1 year ago

Marsh: I wish the legislature would’ve let the people of Alabama vote on lottery

MONTGOMERY — In separate interviews immediately following the end of the Alabama legislature’s 2019 regular session, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) both discussed the lottery proposal that died in the lower chamber in recent weeks.

SB 220, sponsored by State Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore), was considered a “clean,” paper-only lottery proposal that political observers viewed as the best chance for a Yellowhammer State lottery in decades.

As a constitutional amendment, the proposal would have gone to a referendum on the state’s March 2020 primary election ballot. However, after passing the Senate with just the minimum threshold required, the lottery legislation was defeated in the House on a procedural vote.

While Marsh said the 2019 regular session was broadly one of the most productive in his time in the legislature, he expressed that the lottery failing to advance to a vote of the people was a significant disappointment.

Marsh advised that the legislature’s success started with passing the Rebuild Alabama Act in a special session and that this momentum continued into the regular session.

“I look at it as one of the best sessions I’ve ever seen,” he summarized.

However, not every priority was accomplished.

“The one thing I wish had happened: at the end of the day, I wish I could’ve gotten to the people, the voters of this state, the opportunity to vote on a straight lottery,” Marsh lamented.

“The Senate passed that bill,” he continued. “It went to the House. Unfortunately, it never got up for a [final] vote in the House. I wish the people would’ve had that opportunity. And, it would’ve, in my opinion, eased some pressure on the state General Fund going forward.”

Ultimately, while the state had a very good year for both budgets this time around, things do not look so rosy going forward, as major financial obligations like the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the corrections/prisons crisis are set to increase by huge amounts.

House Ways and Means General Fund Chairman Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) this week said there are “real thunderstorms” on the horizon for the General Fund.

One of these major issues could be addressed in another special session later this year. Rumors have persisted that Governor Kay Ivey is set to call a special session for the prison system in October, but McCutcheon on Friday said he is still hesitant to forecast exactly when that special session will be.

While much more needs to be overhauled at the Alabama Department of Corrections policy-wise, one big-ticket expenditure is expected to be the construction of new men’s prisons in the state. The logistics of that, and how the state pays for it, is a looming legislative battle — with a consensus seemingly far off still.

When asked by a reporter on Friday, Marsh said the lottery could play into this discussion on prisons, as the need for significant new revenue seems inevitable regardless of what the final corrections plan will look like.

“There’s no doubt there’s going to be financial requirements [for prisons]… I think the lottery is an option,” Marsh said.

‘The issue of politics’

McCutcheon called the 2019 session “very good,” saying the legislature did not run away from the “tough issues” this year.

He and Marsh both outlined that the legislature did take steps to improve the prison system during the regular session, including an important Board of Pardons and Paroles reform bill, funding for 500 new corrections officers in the General Fund budget and legislation to provide a two-step pay increase for DOC officers.

McCutcheon expressed optimism that giving legislators more time will ultimately lead to better outcomes for a comprehensive corrections reform package.

“The thing that I would hope as we move into the summer is that we get away from the political, legislative pressure of trying to promote legislation in a hurry,” the speaker said. “And we start looking at all of these areas — and we start looking at ways we can fix the problem.”

He added that a “cooperative effort” between the U.S. Department of Justice, the governor’s office and the legislature will be key.

“I think by the time we get into the fall and the end of this year, I think you’re going to see some significant pieces of legislation, as well as some plans moving forward that will help us,” McCutcheon advised.

He noted the legislature has already been “discussing ways that we can fund” corrections improvements.

“These issues are going to come with a price tag,” McCutcheon emphasized. “And we’re going to have to find out – or find out how – that we can address some of these issues with the funding that we need.”

He said this looming “price tag” was even discussed in this year’s General Fund conference committee, with legislative leaders talking about planning ahead for the “corrections cost that’s going to be coming.”

“So, it’s top priority,” McCutcheon continued, saying the General Fund will have a “very difficult” time next year between corrections and CHIP.

He did not single out any ideas for raising new revenue for corrections, but later in the interview McCutcheon discussed the lottery dying in the House.

Asked about the “major obstacles” that prevented the lottery from passing the chamber, the speaker said, “I think there were several issues out there.”

“Of course, you always have the issue of politics,” McCutcheon continued. “You’ve got the different governing bodies, between the Democrats and Republicans and different philosophies of how they think we should [raise] revenue. You had the issues of the rural healthcare, Medicaid expansion, food tax. There were all of these debates out there.”

One of these points of debate was allocating lottery revenue. The Senate-passed version of SB 220 gave all of the proceeds to the General Fund, while the supposed “compromise” substitute version approved by a House committee would have sent 25% to the Education Trust Fund. However, there were influential legislators who wanted a 50/50 split, or even more than half of the revenues going to education.

While McCutcheon extolled the “methodical” nature in which the House examined the lottery, it sounds like perfect may have been the enemy of good.

“Then you got into the discussion of, ‘If you’re going to put it into education, what’s it going to fund in the education budget?’ Then there was the scholarship program that was being discussed. And then there was, ‘Was there enough money being transferred over to education?’ Then you had the debate between, ‘Well, the General Fund is going to need money for the corrections [system],’ and that became a discussion. And I think through all of the discussions and the fact that the House was being methodical about each piece of legislation, I personally welcomed that – I didn’t want to try and push that bill or rush that bill through, and as you got into discussion, there were just not enough votes there,” McCutcheon explained, saying he did not have the “feeling like everybody was unified enough to pass a lottery bill the way it was proposed” and considering “the issues we were facing.”

When asked, he added that respective bills to legalize electronic bingo in Macon and Greene Counties popping up while the House considered the lottery did not help SB 220’s chances of passage.

‘Medicaid expansion is a component of having good rural healthcare’

McCutcheon also noted that Medicaid expansion became a major point of discussion in the House debate over where lottery revenues would go.

He emphasized a promise was never made during Rebuild Alabama Act consideration between House Republican leadership and the minority caucus to expand Medicaid.

However, McCutcheon explained that the discussion over rural healthcare and the potential of Medicaid expansion was an ongoing issue for the House.

“We’re going to continue to have those discussions, because I think Medicaid expansion is a component of having good rural healthcare,” the speaker said. “Not to say we have to have Medicaid expansion, but you can’t have discussions about rural hospitals and rural healthcare without at least talking about Medicaid. And, so in that, there’s a discussion that needs to be taking place.”

Marsh told House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) in a recent meeting (while SB 220 was still alive) that Medicaid expansion was not currently a financial possibility for the state’s General Fund but that lottery revenues could make Medicaid expansion a realistic option in Alabama.

McCutcheon on Friday acknowledged that cost was an obstacle right now to Medicaid expansion becoming a more “serious” discussion.

“There’s a cost involved,” he stressed.

Overall, McCutcheon graded the 2019 regular session as an “A minus.” Marsh gave it between a “B plus” and an “A minus.”

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

3 hours ago

‘The Bama’ at KBC restaurant is one of 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama

KBC are the initials of Kelsey Bernard Clark, the winner of the 16th season of Bravo’s “Top Chef” and the chef and owner of KBC restaurant in Dothan.

What began as a butcher shop and grocery evolved into a restaurant based largely on the popularity of the sandwiches Clark started serving customers.

“Some of the sandwiches on our menu are named after people and The Bama was actually named after my mother-in-law, who is known by her grandchildren as ‘Bama,’” Clark said.

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The Bama at KBC in Dothan is one of 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The Bama sports pimento cheese, thick slices of tomatoes and crispy bacon. It’s about as Southern a sandwich as you can get and is so delectable it has made its way onto the Alabama Tourism Department’s list of 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama.

With the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, KBC tried curbside service but Clark said it wasn’t as fulfilling as the experience of dining in the restaurant. So, KBC stopped doing curbside until the dining rooms were allowed to reopen under new guidelines. She said KBC is operating well and safely under the new rules and business is good again.

And The Bama is as popular as ever.

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

10 hours ago

Coach Bill Clark: UAB ready for football season preparations to start

UAB football coach Bill Clark is like many fans who are waiting for a clear sign that the college football season is on the horizon this year.

With less than 90 days until the start of the season, that sign will be next week when UAB players report for voluntary individual workouts and training. Clark said that will progress into the more familiar pre-season camp between now and August.

“I’m excited to get them back, even in small numbers right now,” Clark said.

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Coach Bill Clark: UAB ready for football season preparations from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

It’s been a challenging few months for everyone because of the COVID-19 pandemic and football was not immune. It eliminated the normal spring training and spring football scrimmages for all collegiate teams, and officials from all schools and conferences have been weighing whether and how to proceed with preparations for a season that at one time seemed uncertain.

Clark said he is confident the plan UAB has in place is a good one and he has one of the premier institutions to draw on for medical expertise.

“Rule No. 1 has always been athlete safety, so this is not something new for us,” Clark said. “Obviously, the COVID crisis was something new for us to deal with. The support of our athletic trainers obviously being at UAB with the medical school helps.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

10 hours ago

Hero German Shepherd from Alabama vies to be country’s top dog in American Humane contest

A mom’s reaction to being reunited with her lost child – found by Küsse, a German Shepherd rescue dog – was to smother both with kisses and hugs.

Indeed, the name Küsse – German for “kisses” – fits Corey Speegle’s rescue dog to a “T.” With her innate ability to find lost people, Küsse has earned huge praise during her short career.

Nearly half a million dog lovers across the country have cast their votes for Küsse, one of three semifinalists for the American Humane Hero Dog prize in the Search and Rescue category. Other categories include Therapy Dogs; Service Dogs; Military Dogs; Law Enforcement Dogs; Shelter Dogs; and Guide/Hearing Dogs.

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Küsse and Speegle live in Sheffield, Alabama, and she’s the only dog representing the Yellowhammer State. Supporters can vote for Küsse once a day through July 16.

Training the nation’s ‘top dog’ 

Speegle got Küsse as a pup and began training her at a year old. Küsse’s innate ability to find individuals has primed her to win the national contest this fall, which concludes with a gala and a two-hour special on the Hallmark Channel.

“Küsse is a beautiful dog, and she loves to serve and help find missing people,” said Speegle, state coordinator for the Community United Effort Center for Missing Persons and a volunteer firefighter for Spring Valley and White Oak Volunteer Fire departments. “Her mother is a German Shepherd from the Czech Republic and the father is a second-generation explosives dog out of Fort Hood, Texas.”

Speegle has trained with the Federal Emergency Management Association, and he and Küsse have completed numerous search and rescue classes.

“I’ve taken advanced building search classes through detection services, and I’ve had boat training to locate bodies in the water,” Speegle said.

He’s accustomed to receiving calls for help from Colbert County Sheriff Frank Williamson. On March 4, Speegle and Küsse were called to work search and reconnaissance efforts in Cookeville, Tennessee, after a powerful EF4 tornado decimated the town in the early morning. Cookeville is the county seat of Putnam County, 79 miles east of Nashville.

“Küsse and I worked for hours on end to help find survivors and bring closure to families with missing loved ones,” said Speegle, who volunteers with the White Oak Volunteer Fire Department’s K-9 Search and Rescue crew. The team also uses highly trained cadaver dogs.

“It was like a bomb went off there,” he said. “We stayed until the last person was accounted for – it wasn’t pretty, as you can imagine.” Despite their round-the-clock search March 4-6, Küsse and Speegle found no survivors among the 27 people missing.

Speegle trained Küsse with the “recall/refind” method.

“I say, ‘show me,’ and she will return to me and lead me to the person,” he said. “When she finds somebody, she gets her purple kong wubba, her favorite toy in the whole world.”

“The new thinking is you don’t want the dog to bark at someone and scare them, so she’s trained to find them and, depending on the distance, she returns to me and makes me know she found them,” he said.

Speegle uses a handheld detection module linked to Küsse’s GPS-monitored collar, which can track her up to 9 miles.

“Occasionally, with small children, the dog won’t leave the child,” he said. “It will lay down and stay with the subject, so we can still track where the dog is.

“She also does scent article finds,” Speegle said. “Küsse locates a person using a scent article – a sock, hat or shirt, for instance.

“Küsse will work on- or off-lead,” he said. “If you have someone lost in a national forest, she can use that scent to find them.”

Küsse recently helped in the search for a 20-year-old marathon runner from Colbert County near Muscle Shoals, Alabama, whose family reported him missing.

“He’d gone running in the evening and it had stormed all night,” Speegle said. “We tracked him 200 to 300 yards but Küsse lost his scent because of the rain. But she assisted law enforcement to go in the right direction to find him.”

Using video, the sheriff tracked the man’s run. The marathoner had been caught in the storm and sheltered overnight in the field house at Muscle Shoals High School. He borrowed a phone the next morning to call his parents.

Honoring the past at LaGrange Cemetery

Colbert County Commissioner Darol Bendall asked Speegle to locate unmarked historic graves at the historic LaGrange Cemetery in Leighton, Alabama. He and Küsse volunteered a weekend in April.

“The descendants would like to know where they’re at – it’s rough terrain,” said Speegle, who assisted other members of the LaGrange Living History Association. “There are probably 100 graves that are unaccounted for, some of which date to 1815.”

The project was an excellent training opportunity. Speegle, Küsse and his other dogs located nine lost gravesites. During the years, headstones for a man and his wife, dating to the 1800s, had been moved about 50 yards from their resting place. Volunteers reset the headstones properly. Other graves were found outside the cemetery.

“My cadaver dog found an unmarked grave in a wooded area,” he said.

During the work, a volunteer’s child went missing.

“This little 6-year-old girl had wandered off 200 to 300 yards,” Speegle said. “Küsse found her at the back of the cemetery, at the wood line. It was a little scary for all of us.”

Speegle finds a lot of satisfaction in helping others.

“There was no happy ending in Tennessee, but finding the little girl was a good one,” he said. “Küsse is at the beginning of her career. I hope she serves her community well. If she wins in her overall category, I will be one proud daddy.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 hours ago

Florists decorate Birmingham Rotary Trail in an act of beauty and healing

Flowers bring joy, and they can heal the soul.

On Friday morning about 25 florists joined in decorating the Rotary Trail in Birmingham. As a beautiful start to the weekend, said Cameron Pappas, florists swathed the trail in greenery, roses and colorful blooms of all sorts. People even brought flowers from their yards.

The effort was to bring “light and joy” to Birmingham residents. And the 46-foot-tall sign with the words “Rotary Trail in the Magic City” was the perfect place to begin.

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“I was laying in bed Sunday night, watching these scenes unfold where Birmingham was in chaos. Seeing this was so sad,” said Pappas, owner of Norton’s Florist in Birmingham.

When Carolyn Chen called Pappas later, an idea was born. The owner of Wild Things Flowers & Curiosities in Homewood, Chen thought that decorating the entrance of the Rotary Trail could be a start to bringing emotional healing to the Magic City.

Area florists put Birmingham’s Rotary Trail in full bloom from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Random acts of botany

“Carolyn wanted to figure out how to help the city heal after this past weekend and the coronavirus,” said Pappas, owner of Norton’s Florist for more than four years. Between the two, giving flowers in a difficult time is a natural response: “Flowers bring joy. Whether it’s a sad time like a funeral or a happy occasion like a birthday, flowers bring happiness,” he said.

Pappas and Chen invited more than 50 florists from a 40-mile area around the city to help. Three wholesale flower distributors in Birmingham – DavisR&W Wholesale Inc. and Hall’s Birmingham Wholesale Florist – donated flowers and greenery.

“It’s cool to have everyone in an industry come together,” he said. “We want to make people happy, and give them something to look at besides broken glass and boarded up windows.”

What started as a simple gesture bloomed into something memorable. Several of the participating florists were livestreaming to Facebook. Several people from outside of Birmingham saw the videos and posts on social media, and came to take their own pictures.

Pappas said that seeing people join together to help was an amazing sight.

“People were cutting flowers, using their talents to help,” he said. “Everyone was busy beautifying the Rotary Trail with one thought: We love Birmingham. We love this city and our people.”

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

12 hours ago

Auburn University expert discusses COVID-19’s impact on sales projections, consumer costs

Brian Gibson, the Wilson Family Professor and executive director of the Center for Supply Chain Innovation in Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business, recently commented on the impact of coronavirus on sales projections for retailers and suppliers, how supply chains are adapting and how consumer costs will be affected.

Gibson leads multiple industry studies, including the Logistics 2030 project, the annual State of the Retail Supply Chain Report and the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals’ talent management project. He has published numerous articles in supply chain journals, co-wrote “The Definitive Guide to Integrated Supply Chain Management” and co-produces the “Supply Chain Essentials” video series.

Q: How is coronavirus affecting sales projections for retailers and suppliers?

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Gibson: The COVID-19 pandemic has created quite the challenge in the retail sector. U.S. retail sales plunged nearly 9 percent in March as shoppers began to follow shelter-in-place measures. The situation has created a “Tale of Two Cities” scenario. For many retailers it has been the worst of times, with all stores closed due to state government emergency orders. Small retailers lacking the resources to support online selling, and large discounters like TJ Maxx and Ross Stores with minimal e-commerce operations are generating no sales. Retailers with a large online presence are generating e-commerce sales, but it is not enough to make up the loss of in-store revenues. Only the small group of retailers selling essential products like groceries and household goods items are in the best-of-times category, relatively speaking. In March, Kroger and Walmart experienced double-digit growth of same-store sales due to consumers stocking up on essentials. AmazonCostcoTarget and other select retailers also generated higher revenues.

The situation is much the same for suppliers. It all depends on the type of product being produced. Manufacturers of essential food, paper and cleaning products are working overtime to handle demand surges. In contrast, the apparel and automobile industries are largely shut down due to lack of demand, key parts or available labor. Some of these companies are now making personal protective equipment, ventilators and other necessary products that are in short supply.

Q: How have coronavirus-affected supply chains adapted to this situation?

Gibson: The news headlines and stories certainly paint a bleak picture of a broken supply chain that is plagued by product shortages. The reality is that there is no single supply chain. Products flow through different channels from their raw material sources to manufacturers to retailers and distributors. As consumption patterns for certain products have spiked to historic highs, there have been temporary shortages while companies work to restock their inventories. It is an ongoing challenge. If a meat processor shuts down for two weeks, that link in the supply chain is broken temporarily, but the whole supply chain is not broken.

Supply chains are resilient; they bend but typically don’t break. Adjustments are being made by companies to continue serving demand. Distribution centers and grocery stores are working overtime to fulfill orders. Product is being redirected from commercial channels to consumer channels. Production lines are being modified and alternate sources of supply are being tapped to alleviate inventory shortages. Collectively, these solutions from organizations along the supply chain will bring supply and demand back into sync.

Q: Will supply chain costs increase and, thus, increase the cost of consumer goods?

Gibson: Without question, supply chain costs are rising. Retailers are paying front-line store and distribution center associates an hourly wage premium. It costs more to fill and deliver an e-commerce order than to have consumers do their own shopping. Facilities are going through expensive deep-cleaning protocols on a regular basis. And the cost of some commodities is rising. It’s logical to expect that some of these costs will be passed along to consumers in the form of higher product prices. How much they will go up and for how long is the tricky question.

Q: Will we see changes in supply chains and will this actually help certain companies?

Gibson: In the wake of COVID-19 disruptions, “Massive Shifts in Supply Chains Forthcoming” is a popular headline but one that is almost clickbait status. Change will happen, but in a more methodical and incremental fashion than is currently being predicted by pundits. Production will continue to shift from China to other low-cost countries. We will possibly see more domestic production with flexible capacity built in. Some companies will increase safety stock inventories of key materials. And companies will likely cultivate additional strategic supplier relationships. Companies that succeed with these initiatives will achieve greater supply chain agility and resiliency without dramatically increasing their costs. They will be the ultimate winners.

This story originally appeared on Auburn University’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)