3 weeks ago

Ivey to allow legislature to spend ‘every single penny’ of State stimulus funds

MONTGOMERY — Governor Kay Ivey on Thursday announced that she is willing to abdicate control over spending the approximately $1.8 billion in federal stimulus money made available to the State of Alabama through the CARES Act.

That federal legislation designated all spending authority to the respective governor of each state, however the Alabama legislature has expressed its desire to have involvement in at least some of the funds being spent.

The Senate initially proposed instituting a three-person panel (one of which would have been the governor) to spend the funds, however that has since morphed into the legislature’s General Fund budget package stating that the governor would have the authority to spend up to $600 million — about one-third — of the total amount.

Ivey issued her statement at 1:50 p.m. CT on Thursday, as the General Fund budget package was being considered on the floor of the House.

“I just got off the phone with House General Fund Chairman Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, and expressed to him my desire for the Legislature to have full control of the CARES Act appropriation, every single penny,” Ivey began.

“I made it clear to Chairman Clouse that this money belongs to the people of Alabama, not the Governor and, in my opinion, not even the Legislature,” she continued. “It comes to us in an emergency appropriation from President Trump and Congress to support the ongoing crisis that has killed 349 Alabamians, as of this moment, and wreaked havoc on our state’s economy, ruining small businesses and costing more than 430,000 Alabamians a job they had just a few weeks ago.”

Sources from both chambers of the legislature earlier in the day told Yellowhammer News that the governor was threatening to veto the budgets over how the CARES Act funding was to be spent by the State, but Ivey’s press secretary in an email (just over one hour before the governor’s statement was released) denied that had occurred.

“I have never desired to control a single penny of this money and if the Legislature feels so strongly that they should have that authority, I yield to them both the money and the responsibility to make good decisions – in the light of day where the people of Alabama know what is happening,” Ivey said in her statement.

“I promised Chairman Clouse that my Administration will send over to the Legislature the receipts for items such as PPE, medical supplies, testing kits and the like; items that have been needed and procured to support our health care system including our hospitals and nursing homes,” she advised. “I trust the Legislature will honor these expenses.”

Ivey then proceeded to lament that the legislature’s involvement could slow down money being spent.

“We have heard from countless cities and counties who are suffering from the effects of this pandemic; we’ve heard from colleges and universities, the K-12 system and a whole host of others who had hoped this money would be made available in a timely fashion. Regretfully, because of the Legislature’s decision – at this last moment – these groups will now have to appeal to the 140 members for help,” Ivey stated.

“Finally, I advised Chairman Clouse that I will not call the Legislature back into a Special Session unless and until they provide the people of Alabama – in advance – a full, detailed and public list of how the money will be spent in exact amounts, down to the penny. I have already seen one ‘wish list’ that includes a new $200 million statehouse for the Legislature. To me, that is totally unacceptable and not how President Trump and Congress intended for this money to be spent,” Ivey added.

RELATED: State. Sen Whatley introduces bill to limit powers of State Health Officer, alter State of Emergency procedures

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) has publicly advised that he wants up to $800 million of the stimulus funds to go towards expanding broadband access across Alabama. It has been explained by him and leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) that the pandemic has exposed the “digital divide” in the state even more, with the temporary new normal highlighting the importance of high-speed internet access for telemedicine, education and working from home.

“As everyone knows, we are in the middle of an international health crisis, unlike any we have ever seen. It is both fiscally responsible – and absolutely essential – that the Legislature be transparent on the way they intend to spend this money. In my view, it has always belonged to the people of Alabama,” concluded Ivey. “We look forward to seeing their proposed budget. It is obvious the Legislature has more work to do.”

UPDATE 3:45 p.m.

A spokesperson for the Senate majority confirmed to Yellowhammer News the existence and authenticity of the “wish list” referenced by Ivey. That list was published first on Twitter by Alabama Daily News. The list was compiled upon the request of the governor’s finance director.

(Todd Stacy/Twitter)

In a statement to Yellowhammer News, Marsh reacted to the governor’s statement.

“We appreciate the Governor adhering to the Alabama Constitution on how taxpayer dollars are appropriated,” Marsh stated. “Although it is surprising that anybody expected to have sole discretion on how this money would be spent without public input and oversight. We look forward to working with Governor Ivey and her team as we reopen Alabama for business, put people back to work, and get money from the CARES Act into the hands of those who need it the most.”

UPDATE 3:55 p.m.

SB 161, part of the General Fund budget package, was amended by the House on Thursday afternoon. The legislation now allows Ivey to spend up to $200 million of the CARES Act funding. House Ways and Means General Fund Chairman Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) on the floor explained this will allow the executive branch to spend money quickly wherever needed, such as for COVID-19 testing, PPE and other emergency/health care related disbursements.

UPDATE 8:00 p.m.

Statement from Sen. Tom Whatley (R-Auburn):

“It is surprising to me that Governor Ivey thought she would have sole discretion of $1.8 billion dollars but I’m glad she’s consulted the Constitution and will acquiesce to public and legislative input in the Constitutionally laid out budgetary process.”

This story is breaking news and may be updated.

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

11 hours ago

Jones: ‘Whole lot of blame to go around’ for COVID deaths — Points to Trump administration, China, WHO

U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) on Thursday hosted a live-streamed availability with Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris regarding the coronavirus.

Jones and Harris each made opening remarks, including updates on Alabama’s COVID-19 data as well as ongoing efforts to combat the pandemic.

The two officials then answered questions from members of the media that were submitted ahead of time.

For example, Jones was asked, “What would you tell people now that the number of deaths from coronavirus in the U.S. has surpassed 100,000? Many commentators are blaming the White House response. And are the current reopening strategies of Alabama and other states premature?”

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“Well, you know, look, I’ve seen the commentators — and I don’t think we’re at a point where we should be pointing a whole lot of blame,” Jones answered, before appearing to do just that.

“There’s a whole lot of blame to go around,” he continued. “I think we have to point to China for some of the issues that they raised. I was disappointed at some of the early response from the [World Health Organization], even though we could have done a better job with testing in this country.”

Jones then placed some “blame” at the feet of President Donald J. Trump and his administration.

“I’ve been disappointed in the administration and their early responses,” the junior senator advised. “You talk about ‘cavalier attitudes,’ I think the president had one early on. All of that has, perhaps, affected where we are in this country.”

“But I think the key right now is where we are today and what we’re planning on doing going forward,” Jones added.

He subsequently questioned the notion that reopening strategies for Alabama and other states in general are “premature.”

Jones outlined that reopening can be done safely if people continue to listen to health experts like Harris and follow social distancing/sanitation guidelines.  Jones urged Alabamians to wear masks in public.

“I don’t think that reopening is inconsistent with trying to stop this spread by [doing] the same things that people have been saying since this virus came to this country,” he said. “And that is to social distance, that is to make sure you wear the masks… to protect you and others. If we continue to do that, if we could just get used to that — I think that’s been the biggest issue right now. Some people just don’t want to be told to do it, and I get that. But the fact is if people could just get used to doing this, we could stop the spread.”

Earlier in the live stream, he was complimentary of recent state-level efforts led by Harris and Governor Kay Ivey related to the pandemic.

“Alabama is still seeing a significant number of cases. We have begun to open up, and we’ve begun to open up — I think — carefully and wisely, following the science,” Jones commented. “And I think the governor has done a very good job of trying to get two messages out. Yes, we want to open up, we want to get the economy rolling again. But at the same time, we’ve got to do it safely. And it’s that latter message that I’m not sure folks are hearing as much. You only have to see the pictures from the beaches and other places in Alabama and around the country to see that folks are not quite getting the message that this virus is still out there, it is still dangerous, it is still deadly. And we want to open up, but opening up is not inconsistent with what we should be doing to protect ourselves and our families and our communities.”

Jones further remarked that Harris “has done a great job” helping lead Alabama’s response to the pandemic.

Other topics covered during the live stream included Jones’ hope that live sports can return with fans in attendance this fall, as well as Harris explaining that while increased testing could explain a portion of Alabama’s rising number of positive COVID-19 cases, community spread is occurring in multiple hotspots.

You can watch the entire live stream below:

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

12 hours ago

Huntsville doctor using hydroxychloroquine for some COVID-19 patients

An infectious disease doctor at Huntsville Hospital says he continues to use the drug hydroxychloroquine to treat some patients with the coronavirus.

The drug, often championed by President Donald Trump, has been the subject of intense nationwide discussion during the pandemic.

A recent retrospective study published in the scientific journal The Lancet showed evidence that hydroxychlorquine had no positive results for hospitalized patients.

WAFF asked Dr. Ali Hassoun of Huntsville Hospital about the article published in The Lancet. He said the type of study and characteristics of the subjects meant that it was not good enough evidence to stop using hydroxychloroquine.

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Hassoun says he continues to treat patients with the drug as long as they are not at risk for the side effects.

A top infectious disease expert at UAB Hospital recently told Yellowhammer News that he and his team do not recommend hydroxychloroquine for hospitalized patients.

Most of the published evidence used to fuel media articles on hydroxychloroquine’s ineffectiveness have used studies done on hospitalized subjects.

Another member of the team at UAB, Dr. Turner Overton, is currently helping conduct a trial studying hydroxychloroquine’s ability to treat the coronavirus in its earliest stages.

Hassoun did not reveal in his interviews the condition of the patients to whom he is giving hydroxychloroquine.

Another drug, remdesivir, has shown in studies to be effective at treating hospitalized COVID-19 patients, but the supply is low.

Hassoun told WAFF he is prescribing remdesivir as well.

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

13 hours ago

Twitter should back down, and Trump should back off

American politics are about to enter a precarious place where the messages put out by politicians, or maybe only one politician, are going to be filtered by nameless and faceless tech employees that work for Twitter.

As we all know, Twitter is the tool used by President Donald Trump to get around the gate-keeping and absurd bias of the mainstream media.

Until this week, he had an unfiltered avenue to speak directly to the American people, and they had an avenue to hear him.

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Of course, afterward, anyone and everyone with a TV, newspaper byline or Twitter account could respond and call him a liar, fraud, treasonous monster or whatever they wanted.

But Twitter decided to step in and decide that they would start behaving differently, just for Trump, and editorialize on his content.

While they could have chosen to do so on his claims that MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough needed to be looked at as a potential murderer, but they didn’t.

SIDENOTE: There is a tape where he jokes about having an affair and killing her.

Instead, Twitter decided they needed to go after the president on the issue of voter fraud.

Twitter editorialized this tweet by adding: “Get the facts about mail-in ballots” with links to content accusing the president of getting the facts wrong.

The reality is Democrats are pushing for all vote-by-mail elections.

Some states are automatically mailing ballots to all registered voters, while some are just mailing applications.

But this is far worse than this particular case. It’s the precedent being set.

Why Trump?

When Trump gets some of the info wrong, let the media and his political enemies call him out.

Why not all the elected officials who continued to allege Russian collusion for years, and still do to this day on Twitter?

What about media figures who spread dangerous misinformation about the motives of their fellow citizens and use Twitter to delimitate their attacks?

Why not Ayatollah Khomeini, who openly threatens Isreal?

Why not the official Chinese government Twitter accounts that accuse the United States of spreading the coronavirus?

The last two don’t even allow their citizens to use Twitter, but Twitter will bow down to them?

What about the people claiming former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions didn’t have to recuse himself? He did.

What about those who think U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) has a chance at reelection? He doesn’t.

What about the anonymous guy who accuses me of numerous crimes and misdeeds on Twitter daily?

Does that guy now get a note depicting that his comments are untrue or unfounded?

What about essentially every column written by the bitter losers at Alabama Media Group? They had to dump their comment section because their commenters were crushing their souls. Will Twitter’s CEO or site integrity police call out their misinformation?

We could do this all day.

That’s the point. Moderation of this kind and on this scale is impossible.

It can’t be done effectively. That’s the purpose of the rule Trump wants reinterpreted.

More importantly, it should not be done — and it especially should not be done to one individual.

It shouldn’t matter how many times Joe Scarborough or any of CNN’s interchangeable talking heads declare, “This should be taken down,” Twitter should just stay out of moderating political debates because they will inevitably get it wrong and if they don’t editorialize, they now accept it.

What if Trump tweets “LOOK at all the lies Joe Biden has told, from the lies about his wife’s death to the lies about his son’s business dealings!”

If Twitter lets them stand, they are now confirmed? (SIDENOTE: They are confirmed)

Facebook actually got this as close to right as you could expect. They have attempted to discredit things linked to their site with a bit of a mixed bag approach that has angered liberals and conservatives alike.

But Twitter has now awakened the president, and he has the ability to raise questions about their status as a forum and not a publisher.

If Twitter is smart, they will follow the lead of Facebook’s CEO of stop trying to act as the arbiter of truth. Zuckerberg believes Twitter went too far, saying, “I think in general private companies probably shouldn’t be – especially these platform companies – shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”

Truthfully, Zuckerberg knows that Twitter is dragging him (and Google) into this, and he wants no part of it, nor should he.

Trump’s potential executive order makes his position clear, “This practice is fundamentally un-American and anti-democratic. When large, powerful social media companies censor opinions with which they disagree, they exercise a dangerous power.”

He wants to strip them of immunity, meaning if they want to editorialize, then they are responsible for anything that they allow.

This will either force Twitter to back down on moderation or die as it currently exists and take down most social media sites with it.

As with any executive order, the next president can change the rules (except for DACA, apparently).

It’s pretty clear that Twitter has over-stepped here, and they only have two options if the president’s order becomes a reality and survives a court challenge: back down on moderation of political speech or be crushed by lawsuits and government oversight.

The correct move by Twitter would be to stop this nonsense right now, acknowledge that they will stop moderating political speech, and move on knowing they messed up.

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

13 hours ago

Wind Creek facilities in Alabama reopening June 8

Wind Creek Hospitality has announced that it is reopening all three of its resort-style gaming properties in Alabama over the next two weeks.

A release detailed that a soft opening to small groups of invited guests will begin Thursday, June 4, followed by a public opening for the “new” full operation on Monday, June 8.

The Wind Creek properties affected are in Atmore, Wetumpka and Montgomery, resepctively.

The company is instituting new policies to ensure that guests can enjoy themselves as safely as possible. This will include temperature checks for all guests and employees, and masks or face coverings will be required for everyone.

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Guests are asked to bring their own mask, however players who do not have their own mask will be able to acquire one on property for a small donation supporting local first responders, health care providers and COVID-19 patient relief funds.

Smoking will only be allowed in designated spots separate from the gaming floor, restaurants and other public areas.

To accommodate social distancing, all of the properties will be limiting the number of guests on the casino floor; this new maximum capacity will be roughly one-third of normal operations. All locations are employing increased distances between tables in dining venues and clearly marking appropriate distances near hotel check-in, player services and other areas where lines historically formed.

Upon reopening, the casino floor will be open to the public for four sessions each day and deep cleaning will be conducted between sessions. These deep-cleaning efforts will come in addition to the cleaning of each machine before and after every guest.

Once Wind Creek properties open for general admission on June 8, special waiting areas will be available for guests at each property if a property is at capacity.

For those who want to plan ahead, Wind Creek is introducing a new reservation system that lets guests make a reservation for a particular session up to 14 days in advance.

According to Jay Dorris, CEO and president of Wind Creek, “Just like your favorite restaurant on a Friday night, a reservation isn’t required. But if you absolutely want to join us on a given day and time, reservations are available.”

With limited capacity, demand is sure to be high. By encouraging guests to reserve a visit, Wind Creek is hoping to eliminate any lines that make it difficult to maintain a six-foot distance.

The reservation system will be open to guests by June 3 online here. Reservations can also be made by calling (866) WIND-360 [866.946.3360] or a casino host.

It has not yet been announced when the Wind Creek-owned Mobile Greyhound Park will reopen. All of Wind Creek’s properties across the globe voluntarily closed in early March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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

13 hours ago

Sessions says DoJ regulations requiring recusal ‘basically had the impact of law’; Questions Tuberville’s commitment to Trump’s China, trade policies

What happened regarding the 2017 decision by then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from involvement in any investigation into allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election will have a lasting impact on presidential appointments for the foreseeable future.

Future presidents and presidents-elect will be reluctant to appoint anyone politically active to the U.S. Attorney General post in the future given the interpretation of the Department of Justice regulations on investigations into campaigns.

During an interview that aired on Auburn radio’s WQSI, Sessions, candidate for U.S. Senate in Alabama, explained the regulation he was following and how it was “basically” the law. He also called his decision fundamental in that a law enforcement official could not investigate himself.

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“The code of federal regulations is where it is,” Sessions said. “It’s not just guidance, letter or a policy point from the attorney general or something. It is a notice. It is published nationwide. People can hear it, make complaints to it, and then it becomes adopted. For the people at the Department [of Justice], it basically has the impact of law. The attorney general can’t change it, number one. Number two, it’s just basic. The district attorney in Lee County can’t investigate if he worked at a bank the bank he worked at, where he would be a witness to the investigation, in which they may have suggested he was involved in wrongdoing at the bank. You can’t investigate yourself. This is a fundamental principle. But the regulation says if you participate in a political organization in a substantial role, you’re not able to investigate yourself.”

Sessions noted former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), U.S. Attorney General William Barr, and former U.S. Attorneys General Ed Meese and Mike Mukasey agreed with his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

When asked if he would accept the appointment now knowing what he knows, Sessions offered his mindset on the 2016 offer from then-President-elect Trump.

“Look, I believe that I was ready to lead that department,” he said. “I spent 14 years in that department. I had supervisory oversight for 20 years. I knew what the problems were, and we did some tremendous things.”

When asked for a yes or no answer regarding what he might do had he known about the obstacles that were to lie ahead for him when offered the post, Sessions declined.

“You can’t go back on those kinds of things, Jeff,” he replied. “That’s just a silly thought, frankly. I don’t mean to be dismissive, but we’re not going there. I took the job. I did my best duty. I serve at the pleasure of the president. The question is right now — we talked about my situation over and over and over again. Let’s talk about Tommy Tuberville.”

Sessions went on to raise his July 14 GOP primary opponent Tommy Tuberville’s comments about U.S. policy regarding China, trade.

“Who is going to help the president carry out his agenda?” Sessions added.

@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 Huntsville’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN.