On April 9, 2020, the Etz Chayim Synagogue in Huntsville was defaced with antisemitic graffiti. The following day, the Chabad of Huntsville was vandalized with similar hate speech. Security footage taken from both scenes indicates the same perpetrator committed both crimes. Given that they took place on the first night of the Jewish holiday Passover, the crimes are thought to be meticulously planned and executed with one purpose: to send a message of hate to the Jewish community.
Mayor Tommy Battle released a statement to the public saying “the city of Huntsville condemns antisemitism in the strongest possible terms” and emphasized Huntsville as a city of inclusivity and acceptance. “Any offense against one is an offense against all,” Battle said.
The case has since been handed over to the FBI, and no perpetrator has been caught.
Despite these attacks against the Jewish community the state of Alabama has reported zero hate crimes to the FBI’s annual Unified Crime Report for the past two years in a row. It is the only state in the country that has reported zero hate crimes.
“It is highly implausible that in 2019 or 2018, no hate crimes were committed in Alabama. Of the over 417 law enforcement agencies in the state, only two actually participated in the 2019 reporting process to the FBI, which is deeply troubling and undoubtedly means that many hate crimes have gone unreported,” said Dr. Allison Padilla-Goodman, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League’s Southern Division. Read more.
MONTGOMERY — After taking an initial hit at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic last year, Alabama’s economy has largely bounced back. Still, some businesses are having trouble finding enough workers, particularly in the restaurant and hospitality industry.
A drive down Zelda Road in Montgomery, the Capital City’s midtown eatery hub, shows “help wanted” signs in almost every store.
Information from the Alabama Department of Labor shows a 52% increase in advertised food prep and serving jobs in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period in 2020. Advertised waitress and waiter positions have increased about 44%. Hotel desk clerk postings have more than doubled.
Mindy Hanan, president of the Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality Association, said the state’s restaurants and hotels can’t get enough workers.
“We’re wide open and we need as many employees as we can have,” Hanan said. Read more.
It’s been roughly a decade since April 27, 2011, a day that marked U.S. weather history. The South saw hundreds of tornadoes, 62 of which were in Alabama. Some of the tornadoes tracked more than 80 miles long, bringing wind speeds up to 210 mph in some areas. The storm killed about 250 people in Alabama alone.
On this 10-year anniversary, we’re asking the question: Are we better prepared now for a tornado outbreak than we were a decade ago? Read more.
Alabama avoided the loss of a congressional seat as its population grew from 4.8 million in 2010 to 5.03 million last year, according to figures released Monday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
State officials had feared Alabama would lose one of its seven seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and one of its nine Electoral College members, based on the 2020 census.
The census is taken every 10 years, and the 435 seats in the House are apportioned according to the population of the states. The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama released in analysis in January, predicting Alabama would keep its seven congressional seats and that New York would lose one seat.
The powerful tornadoes that hit Alabama 10 years ago killed hundreds and left behind significant destruction. With trauma, time doesn’t always heal. Some of the survivors continue to show the scars. Read more.
MONTGOMERY— A bill in the Alabama Senate regarding the construction of public buildings has some concerned about what it could mean to the safety of school buildings, while proponents see the legislation as a way to help education entities save money.
Bill sponsor Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, said House Bill 220 would help decrease building costs for public schools by reducing bureaucratic red tape, enabling money to be better used. He gave an example of a $2.4 million project being reduced to $1.7 million.
“I’ve heard from K-12 and (Alabama Community College System) about the construction costs increasing due to red tape,” Ledbetter, the House majority leader, said. “This bill would help them save money, money that can be better spent elsewhere.” Read more.
Just two weeks after Gov. Kay Ivey relaxed many mandates and restrictions concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, Alabama’s new cases, deaths and hospitalizations have reversed their previous downward trends.
In BirminghamWatch’s periodic analysis of COVID data, the 7-day moving average of new cases reported by the Alabama Department of Public Health is up to 391.14 per day. That average has been adjusted by BirminghamWatch to account for a backlog of 1,150 cases reported Tuesday by health agencies — the second such backlog in two weeks. The backlogged cases date from October to last week, as did the previous batch on April 13.
The adjusted average compares to 305 cases per day a week prior, an increase of 28.2%. The longer-term 14-day average, also adjusted because of the backlog, is now at 348.07 new cases per day, up from 298.93 seven days beforehand, a rise of 16.4%.
The Alabama Senate on Thursday approved several measures related to elections and alleged voter fraud.
“There are few pillars of our democracy more important than the security of our elections,” Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper, said after the votes. “Free and fair elections, conducted in a secure manner, are a hallmark of our country, and serve as a defender of the freedoms that we enjoy as Americans.”
Among those measures are ones that would make it a felony to vote twice in any election, require legislation related to the conduct of general elections be passed at least six months before the election, and move up the deadline for applying to vote by absentee ballot. Read more.
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MONTGOMERY — A new report from the Alabama Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention says child maltreatment, abuse and neglect have cost the state around $3.7 billion.
Various community organizers and state agencies that work to prevent child abuse gathered at the State House on Tuesday to present the report and stress to legislators the importance of investing in the prevention of child maltreatment.
“You can pay now or you can pay later; you can’t do more with less,” Sallye Longshore, director of the ADCANP, said.
Past And Present Collide As Community Health Centers Strive To Close Rural Care Gaps In The Pandemic
In the 1960s, health care for Black residents in rural Mississippi was practically non-existent. While some hospitals served Black patients, they struggled to stay afloat; most options were segregated. During the height of the civil rights movement, young Black doctors decided to launch a movement of their own.
“Mississippi was third-world and was so bad and so separated. The community health center movement was the conduit for physicians all over this country who believed that all people have a right to health care,” said Dr. Robert Smith.
In 1965, Smith co-founded the Delta Health Center, the country’s first rural community health center, in Mound Bayou, a small town tucked away into the heart of the Mississippi Delta. The center became a national model and is now one of nearly 1,400 across the country. They are a key resource across Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, where about 2 in 5 Americans live in rural areas.
These rural health care providers remain under-resourced and the COVID-19 pandemic has only magnified existing challenges, like lack of broadband access and limited public transportation. For much of the vaccine rollout, those barriers have made it difficult for providers, like community health centers, to get shots in the arms of their patients.
As vaccine demand slows and coronavirus infection rates start to increase, state and federal officials are turning to these health centers to fulfill the mission of making the vaccine available to all Americans. In April, the Biden administration invested $6 billion in community health centers as part of a plan to increase access and awareness in the hardest-hit communities.
Baby or puppy?
Some people answer the question of whether to have a baby or do a practice run with a puppy by going with what’s in their hearts.
Another consideration, as heartless as it sounds, is cost. Potential grandparent wishes aside, a recent study delineates the costs of having a baby or puppy for the first year of both their little lives.
“Whether a puppy or a baby is right for you will ultimately be a highly personal decision that we could never hope to answer for you, but the cost cannot be ignored and those costs fluctuate wildly by state,” according to a study done by Honestpaws.com, an online retail outlet offering pet medical information.
Alabama leads the nation as the cheapest state to have a baby and care for it during the first year. It’s also a pretty cheap state to get and care for a puppy that first year. Read more.
In a March presentation on how the city of Birmingham’s finances are faring one year into the pandemic, city finance director Lester Smith said business license filings were down about 500 in the first 2.5 months of the year compared to the same time last year.
“My concern is that differentiation between those numbers may be lost businesses, but we don’t know that yet, so we have to continue to monitor it,” Smith said late last month.
Municipal business licenses are usually due early each year and have been an anticipated gauge of the true economic impact of COVID-19.
“The overall concern is that in the municipalities that have seen a downturn in license renewals, is that you have lost some jobs and loss of business investment in your community,” Alabama League of Municipalities Executive Director Greg Cochran told Alabama Daily News. “Ensuring that businesses stayed healthy during the pandemic and stayed afloat financially was a difficult tight rope for a lot of them to maneuver down.” Read more.
After a nearly two-month-long union election, Amazon warehouse worker Carla Johnson is ready to move on.
“I’m glad it’s over,” Johnson said. “Now I can stop getting the emails, the phone calls, you know, from the union reps.”
Results from last week showed Amazon workers in Bessemer voted more than 2-to-1 against joining a union. Johnson voted to keep the union out because she trusts Amazon – the company treated her well during her recent battle with brain cancer. She also doesn’t believe the union could deliver on promises to raise pay and improve work conditions.
She hopes her co-workers can leave the idea of unionizing behind, but she doubts they will. And she’s right.
“We’re not running away with our tails behind us because there was no victory,” said Amazon warehouse worker Jennifer Bates at a rally on Sunday at the union’s Birmingham headquarters. “There was illegal things taking place and fear tactics that was done to people who didn’t have any idea about what a union could do for them.” Read more.
The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to rezone the Southtown Court housing project, making way for a mixed-use redevelopment of the property.
Now designated a “mixed-use downtown” district, the property, near St. Vincent’s Birmingham, will be transformed into a development that includes multi-family residential, hotel, office, retail/dining, medical office, parking garage and open space uses. Developers intend to turn the property into a “pedestrian-friendly corridor,” including pocket parks, green spaces and bike lanes.
Plans to redevelop the property, near where a 455-unit housing project now stands have existed in some form since at least 2008. Read more.
Workers at the Amazon plant in Bessemer, Alabama have voted against unionizing, dealing a major defeat to labor organizers hoping for a galvanizing victory in the South. The union accused Amazon of illegal anti-union tactics and will challenge the results. Read more.
Legislative sessions most years bring a bipartisan chorus decrying the grocery tax as a cruel burden for low-income families, who are disproportionately people of color. And yet, the tax remains untouched in Mississippi and Alabama.
Along with South Dakota, those states are the only ones charging the full sales tax rate on groceries used for home cooking, from vegetables to flour to even baby formula.
“We exempt food for farm animals, but we don’t exempt food for babies,” said Chris Sanders, the communications director at Alabama Arise, a nonprofit advocacy organization. “It offends me, quite honestly.” Read more.
Alabama K-12 schools and colleges could receive about $282 million this year separate from the state education budget or any federal relief money flowing to them.
Senate Bill 193 would allocate money through the state’s Advancement and Technology Fund, which can be spent on one-time purchases in tech, capital improvements and a few other select expenses. The proposal that passed the Senate distributes nearly $76.3 million to higher education institutions and nearly $206 million to K-12.
For the smallest school systems, it’s several hundred thousand dollars. Mobile County, the state’s largest K-12 system, would get $14.8 million. Every school’s proposed allocation is listed in the bill approved by the Senate and now in the House. Schools would receive the money this summer. Read more.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville rode into Washington as a ride-or-die Trump supporter, campaigning as being more of a Trump booster than Trump’s own former attorney general, then making headlines by saying he would challenge the counting of some electoral votes even before he was sworn into office.
With that drama behind him and a whopping three months on the job under his belt, Tuberville seems to be less of a bomb-throwing gadfly and more of a regular working politician, albeit an extremely conservative one.
He voted against President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-relief bill, saying it cost too much and didn’t do enough to fight COVID; opposed the president’s nominee for secretary of health and human services; called Democrats’ election reforms a “power grab;” and continues to push for a border security.
But he voted for Biden’s nominee for secretary of labor, former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and says he will work with the administration on issues such as job creation. He said he does not want to be obstructive.
Alabama K-12 schools are getting another $2 billion of federal relief funding from the President Joe Biden-pushed American Rescue Plan Act, state officials said Wednesday. That’s on top of $1.1 billion schools received from the first two rounds of federal relief.
In all, federal relief money to K-12 and higher education in Alabama will total about $4.5 billion in the three approved by Congress in the last year. About $3.2 billion of that is for K-12 alone, with much of it going directly to local school districts, according to Kirk Fulford, deputy director of the Legislative Services Agency’s Fiscal Division.
“The investment of these funds is going to be critical,” Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, said during a presentation Wednesday to the House education budget committee. Read more.
Alabama’s counties and municipalities will soon receive millions of dollars — some tens of millions of dollars — under the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act approved last week.
While exact guidance and rules for spending haven’t yet been issued from the U.S. Department of Treasury, the act makes clear the money can be used beyond costs specific to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re telling them to take a breath and to begin thinking about how to best use this opportunity for legacy-type programs,” Greg Cochran, executive director of the Alabama League of Municipalities, told Alabama Daily News about the group’s guidance to cities and towns. Read more.
Two local environmentalist groups are suing the Birmingham Water Works Board alleging it failed to comply with a 2001 consent decree that ordered protection of undeveloped land around the Cahaba River watershed, a major source of Birmingham’s drinking water.
Cahaba Riverkeeper and the Cahaba River Society, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, have filed a complaint in Jefferson County Circuit Court hoping to compel the BWWB to place permanent protections, overseen by an independent third party, on its land holdings surrounding the Cahaba River, the Little Cahaba River and Lake Purdy.
The lawsuit cites the worry that, because the land in question is “some of the last undeveloped land in a rapidly urbanizing area,” the BWWB may cave to “intense development pressure.”
In some cases, plaintiffs say, the board already has. Read more.
This year, the city of Birmingham is sending two sets of lobbyists to Montgomery — one from Mayor Randall Woodfin’s office and one from the City Council.
Councilors made that decision last month, claiming they’d been excluded from planning the city’s legislative agenda, and on Tuesday they approved a legislative agenda of their own — one that only slightly overlaps with Woodfin’s priorities.
The primary area of agreement between the two agendas is about bolstering city revenue through fines. Both the mayor and council are pushing legislation that would increase penalties for littering, dumping and weed abatement. Both also want to tie parking tickets to car tag renewal, providing a built-in enforcement mechanism for a ticketing system that currently lacks one.
Woodfin and the council also are both pushing for an increase in the maximum number of entertainment districts allowed in a municipality. Birmingham has four such areas — Pepper Place, Uptown, Five Points South and Avondale — where people are allowed to drink alcohol outside, though they must have purchased that alcohol from a restaurant, bar or venue in that district. State law caps the number of entertainment districts a city can have at five; Woodfin and the council both hope to raise that number to 15.
The similarities mostly end there. Read more.
State Officials Cryptic About Plans for New Prison in Rural Bibb County, Including How Water and Sewer Would be Provided
Alabama plans a 3,100-inmate prison in the Brierfield community of Bibb County, but officialdom holds all the cards and the governor isn’t showing her hand.
Even Bibb County administrator Derek Reeves responds to questions about the proposed prison by saying: “I don’t know anything about that. We are not involved with the prison.”
Gov. Kay Ivy has disclosed three general locations for prisons that the state will lease from their private developers. Brierfield, the last general area revealed, has received the coolest reception from the residents of Brierfield Estates, who are leading the opposition.
Big questions loom involving how infrastructure would be provided in the rural area, such as treated water, sewage disposal and access roads.
The precise site of the new prison has not been officially announced. But signs point to it being built at the intersection of A. Arker Road and Brickyard Pass about a mile west of Alabama 139, in the Ashby area.
Such a large prison calls for about 500 acres, and the parcel at that location, which has been cleared to bare earth, fits the description released by the governor’s office. A road potentially suitable for heavy construction vehicles also has been cut into the site. Equipment and activity now at the site are of the type suitable for well drilling or environmental testing.
A source with knowledge of the prison development confirmed that the site is, indeed, the intended location for the prison and that contractors are drilling a well there. Read more.
Legislation is needed to ensure Alabama families and restaurant owners aren’t penalized on their state income taxes for credits and grants they receive under the federal American Rescue Plan Act. But with one day left in this year’s regular legislative session, a proposed bill on the matter isn’t likely to pass. That means it probably will have to wait until later in the year.
The $1.9 trillion federal rescue plan’s enhanced child tax credit, earned income tax credit and child and dependent care tax credit will be worth about $1.7 billion to Alabama taxpayers, and payments will begin this summer, Sen. Dan Roberts, R-Mountain Brook, said. Additionally, Alabama restaurants are expected to receive about $426 million in grants.
If lawmakers don’t act, Alabamians could be taxed more than $100 million in state income taxes, he said. Read more.
Colonial Pipeline’s shutdown of its 5,500-mile pipeline Friday after a ransomware attack brought attention to the vulnerability of the energy infrastructure on which the country relies. The New York Times reported Sunday that it was unclear when the pipeline, which carries nearly half of the East Coast’s fuel supplies, would reopen. This is not the first time the public’s attention has been turned to the things that can go wrong with the energy supply. In 2016, BirminghamWatch’s Hank Black wrote about the pipelines that run through the state and the Southeast:
By Hank Black, September 23, 2016
The Colonial Pipeline gasoline spill in Shelby County was a wake-up call for the public and the government about just how critical oil and gas pipelines are to America’s energy supply needs, and how such an incident could impact the environment.
The Cahaba River Society said the spill “very narrowly missed” entering the river, less than a mile away. CRS field director Randy Haddock, PhD, said pipeline safety isn’t top-of-mind until a significant incident occurs. “As the acute phase of this event ends, we expect to start having conversations” among advocacy groups, industry, government, and others about how to prevent or limit damage when another incident occurs, Haddock said. Some experts say the 50-year average age of the nation’s pipelines is cause for concern.
Alabama has 6,748 miles of interstate pipeline, plus more than 57,000 miles of smaller main and service lines that distribute product from a transmission pipeline. By comparison, Mississippi has 10,450 miles of interstate pipe, and Arkansas has 7,212 miles. Read more.
MONTGOMERY — A Republican state lawmaker and former probate judge from Troy wants to be Alabama’s top election official. State Rep. Wes Allen announced his campaign for the Republican nomination for secretary of state on Thursday. He has served in the Alabama House of Representatives since 2018 and before that as Pike County Probate Judge for nearly a decade. Read more.
MONTGOMERY— The Alabama Legislature gave final approval this week to a bill creating a new state authority to oversee the expansion of high-speed broadband internet services throughout the state.
There’s no specific revenue stream for the effort that experts have said would take billions of dollars. Thursday evening, an expanded gambling proposal, part of which was intended to fund broadband, seemed to be stalled in the House.
But advocates say they expect significant federal funding in the near future.
More from the Legislature:
Legion Field is adding another HBCU football classic to its schedule.
The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to approve an agreement with Morehouse College and Tuskegee University to host their annual match-up for three years, starting this October.
The deal calls for the city to provide up to $500,000 per year in incentives and in-kind services to host the event.
The Tuskegee-Morehouse Classic previously has taken place in Columbus, Ga. — but Mayor Randall Woodfin, a Morehouse alumnus, told the council that organizers “have not felt the support they need” to stay there.
Older people account for the vast majority of COVID-19 deaths in Alabama, although they represent fewer than one in five cases of the disease, according to reports this week by the state Department of Public Health.
Individuals who are 65 and older represented 16.8% of the coronavirus cases in the state but 78.4% of the deaths since the pandemic began in March 2020, ADPH said in a report Wednesday.
Those from 25 to 49 years old accounted for 37.6% of the cases but only 4.4% of the deaths, while individuals from 50 to 64 years old made up 21.5% of the cases and 17% of the deaths. Read more.
Plans are moving forward to redevelop the former Ensley High School property as a 244-unit housing development. The Birmingham City Council approved an ordinance Tuesday selling the campus, which has been abandoned since 2006, to the North Carolina-based Zimmerman Properties for $50,000.
The city also will provide incentives for the project in the form of a grant of up to $1.5 million, some of which will come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Home Investment Partnerships Program. Read more.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin launched a collaborative effort with federal and local law enforcement agencies to put an end to the city’s growing gun violence problem. The partnership, announced Friday, imposes stiff penalties for people who have unauthorized guns. Officials called on the community to help make the city safer by providing information on people who may be involved in criminal activity. Read more.
Commissioner Joe Knight said Jefferson County is “getting close” to making a deal to provide a new home for the Greater Birmingham Humane Society.
During their committee meeting Tuesday, commissioners discussed a memorandum of understanding with the Humane Society and U.S. Steel to buy two lots along Lakeshore Parkway at Sydney Drive. GBHS would purchase a third lot and build an animal hospital and adoption control facility at the site.
Commissioners agreed to take up the issue during their formal meeting Thursday. Read more.
The Birmingham City Council has delayed plans for the city to purchase and redevelop the Smithfield Community’s defunct Hill Elementary School property. Mayor Randall Woodfin’s office has proposed that the city buy the school and renovate it for workforce housing. But several councilors argued that they had not been adequately informed of the city’s plans for the property and demanded more information. Read more.
Mayor Randall Woodfin announced Monday morning the creation of a Civilian Review Board to investigate claims of misconduct by the Birmingham Police Department. The five-member board will have the authority to investigate citizen complaints and will have some subpoena powers to aid those investigations, Woodfin said. Read more.
Conservation groups have filed a petition with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, claiming that Alabama Power has imposed “unjust” charges on customers using solar power.
The Southern Environmental Law Center, along with Birmingham law firm Ragsdale, LLC, filed the petition this month on behalf of environmental advocacy group GASP and four Alabama Power customers with solar installations. The petition calls on FERC to compel the Alabama Public Service Commission to enforce federal laws protecting solar customers from unfair treatment by their utility. Read more.
Recent information about prison company CoreCivic’s agreement with the state to build two large facilities is renewing concerns among some about the cost and state funding priorities.
On April 2, Bloomberg News reported on bank Barclay’s plans to be an underwriter for CoreCivic.
The story included a report from CoreCivic to potential investors that said ADOC’s revenues are provided by the Legislature. “This will include budgeting for all of ADOC’s obligations under the new lease agreements,” it said.
“ADOC has discretion over how to spend the appropriation provided by the Legislature and has covenanted in the lease to prioritize lease payments above all other obligations to the extent permitted by law.” Read more.