• Economy

    Baby or Puppy? Both Are Relatively Cheap in Alabama

    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. 

  • Economy

    City Leaders Watch Business Licenses for COVID-19 Impact

    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.

  • Economy

    Big Union Loss at Amazon Warehouse Casts Shadow Over Labor Movement

    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.

  • Birmingham City Council

    Redevelopment of Southtown as Mixed-Use Property to Begin in June

    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.

  • Economy

    Alabama Amazon Workers Reject Union, but Organizers Say the Fight Isn’t Over

    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.

  • Government

    Why Alabama Lawmakers Just Won’t Give Up the Grocery Tax

    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 Legislature

    Advancement and Technology Fund Could Send $282M to K-12, Higher Ed

    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.

  • Government

    Tuberville Opposes Many Biden Proposals but Says He’s Not an Obstructionist

    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.
    Read more.

  • Coronavirus

    COVID-19 Relief for Alabama Education Totals More Than $4B

    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.

  • Coronavirus

    Take a Breath and Start Planning: Alabama Cities, Counties Getting Millions in Federal Aid

    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.

  • Environment

    Environmental Groups Say Water Board Isn’t Effectively Protecting Drinking Water Supply

    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.

  • Alabama Legislature

    Birmingham Mayor, Council Pushing Two Separate Wish Lists in Legislature

    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.

  • Alabama Prisons

    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.

  • Education

    Proposal Changing Charter School Funding Has Potential Bipartisan Support

    MONTGOMERY — As advocates for public charter schools push for more equal funding in the Alabama Legislature this year, an unlikely ally has emerged signaling potential bi-partisan support for the proposal.

    Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D- Birmingham, a prominent voice in the state’s minority party, recently filed Senate Bill 387, similar to House Bill 487, sponsored by Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, earlier this session.

    These bills would make changes to the Alabama School Choice and Student Opportunity Act and allow for some local tax dollars to follow students to charter schools similar to how they would to any other school. Currently, both state and federal dollars follow students who leave traditional schools and enroll in charter schools, but local dollars do not.

    “Many of these people are constituents and so they asked for some help in those areas, and that’s what the objective was, just to help them to provide them with some funds so that they could ease the burden on the students,” Smitherman told Alabama Daily News.

    Alabama Democrats have historically been against expanding charter schools in the state and fought against the broad 2015 school choice legislation, arguing it would undermine traditional schools. Read more.

  • City of Birmingham

    Birmingham Sets Up Civilian Board to Review Police Misconduct

    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.

  • Economy

    Alabama’s Unemployment Drops to 3.8%

    Alabama’s unemployment rate for March was 3.8%, down from 4% in February.

    That compares to a record-low 2.6% in March 2020, right before COVID-19 and precautions to stop its spread led to a double-digit spike in unemployment.

    March’s rate represents 84,670 unemployed people, compared to 91,041 in February and 57,895 in March 2020. Alabama is comfortably below the national average of 6%, the Alabama Department of Labor said this morning. Read more.

  • Economy

    Eco Groups File Claim That Alabama Power Charges Unjust Fees on Solar Power

    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.

  • Coronavirus

    Seeking a Return to Pre-Pandemic Normal

    Alabama could have a “return to normality” this fall if people continue to get vaccinations as they are now, a UAB expert said Thursday.

    UAB School of Public Health professor Suzanne Judd said vaccinated people could feel confident returning to their pre-pandemic lifestyles when the rate of cases drops to 5 per 100,000. That is likely to happen when 70% of the population of the state, or about 3.5 million people, has immunity to the novel coronavirus. Read more.

  • Alabama Legislature

    Lottery, Casino, Sports Betting Legislation Sent to House Committee

    The Alabama House of Representatives on Thursday received a Senate-passed gambling measure that had morphed from one entirely focused on a state lottery into an umbrella bill with the lottery, casinos and sports betting.

    The bill got a first reading and was sent to the tourism committee. This is the twisted trail of a legislative effort to enhance state revenues without directly imposing new taxes. Read more.

    More from the Legislature this week:

    Broadband Expansion Bill Close to Final Vote

    Bill Would Create Scholarships for Rural Teachers

    Teacher Retirement Bill Advances

    ADOC Reporting, Sexual Assault Victim Bills Advance, Grand Jury Bill Delayed

    Bill Would Change State’s Grand Jury Secrecy Laws, Free Witnesses to Talk About Testimony

    Governor Signs Alcohol Delivery Bill

    Read complete legislative coverage.

  • Coronavirus

    COVID Numbers in Alabama Leveling Off After Long Downtrend

    After a steady decline over the past three months, the trend of new COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations is flattening out, or in some cases pointing slightly upward. In BirminghamWatch’s periodic analysis of COVID data, the 7-day average of new cases reported by the Alabama Department of Public Health is 311.14 per day, up from 294.86 a week beforehand. Read more.

  • Coronavirus

    UAB Health System CEO: ‘It really was that bleak.’

    UAB Health System CEO Will Ferniany will end his health care career having led the organization through the coronavirus pandemic. He plans to retire later this year. Read more.

  • Alabama Prisons

    Prison Lease Information Stokes Concerns About Cost to State, Funding Priorities

    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.

  • Coronavirus

    Jefferson County Health Officer Recaps Tumultuous Year, Urges Residents to Continue Precautions so There Isn’t Another One

    As the state’s mandatory face mask order ended Friday, Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson urged residents to continue using masks and get the COVID-19 vaccine.

    “I am joining with Gov. Kay Ivey and state Health officer Dr. Scott Harris to encourage the use of masks,” he said.

    In his Annual Public Health Address for Jefferson County, Wilson timelined his department’s work last year with other agencies, including UAB and local governmental officials, to staunch the flood of COVID cases. Read more.

  • Coronavirus

    Gov. Kay Ivey Announces ‘Safer Apart’ Order as Mask Mandate Ends

    Alabama is set to transition to a “Safer Apart” order until 5 p.m. on May 5, replacing the statewide mask order that’s been in place since last July.

    “We are still under a public health order, but it is greatly slimmed down due to everyone doing their part to practice social distancing, wearing a mask and getting a vaccine,” Ivey said at a press conference Wednesday.

    Ivey’s “Safer Apart” order is the third phase of Alabama’s COVID-19 pandemic health order.

    The announcement comes days before the statewide mask mandate comes to an end this Friday. Last month, Ivey announced she would not renew the mask order. However, both Gov. Ivey and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris urged residents to continue wearing masks and social distancing once the mandate expires. Read more.

  • Birmingham City Council

    Birmingham Council, Schools Extend Mask Requirements

    Masks will remain mandatory in Birmingham through May 24. The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to extend the city’s face covering ordinance, requiring masks in all public places to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

    Exceptions are made for outdoor exercise and eating or drinking at restaurants or bars. Religious worship services are also exempt, though the ordinance still “strongly encourages” masks in those settings.

    The Birmingham City School Schools system also announced Tuesday that masks will be required in schools and all school-related events through the end of the school year to combat the threat from COVID-19.

    The city ordinance received the support of Mayor Randall Woodfin and most of the council, with the exception of District 2 Councilor Hunter Williams. Williams argued that the ordinance would make Birmingham an outlier in Jefferson County and the state of Alabama as a whole, placing “undue burden” on local businesses. The state’s mask ordinance is set to expire Friday, and Gov. Kay Ivey has said she will not renew it. Read more.

  • Environment

    Enviro Groups Argue Ala. Power Plant Permit Could Violate Federal Sulfur Rules

    Gasp and the Sierra Club have challenged a permit issued for operation of Plant Barry, near Mobile, saying it could allow the plant to emit sulfur dioxide at levels that violate federal standards.

    Sulfur dioxide is a major contributor to fine particle air pollution that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined can, even in exposure of five minutes, cause decrements in lung function, aggravation of asthma, and respiratory and cardiovascular morbidity. Studies also have linked it to premature death. Read more.

  • Alabama Legislature

    Bill to Allow Churches and Small Businesses to Stay Open During Emergencies Goes to Governor

    The Alabama Legislature on Thursday approved a bill that would allow churches and small businesses to remain open during states of emergency. It now goes to the governor.

    House Bill 103 by Rep. Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville, would allow businesses and places of worship to remain open as long as they comply with any emergency order, rules or regulations issued by the governor and state or local agencies. It would do away with the idea of “essential businesses.”

    Kiel has said small local retailers shouldn’t have been forced to close last year under public health orders while big box stores remained open.

    Democrats called the bill dangerous and said it could lead to super-spreader events in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
    Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, led Senate Democrats in a filibuster of the bill, arguing it put business interests over public health. Read more.