The Wire

  • Three takeaways from Alabama’s Runoff Election

    Excerpt:

    With Alabama’s primary election runoffs now in the books, here are three takeaways from the results.

    North Alabama has spoken.
    When this election cycle began, it became evident that north Alabama saw a window of opportunity to increase its influence.  The results from the Republican primary runoff have shown the electorate in that area of the state was eager to flex its muscle.

    Will Ainsworth pulled out an impressive come-from-behind victory in the Lt. Governor’s race. Steve Marshall enjoyed a resounding win in his bid to retain the Attorney General’s office.

  • On Roby’s win: One false media narrative dies, a new one is born

    Excerpt:

    Like Lucy van Pelt of Peanuts comic strip fame repeatedly pulling the football away from Charlie Brown as he lines up to kick it, Rep. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) once again has shown you can’t beat her in a Republican primary.

    Similar to when she defeated “Gather Your Armies” Rick Barber in the 2010 GOP primary and “Born Free American Woman” Becky Gerritson in the 2016 GOP primary, Roby defeated former Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright for a second time on Tuesday night, this time by a whopping 36 points.

    Heading into yesterday, many national media reporters were sent into Alabama’s second congressional district looking at the possibility that Roby might have to answer to a revolt for not sticking with then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on the infamous Billy Bush weekend during the 2016 presidential campaign.

  • Mo Brooks Wins FreedomWorks’ Prestigious 2017 FreedomFighter Award

    Excerpt from a Rep. Mo Brooks news release:

    Tuesday, Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) was one of only 31 members of the U.S. House of Representatives awarded the prestigious 2017 FreedomFighter Award by FreedomWorks, a leading conservative organization with more than six million members nationwide. Only members of Congress who score better than 90% on the FreedomWorks scorecard receive the FreedomFighter Award. Congressman Brooks’ FreedomWorks score was in the top 4% of all Congressmen in 2017.

    Brooks said, “FreedomWorks is a leading organization in the conservative movement. I thank them for their work keeping members of Congress accountable and scoring key House floor votes which helps the American people better understand the impact of those votes. I was proud to receive the prestigious FreedomWorks 2017 FreedomFighter Award for my voting record in 2017. If America is to maintain its place as the greatest country in world history, more members of Congress must fight for the foundational principles that made America great. I’m fighting in Congress for those principles, and I’m glad to have a partner as effective as FreedomWorks in the fight.”

3 weeks ago

An ‘old soul’ Alabama mother explores Birmingham houses of history

(Julie Tucker/Birmingham Mom's Blog)

I’m an old soul — an unapologetic old soul. My college minor was theater (costume design). I love old clothes, old houses — really, anything having to do with history, especially related to Birmingham. I love walking through historic districts and imagining what life was like when these houses were built. I find it inspiring. My grandfather grew up in Miami, but he was born in Birmingham and lived here the first two years of his life, during the Great Depression. I remember hearing the story of my great-grandmother walking blocks and blocks with my toddler grandfather in tow, searching for bread.

Through some sleuthing at the Birmingham Archives, I was able to locate a photograph of his Birmingham home (which has since been demolished to make way for medical buildings near Southside). Yes, this was the kind of stuff I used to do on my lunch break. Before kids. When I was single. I know. Nerd alert! And yet, somehow … I still found a husband!! 😉 My favorite thing about finding this house photo is that years later when my mother was cleaning out her parents’ house, she found this photo of my grandfather at that house!

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Ok, so what’s my point?

Glad you asked. I have two points to make. Number one: if you’re ever looking for that perfect housewarming gift for a family member or friend, consider an original photograph of their house from when it was first constructed. (That is, if said house is in Jefferson County, Alabama, and is 50+ years old!) These photos below are my friends’ houses in Crestline and Homewood.

To obtain photos, call the Jefferson County Board of Equalization at (205) 325-5566, ask them for the parcel ID numbers, then give them the address of the house you’re researching. Take your list of parcel ID numbers down to the Birmingham Archives. The archives building is directly across the street from the main downtown library (Central Library). Park on the street and walk around to the side of the building that faces Linn Park. Go through the glass doors, straight down the hallway, and take a left to go down the stairs (just past the elevators). When you get downstairs, you’ll see some glass doors to your left — that’s the archives room. Give the person at the counter your parcel ID numbers, and he or she will retrieve the corresponding files.

Generally, there’s at least one old photograph in each house file they pull, and you can either have them make a copy on the copy machine, or you can pay an added fee and have them mail you a professional copy. Put it in a nice frame, and voila! The perfect gift for a friend or keepsake for you.

Historical Markers

Secondly, you’ve probably noticed historical marker signs on older homes in town. If you own a house built before 1967 and want to apply for a Jefferson County historical marker for your front door, simply go to the Jefferson County Historical Commission‘s website to download an application. The process is very straight-forward and you can gather all the information you need from the house file at the Birmingham Archives. I just applied for one for our home, and it was an incredibly easy (and fun) project!

The previous owners of our home lived here for 48 years and were Jewish German refugees during World War II. They found their way to Birmingham, studied at Samford University (then Howard College), and made quite a life for themselves here. I’m inspired by their story and determination. We were thrilled to find some artifacts last year belonging to them when we renovated our kitchen and knocked down a wall. Our contractor discovered a driver’s license renewal card from 1962 as well as an old receipt from the (now closed) Blach’s Department Store downtown. You never know what you might find when you start researching!

How about you? Please tell me I’m not the only history buff in Jefferson County!! Have you researched your home or do you have a historical marker outside your door? Leave a comment below — I’d love to hear your story!

(Courtesy of Birmingham Moms Blog)

Julie Tucker is a Birmingham stay at home mother, Etsy shop owner, and contributor at Birmingham Moms Blog

3 weeks ago

Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh: Putting Alabama Families First

(Cavanaugh Campaign)

When you run for public office, you think of family first – your spouse, your children, and your parents. Both of my parents were teachers. I grew up in a modest home where education was important, and where I was rooted in the kind of traditional family values which everyone can appreciate. The lessons I learned then are the lessons that I am trying to pass on to my children and my grandchildren today. Yet, we are constantly being told by, what Ronald Reagan called a “distant elite,” that we need to change. But what exactly are these people asking us to change?

In 1979, Margaret Thatcher said, “it’s passionately interesting for me that the things that I learned in a small town, in a very modest home, are just the things that I believe have won the election.”

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Isn’t that what we want again in our government? We as Alabamians have seen too many people who come to Montgomery and bill themselves as the one who will change the system, only to find out that it is the system that has changed them. The moment change asks you to put your values aside, is the time when danger looms on the horizon. Values which are a mile wide and one inch deep will not be able to change the course of our great state. But values rooted in the soil of belief and the principles of our nations’ founding will be able to deliver on better infrastructure and a better education for our most precious resource – our children.

Hard work, honesty, faith in God, respect for life, and a rugged optimism which believes that tomorrow can always be better – have held many Alabamians through good times and dark times. Simple, yes. But it is in these same deeply-rooted, proven values, which lies the confidence we need to address the future. We are a people who look to God, while rolling up our sleeves to work harder in the jobs we do and for the families we raise.

This is precisely why I am running for Lt. Governor. I want to continue bringing our timeless Alabama values to Montgomery. I want to bring about jobs – good, high-paying jobs – for our state, so that families become stronger. I want to strengthen our high school, community college and higher education offerings, so that our children today will be the best and brightest. I want to be the Lt. Governor who puts our families and our values first – rejecting self-interest and special interests. These are the values which create the real leaders in Alabama, and this can be our future. Our brighter future.

The above is the opinion of Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, the President of the Alabama Public Service Commission. Twinkle is a small business owner and former Chairman of the Alabama Republican Party. Opinions expressed do not represent the position of the Public Service Commission or its other commissioners.

3 weeks ago

Downtown Birmingham linear park the focus of upcoming public meetings

(ALDOT)

A proposal to create a mile-long linear park underneath the rebuilt Interstate 59/20 elevated highway through downtown Birmingham is generating excitement among city and community leaders.

The proposal is in the conceptual stage, and is expected to be unveiled for community discussion before two meetings next month. Officials emphasize that nothing is firm and that community residents will be encouraged to provide ideas about what should go in the public space.

The linear park would run for 10 blocks underneath the widened highway from 15th Street to 25th Street North – starting near the Civil Rights District and ending just beyond the Uptown entertainment district, east of the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC). In comparison, Birmingham’s popular Railroad Park, while significantly wider, is only four blocks long.

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State transportation officials and others participating in the process say the new public space is possible because of the way the elevated highway will be rebuilt. For example, the rebuilt interstate will have no vehicle exit or entrance ramps along the 10-block stretch, making the space below the highway more inviting for pedestrians and public activities. Enhanced lighting that can change color, similar to the 14th and 18th Street tunnels near Railroad Park, also promises to make the proposed linear park more pleasant.

The new highway design removes hundreds of support columns that disrupt the space beneath the existing elevated highway. Instead of the existing spans that have columns every 65 feet, the new design will have columns 165 feet apart. The seamless design of the new highway is expected to eliminate much of the highway noise, including the “thump-thump” heard now as trucks rumble over seams between spans.

Officials said no plans are locked down for what could occupy the linear spaces underneath the new highway. Among ideas being floated are everything from a carousel, to athletic fields, to fountains and performance and event spaces. Art installations could be part of the mix.

Birmingham-based Barge Design Solutions is working on the concepts. Barge has been involved in park, greenway and large landscape-design projects, including a 3-mile extension of the Tennessee Riverpark in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the renovation of Rhodes Jordan Park in Gwinnett County, Georgia. Consulting with Barge is New York-based Biederman Redevelopment Ventures, which was part of the team responsible for important public projects around the country, including renovated Bryant Park in New York City and Klyde Warren Park in Dallas.

One element already exciting to local officials and community leaders is how a linear park could provide pedestrian connections downtown – potentially linking attractions and institutions, including the BJCC, Uptown and the Sheraton and Westin hotels; the Birmingham Museum of Art, Boutwell Auditorium and Linn Park; the Alabama School of Fine Arts and its theater; and the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument and its multiple historic sites. A linear park has the potential to be an attraction itself, providing a walkable connector between downtown and the institutions and neighborhoods just north of Interstate 59/20, which has been a physical barrier for decades.

Also being discussed are potential names for the linear park. Working with Barge on branding concepts is Birmingham-based public relations firm O2 Ideas. The firm is expected to unveil a potential name for the park before the public involvement meetings, scheduled for July 17 at Boutwell Municipal Auditorium and July 24 at the Birmingham CrossPlex. There will be three sessions on both days, from 10 a.m. to noon, noon until 2 p.m., and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.  A website is being developed where details will be provided.

More information is expected to be posted soon at www.dot.state.al.us. Click on “I-59 Public Space.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Wilson still reigns atop Alabama’s Bass Anglers Information Team report

(Outdoor Alabama)

For the fourth year in a row, Wilson Lake reigns atop the rankings in the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division’s annual Bass Anglers Information Team (BAIT) Report.

In data compiled for the 2017 fishing year, Wilson totaled 77 quality indicator points to maintain the top ranking over second-place Lake Jordan, which compiled 72 points. Jordan made a big move up from 12th place in the 2016 report. Lake Mitchell and Millers Ferry tied for third with 65 points. Millers Ferry also jumped 10 spots in 2017. Wheeler Lake rounded out the top five with 64 points.

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WFF assigns quality indicator points according to average bass weight, percent success, bass per angler per day, pounds per angler per day, and hours required to catch a five-pound bass. The angler day is considered 10 hours.

“Last year was another good year of bass fishing in Alabama,” said WFF’s Kyle Bolton, who oversees the BAIT report, which marks its 32nd year with the 2017 report.

The BAIT report’s objective is to gather information on bass populations from bass club members as well as WFF Fisheries biologists, who use a variety of methods of data collection, including electrofishing.

Bolton said bass anglers have reported more than 15,000 tournament results during the report’s history. Anglers have spent 3.4 million hours collecting data for the report. BAIT’s history includes reports on 928,000 bass that weighed 1.7 million pounds.

In terms of big bass, the top lakes in Alabama were Pickwick, Wilson, Eufaula, Guntersville and Wheeler.

Guntersville had been on everybody’s big bass list earlier in the decade, but the number of large bass caught slipped for a few years. The lake seems to be on the rebound toward outstanding bass fishing.

“Guntersville bounced back last year, compared to the year before,” Bolton said. “We had really good year-classes of bass in 2007 and 2008. That produced a lot of giant fish (10 pounds plus) and those fish finally died off. In 2017, the numbers are a lot closer to the 30-year average.

“It’s cyclical, just like any other reservoir, but Guntersville is coming back up.”

Bolton said in 2017, Guntersville had about 70-percent success, which is on par with the 30-year average. The average weight was 2.74 pounds, dead on the 30-year average.

In 2016, the BAIT report added another data point with winning weight for the one-day tournaments. Guntersville’s average winning weight for 2016 was 17.86 and 17.78 for 2017.

However, Guntersville also produced the largest winning weight in the state last year when Casey Martin, fishing in the BFL Bama Division tournament in March of 2017, weighed in a five-fish stringer at 40.69 pounds.

Pickwick’s indicators were well above the long-term average. The most telling statistic that put it near the top in big bass lakes was that it only took 80 hours to catch a bass five pounds or larger. Pickwick also set a lake record for the average weight per bass at 2.81 pounds.

Eufaula had two tournaments in 2017 where 15 bass larger than five pounds were weighed.

In 2017, several other lake records were set. Lake Jordan set three records with an average weight of 2.51 pounds, bass per angler per day at 4.42 and pounds per angler per day at 11.10. Lake Mitchell set two records with 4.46 bass per angler per day and 8.69 pounds per angler per day. The Mobile-Tensaw Delta also set two marks with 4.69 bass per angler per day and 8.23 pounds per angler per day.

Bolton said some of the reservoirs in Alabama are not represented because WFF doesn’t receive enough tournament reports to validate the data.

“On some of the reservoirs, especially in west Alabama, we just don’t have enough reports,” Bolton said. “We’re not getting the reports we need from Tombigbee River and Alabama River lakes like Coffeeville and Claiborne. We’re not getting anything from the Bear Creek reservoirs. I think there are plenty of tournaments there. For whatever reason, we’re not getting a lot of reports from those reservoirs.

“The reports help us make fisheries management decisions as far as restocking or setting length and creel limits. We use these reports in tandem with our electrofishing data.”

The standard electrofishing data WFF biologists gather include growth, mortality, recruitment and abundance. They scoop up the stunned fish, weigh and measure them. Some are returned to the water as soon as possible. Others are retained to pull the otoliths (ear bones with growth rings) to check the age of the fish.

Bolton hopes the number of reports will increase significantly now that a new tool is available for tournament anglers. WFF added an online feature that will allow tournament officials to quickly report the results.

“The past few years, we’ve only had two options to turn in tournament results,” Bolton said. “Those were submitting an Excel form via email or a paper copy via regular mail.

“With this new program, we’re hoping the anglers will just hop online and submit the catch data. It won’t take them five minutes, if that. The reports can be submitted from their computer or smartphone.”

Bolton said several options are available on the above website. Tournament anglers should click on the BAIT tab and enter their Conservation ID number and birth date to verify the angler’s identity. After the angler’s Conservation ID and birth date are entered the first time, they will be saved and should not have to be entered on subsequent reports.

After filling out the form and entering the tournament results, the angler will hit submit to transmit the report to WFF.

“When I get the data from the report, I put it in my program to develop the annual report,” Bolton said. “It’s live now, and we’ve had several people already use it. They said it was easy.”

That same website provides a link to the bass tournaments scheduled on a variety of Alabama lakes and reservoirs.

“Anglers and organizers are allowed to post their tournaments on the website,” Bolton said. “This is to help reduce conflicts. It’s in no way a reservation system. It’s just a way to let people know about upcoming events. That is very easy to use too. They enter the data, hit submit and it will be posted on the website.”

Bolton said the BAIT report gives anglers an avenue to contribute information that WFF managers need to ensure Alabama continues to have great fishing.

“This is a good opportunity for anglers to get involved in actual data submission so we can take care of the fisheries,” he said. “The more data the better. Through the annual report, the anglers can compare their results to other clubs. They can look at the report and see where the big fish are being caught or the largest numbers of fish are being caught.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

3 weeks ago

Family-friendly Alabama summer theater performances

(Pixabay)

If you made a summer bucket list for your family, it might have (should have!) included a live stage performance. Below, we have listed some summer theater performances to consider seeing with your family!

Peter Pan

This performance features one of our very own BMB contributors, Ericka!

Peter and his mischievous fairy sidekick, Tinkerbell, visit the nursery of the Darling children late one night and, with a sprinkle of pixie dust, begin a magical journey across the stars that none of them will ever forget. In the adventure of a lifetime, the travelers come face-to-face with a ticking crocodile, a fierce Indian tribe, a band of bungling pirates and, of course, the villainous Captain Hook! This terrific production will feature sword fights, fairy dust, and high-flying aerial stunts provided by ZFX. (Directed by Cody Carlton.)

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From Ericka: This performance is in Gadsden, but it’s definitely worth the drive! CharACTers Theatrics puts on incredible productions with a truly talented cast full of local students, teachers, business professionals – and yes, even moms! You can read about my first experience with CharACTers here. In this show, I’ll be playing the role of Mrs. Darling – then transforming from 1900’s London socialite to dancing Indian – and back again! I hope you’ll bring your children to experience this magical show! Be sure to stick around in the lobby after the curtain closes for a chance to meet the characters, too!

Dates, Times, and Location (only a few left!):
June 29 and 30 at 7:00 p.m.
July 1 at 2:00 p.m.
Wallace Hall Fine Arts Center — Gadsden, AL

Tickets are available online at www.wallacehall.org, by phone by calling 256-543-ARTS, or at the box office one hour before show time.

Beauty and the Beast

Tabitha highly recommends this performance! In her words:

What can I say about Red Mountain Theatre Company’s production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast? Well, the first thing I can say is go see it! I’m going to try not to let my bias show because Beauty and the Beast has been my most favorite thing ever since I got a VCR, the Beauty and the Beast VHS and a Beauty and the Beast sleeping bag for Christmas when I was eight years old.

Objectively, and bias aside, I could not have been more pleased with this production. I paid far more to see a Broadway musical at the BJCC when it came through town on tour and I was equally as entertained at this production of Beauty and the Beast and my seats were far better. (There are no bad seats in the Dorothy Jemison Day Theater at ASFA!) The show contains all your favorite scenes, songs and lines from the Disney animated film — from the first “Bonjour!” to the last petal falling. There’s a wonderful number called “Human Again” that didn’t make the movie cut but is in the Broadway show. And, ladies and gentlemen, “Be Our Guest” does not disappoint!

I laughed, I cried, I would totally go see it again. The last petal falls and the show is gone on July 1st — so don’t miss it!

Find details here.

Belle meets in the lobby from 12:30 until 1:30 before the 2:00 p.m. matinee showings.

Annie

The classic musical Annie is going to run at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery from July 4 – August 5. This is an unforgettable venue at which to see a performance; this family-friendly musical will make for such a fun and memorable excursion this summer!

Jack and the Beanstalk & The Three Musketeers

The Birmingham Children’s Theater (BCT) has been a mainstay in the Magic City for over 70 years. Introduce your children to local theater this summer with BCT’s two sensational summer shows: Jack and the Beanstalk and The Three Musketeers.

The classic fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk comes to life from July 10 – 28 at 10:00 a.m. each day downtown at the BCT mainstage, and is recommended for children ages 2-8. Use coupon code “juliejack” at checkout to save 10% off your tickets.

The Three Musketeers, based on Alexandre Dumas’ swashbuckling narrative, is sure to engage your tweens and big kids. If you like Pirates of the Caribbean, you will love BCT’s rendition of The Three Musketeers. For the first time, BCT is renting out and renovating a storefront in Brookwood Village Mall for this production. You can’t beat the easy parking and built-in food court for snacks after the show! The show runs July 12 – 29. Use coupon code “julie3M” at checkout to save 10% off your tickets.

Find more information and purchase tickets here.

Once Upon a Mattress

Here’s another chance to get out of town for a day (or night!) Theatre Tuscaloosa is producing this show July 13 – 22, which is based upon the classic story, “The Princess and the Pea”. It’s sure to be a fun night for the entire family!

Seussical & Mary Poppins

Red Mountain Theatre Company has an awesome program called Discovery Theatre Shows, which provides an opportunity for young theatre enthusiasts to participate in productions. Check out these performances that are put on “by kids, for kids”.

Seussical runs July 13 – 15.

Mary Poppins runs July 27 – 29.

Will your family plan to attend one of these summer performances?

(Courtesy of Birmingham Moms Blog)

3 weeks ago

Equifax agrees to boost security in Alabama and 7 other states

(FOX 5 Atlanta/YouTube)

Equifax Inc. has reached an agreement with eight states that will require the credit-reporting agency to put stronger security measures in place to prevent future data breaches.

About 147.9 million Americans were impacted by Equifax’s 2017 data breach, which was the largest exposure of personal information in history.

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While Equifax has taken steps to correct the problems that led to incident, state regulators say Wednesday’s consent order addresses deficiencies that have persisted.

The states involved were: California, Texas, New York, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Georgia, Alabama and Maine.

The order requires Equifax to take a number of steps to shore up weaknesses in its information technology and data security operations over the next year.

Equifax, which is based in Atlanta, said that a “good number” of the action items have been completed and that it expects to “meet or exceed” all the commitments made in the order.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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U.S. Rep. Byrne: Supporting Alabama’s number one industry

(Pixabay)

Agriculture is our country’s oldest industry. Since the beginning, America’s farmers have worked the land and sustained our communities. Today, agriculture is the top industry in rural America, and it remains the number one industry in Alabama.

As our manufacturing industry continues to grow, I have made a commitment to never forget about the backbone of Alabama’s economy: our hardworking farmers who help feed America. Farming, forestry, livestock and crop production represent more than $70 billion in annual economic output, so it remains imperative that we reinforce programs that sustain and support the agriculture industry.

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Since being elected to Congress, I have always worked to be a steadfast advocate for agriculture and forestry. In fact, one of the first major votes I took in office was in favor of the 2014 Farm Bill.

Four years later, I am proud that we could pass H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act, also known as the 2018 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill supports our nation’s farmers and foresters by reauthorizing farm programs and directing the nation’s agricultural policy for the next five years.

Among the many important provisions, the bill includes support for Alabama’s cotton and peanut farmers and maintains access to crop insurance. This legislation also improves existing programs to maximize efficiency, reduces waste, and maintains fiscally responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

Very important to me, the Farm Bill establishes substantive work requirements for work-capable adults in order to receive SNAP benefits, commonly known as food stamps. It is important to note that the 2018 Farm Bill does not cut SNAP benefits. Rather, this provision puts more resources toward helping able-bodied adults find jobs and get back to work.

In this economy, there is no excuse for capable Americans to not seek out employment. By encouraging Americans to find and retain jobs, we ultimately lift people out of poverty, strengthen the overall economy, and help save taxpayer money.

Another significant issue facing our rural communities is a lack of broadband access. The Farm Bill authorizes substantial annual funding for rural broadband and requires the Department of Agriculture to establish forward-looking broadband standards.

Finally, this bill helps equip and train the next generation of farmers. The bill enhances access to crop insurance and establishes a scholarship program at 1890 Land Grant Institutions designed to assist students interested in agriculture careers. Many family farms transcend generations, and it is critical that we provide support for up-and-coming farmers to ensure they have the resources they need.

Each year, I travel across Southwest Alabama on my annual “Ag Matters” tour. This tour gives me the chance to visit family farms and forest land throughout Southwest Alabama and learn more about our state’s top industry.

Ultimately, the “Ag Matters” Tour helps me better understand and appreciate the unique challenges facing our local farmers and foresters. Farming is unlike most other industries and dependent on so many external factors, like weather, that are outside the control of the farmers. It is important farmers have the certainty they need to provide the American people with a safe and reliable food source.

As I travel to these family farms and speak with those who work the land, it never fails that the Farm Bill is one of the most talked about issues. This legislation truly has a huge impact on our family farms.

Our farmers and foresters are good stewards of the land, and I am pleased the House could pass this important legislation to ensure that our family farms and rural communities have the resources they need to keep up with the challenges of today.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

3 weeks ago

Heat advisory for Alabama and two other states

(Pixabay)

Forecasters say it’s going to be dangerously hot across parts of the South.

The National Weather Service has issued a heat advisory for about half of Alabama, much of central Georgia and the southern tip of South Carolina for Monday afternoon.

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High temperatures are forecast in the 90s, and the weather service says the combination of heat and humidity will make it feel like it’s about 105 degrees across the region.

The extreme heat can lead to heat-related health problems including heat exhaustion.

Similar alerts are possible later in the week since forecasters say the heat will persist for at least a few days.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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3 weeks ago

In new book, Alabama’s Victoria Hallman reminisces about time as Hee Haw Honey

(Photo Courtesy Victoria Hallman)

Victoria Hallman and Diana Goodman were in attorney Bruce Phillips’ office one day reminiscing – Goodman about her time dating Elvis Presley, Hallman about her relationship with Buck Owens, both about their time as Hee Haw Honeys on the long-running television variety show “Hee Haw.”

“We sat in his office and talked it up and started telling stories,” recalls Hallman, an Alabama native and longtime fixture on the Birmingham music scene before she headed to Hollywood. “Bruce said, ‘You two sound just like this show my wife watches, “Sex and the City,” except yours is true.’ We thought about it and decided we should write a book.”

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That was 2010, and this week, “Hollywood Lights, Nashville Nights: Two Hee Haw Honeys Dish Life, Love, Elvis, Buck & Good Times in the Kornfield” was published.

The book includes both women’s stories, both written by Hallman, who has done freelance writing for Flower magazine and her own blog.

“I wrote as Diana, and I wrote as Victoria,” Hallman says. “I called her every Monday night, and we did about an hour’s worth of conversation each time. The next day, I would sit down and write as Diana, using her words as much as possible.”

It’s almost two books in one, with sections labeled “Diana” and “Victoria.”

“I told Diana her life is so interesting, many of the Elvis fans will probably just skip over my part and go to her part, and my fans may skip to my parts,” Hallman says. “It was purposefully written to be like that.”

Hallman’s early years in Birmingham included stints with bands like the Ramblers, Bob Cain the Cain Breakers and the Bachelors. She was a big draw during the 1970s at the popular Bachelor’s Showboat on Morris Avenue in downtown Birmingham.

Eventually, Hallman went to Hollywood to work with Bob Hope, whom she met when she was an opening act for him at a Homecoming performance at the University of Alabama.

Hallman’s section of the new book begins with her meeting Owens, one of country’s biggest stars, while she was performing with Hope. She began performing on the road with Owens and his Buckaroos, and a relationship developed.

“There’s just a magic about creating music that’s … very intimate,” Hallman says of the romantic relationship developing. “There’s a creative process that ‘s very sexy. We were together for awhile. It wasn’t a secret.”

In 1979, Hallman joined the cast of “Hee Haw,” the TV series Owens had hosted for a decade with Roy Clark. The show featured some of country’s biggest stars performing their music, as well as comedy segments with the cast, including Minnie Pearl and young women known as the Hee Haw Honeys. Many of the comedy bits took place in the “Kornfield.”

The Hee Haw Honeys included Hallman, Goodman, Linda Thompson (who would marry Bruce Jenner), Gunilla Hutton, Barbi Benton, Misty Rowe and Lulu Roman, among others.

Hallman has fond memories of her time on “Hee Haw,” which lasted until 1990. In the book, she talks about working with guest stars such as Ed McMahon, Kathy Mattea, Naomi Judd, Ray Charles and others. In addition, she talks about the camaraderie among the Hee Haw Honeys.

“We’re still great pals,” she says. “Misty Rowe and Lulu and I and Barbie sometimes have been performing in a Hee Haw Honey reunion stage show. We stay in constant contact. We were members of a sisterhood that has stayed intact all these years.”

Although there was a downside to her long run as a Hee Haw Honey, Hallman wouldn’t trade it for anything.

“’Hee Haw Honey’ kind of eclipsed everything else, and it was hard to be taken as a serious actress or singer, but it was apparently the way my career was supposed to happen,” she says. “George Lindsey would tell you that happened with him and Goober, but he finally came to terms with it, and so have I. It’s great. I have to be glad of it.”

“Hollywood Lights, Nashville Nights,” which is available on Amazon, details Hallman’s first marriage to (and divorce from) Jim Halper. She has been married to Franklin Traver for 25 years, and they live in Nashville.

Hallman still has family in Alabama and has returned to Birmingham to perform from time to time, including at the final City Stages music festival and, in 2012, when she was inducted into the Birmingham Record Collectors Hall of Fame.

“No town has ever held my heart like Birmingham,” she says. “Any success I’ve had is because of Birmingham. The more I’m in Birmingham, the happier I am.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 weeks ago

Military awards Alabama’s GeneCapture $1 million contract to develop portable disease detector

(GeneCapture)

The Department of Defense has awarded Huntsville’s GeneCapture a $1 million, two-year contract to develop a portable device that war fighters can use to identify disease-causing germs.

The Small Business Technology Transfer Research (STTR) contract is from the DOD’s Joint Science and Technology Office for Chemical and Biological Defense.

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GeneCapture, a resident associate company at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, has developed a “gene signature matching platform” that screens for hundreds of pathogens in less than one hour. The multi-pathogen test is conducted using a small, inexpensive disposable cartridge and can be used to test samples from humans and animals. The technique is being evaluated as a possible solution for a portable infection diagnostic device for use in forward deployed military operations.

GeneCapture is collaborating on this contract with Birmingham’s Southern Research, which will provide its expertise in infectious diseases, purifying genetic material for testing and designing clinical trials for the Food and Drug Administration.

“It has been a dream of mine to bring this technology to market so that critical diagnostic decisions can be made quickly, which will save lives,” said Krishnan Chittur, chemical engineering professor emeritus at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and co-founder of GeneCapture. The original discovery was patented by UAH and exclusively licensed to GeneCapture.

Chittur said the technology uses genetic probes to capture the “signature” of germs. An optical scan identifies which germ is present and produces a result in about 45 minutes.

“It’s a completely new technique that would have been impossible without the advances in genetics and genomics discoveries of the last decade,” he said. “That is one of the reasons we are located at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology – the research that’s happening here is cutting-edge.”

Paula Koelle, chief scientist at GeneCapture and principal investigator for the STTR Phase II contract, will lead the effort to produce the disposable cartridges and desktop analyzer for a set of pathogens selected by the DOD that present potential biological threats to the war fighter.

The resulting technology could have uses beyond the battlefield.

The portable platform could enable civilian applications, such as rapid infection diagnosis in schools, urgent care clinics, doctors’ offices, nursing homes, veterinary clinics, cruise ships and airports.

Southern Research’s proven track record supporting new platforms for detecting and preventing newly emerged and highly dangerous and infectious disease pathogens made the nonprofit the perfect partner on the project.

“The opportunity to work closely with GeneCapture is a perfect match for Southern Research,” said Art Tipton, Southern Research president and CEO. “We have a history of reaching out to the life sciences community, which benefits both our state economy and the global healthcare industry. Our infectious disease scientists will produce reference tests and accelerate the clinical testing of GeneCapture’s new platform.”

Working for the DOD drives home the sense of urgency when it comes to disease-causing germs around the world.

“GeneCapture is focused on reducing the risk we all have of being infected from emerging pathogens and global pandemics – the clock is ticking,” said GeneCapture CEO and co-founder Peggy Sammon. “The GeneCapture team is working diligently to bring an affordable, portable solution to this critical problem by connecting with disease experts around the world to incorporate their needs into this product.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

Rep. Bradley Byrne: Fighting the opioid epidemic

(Pixabay)

For too long, a problem of epic proportion has been growing outside of the headlines in the United States: the opioid epidemic. The reality is that we can no longer wait to take action. Drug overdose is now a leading cause of death in the United Sates. One hundred seventy-five Americans are dying every day from this crisis. From big cities to small towns, the opioid epidemic has hit our communities hard.

Unfortunately, Alabama has not been spared. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Alabama ranks highest in the nation as having more opioid prescriptions than people. Alabama also ranks number one as the highest prescribing state in the nation for opioid pain reliever prescriptions. These statistics are incredibly alarming.

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An opioid is a type of narcotic derived from the opium poppy, which includes drugs such as morphine, codeine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone. While these drugs are often prescribed in response to injuries and body pains, they can be prone to abuse and addiction.

The reality is many of the people who become addicted to opioids first start taking the drugs legally after receiving a prescription from a doctor. For example, I have heard testimony from athletes who suffer a sports-related injury, undergo surgery, and then become addicted to opioids during the recovery process. In many cases, this addiction can escalate, driving individuals to street drugs like heroin.

Almost all of us have a loved one or know somebody who has been affected by this terrible epidemic. The personal stories are what make this nightmare a harsh reality. Right here in Southwest Alabama, I have heard far too many stories about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. The impacts of this crisis reach far beyond the person suffering from addiction to parents, to children, to brothers and sisters. So many have been hurt.

On October 26, 2017, President Trump announced that his administration would declare the opioid crisis a Nationwide Public Health Emergency. On a strongly bipartisan basis alongside President Trump, Congress is also responding.

In March, the House voted to set aside $4 million toward combating the opioid crisis in the government funding bill for Fiscal Year 2018. We kept up the momentum last week when the House passed over 25 targeted bills to help prevent and treat opioid addiction and abuse while also ensuring our nation’s drug laws are working to stop the flow of illegal drugs.

One such bill that passed the House is the THRIVE Act, which creates a program to provide low-income individuals recovering from opioid and other substance use disorders with a clean, safe, and structured environment following rehabilitation.

Additionally, the House passed the STOP Act, which aims to halt opioids like fentanyl from coming into America from other countries through a loophole at the Postal Service. The majority of opioids arrive to America through the mail from other nations, such as China, Mexico and Canada. So, this legislation represents an important step to help solve the problem.

It is clear that our work to end the opioid epidemic is far from over. However, I was pleased to see such strong bipartisan support for many opioid bills this week as we work to make a real difference on behalf of the American people. You can learn more about the legislation we are working on at www.opioidcrisis.gop.

We cannot and will not sit back and allow the opioid crisis to take the lives of the people we love. We must fight back and ensure Americans get the help they need. I look forward to continuing the work with President Trump to end this epidemic once and for all.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

4 weeks ago

Amazon to create 1,500 jobs at Alabama fulfillment center

(Amazon)

Internet retail giant Amazon confirmed plans Friday to open a fulfillment center in Jefferson County with 1,500 full-time employees working alongside advanced robotics technology.

Amazon will build the 855,000-square-foot facility center on 133 acres of property being purchased from U.S. Steel off Powder Plant Road in Bessemer, located just minutes away from Birmingham. Total investment in the project is $325 million.

The Seattle, Washington-based company confirmed its plans for the Alabama facility in an announcement that said the project is moving forward, following a series of public meetings with local governments.

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“We are thrilled to bring our first fulfillment center to the state of Alabama, creating 1,500 full-time jobs,” said Mark Stewart, Amazon’s vice president of North America customer fulfillment. “Alabama has a talented workforce and we look forward to making a positive economic impact in a state where we are committed to providing great job opportunities and an exceptional customer experience.”

Employees at the Bessemer facility will work with technology created by Amazon Robotics to pick, pack and ship items to the company’s customers.

“Amazon is one of the world’s most dynamic companies, and we couldn’t be more proud to see the company select Alabama for one of its high-tech fulfillment centers,” Governor Kay Ivey said.

“This facility represents good jobs for our citizens and the beginning of a long partnership that I believe will see Amazon expand and grow in Alabama in the future.”

SIGNIFICANT IMPACT

An analysis projects that the Amazon fulfillment center will generate a significant economic impact on Jefferson County and AlabamaThe center will contribute $203 million to the county’s economic output annually, while adding $123 million to the county’s GDP, according to the study prepared by the Center for Business and Economic Research in the University of Alabama’s Culverhouse School of Business.

The facility will contribute $232 million to Alabama’s economic output each year and add $137 million to the state’s GDP, the study says.

Bessemer Mayor Kenneth Gulley said the Amazon project represents the largest single private investment in the city’s 131-year history. As an added bonus, the company has pledged to create a tuition-assistance program for its workforce.

“Amazon is bringing jobs and opportunity to our residents and students. I am particularly proud of the educational incentives Amazon will offer our young people: get your high school diploma, work one year and receive $3,000 the next four years toward furthering your education,” he said.

GROWING TECH JOBS

Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said Amazon’s project perfectly aligns with a strategic emphasis to facilitate the growth of tech jobs across the state.

“Amazon’s new fulfillment center in Bessemer will create a large number of high-quality jobs and feature cutting-edge automation and technological innovation,” Secretary Canfield said. “We’ve made recruiting technology-focused jobs a priority, and Amazon’s presence in the state will help us advance toward our goal.”

This is Amazon’s second project in Alabama. In June 2017, the company announced plans for a $30 million “sortation center” in Mobile to accelerate delivery of online purchases. The facility will have 1,000 part-time workers during peak periods.

Lee Smith, chairman of the Birmingham Business Alliance, said the successful recruitment of Amazon’s fulfillment center in Bessemer stemmed from a team effort that included a number of economic development agencies, utilities, transportation departments, and others.

“Amazon’s investment in our community is a big win for the Birmingham region,” Smith said. “This state-of-the-art facility will be able to accommodate an expanding workforce and a changing economy as Amazon continues to prepare for its future.”

Amazon said full-time employees receive competitive hourly wages and a comprehensive benefits package, including health care, 401(k) and company stock awards starting on day one. Amazon also offers generous maternity and parental leave benefits and access to innovative programs like Career Choice, where it will pre-pay up to 95 percent of tuition for courses related to in-demand fields, regardless of whether the skills are relevant to a career at Amazon.

Since the program’s launch, more than 16,000 employees have pursued degrees in game design and visual communications, nursing, IT programming and radiology, to name a few.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

4 weeks ago

Judicial races in Alabama highlighted

(YHN/Pixabay)

This is not just a gubernatorial year in the Heart of Dixie.

We have every constitutional office up for election which includes Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, State Treasurer, State Auditor and Agriculture Commissioner.

We also have a good many of the State Judicial races on the ballot. We have nine seats on our State Supreme Court. We have five judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals, as well as five seats on the Court of Civil Appeals. All of these judicial posts are held by Republicans.

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Therefore, it is more than likely safe to assume that the winner of the Republican primary will be elected to a six-year term and can be fitted for their robe, at least by July 17. In fact, Democrats usually do not even field candidates in state judicial races.

Over the past two decades, a prevailing theme has been that women have become favored in state judicial races. In fact, it was safe to say that if you put two candidates on the ballot for a state judicial position, one named John Doe and the other Jane Doe, and neither campaigned or spent any money, Jane Doe would defeat John Doe.

However, for some inexplicable reason, this prevalence reversed itself on June 5 in the Republican primary. In the much-anticipated race for the extremely important Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, position two of the sitting members of the Supreme Court were pitted against each other.

Justice Lyn Stuart, who is the longest serving member on the State Supreme Court, had moved into the Chief Justice role after the departure of Judge Roy Moore. She was running for Chief Justice for the full six-year term. Justice Tom Parker was Roy Moore’s closest ally and is now the most socially conservative activist on the court. Parker and Moore dip from the same well.

Parker chose to challenge Stuart for Chief Justice. The Lyn Stuart vs Tom Parker contest was billed as one of the Titanic battles of the Primary season. Stuart was the darling of the business community. Parker openly was carrying the banner of the social conservatives. Parker bested Stuart 52 percent to 48 percent. Most of Parker’s financial backing came from plaintiff trial lawyers. Parker does have Democratic opposition from Birmingham attorney, Robert Vance, Jr.

However, he should win election in November.

Judge Brad Mendheim was facing two prominent female Circuit judges, Debra Jones of Anniston and Sarah Hicks Stewart of Mobile, for Place 1 on the State Supreme Court.

Mendheim has been a longtime popular Circuit Judge in Dothan. He was appointed to this Supreme Court seat by Governor Kay Ivey earlier this year. Mendheim decisively outdistanced his female opponents by garnering 43 percent of the vote. He is expected to win election to a full six-year term on the high tribunal on July 17.

Another example of the male uprising in the court contests occurred in the race for a seat on the Court of Civil Appeals. Judge Terri Willingham Thomas, who has been on this court since 2006 and has served with distinction, was shockingly defeated by her unknown male opponent, Chad Hanson.

Pickens County Prosecutor Chris McCool forged to the front in the race for a seat on the Court of Criminal Appeals. He led 43 to 35 over Rich Anderson from the Montgomery/River Region.

In the other court races, the candidate who raised the most money and was able to buy some TV time prevailed.

In the State Supreme Court race in Place 4, two Birmingham attorneys, John Bahakel and Jay Mitchell, were pitted against each other. Mitchell significantly outspent Bahaked and won 73 to 27.

Christy Edwards of Montgomery and Michelle Thomason of Baldwin County are headed for a runoff for a seat on the Court of Civil Appeals.

Richard Minor defeated Riggs Walker overwhelmingly 66 to 34 for a seat on the Court of Criminal Appeals. In the seat for Place 3 on the Court of Criminal Appeals there was yet another display of male dominance in the court races. Bill Cole bested Donna Beaulieu 60 to 40.

On Saturday before the Primary, legendary Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Clement Clay “Bo” Torbert, passed away at 88 in his beloved City of Opelika. His funeral was on Election Day. Judge Torbert served as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for 12 years, 1976 to 1988. He had previously served two terms in the State Senate prior to his election as Chief Justice.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

4 weeks ago

Why the red carpet for illegal immigrants?

(VOA News/YouTube)

Since October 2017, more than 450 unaccompanied alien children have been released to sponsors in Alabama, according to DHS.

Alabama ranks 10th on the list of states that received the most unaccompanied alien children since last fall. California tops the list, followed by Florida and then Texas.

Two county sponsors in Alabama, Jackson and Marshall, have received nearly a quarter of the total 453 alien children placed in the state since last October.

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A total of 2,729 alien children have arrived in Alabama since 2014. That’s a staggering number considering that it only represents children.

Let’s not beat around the bush here. Provided with the information above, it is evident that illegal immigration is greatly affecting the state of Alabama.

Are children being split up at the border when they arrive with their parents? Yes.

Would I make changes if I were in charge? Yes, but very minimal ones.

What happens when families are united and fights between families break out? What happens when one of the women that came here illegally gets raped by a man, also here illegally? Who will be to blame? Democrats will wrongfully hold the Trump administration accountable and we all know it.

It’s been said a thousand times; however, it is quite ironic how the party that champions abortion is just now deciding to wake from its coma to combat an issue that was largely ignored under Obama’s leadership.

‪Where was this outrage three or four years ago?

In a press conference Monday evening, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said 10,000 of the 12,000 children currently being cared for by HHS entered into America unaccompanied.

To act like this is a problem due to the Trump Administration is nonsensical.

Illegal aliens were treated very poorly under Obama’s presidency, yet no one called out the administration for their negligence to investigate what was occurring.

I am still trying to understand what makes an illegal alien criminal more deserving of being kept with their families than an American criminal.

When American citizens who have broken American laws are detained, their children do not go to prison with them. There is no such luxury for the parents or the children. America must not roll out the red carpet for illegal aliens. All it does is provide an incentive for others seeking to commit the same crime.

The Trump administration inherited a mess and they are attempting to deal with it as safely as possible. Perhaps the children could visit their parent(s) at particular times, almost like visitation for American parents and their children.

Opinions? Email me: kmorris@yellowhammernews.com

@RealKyleMorris is a Yellowhammer News contributor

4 weeks ago

Survey: Electric vehicles make sense for Alabama drivers

(ACFC)

As many as 50 million Americans are about to flip the switch over to electric automobiles with their next purchase, according to the American Automobile Association. A recent survey conducted by the AAA found that popularity of electric cars is trending upwards. With infrastructure and availability all here, Alabama can lead the charge toward electric vehicles.

In its survey, AAA asked Americans if they were considering electric vehicles for their next car purchase. The survey found that 20 percent of Americans say their next vehicle will be an electric car – up 5 percent from 2017.

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The Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition encourages Alabamians to make the move to an alternative fuel vehicle, such as an electric car. Electric vehicles offer nothing but benefits, from being more cost-efficient due to cheaper fuel to less expensive maintenance to being environmentally friendly.

Alabama’s relationship with Mercedes-Benz could be a factor in the state’s future with electric vehicles, too. The automaker announced in January it would be rolling out an electric version of each of its vehicles by 2022. With Mercedes – and most other automakers – launching more electric options, there have never been more alternative fuel vehicle options than we have today.

The Tuscaloosa County facility is the only Mercedes plant in the United States, and it will play a central role in the production of these electric vehicles. As these electric vehicles begin to be produced by the people of Alabama, the next logical step is for them to begin driving them as well.

There has never been a better time to switch over to electric. It is a common misconception that it is a hassle to charge your electric car, whether that be at home or on the road. Charging at home can be done through a 120-amp power supply, which is the same three-prong outlet that powers your television.

The Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition is determined to make driving an electric vehicle in Alabama comfortable by assisting in getting proper infrastructure in place. Alabama currently has 84 electric charging stations, and a total of 198 charging outlets scattered across the state in almost all major cities.

More and more charging stations will continue to pop up across the state as more electric vehicles hit the streets. Current electric charging stations can be found at convenient locations in public, and some residential areas. The new Tesla charging stations in downtown Birmingham are just one prominent example. Several online sites, such as plugshare.com, provide charger locations.

The Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition serves as the principal coordinating point for clean, alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicle activities in Alabama. The ACFC is part of the national network of nearly 100 Clean Cities coalitions that bring together stakeholders in the public and private sectors to deploy alternative and renewable fuels, idle-reduction measures, fuel economy improvements and emerging technologies.

According to Alabama AAA PR and Marketing Director Clay Ingram, our state is warming up to electric vehicles as the technology and infrastructure begins to develop at a rapid pace.

“We have come a long way in accepting this, in a short number of years,” Ingram said. “We love our vehicles in Alabama, and I think there is a lot of room for (electric vehicles) as the technology continues to develop.”

With an average gas price of $2.91 – its highest cost since 2014. Gas prices are expected to increase over time without any anticipation of dropping. The average American spends $1,400 on gasoline a year, while average electric vehicle charging costs are $540 annually. Unlike gasoline cars, electric vehicles don’t typically require oil changes, fuel filters, spark plug replacements or emission checks. In electric vehicles, even brake pad replacements are rare due to the fact regenerative braking returns energy to the battery.

With all the aforementioned factors in mind, it is no surprise that the AAA estimated a below-average cost of ownership with electric vehicles. Electric cars also are the least expensive when it comes to yearly maintenance.

Since the 1970s, lawmakers in the United States have been putting effort into facilitating the research and growth of electric cars. The urge to reduce carbon emissions has given electric car production a lift. Electric vehicles emit an average of 4,500 pounds of CO2, with gasoline cars emitting more than double that.

This current shift to electric will not only have an environmental impact, but also an economic one. According the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the United States has made progress in importing less oil, but still imports nearly 20 percent of what is consumed. The increasing use of electricity as an alternative fuel will further push the United States toward economic independence from foreign countries.

The benefits to driving an electric car are endless! To learn more about the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition and advice on purchasing an alternative fuel vehicle, please visit www.alabamacleanfuels.org.

Mark Bentley is the executive director of the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition.

1 month ago

Univ. of Alabama students can use ID card on Apple Watch

(Pixabay)

No more ID cards for University of Alabama students with an Apple Watch or iPhone.

In a statement from Apple, students only have to raise their wrist to gain access to places including the library, dorms and events, pay for snacks, laundry and dinners around campus, the Tuscaloosa News reported.

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The software was presented this week as students with an Apple Watch or iPhone can add their ID cards to the wallet for usage this fall.

UA president Stewart Bell spoke more in depth about the pilot program at a board meeting last week. The new software is cost free.

“We have actually been working on this project for some time a little bit under the cloak of secrecy,” Bell said. “It is a next-generation technology program that will allow our students to have access to security issues and things they pay for.”

The program is set to launch at Duke University, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Alabama in September and expand to Johns Hopkins University, Santa Clara University and Temple University by the end of the year.

Bell said the university and Apple have been partnering to develop the program for about a year.

The functions will be available in September after students arrive for fall classes on Aug. 22.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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1 month ago

Bat blitz highlights role in Alabama’s ecosystem

(David Rainer)

Despite the stigma caused by countless Dracula movies, a dedicated group of naturalists continues to demonstrate its love for the animal with a face only a mother could love. Those enthusiasts express their devotion to the bat, nature’s only flying mammal, all the way down to the bat jewelry.

Bat lovers met recently at Lakepoint State Park near Eufaula for the annual Bat Blitz, a celebration of the small animal that can sometimes be spotted zooming around street lights at dusk, dining on a smorgasbord of insects.

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Nick Sharp of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division said this year’s Blitz was a joint exercise for bat biologists and enthusiasts from Alabama and Georgia. The Blitz is a collaborative effort of all the Alabama Bat Working Group (ABWG) members. Jeff Baker from Alabama Power and Shannon Holbrook from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service served as co-chairs of the Bat Blitz committee.

Alabama State Lands Division’s Jo Lewis said the recent gathering was the 17th annual meeting of the ABWG, an informal affiliation of bat biologists and enthusiasts from many state, federal and private agencies across the state. The group holds the Bat Blitz in different areas of the state each year to sample the bat populations in those areas with mist nets deployed at night.

“We’re looking for distribution information about what bats are in what areas of the state,” Lewis said. “We have 15 species of bats that are native to Alabama. Some only occur in the more southern portions of the state, and others only occur in the more northern portions of the state because of the different habitats in Alabama and our complex ecosystems.

“In the north part of the state, bats appear to be more numerous because of the karst geology with all the caves. In the south part of the state, we have a lot of bats, but they don’t congregate as much in caves. They’re referred to as forest bats. They roost in trees. They’re actually all around us, but we’re kind of oblivious to them. A little bat hanging in a tree snuggled up against a nook or branch, you’re never going to notice.”

The southeastern myotis is one bat species found in the south part of the state but not as often in the north. The Bat Blitz researchers found 16 southeastern myotis bats in a culvert on the first night of the event.

Another bat more common in the southern part of the state is the Mexican freetail. Sharp said the fast-flying bat is now most often found in attics because most of the large, hollow trees it historically used have been cut down.

A bat that is found in the northern part of the state but not the southern part is the northern longear, a protected species. Gray bats, also protected, are found in north Alabama. The most common species throughout the state is the big brown bat.

Currently, the biggest concern for the bat enthusiasts is the condition known as white nose syndrome, a fungal infection that has killed more than six million bats in North America.

“Nobody knows right now how white nose syndrome affects the tree bats,” Lewis said. “We’re hoping it doesn’t affect them because they don’t roost together as much and are less likely to spread the infection.

“We do have confirmed cases of white nose in most of the northern counties, as far south as Bibb County near Birmingham.”

Lewis said it is very difficult to determine how much the syndrome has affected the populations in north Alabama because of the labor-extensive requirements to do those studies.

“From personal observation in a cave that I’ve been monitoring for the past 10 years, it followed the classic series of events associated with the disease, and it truly decimated the population,” she said. “A tenth of the number of bats that used to be there are there now. I used to count hundreds of tri-colored bats in there. Now, we’re counting 30. It has definitely affected that bat population.”

Sharp said data from nine caves in north Alabama monitored from 2010 to 2017 indicate a reduction of tri-colored bats by 70 to 95 percent. He said counts at two Indiana bat hibernacula over that time period are down 95 percent.

Bats are predators and eat huge numbers of insects, which can be disease vectors. They eat mosquitoes, which can carry several diseases, including Zika. Some of the insects the bats are eating are pest species that damage crops in the state.

“Their simple presence can deter pest species from infesting crops,” Lewis said. “If you have bats working a field, you’re less likely to have insects that are going to eat the corn.”

Sharp said bats provide at least $3.7 billion in pest control service to agriculture annually in the U.S., according to a 2011 scientific study.

Lewis said human-bat interaction most often occurs at dusk and dawn, especially around street lights, but bats are active all night.

“Bats will sometimes take a nap in the middle of the night,” she said. “But they’re not roosting. They’re just getting a little rest before they go back out and eat more insects. The street lights attract insects, so it’s kind of like McDonald’s for the bats.”

Another area of concern for bat researchers and the public in general is the fact that bats can be rabies vectors. Lewis said this adds to the stigma of bats but that rabies does not appear to occur at a higher rate in bats compared to other wildlife. Sharp said rabies studies in bats showed infection rates of less than one percent in wild animals.

“But there’s an extremely important distinction,” she said. “When humans encounter a bat, they are not interacting with the regular population of bats. They are interacting with a bat that is acting extremely abnormally because bats avoid us.”

Sharp said rabies can be transmitted by a bite from an infected animal or by bat saliva entering an open wound. Sharp and Lewis said to seek immediate medical advice if you suspect contact with a bat resulted in either of those situations. If the bat is incapacitated or captured, take the animal to have it tested for rabies.

“If you’ve had contact with a bat, it’s highly advisable to have that bat tested because rabies is 100-percent fatal if symptoms appear,” she said. “It’s just not worth the risk. Anybody who works with bats at the Blitz has pre-exposure vaccinations. Anybody who hasn’t had vaccinations cannot touch a bat. We’re having fun, but we have real rules that we will not bend.”

One of the presenters at the Bat Blitz was Vicky Smith of A-to-Z animals in Auburn. Smith, who has taught thousands of school kids about bats and their role in our ecosystems, dispelled several myths associated with bats.

“One is ‘blind as a bat,’” Smith said. “Bats are not blind. Bats have tiny eyes, but we’ve actually discovered something about their echolocation, the way they use sound waves to locate the insects. What we found was that once they get close, they zoom in with their eyes on the insect. When they scoop it to their mouth with a wing or their tail membrane, they use their eyes for up-close work. Another myth about their eyes is that light hurts their eyes. That’s not true.”

Another myth is that bats will get tangled in your hair, especially folks with long hair.

“Bats will come close to you,” she said. “You are not a food source, but you have attracted their food source by breathing out carbon dioxide, which attracts mosquitoes and other bugs. If the bat echolocates and sees a buffet flying around your head, he’s going to fly to that buffet. They will fly quite close to you in the dark, and that can be quite scary. We believe that’s how that myth got started.”

A misconception is that a bat, which belongs to the order Chiroptera (winged mammal), is just a mouse with wings.

“Bats are not rodents,” Smith said. “They are about the same size, but a bat typically gives birth to one pup per year. A little mouse about the same size can give birth to about 144 babies per year. Another difference is tooth structure. The teeth in a bat are more like dogs’ and cats’ with large canines to crunch the exoskeletons of the insects.”

Although outreach and education are important, Lewis said the main goal of the Blitz is to catch as many bats as possible to assess the population in that area.

For Lewis, catching bats during the Bat Blitz is just a continuation of her infatuation with the species.

“I’ve been doing this for 20-something years,” Lewis said, “and I still love it.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

1 month ago

Funeral set for Alabama WWII pilot missing since 1944 crash

(Pixabay)

An American pilot is being buried at Arlington National Cemetery more than 70 years after he crashed on a Pacific island during World War II.

Second Lt. Robert Keown (pronounced Cow-uhn) was flying a P-38 aircraft that went down in Papua New Guinea in 1944.

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Relatives never knew what happened to him until November. That’s when genetic testing confirmed that remains found years ago on the island were his.

Keown will be buried Friday with full honors.

Nieces and nephews are the closest remaining relatives to attend the funeral of Keown, who grew up near Atlanta in Lawrenceville, Georgia, before moving to Scottsboro, Alabama.

His father died in 1937 and his mother in 1979. Keown’s two brothers also died while he was missing, the most recent in 2015.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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1 month ago

Stealthy gov’t policies: What Alabama can learn from Hawaiian volcano eruption

(CBS News/YouTube)

Kilauea on the island of Hawaii began erupting on May 3, and has to date destroyed about 600 homes. The terrifying pictures led me to wonder why anyone would build a home on one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Hawaii’s regulation of property insurance provides part of the explanation, and Kilauea’s eruption offers a lesson for Alabama.

Geologists know a lot about volcanoes and lava. The Hawaii Volcano Observatory has mapped over 500 lava vents on Mauna Loa. Hawaii’s volcanoes produce two types of lava, with very different textures and flow speeds. The risk of lava flows varies widely across the island of Hawaii. Geologists divide the island into nine lava flow risk zones, based on the location of the most active vents and the mountains’ contours.

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, a public policy think tank, has detailed the insurance story.

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In the 1990s, insurance companies stopped covering homes in the two highest risk lava zones. With insurance unavailable, banks would not write mortgages, and builders could not build homes. The state government created the Hawaii Property Insurance Association (HPIA) to sell low priced insurance. Many homes destroyed in the eruption were built due to HPIA.

Hawaii used an insurance pool to subsidize building on Kilauea. Alabama uses an insurance pool, the Alabama Insurance Underwriting Association, for hurricane coverage along the Gulf Coast. Insurance pools offer “affordable” coverage, meaning priced in line with what people want to pay, not the rate sufficient to allow insurers to cover losses after the next eruption or hurricane. HPIA’s low rates virtually guarantee losses.

Why would insurers join HPIA then? Because they had to. No, Hawaii did not have The Godfather to make insurance companies an offer they couldn’t refuse. Rather, insurers must receive permission from state regulators to operate. Regulators made joining HPIA a condition for operating in Hawaii.

What happens when an insurance pool suffers losses they cannot pay in a future eruption (or hurricane)? They impose assessments, which are essentially taxes, on other state insurance policies. Hawaiians who live on Oahu might have to pay for the destroyed homes.

Insurance pools represent a stealth government policy, one likely to fly under the radar until disaster happens. Hawaii could have let insurance companies charge rates high enough to cover future claims and used taxes to pay part of homeowners’ premiums. For example, insurers could have been allowed to charge $20,000 a year to cover a house on Kilauea, with legislators covering $15,000 of the price using taxes. Instead, HPIA let homeowners just pay say $5,000, and relied on imposing taxes after the eruption.

Subsidizing building in risky areas is poor policy, but I think that transparency makes direct subsidies a better option. Citizens are more likely to reach an informed decision when legislators must spend our taxes. Stealth might produce programs that citizens do not truly want.

Humorist P. J. O’Rourke has said, “Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.” Mr. O’Rourke believes that government will spend our taxes on boondoggles, and often he’s right. Insurance pools suggest though that state legislators are probably subsidizing through insurance some things they would never dare spend our tax dollars on.

Defenders often argue that development would not occur in some risky areas without insurance pools. The point is valid. Yet the risk posed by lava – or hurricanes – is real, and development is more costly as a result. People should only live or work in high risk areas if doing so creates enough value to cover the higher cost. High insurance premiums ask people, “are you sure you want to build a home here?”

Geographer Gilbert White, a pioneer of natural hazards research, argued that disasters were never merely acts of God; our choices contributed to the outcome as well. Whether volcanoes and hurricanes produce disasters will depend on whether government encourages risky decisions.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University.

1 month ago

Lawsuit claims Congressional maps dilute black voters in 3 states including Alabama

(The Daily Show/YouTube)

A Democratic political group launched a legal campaign Wednesday to create additional majority-minority congressional districts in three Southern states, claiming the current maps discriminate against black voters.

Attorneys filed separate federal lawsuits in Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana, challenging congressional maps lawmakers in each state approved in 2011.

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The lawsuits filed on behalf of several black voters in each state are backed by the National Redistricting Foundation, a nonprofit affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which is chaired by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

The suits claim the districts violate a section of the Voting Rights Act by depriving black voters of an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice to the U.S. House of Representatives.

They ask the courts to block the three states from holding any more congressional elections under their current maps.

The new lawsuits mean there now are redistricting challenges pending in a dozen states — in some places, multiple lawsuits —alleging racial or political gerrymandering in U.S. House or state legislative districts.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule later this month on at least two of those cases alleging unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering by the Republican-led Legislature in Wisconsin and the Democratic-led Legislature in Maryland.

Though likely too late to affect this year’s elections, the lawsuits could force districts to be redrawn in advance of the 2020 elections.

The timing is important because any court rulings could set precedents for when all states must redraw legislative districts based on the results of the 2020 Census.

During the last round of redistricting, Republicans who swept to power in many state capitols in 2010 used their newly enlarged majorities to draw districts that Democrats contend have made it harder from them to regain power during the past decade.

Democrats aided by Holder and former President Barack Obama are attempting to better position themselves for the next round of redistricting by backing state legislative candidates, lawsuits and ballot initiatives that would shift redistricting powers away from lawmakers to independent commissions in some states.

“The creation of additional districts in which African Americans have the opportunity to elect their preferred candidates in each of these states will be an important step toward making the voting power of African Americans more equal and moving us closer to the ideals of our representative democracy,” Holder said in a statement Wednesday.

The National Redistricting Foundation also is helping finance pending lawsuits in North Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

Matt Walter, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee, accused Holder of “resorting to politically-motivated litigation aimed at taking away the constitutional authority of elected state legislators to draw district lines.”

“The cynical lawsuits filed today by Holder and the Democrats are crass attempts to rally the left-wing base and to elect more Democrats through litigation, instead of running winning campaigns on policies and ideas that voters actually want,” Walter said in an email Wednesday.

Each state’s chief elections official is named as the defendant in each lawsuit.

Holder was serving as attorney general under Obama when the Justice Department cleared the 2011 congressional maps in Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana as complying with the Voting Rights Act. But that doesn’t prohibit subsequent lawsuits asserting violations under a different section of the act.

Republicans hold commanding congressional majorities over Democrats in each of the challenged states, controlling six of the seven U.S. House seats in Alabama, 10 of the 14 seats in Georgia and five of the six seats in Louisiana.

All of the Republican House members for those states are white and all of the Democratic representatives are black.

The lawsuit challenging Louisiana’s map claims state lawmakers illegally limited minority voting influence by “packing” black voters into one majority-minority district and “cracking,” or spreading them out, among other districts. Louisiana’s U.S. House districts shrank from seven to six in 2011 because of slow population growth.

The Alabama suit claims the state’s 2011 map illegally “packs” black voters into its sole majority African-American district, now represented by U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, and “cracks” voters among three other districts.

The lawsuit contends that Alabama’s black population is large enough, and geographically compact enough, to form a second majority-minority district.

State Sen. Gerald Dial, a Republican who sponsored Alabama’s 2011 redistricting plan, said the map reflects the state’s population.

“I think their complaint is not grounded,” Dial said Wednesday.

The Georgia lawsuit claims lawmakers redrew the 12th congressional district to excise black voters in Savannah and add white voters from two counties, reducing the district’s black population of voting age from 41.5 percent to 33.3 percent.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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1 month ago

Birmingham folks come home with a handful of Tony Awards

(Photo/Courtesy Keith Cromwell)

The Best Revival of a Musical win for “Once on This Island” at Sunday night’s Tony Awards brought theater’s highest honor to a contingent from Red Mountain Theatre Company.

RMTC, its Executive Director Keith Cromwell and patrons Raymond and Kathryn Harbert all are Tony winners as producers of the award-winning musical.

“What an amazing feeling that it was almost 20 years ago when I was on that stage performing in the ‘Holiday Spectacular,’” Cromwell said. “What an amazing way to return to the great Radio City Music Hall, as part of the Tony Award-winning team that made ‘Once on This Island’ happen.”

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The recognition will help RMTC continue to fulfill its mission, Cromwell said.

Red Mountain Theatre Company is determined to use the transformational qualities of theater to further the momentum and renaissance of Birmingham,” he said. “The honor of winning a Tony Award for this beautiful production will allow us to more deeply engage, educate and enrich our amazing community.”

Kathryn Harbert, president of the theater’s board of directors, said she and her husband were “thrilled.”

“This will bring RMTC more recognition of the great work they do – and more closely connect them to the larger Broadway community,” she said.

“Once on This Island” was one of the night’s big winners, along with “The Band’s Visit” (Best Musical), “Angels in America” (Best Revival of a Play) and “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” (Best Play).

Other Alabama actors had strong connections to a number of the awards:

–Lindsay Mendez won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her role as Carrie Pipperidge in Broadway’s “Carousel.” Who steps in for Mendez when she’s away? Birmingham’s Scarlett Walker, who is in the ensemble every night and understudies the role of Carrie Pipperidge, which she has played several times since going on May 27 for the first time.
–He lost the Best Featured Actor in a Musical award to Ari’el Stachel of “The Band’s Visit,” but Norbert Leo Butz, as Alfred Doolittle in “My Fair Lady,” performed on the awards show with the cast. Butz, a two-time Tony Award winner, got an early start at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, where he graduated in the MFA program.
–His show didn’t win the big award, but Birmingham’s DeMarius Copes was right there on the Tony Award stage performing with the cast of “Mean Girls,” one of the nominees for Best Musical.
–Hoover’s Vasthy Mompoint also performed on stage, as part of the ensemble for another Best Musical nominee, “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Auburn University research team discovers Zika-transmitting mosquito species in Alabama

(P. Smith)

Auburn University researchers have discovered the presence of Aedes aegypti — the primary mosquito that transmits Zika virus, yellow fever and other flaviviruses — in Alabama.

After a 26-year absence of the mosquito, Sarah Zohdy, Auburn School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences Assistant Professor of Disease Ecology, and wildlife sciences undergraduate student Victoria Ashby have discovered the species in Mobile. Ae. aegypti was thought to have been eliminated from the state.

“Our CDC-funded research has not only allowed for the detection and molecular confirmation of the mosquito in the state, but over the last year we have documented the spread of the mosquito from central Mobile to all of Mobile County,” Zohdy said.

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The study was conducted from July 2016 to September 2017. Mosquitoes were collected twice a month from the grounds of various tire shops, gas stations, abandoned buildings and open containers quantified to estimate larval abundance. A total of 1,074 mosquitoes were collected, with Ae. aegypti being detected most commonly in the 36606 ZIP code of southwest Mobile, where there were more open containers than any other area in the city.

Since 1991, Ae. aegypti was thought to have been displaced in Alabama by another container-breeding mosquito, Ae. albopictus, because Ae. albopictus larvae are better competitors with resource-limited habitats and the males are capable of mating with Ae. aegypti and rendering the females sterile. Despite these advantages, Mobile is the ideal habitat for Ae. aegypti reintroduction or for remnant populations to persist because the city’s maritime traffic and its diverse mix of urban, suburban, rural and industrial environments allow the mosquito to find different habitats where it can either escape from Ae. albopictus or have the competitive upper hand.

The detection of Ae. aegypti confirms that Alabama residents could be at risk to contract several mosquito-transmitted diseases. “This work demonstrates that citizens of Alabama may be exposed to the mosquito vector of Zika, chikungunya and Dengue fever viruses,” Zohdy said.

Zika virus spreads to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. Female mosquitoes become infected by ingesting microbes from a person’s blood while biting them and then passing those microbes to the next person’s blood stream. Once infected, the mosquito is then thought to remain infected and able to pass on the virus throughout the remainder of its life, about two to four weeks. During this period they may take three to four blood meals, biting up to four or five people during their lifespan. Ae. aegypti is particularly problematic because it will also bite during the day and is very adaptive to different environments.

Specific geographic areas of greatest risk are correlated to the existence of the Aedes species. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, has developed estimated-range maps using models that predict potential geographic ranges where the Zika-transmitting mosquitoes would likely survive and reproduce based on local and historical records and suitable climate variables. According to the 2017 maps, the Zika-transmitting mosquito species are very likely to exist throughout the southeastern U.S. and as far west as California and as far north as Delaware.

Despite Alabama being an ideal habitat for mosquitoes that transmit Zika virus, very little mosquito surveillance data has been collected from around the state. Zohdy said that because of its research efforts and the discovery of Ae. aegypti, her team is now working with the Alabama Department of Public Health.

According to the CDC, 449 symptomatic Zika virus disease cases were reported within the U.S. in 2017, with three reported in Alabama and two in Georgia. The majority of cases were instances of travelers contracting the disease from affected areas. Seven cases were acquired through presumed local mosquito-borne transmission — two in Florida and five in Texas.

Zohdy’s team is conducting research in all 67 counties in Alabama to determine how widespread Ae. aegypti and Ae. albopictus are across the state.

In an effort to crowd-source mosquito surveillance data around the state, Zohdy’s research team has partnered with Prakash Lab at Stanford University to develop and implement an app called “Abuzz,” which will allow Alabama residents to record the sound of a mosquito flying. From this recording, the app can identify the species of mosquito and whether that species could potentially carry a disease by the sound of the buzzing of its wings.

Once deployed, the app can empower volunteer “citizen scientists” to participate in mosquito surveillance to help researchers increase the volume and locations of data collection. “Alabama has had little mosquito surveillance in the past, and we hope this app can change that to make it the best-sampled state in the nation,” Zohdy said.

Zohdy and her team also surveyed Mobile residents to gain insight about their perceptions of Zika virus and the best ways to target mosquito prevention. Of those responses, 70 percent reported a moderate to very high density of mosquitoes in their home and more than half of those surveyed said they feel concerned to extremely concerned that they or a family member might contract Zika virus.

“To help mitigate the threat of the Zika virus it is critical to understand local knowledge and behavioral factors related to exposure to the mosquitoes,” said Wayde Morse, an Auburn School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences associate professor of human dimensions, who participated in the research efforts.

The results of the research were published April 5 in the Journal of Medical Entomology, a scientific journal that historically publishes important information regarding mosquito surveillance. “Having this research published is a good way to reach people who study mosquitoes and other disease vectors,” Zohdy said.

Victoria Ashby, a sophomore studying wildlife sciences with a pre-veterinary medicine concentration, has worked with Zohdy’s research team for more than a year and leads fieldwork efforts. “My fieldwork has consisted of biweekly trips down to the Mobile Bay area in order to aspirate for adult mosquitoes and collect larvae using larval dip cups at 25 different sites in 12 ZIP codes,” she said.

After graduation, Ashby plans to attend graduate school to continue on the path of disease ecology research and later attend veterinary school. “I have a strong interest in veterinary epidemiology and public health and throughout my time so far at Auburn, my involvement in the disease ecology lab with Dr. Zohdy has really shaped my academic interests and ambitions,” she said.

Though Zika virus is primarily spread by infected Aedes species mosquitoes, the disease can also be transmitted through sexual contact with an infected person or from an infected pregnant woman to her fetus during pregnancy or at birth.

There is no vaccine to prevent Zika, but the CDC recommends the best way to avoid contracting the disease is to protect yourself from mosquito bites by these tips.

–Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
–Stay in places with air conditioning and window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
–Take steps to control mosquitoes inside and outside your home by minimizing standing water in containers in and around the home.
–Treat your clothing and gear with permethrin or buy pre-treated items.
–Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents. Always follow the product label instructions. When used as directed, these insect repellents are proven safe and effective even for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Do not use insect repellents on babies younger than 2 months old. Do not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol on children younger than 3 years old.
–Mosquito netting can be used to cover babies younger than 2 months old in carriers, strollers or cribs to protect them from mosquito bites.
–Sleep under a mosquito bed net if air-conditioned or screened rooms are not available or if sleeping outdoors.
–Prevent sexual transmission of Zika by using condoms or not having sex.

Report suspected illness or learn more about mosquito-borne disease prevention methods.

Read more about Zohdy’s research findings with the Journal of Medical Entomology.

Learn more about the Abuzz app.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Alabama Sec. of State: ‘Why do we pass ethics laws and employ an ethics commission if we do not intend to enforce the rule of law?’

(John Merrill/Facebook)

In the 2015 Alabama Legislative Session, the Legislature passed legislation that required all county candidates and political action committees running for public office to file campaign finance reports with the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office.

The 2015 legislation did not change the requirement for all state candidates to file with the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office. This 2015 filing process was to be accomplished through the electronic filing portal made available by the Secretary of State at this link.

This legislation gave candidates until the 2018 election cycle to become familiar with the law. Beginning with the 2018 election cycle, the Secretary of State’s Office was required to issue civil penalties to candidates who did not meet the campaign finance filing requirements. Those who received a civil penalty can either pay a civil fine or appeal to the Alabama Ethics Commission.

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The review and appeal process was put in place to allow for expungement in specific instances in which the Commission felt the candidate had extenuating circumstances which prevented them from meeting the standard deadline applied to all candidates for public office.

All committees, regardless if it is a candidate or Political Action Committee, are required to file yearly, monthly, weekly, daily, and major contribution reports to show Alabamians the source of all contributions, expenditures, and loans. The 2015 law required the Secretary of State to issue civil fines as listed below:

–1st Offense 10% of contributions or expenditures or $300 (whichever is less)
–2nd Offense 15% of contributions or expenditures or $600 (whichever is less)
–3rd Offense 20% of contributions or expenditures or $1,200 (whichever is less)
–4th Offense and all proceeding penalties are the same as the third offense but this activates our requirement to report the Candidate (PCC) or Political Action Committee (PAC) to the Attorney General and the District Attorney in the judicial circuit in which they reside.

When a committee files a report late, a comprehensive review process takes place to ensure that each penalty is legitimate and that the report in question is a required report for that candidate.

Step one involves one staff member of the Elections Division reviewing the late reports and preparing a file documenting the required reports and the violation number for the candidate or committee. That employee then delivers the penalty files to Clay Helms, the Assistant Elections Director and Supervisor of Voter Registration. Mr. Helms then reviews the files and corrects any errors before delivering the penalty files to John Bennett, Deputy Chief of Staff, who then reviews each penalty and checks the math on the amount of the civil fine. Once Mr. Bennett completes his review, he then delivers the penalty files to David Brewer, Chief of Staff, who then completes a final review. After Mr. Brewer’s review, he then delivers the penalty files to Brent Beal, Deputy Attorney General. Once signed, the letters are scanned and emailed to the email address on file for the PCC or PAC, and the original is mailed to the candidate via certified letter to ensure delivery.

This intensive review process ensures there is a system of checks and balances to protect candidates from unwarranted claims of impropriety.

As previously noted, a campaign committee can request an appeal if the committee believes extenuating circumstances caused them to not meet the deadline for filing their report. The appeal is reviewed by the Alabama Ethics Commission at their quarterly meetings.

The Ethics Commission held its first quarterly review of the fines against committees who had requested an appeal in December, and has held subsequent reviews in April and June. During each of those meetings the five member Ethics Commission voted to overturn all of the 54 requests for appeal that were submitted to the Commission for review for a total of 113 civil penalties. The fines were overturned based on concerns from the Commission that this law was a new law which campaigns could not be held responsible for accountability at this time.

The appeal process is in place for a candidate or committees first offense for which someone does not meet the standard as prescribed in state law. If they are a repeat offender, the law requires a monetary penalty be issued by the Secretary of State’s Office.

My question to members of the Ethics Commission, members of the media, and the people of Alabama is why do we pass ethics laws and employ an ethics commission if we do not intend to enforce the rule of law?

Further, the law was not established to function as an expensive, tax-payer funded, reminder to candidates who fail to timely file, but it was created to provide transparency on campaign contributions and expenses for all Alabamians to see and serve as a deterrent to candidates who wish to deceive voters by not providing evidence regarding the source of their campaign donations or expenditures.

Simply put, the Alabama Ethics Commission, like all other state agencies should follow the law, or ask the legislature to change it!

John Merrill is a Republican and the Secretary of State of Alabama

U.S. Rep. Byrne: Protecting a Gulf Coast tradition

(David Rainer)

Down here on the Gulf Coast, fishing is a way of life for many people. It is a tradition that spans generations and is one way we bond with our family and friends.

In fact, some of my fondest memories happened while casting a reel. I remember my father showing me how to bait a hook and teaching me about the patience of waiting for a bite. I enjoy carrying on that tradition with my kids.

Just in time to celebrate National Fishing and Boating Week, Alabama’s 2018 Red Snapper season officially opened on June 1st. The Red Snapper season is a real boon for our coastal communities, and the impact is felt all throughout Southwest Alabama. The economic impact flows to everything from gas stations to restaurants to hotels.

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Unfortunately, in seasons past, Alabama has felt the full force of Washington when it comes to regulating our recreational fishing. These regulations are based on junk science, yet have a huge impact on when we can and cannot fish.

Anyone who has been fishing in the Gulf over the last few years knows there are more than enough Red Snapper in our waters, and Washington’s methods of stock assessments are sorely out of touch with what is happening.

When it comes down to it, no one understands the needs of our fisheries better than those who cast a reel along the Gulf Coast. The federal bureaucrats in Washington have no business controlling our fisheries when those of us on the coast know what is best for our fishermen.

That’s why, earlier this year, I wrote to the National Marine Fisheries Service to advocate for Alabama’s application for an Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP), which would allow the state to set our own season for the next two years.

I was pleased when this EFP was granted by the Department of Commerce on April 20, 2018, securing Alabama’s 47-day Snapper season for the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

Specifically, the 2018 Red Snapper season in Alabama will run from June 1 through September 3, with Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays open to fishing. The entire week of the Fourth of July (June 30 through July 8) will also be open for Red Snapper fishing.

You see, this is how government should work: take power from Washington and return it to the people who best understand the issue.

I am proud to have helped secure a lengthy Snapper season, which means our fishermen will have adequate time to enjoy a Gulf Coast tradition while our coastal communities will benefit from increased revenue. It is truly a win-win situation for coastal Alabama.

Of course, there were many people who had a hand in securing an adequate season for our fishermen. I thank Senator Richard Shelby for his support and his work to secure the language for the EFP in last year’s appropriations bill. I also appreciate the Gulf Council for their support of the exempted fishing permit pilot program and Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Chris Blankenship and our other Gulf Coast colleagues for working together to support our fishermen.

Ultimately, it was a total team effort to make this 47-day Snapper season a reality. This is a real victory for all our recreational fishermen as well as our coastal region.

As I have always said, this issue is about so much for than just our fishermen; the Red Snapper season impacts our entire costal community, and I look forward to a safe and fun season.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.