” says the website’s description.

The site assures any skeptical customers, “While recent governmental orders and recommendations to limit social gatherings have forced restaurants to change the way they operate, the commitment to food safety and sanitation has not changed.”

The ARHA has also created a fund to provide relief for hospitality workers across the state. As of 2:45 p.m on Tuesday, it has raised $1,810 of its $100,000 goal.

Contributions to the fund are tax-deductible.

The description of the fund reads, “On March 19, 2020, restaurants and bars across the state were ordered to close dining area service to the public in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus. The shutdowns have catastrophically impacted the restaurant and hotel industry.”

Those interested in donating can click here.

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

15 hours ago

Treasury Department issues guidance for small businesses seeking relief funds

The U.S. Treasury Department released new information on Tuesday afternoon for small businesses affected by the COVID-19 crisis. The resources distributed by the agency provide guidance on how to tap into the $340 billion pool of relief funds set aside for the small business sector.

Under the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program, businesses with fewer than 500 employees are eligible to receive the lesser of $10 million or 2.5 times its payroll over the period of several months.

Banks will distribute the funds in the form of loans granted under criteria contained in the law. Loans may become available as soon as Friday, April 3.

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Call your banker

That is the advice the Treasury Department is giving to small businesses.

The chairman of the Alabama Bankers Association has stated that banks in his state are ready, willing and able to immediately assist with the small business sector’s recovery.

“Banks in our state are already very familiar with helping customers access SBA funding,” said David Nast, president and CEO of Progress Bank and Trust. “Nearly 94% of banks headquartered in Alabama are SBA-approved lenders, and that number could easily grow higher over the next few weeks.”

RELATED: Alabama banks preparing to assist small businesses with recovery — ‘Call your banker’

Nast echoed the Treasury Department’s advice that interested small businesses should promptly contact their bank.

“Regardless of how banks are interacting with their customers, our advice for individuals and small businesses has been to put ‘Call Your Banker’ near the top of the to-do list,” Nast emphasized.

Info for small businesses

The Treasury Department is maintaining a comprehensive website for those seeking information about the economic stimulus programs it is administering.

Within the site are documents for small businesses to better understand the programs designed for them and how to apply for funds:

Overview of the Payroll Protection Program

Paycheck Protection Program Information for Borrowers

Application for Borrowers

Paycheck Protection Program Information for Lenders

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

16 hours ago

Jeff Sessions has a clear message for China: The world knows your communist regime is culpable for the Wuhan coronavirus

Former Attorney General and U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions seems to have a clear message for China: The United States will not take your Godless, communist regime’s lying and cheating anymore.

During an appearance on WVNN this week, Sessions said the United States and the world know that China covered up the origins and spread of the virus for months, and we know they are now engaging in a disinformation campaign to shed their culpability.

Sessions on Monday’s broadcast of “The Dale Jackson Show” took some strong punches at China, saying, “It’s a duty we have to explain to the American people, and to the world, really, the danger of this kind of government. It cannot be the dominant government in the world, it will not be if we stand up to it.”

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Sessions acknowledged that we have allowed this to happen with weak trade and foreign policy. He noted the reaction of the world would be far different if America was responsible.

“Imagine an American company, or American government, had learned about this virus and sat on it for weeks and allowed the world to be infected,” he stated. “I mean, the world would be in an outrage.”

But what can be done?

If elected to his old Senate seat, what will he specifically work to do?

Sessions isn’t the first politician to point out that we can’t allow China to dominate the markets of critical supplies and infrastructure needs, such as medical supplies and high-speed internet.

Specifically, Sessions outlined, “This is one where we need to send a message to China. No. You’re not gonna supply our medicines. Especially when you say you might cut them off. You’re not gonna supply our 5G high tech communications system, high speed. We’re not gonna let you dominate that.”

My takeaway:

This is nothing new for Jeff Sessions.

He has long been a leading critic on China for most of his career. He was calling for us to get tough on China before anyone else even cared.

The world has been too soft on China, and the United States has an obligation to end that. This is our wakeup call. This isn’t about trade, it is about the lives of Americans, which Sessions correctly noted that China’s state-run press has threatened.

America has an obligation to make sure the world knows this coronavirus is the fault of China and punish them for unleashing this on the world.

The coronavirus pandemic proves Jeff Sessions has been correct on China for decades. They lie, cheat and steal to achieve world dominance. He is also right when he says we cannot allow this to continue and our allies around the globe can’t keep turning a blind eye to it or they will win.

China has a plan to continue to dominate globally, and we need people that understand it and know how to combat it at the forefront of this fight.

Listen:

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.

16 hours ago

Friends launch Local Distancing to support Birmingham businesses

Three friends in Birmingham were wrestling with a major dilemma created by the coronavirus pandemic: How can you lend support to your favorite restaurants and local businesses while maintaining the proper social distancing practices?

Their solution — a pay-it-forward approach. Local Distancing, an online platform, allows customers to help these Birmingham area enterprises pay their staff, cover overhead and survive the crisis without having to leave the security of their home.

Through the Local Distancing web site, consumers can purchase gift certificates from a wide range of restaurants, breweries, retailers and other Birmingham businesses. The site also includes links to GoFundMe accounts for displaced workers.

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The initiative appears to have struck a chord in the community, with more than 4,000 unique visitors in the first week eager to support more than 150 Birmingham businesses listed on the platform.

“Local businesses are the heartbeat of the Magic City, and they need our help during these challenging times,” said Vince Perez, a senior project manager at the Alabama Department of Commerce and one of the initiative’s founders. “This is a way that all of us can let local business owners and their employees know that we’re in their corner during this crisis.”

The way Local Distancing’s founders see it, buying online gift certificates represents the most practical way for loyal customers to support their favorite local businesses right now while remaining at their homes.

The web site does not charge businesses to participate and will not receive any portion of the gift card purchases. Moreover, it works with gift card processing companies like Square and Gift Up! that provide money immediately to businesses, instead of when the certificates are redeemed.

Instagift, a Birmingham-based firm that provides electronic gift card services to local businesses, is also supporting the effort by waiving monthly fees for new sign-ups and providing promotion on its social media.

Joining Perez in launching Local Distancing are Dylan Spencer, a web developer who built the site and founder of a marketing firm bearing his name, and Trey Oliver, an attorney at the Bradley Arant law firm. The three are childhood friends and all attended Auburn University.

“We all wish we weren’t in this situation, but here we are,“ Spencer said. “Thankfully, hard times have their way of bringing people together, and I believe this will somehow make Birmingham stronger. All we can do for now is stay home, stay healthy, and take care of our city – especially the businesses and restaurants that make it special.”

Local Distancing may just be the perfect substitute for an upcoming anniversary, birthday gift, and more, he said.

“Order food and buy gift certificates, even if to give away as a ‘thank you’ to grocery store workers, restaurant workers, delivery folks, medical workers, and the many others who are working so hard to keep us going,” Spencer urged.

You can also find Local Distancing on Twitter and Instagram under @localdistancing.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)