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4 months ago

Walt Maddox publishes public safety priorities to address trooper shortages, improve technology

Democrat candidate for governor Walt Maddox on Thursday published an outline of his goals for addressing public safety.

The plan discusses problems suffered by Alabama’s State Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), particularly its shortage of state troopers and the resulting reliance upon city and county law enforcement to fulfill various enforcement duties.

Fewer than 300 troopers currently patrol the state, according to the Alabama State Troopers Association.

Maddox’s plan does not offer a targeted number of troopers, but his campaign confirmed to Yellowhammer News that he wants to see the number reach at least what ALEA has expressed it needs, 750 troopers, and eventually what the University of Alabama’s Center for Advanced Public Safety has said the state needs, which is 1,000.

The plan also calls for reforming the Alabama Code’s definition of forcible compulsion, currently defined as “physical force that overcomes earnest resistance or a threat, express or implied, that places a person in fear of immediate death or serious physical injury to himself or another person.”

“If a person uses physical strength, or threats of death or serious physical injury, to force someone into sex, then that’s rape, and we should not adhere to the archaic and ridiculous thinking that the victim must fight back or else the perpetrator goes free,” Maddox’s plan says.

It also seeks to:

  • Increase funding for the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences
  • Enhance disaster preparedness
  • Establish closer ties between state agencies and academic institutions for the development of technologies
  • Further address distracted driving through mandated driver’s education curricula
  • Reform prisons and rehabilitation services

In an interview with WSFA, Maddox said he seeks to fund the additional troopers by reaching an agreement with the Poarch Creek Indians to tax gambling.

The plan does not offer details about funding the other priorities.

This year’s general fund budget provides $3.2 million for the at least 30 new troopers.

1 hour ago

Exceptional Foundation carolers bring holiday spirit to Alabama businesses

What the Exceptional Foundation carolers may lack in perfect pitch and rhythm they more than make up for with enthusiasm and sheer joy.

The result is exactly what is intended: delivering the Christmas spirit to businesses around Birmingham.

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That delivery is clear by the smiles produced among the audiences.

This is the fifth year the Exceptional Foundation carolers have visited corporations to thank them for their support. CEO Tricia Kirk said the number of performances has grown from less than a handful of businesses in the first season to five or six a day this year.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 hours ago

Alabama Power works to save threatened snails on Coosa River

While many property owners used this fall’s Coosa River drawdown to make repairs to boathouses, piers and other structures along the water’s edge, Alabama Power biologists were on another mission.

APC Environmental Affairs employees worked with members of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) to protect rare snails on Lay and Mitchell lakes.

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The first step involved surveying threatened species — literally by counting the number of snails in a given area.

Two species of freshwater aquatic snails listed under the Endangered Species Act, the rough hornsnail and Tulotoma snail, call the Coosa River home. Both are native to Alabama and are found nowhere else in the world.

“We do a manual count, which gives you an estimate of the number of that species within a certain area,” said Jason Carlee, APC Environmental Affairs supervisor. “You can then multiply that number by the area of the lake bottom affected by the drawdown to estimate how much of the population is affected.”

The work wasn’t limited to surveying. The biologists were also charged with saving snails affected by the drawdown. Snails that might have had trouble navigating to the lower lake levels were picked up along the riverbank and returned to the water.

“The primary objectives at Lay Lake and Lake Mitchell were surveying known populations of Tulotoma and rough hornsnail, searching for new populations of the species and relocating species to suitable habitat in deeper water,” said Chad Fitch, a biologist with Alabama Power.

The snails live anywhere from one to 30 feet below the shoreline but prefer to live just below the water’s edge, according to Carlee.

“The lowering of the water forces the snails to follow the water and, as they move, they can get trapped by vegetation or stuck behind a log or rock,” Carlee said. “Our priority is to identify new populations and to salvage as many snails as we can.”

The teams focused on areas with known populations and salvaged snails when the water was at its lowest level to make the most significant positive impact. A previous survey and salvage effort was conducted during the 2013 drawdown, and additional snail surveys were done in 2009 and 2012.

“Part of our week was spent searching for new populations of rough hornsnails, and we found them,” said Fitch. “Before this week, the species was only known to occur in four different locations on Mitchell Reservoir, but we found them in three other creeks this week as well as along the shorelines in the main channel.”

Several other steps have been taken to protect the snails. For example, the timing and frequency of the fall drawdowns have been adjusted to benefit the species.

“Historically for Lay and Mitchell, there were drawdowns every year. Then they went to every other year. Since the discovery of rough hornsnails at Lake Mitchell and at Yellowleaf Creek on Lay Reservoir, drawdowns are conducted every five years to decrease impacts to the snails,” Fitch said.

Tracks left by the snails leading from the riverbank to the water indicate that the species can adjust to water level fluctuations. Lake levels are now lowered very slowly over a three-day period, to give snails more time to follow the dropping water.

Alabama Power works with USFWS and ADCNR to find ways to protect and improve habitat conditions for snails and other aquatic species as part of its license to operate dams issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. All the hard work is paying off. The Tulotoma snail was downlisted from endangered to threatened in 2011 as populations below Coosa River dams increased. It was the first time a freshwater species of mollusks, which includes clams, mussels and slugs, was downlisted. New populations of rough hornsnail provide hope for its recovery.

Results from this year’s snail survey will help regulators determine the impact of water level fluctuations on species like these snails and help provide guidance concerning future drawdowns.

This story originally appeared in Shorelines magazine.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

Alexander Shunnarah gives back to the community with the first annual ‘Shunnarah Seasons of Giving’ initiative

Most people know Alexander Shunnarah for his infamous “Call me Alabama” slogan and the massive trail of billboards commonly spotted by travelers along I-65. However, what many aren’t aware of is Shunnarrah’s heart for giving back to the city he calls home.

To show his love and appreciation for Birmingham, the Alabama lawyer just launched the first ever “Shunnarah’s Seasons of Giving” initiative and is surprising locals in the community with various acts of service throughout the month of December.

Shunnurah described this initiative as a, “…small part in giving back to the community and paying it forward.”

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To begin the month-long program, Shunnarrah stopped by Etheridge Brother and Sister Barber and Beauty Shop in downtown Birmingham last week where he gave locals an opportunity to receive a complimentary haircut.

“It’s been a great initial kickoff in the seasons of giving,” Shunarrah said.

In addition to these pop-up visits, Shunnarah’s law firm is partnering with The Shoe Clinic LLC for the clinic’s third annual ‘Saving One Sole at a Time” Sneaker, Sock and Coat Drive. The drive will take place at The Shoe Clinic LLC on Saturday, December 15th from 12:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Donations are accepted now through December 15th. Both organizations hope to collect 500 sneakers and coats, and 1000 pairs of socks by December 15th.

To donate to the sneaker, sock and coat drive, visit one of the two drop-off locations listed here:

The Shoe Clinic
1801 11th Ave S. Birmingham, AL,

Alexander Shunnarah Law Firm
2900 1st Ave. S. Birmingham, AL.

To see where Alexander Shunurrah visits for the next “Shunnarah’s Seasons of Giving” pop-up, visit his Instagram page at @alexander_shunnarah.

5 hours ago

Artur Davis: What the next Montgomery mayor needs

The coming mayoral race in Montgomery matters whether you live in city limits, or whether it is simply important to you or your business that Alabama’s capital thrives. The conversation on the ground is that the outcome could be the next historic milestone for the city that launched civil rights.

Former U.S. Magistrate Judge Vanzetta McPherson caused a stir with a recent Montgomery Advertiser column that argues “it is time for the occupant of the mayor’s office to reflect the predominant (African-American) citizenry.” She further suggests that there is a burden on black voters and leader to “filter black candidates early,” so that the ranks be purged of those who by some test fail, in her words, to “serve the best interests of the African-American community.”

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I know the judge’s sentiments are well-intentioned but as one of the seven or eight folks who will be running for Mayor, as the only contender who has officially registered a campaign committee, I view this election through a different lens. Montgomery has challenges at every turn. The test is not the mayor’s color or gender but whether the city’s next leader is visionary and substantial enough to unlock those opportunities disguised as challenges.

Mayor is not an entry-level job, as the judge correctly observed. The mayor-to-be will have to learn and master the details of making urban policy work for ordinary people. The job demands persistence and a clear eye about the questions that threaten Montgomery’s future.

Can our schools be rescued? For a while now, the leadership of our school system has resembled its population demographically: that by itself has meant nothing to the children in our eleven failing schools, or the 37 percent of children who graduate high school without core reading and math skills. The next mayor must join forces with the new school board to extricate the schools from the state takeover, a mismanaged event that creates the kind of uncertain chain of command that makes it impossible to attract a national caliber superintendent. The next mayor will have to sell the neighborhoods whose children are in magnets or private schools on the imperative of financing traditional schools adequately. He or she will also need to overcome forces who resist innovative reforms or stricter accountability.

Can we make a real dent in Montgomery’s poverty problem? West and North Montgomery are statistically identical to the chronically poor Black Belt. The southern boulevard is one long patch of neglect and collapsed businesses. Too many of our working people are still poor and trapped in dead-end jobs. For decades, the struggling parts of our city have had representation that “looks like them.” That fact has not yet stopped the decline.

Can we roll back crime and the root causes of crime? An overwhelming majority of criminal defendants are drop-outs. Our city has yet to fashion a comprehensive plan to identify and engage students who have encounters with the law or are chronic disciplinary problems. At the same time, if a city as complex as New York can reduce its rates of gun violence and murder, the next mayor of Montgomery should be expected to devise an anti-crime plan more robust than empathy and short-term anger management courses.

I could go on. We have reached new heights in corporate investment in the city but more of that newly infused wealth must be targeted toward creating jobs that pay high wages. Promoting minority investment is an urgent, consistently unmet need that takes more than conferences at the Renaissance to solve. Our municipal government structure has not been reorganized since the time when smartphones had not been invented and the internet in this city was limited to government offices.

The record of the mayor who is leaving, Todd Strange, will loom over this election. I ran against him but will grant him this: in an era when national politics has degenerated into all or nothing partisanship and what the experts call tribalism, Mayor Strange has kept the volume temperate and moderate in Montgomery. The next mayor should emulate that decency. He or she must match it with a boldness and a capacity to challenge old assumptions and challenge 21st Century problems.

I do agree that this city is on the edge of making history. But the test for candidates is not how well we represent one community or satisfy that community’s insiders and gatekeepers. It is whether any of us has what it takes to make Montgomery a trendsetter in repairing failing schools and blighted neighborhoods and in forging a more prosperous, more equitable future.

If you live in Montgomery, vote for the guy or lady you think just might know how to get us there.

Artur Davis is a former four-term congressman from Montgomery running for mayor.

6 hours ago

Roby: The 2018 Farm Bill includes key wins for farmers and our communities

Agriculture is the largest revenue-producing industry in the State of Alabama, responsible for more than $70 billion in economic impact annually. Our state is a national leader in food production and a global competitor in the livestock, peanut, cotton, poultry, timber and catfish industries. In Alabama’s Second District, agriculture is the largest employer, responsible for more than 93,000 jobs.

Agriculture is at the core of countless issues that impact the Second District and our state as a whole. Throughout my time in Congress, I have been proud to serve as a strong voice for our farmers of all commodities and to ensure that we craft smart agriculture policy that they can rely on in their important work. It is imperative that Congress honor our commitments to the hardworking farmers and producers across the country.

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That’s why I am glad to report that both the House and Senate have approved the 2018 farm bill. This legislation now heads to the White House where it awaits President Trump’s signature. The 2018 farm bill provides certainty to the American families who work every day to provide the food and fiber we all depend on. I was proud to support it on behalf of our Second District farmers.

The 2018 farm bill includes key wins for farmers and our rural communities. It improves farm policy by providing a nationwide yield update for the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) commodity program, beginning with the 2020 crop year and allowing PLC to better respond to market conditions; making several key improvements to the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) commodity program, including increased yield plugs and yield trend adjustments; protecting and improving crop insurance; investing in research, extension and education projects, and protecting farmers from additional costly, burdensome red tape.

The bill also lays the groundwork for an improved Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by preserving the Trump Administration’s flexibility to rein in SNAP work requirement waivers for able bodied adults without dependents. We are focused on improving welfare integrity by encouraging able-bodied Americans to work rather than enabling dependency on the federal government.

Additionally, the 2018 farm bill dedicates funding to rural health projects to help Americans battling opioid addiction and other substance abuse disorders. It’s no secret that the opioid epidemic is gripping our state and the entire country, so it is imperative that we utilize every tool available to combat it. I’m especially proud this legislation allocates increased resources to that end.

Importantly for Alabama’s Second District, the farm bill also makes significant improvements to rural broadband delivery. This includes the implementation of forward-looking standards to ensure we are meeting the next generation’s rural broadband needs.

This farm bill makes good on our commitment to farmers, producers, and all of rural America by providing certainty moving forward. My goal with agriculture policy is always to create a responsible framework of laws and programs that promote a sustainable and profitable agriculture industry in Alabama while allowing our farmers to do what they do best: provide the sustenance that feeds our state, our country and the world. I am proud of Congress’ action to make this happen, and I’m eager to see President Trump push the farm bill over the finish line.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby is a Republican from Montgomery.