1 month ago

State Rep. Clouse says special session will be needed for prisons — ‘We’ve had a gun to our head for at least five years’

When the Alabama Legislature adjourns sine die next week, another year will have come and gone without the body taking time to address the state’s prison problem, which is the focus of legal action taken by the federal government late last year.

Governor Kay Ivey had signed agreements on two lease-build proposals earlier this year. However, as the political environment had changed in recent months, lenders have been reluctant to provide financing for private prison contracts, which has imperiled the Ivey administration proposals.

During an appearance on Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” State Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), the chairman of the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee, indicated he saw no way around a special session to deal with the long-standing prison issue given the challenges presented to the Ivey proposal.

“I think we’ll be in a special session to deal with this issue,” he said. “We don’t have a choice anymore. We’ve been talking about this for five years — since Governor Bentley put forth the bond issue proposal in the ’16 session that came close to passing. It passed the Senate pretty overwhelmingly and narrowly passed the House with a little bit different version, then the senate added a different amendment to what we did, and it came down to one of those last night deals again where we couldn’t get it across the goal line by midnight. And I thought we would pass it in ’17 after a lot of the issues had been worked out, and the newness of it had worn off. But then, Governor Bentley had his problems and resigned from office in the middle of the ’17 session. That basically wrapped that up. Then, ’18 was an election year. We didn’t take it up then.”

“I really thought we should have taken it up in a special session in 2019 during the regular session right after we passed the gas tax,” Clouse continued. “But, you know, there was disagreement on doing that at the time to see what this lease-build issue looked like. We thought it was going to get some type of proposal by the end of ’19, and it didn’t happen. And it finally came around, September 2020, and then the legislature wasn’t able to see any of those details, which I wish we had have been because I think the plug should have been pulled as soon as they came out with those proposals 7-8 months ago. I think we could have saved ourselves a lot of time and money and could have gone ahead and addressed this bond issue at that time.”

Throughout 2019, lawmakers pointed to 2020 for a possible resolution to prisons, but the COVID pandemic interfered with those plans, according to Clouse.

“Of course, the 2020 [session] — obviously, that session and the whole year was dominated by COVID, and it was difficult for us as a legislative body, and still is — but not as bad as it was — to operate, particularly in the House with everybody spread out all over the place. So, we’ve had a lot of unusual things this whole time over the last five years that have happened and just some bad luck, and maybe not taking the bull by the horn and moving forward with it. But I don’t think we’ve got a choice now — we’ve got to have some new prisons. We’ve got prisons that are dilapidated and falling apart. This is not an answer to all the problems, but you’ve got to have that foundation there. It’s just time we move forward on it.”

According to the Dale County lawmaker, should the legislature pursue prisons in a special session, it would likely mean different plans from the ones proposed by Ivey.

“[W]e’ve already got the land,” Clouse explained. “There’s no need to go out and buy new property. All the proposed sites where we’re buying new property — I mean, the folks who live in those areas, they don’t want it. And so, you know, that’s an issue there for those folks. And I think the main issue, though, is once this bond issue is paid for in 30 years versus a lease program over 30 years is we own the buildings. If they’re built properly, and hopefully they would be in this day and age, they can last 70 to 100 years, you know?”

Clouse acknowledged prisons have long been neglected in Alabama but said that was not out of the norm for any state in the country.

“There’s no question — we’ve had a gun to our head for at least the last five years,” he added. “So, we’ve gone, I would say, the last 40 years, and obviously, I haven’t been in the legislature that long — but I’ve kept up with it that long, underfunding the Department of Corrections, probably $50 million a year. I mean, they’ve got now a $650 million budget. Over 40 years, that’s $2 billion. We’ve always had issues with the general fund budget, always having to borrow from Peter to pay Paul and make sure, particularly with Medicaid, do the minimum amount, so we get that federal match there, which is just billions of dollars, and prisons have always been put at the bottom of the barrel because nobody cares about prisons. They don’t have a constituency. A lot of its the legislature’s fault over the last at least 40 years, probably longer than that. It’s not just Alabama. It’s all over the country. All governments, even local governments — prisons and jails always come up last on funding needs.”

@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.

1 hour ago

Lakepoint Community Archery Park opens June 24

Alabama’s newest community archery park will hold its grand opening at 10 a.m. on Thursday, June 24, 2021, at Lakepoint State Park, 104 Old Highway 165, in Eufaula, Alabama. The Lakepoint Community Archery Park is located near the park’s campground and day use area. The public and media are invited to attend the grand opening ceremony.

The archery park will be open year-round during normal park hours for recreational shooting, competitive tournaments and outdoor educational programming. The facility features an eight-target adult range from 15 to 50 yards and a four-target youth range of 5 to 20 yards.

Use of the archery park is free for those under 16 years of age or over 65. Lakepoint entry fees still apply. Alabamians ages 16 to 64 must have a hunting license, Wildlife Management Area (WMA) license, or Wildlife Heritage license to use the range. For non-residents, an annual WMA license or non-resident hunting license is required. Licenses are available from various local retailers or online at outdooralabama.com.

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Lakepoint joins several other community archery parks currently in operation throughout the state. These facilities are one component of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) effort to increase awareness and participation in the life skill of archery. To find a community archery park nearest you, visit www.outdooralabama.com/activities/archery-parks.

The new archery park was made possible by the following agencies and organizations: Alabama State Parks, the Archery Trade Association, and ADCNR’s Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries with funding through license sales and federally matched Pittman-Robertson Act funding.

Additional recreational opportunities available at Lakepoint State Park include fishing, boating, swimming, wildlife and bird watching, camping, dining, picnic areas and playgrounds. The Park also features a Resort Lodge and Convention Center. In addition to the lodge, Lakepoint offers 29 cabins and 10 lakeside cottages. Handicap-accessible and dog-friendly units are available.

For more information about the Lakepoint Community Archery Park, call the park office at (334) 687-8011. For more information about Lakepoint State Park, visit www.alapark.com/parks/lakepoint-state-park.

16 hours ago

Live HealthSmart Alabama celebrates phase one improvements in Kingston

Live HealthSmart Alabama, a University of Alabama at Birmingham initiative, celebrated phase one improvements in the Kingston community at Stockham Park. These improvements are the culmination of a yearlong implementation project to improve the community’s infrastructure, including new and improved sidewalks, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant street ramps, trees and flowers in Stockham Park, painted murals, new bus shelters, improved lighting in hard-to-see areas, and more.

“Live HealthSmart Alabama aims to advance healthy eating, physical activity and prevention and wellness in underserved neighborhoods throughout Birmingham and the state,” said Dr. Mona Fouad, principal investigator of Live HealthSmart Alabama and director of the UAB Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center. “To help achieve these aims, we started by making community improvements. This was especially evident in the built environment. We’re excited to show everyone what has been accomplished.”

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To reenergize the community and encourage walkability, Live HealthSmart Alabama – in partnership with Brasfield & Gorrie and subcontracted through AG Gaston – knew sidewalks in Kingston needed to be either repaved or built from scratch. To contribute toward this initiative, Kirkpatrick Concrete donated all the concrete used to make these improvements.

Other partners that contributed to the accomplishments in Kingston include O’Neal SteelCoca-Cola United, the city of BirminghamAlabama PowerSteward MachineBirmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority MAXGoodwyn Mills CawoodBlank Space BhamNAFCOBirmingham Parks and Recreation, and Watkins Trucking Company.

“It has been a great and rewarding experience working with the city of Birmingham and Alabama corporations to accomplish the built environment improvements in Kingston,” said Fouad Fouad, Ph.D., director of the UAB Sustainable Smart Cities Research Center. “I believe these strong partnerships between academia and industry are built to last forever.”

Food deserts: A mobile solution

While each community’s needs are unique, a consistent issue Live HealthSmart Alabama has found in underserved areas is that these neighborhoods fall within areas that either have limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables or are food deserts.

According to the USDA, a food desert is a place where one-third of residents live more than one mile from the nearest grocery store. Using this definition and census tracts, the USDA estimates that roughly 19 million people (or 6.2 percent of the U.S. population) live in a food desert.

To bring healthy and affordable food to Birmingham residents, Live HealthSmart Alabama introduced its new Mobile Market at the Kingston ribbon-cutting – which will run in partnership with Promoting Empowerment and Enrichment Resources (P.E.E.R.) and East Lake Market. Each week, the Mobile Market will visit communities in Birmingham, starting with their demonstration areas (Kingston, East Lake, Bush Hills and Titusville). Shoppers can purchase proteins, fruits, vegetables, grains and a variety of other healthy food options using cash, card, EBT or Double-Up Bucks.

“Currently, Alabama has some of the worst health outcomes in the nation,” said Mona Fouad. “The goal of Live HealthSmart Alabama is to move our state out of the bottom 10 in national health rankings. To do this, community members have to have access to healthy food options and the tools to be successful. The Live HealthSmart Alabama Mobile Market helps to provide that.”

In addition to its weekly route, the Live HealthSmart Alabama Mobile Market will also host monthly evening events in June and July where community members can shop and watch chef Chris Hastings of Hot & Hot Fish Club conduct a demonstration using food pulled directly from the market.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, UAB President Ray L. Watts, Myla Calhoun of Alabama Power and other UAB and community leaders also attended the event.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

20 hours ago

Birmingham Black Barons among Negro League teams getting more play in online stats

Barbershop banter about the greatest baseball players ever has more ammunition after Baseball-Reference.com, a Sports Reference website, dramatically expanded its coverage of the Negro Leagues and historical Black major league players.

Following the website’s launch on June 15, Major Negro Leagues from 1920-1948 – including the Birmingham Black Barons – are listed with the National League and American League as major leagues.

“Our view is that these players always were major league players, and it was an oversight on our part that we did not list them as major league players,” said Sean Forman, president of Sports Reference. “Such was the quality of play in the Negro Leagues. Just saying the term major league, we’re implying that they’re at the top league, in the top echelon of baseball being played. Certainly counting Willie Mays and Satchel Paige among your alumni for (the Birmingham Black Barons) lends it a certain level of quality.”

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Paige is No. 2 on the website’s list of all-time Birmingham Black Barons, behind Sam Streeter. Following Paige are Harry Salmon, Ray Parnell, Poindexter Williams, Artie Wilson, Piper Davis, Robert Poindexter, Ed Steele, Tommy Sampson, Sandy Thompson and Bill Powell.

A release on the website said Baseball Reference is “not bestowing a new status on these players or their accomplishments. The Negro Leagues have always been major leagues. We are changing our site’s presentation to properly recognize this fact.”

The website acknowledges the work of Gary Ashwill, Scott Simkus, Mike Lynch, Kevin Johnson and Larry Lester on the Seamheads Negro League Database, where the data was acquired. The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and its members were credited with being instrumental in researching and publishing the history of the Negro Leagues.

Lester, chairman of SABR’s Negro League Committee, said adding Negro Leaguers to the lists of statistics isn’t going to change the leaderboard of baseball greats because Negro Leaguers played fewer career games.

“But we can still quantify their greatness by showing that Satchel Paige struck out almost one batter every inning, which is very close to what Nolan Ryan and other ballplayers have done,” Lester said. “We can show that Josh Gibson hit a home run every 13 or 14 times at bat, which is right in line with Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth. Across the board, we can take statistics and show how great these Black players were.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

22 hours ago

Why Peach Park in Clanton is a must-stop on summer road trips

It’s that time of the year, again, when beach vacationers traveling on Interstate 65 stop for peaches in Clanton.

For nearly 40 years, the farm stand, restaurants, and gift shop at Peach Park have been prime destinations for travelers wanting to take a break with some peach ice cream, possibly buy a jar of peach butter to enjoy back home, and certainly pick up a basket of Chilton County’s much-loved fuzzy fruit.

Some of those freshly-picked, perfectly-ripe peaches will stay in the state. But a fair amount wind up in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana—states further north on I-65, which bisects Alabama.

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Alabama’s peach season, which basically runs from May through Labor Day, is just starting to hit its peak. Over the summer, Peach Park will sell more than 70 varieties that ripen at different times, guaranteeing a steady supply.

More than two-thirds of the peaches grown in Alabama come from Chilton County. The 74-year-old annual Peach Festival—which includes a pageant, music, fun run, art, and parades—is set for June 19-26 in Clanton.

Like Durbin Farms, its older competitor across I-65 at Exit 205, Peach Park started as a farm stand. Gene and Frances Gray opened it in 1984 to sell fruit from their own orchards and become an outlet for other area fruit and vegetable farmers.

Frances created the recipe for the much-loved peach ice cream, which premiered in 1988. She still helps make the frozen treat, some of the 10,000 gallons per year produced at Peach Park.

The family-owned business now is run by a second generation, the founders’ son and daughter-in-law, Mark and Robin Gray.

Peach Park’s seven-acre footprint boasts a barbecue restaurant (“Peach Pit Bar-B-Que”), meat-and-three, bakery, clothing boutique, playground, gardens, RV park, rental space for events, and other amenities.

Peach Park is generally open from mid-February until Christmas, operating seven days a week.

But during the summer it’s famous in tourist guides as a one-stop shop for all things peach. Ice cream flavors include peach caramel and peach cheesecake, along with straight-up peach (it graces a frozen yogurt there, too). You can order a scoop to top a piece of the peach cobbler made in the bakery.

The bakery also uses peaches in bread and cakes, and to fill its legendary fried pies—one of the state Tourism Department’s “100 Dishes to Eat and Alabama.” You can buy jars of peach preserves to take home, or order some congealed peach salad to eat there.

Don’t forget to get snaps by the giant peach replica out back, a smaller cousin to the peach-shaped water towers that mark prime producing areas in the Southeast, including Chilton County (that water tower is off Exit 112 on I-65).

Of course, we Alabamians don’t need a beach trip as an excuse to drop in to Peach Park. But with Sunday the busiest day; a weekday is the best time to relax in a rocking chair on the porch at Peach Park, working on an ice-cream cone or fried pie, and then pick up a basket of fruit for home.

(Courtesy of SoulGrown)

22 hours ago

Birmingham leaders launch new Prosper collaborative

Birmingham-area leaders on Monday announced the launch of Prosper, an initiative focused on creating a more prosperous and equitable Birmingham by investing in opportunities that grow the area’s economy in an inclusive way.

Prosper intends to be the table where everybody has a seat, setting regional priorities for job growth and retention, job access and job training.

Its mission statement reads: “Prosper is a coalition of community, civic and business leaders committed to creating a more productive economy that is inclusive of all races and genders.”

The launch, which opened with a speech by Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, included the introduction of Prosper’s board of directors and its CEO J.W. Carpenter, who most recently was executive director of the Birmingham Education Foundation.

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Birmingham leaders launch Prosper initiative from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“On the heels of a recession, a worldwide pandemic and a social justice movement, we hope to do something transformative in Jefferson County and the city of Birmingham,” Carpenter said. “We will bring together business, educational, civic and entrepreneurial interests to create and grow economic opportunities for all, focusing specifically on our Black community and women.”

A recent Brookings Institution study reveals that the Birmingham area is creating fewer quality jobs and less access to economic resources than its peer cities. Those findings are a driving force for Prosper.

“This region can do better in providing opportunities to its residents, especially the Black community,” said Alabama Power President and CEO Mark Crosswhite, who is chairman of the Prosper board. “Prosper will work to align key priorities: growing quality jobs, preparing workers and investing in communities. We know that – together – our impact can be exponentially greater.”

Prosper is committed to helping transform the way Birmingham and Jefferson County create jobs in the innovation economy and the way the region prepares its people of color to thrive in those jobs, with a focus on ensuring that all residents, regardless of race, gender or ZIP code, have access to those jobs and can fully contribute.

Prosper will concentrate on four initiatives: Health Tech Industry; Business Advisory Services; Birmingham Promise; and Black-owned Business Acceleration.

In addition to Crosswhite and Carpenter, Prosper stakeholders – including Mike Kemp of Kemp Management Solutions, Rachel Harmon at Birmingham Promise and Tiffany Whitlow at Acclinate Inc. – discussed their support for the initiative and the need for inclusive economic growth in Birmingham.

“Elevating our city’s Black- and women-owned businesses while increasing job access for Black and women residents will ultimately lift all of Birmingham,” Woodfin said. “We must remain vigilant in eliminating any obstacles to inclusive growth in our city.”

Carpenter said he will seek input from Prosper partners, stakeholders and its board of directors.

“Prosper must be collaborative, bringing a diverse group of people to the table to solve problems,” he said. “I don’t want to dictate a path forward. I want to absorb the best ideas from the brightest and most passionate minds around lifting Birmingham in a way that’s equitable and inclusive.”

The highlight of the event may have been a passionate speech by 20-year-old Jarvis Prewitt, one of the first students to intern as a Birmingham Promise student. He credited that internship at BBVA with giving him the financial literacy that opened the door to his pursuit of a college degree. He’s now a rising junior majoring in mechanical engineering at Alabama A&M with a 3.91 GPA.

“Why not Prosper? Why not the Magic City?” Prewitt said, pointing out that when he earns his degree, he plans to come back home to Birmingham. “Not Texas. Not Atlanta. I want to give back to the people and the community that has given so much to me.”

For more information, including a list of board members, visit the Prosper website. For all media inquiries, contact Jasmine Phillips at jphillips@lrymediagroup.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)