• Birmingham City Schools

    Woodlawn Stadium Bid Approved; Stadium Could Be Built by Fall

    Karlos Dansby had one more reason to be thankful this Black Friday morning when he learned that the Birmingham Board of Education had accepted the bid to build a football stadium and fieldhouse on the campus of Woodlawn High School.

    “Without a doubt, I’m thankful,” said Dansby, a 2000 alumnus of Woodlawn who went on to play at Auburn University before playing in the National Football League. “Happy Thanksgiving to everybody and I look forward to seeing this project come to life.”

    The board of education on Tuesday unanimously approved a bid of $8.7 million with Argo Building Company for a new stadium and fieldhouse at Woodlawn High. Work on the project is expected to be completed in fall 2022.
    It initially rejected the bid Nov. 9 with five members voting no, two voting yes and one abstaining after the estimated base project cost more than doubled from the initial $4.2 million estimate. Read more.

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  • Alabama Legislature

    Now or Later? What Will Happen With Remaining Rescue Funds?

    Alabama lawmakers, particularly those on the General Fund budget committees, will have a larger task in the legislative session that begins in January. But it’s still unclear how much of the remaining about $1.6 billion American Rescue Plan Act will be allocated in the Legislature’s spring meeting.

    “We’ve got a lot more to figure out than just the Education Trust Fund and General Fund,” Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, said about lawmakers’ normal annual budgeting process.

    The state’s more than $2 billion in ARPA money comes in two tranches, about half this year and half likely in June 2022, according to the Department of Finance. By May, lawmakers have will already ended their 2022 session.

    Whether they’ll allocate all the money in the spring session or wait to distribute the 2022 share is still being discussed. Read more.

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  • City of Birmingham

    Birmingham Mayor Woodfin Sworn in for a Second Term

    Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin began his second term in office Tuesday, continuing his tenure as the city’s 30th mayor. The inauguration took place at Linn Park on a stage in front of city hall with the American flag and the mayor’s image as backdrop.

    Jefferson County Judge Ruby Davis swore in Woodfin, who was accompanied by his mother, Cynthia Woodfin-Kellum. In a 20-minute speech, he spoke about his administration’s accomplishments over the past four years, such as investing in infrastructure and creating the Birmingham Promise college scholarship and apprenticeship program. He talked about continuing to reimagine public safety in the next four years, wanting to create opportunities for citizens to live their best lives and make Birmingham the best city it can be. Read more.

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  • Economy

    Labor Secretary Marty Walsh Announces $15 Minimum Wage for Federal Contractors During Visit to Birmingham

    An estimated 327,000 people across the country could see a pay increase under a new U.S. Department of Labor rule announced Monday. Starting Jan. 30, federal contractors will be required to pay workers a new $15-an-hour minimum wage. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh spoke about the policy during a trip to Birmingham. Read more.

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  • Environment

    Deep South’s Most Vulnerable Residents Share Their Stories During EPA’s ‘Journey to Justice’ Tour

    Black residents of Southeast Louisiana, dedicated to fighting air and soil pollution in their own neighborhoods and towns met with EPA Administrator Michael Regan on his “Journey to Justice,” listening tour, sharing their stories and frustrations. Read more.

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  • Economy

    JeffCo Commission Announces $1.1 Billion Deal With Smucker’s

    The Jefferson County Commission announced Thursday the largest economic development project in the history of the region.

    J.M. Smucker Co. will build a manufacturing facility in McCalla at the Jefferson Metropolitan Industrial Park to support its growing Smucker’s Uncrustables line. The $1.1 billion capital investment will bring 750 high-wage jobs to the community.

    The development will be about 1½ miles from the Jefferson-Tuscaloosa counties line on old U.S. 11 between exits 100 and 104 of Interstate 20/59. Smucker’s project manager Brad Borkowski said excavation will begin Nov. 29, and the first sellable products are to roll out in May 2024.

    The McCalla plant will be one of three the company has producing Uncrustables, a fruit and peanut butter pocket pastry.

    “Smucker’s is coming to Jefferson County,” Commissioner Steve Ammons said in the announcement. “Now I can tell you it’s a sweet deal.” Read more.

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  • Health Care

    Biden Budget Plan Could Close ‘Coverage Gap’ for 300,000 Alabamians

    MONTGOMERY — A provision of the massive budget proposal being considered in Congress this week would offer as many as 300,000 low-income, uninsured Alabamians tax credits to pay for health coverage.

    Billed as President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan, the far-reaching proposal would spend $1.75 trillion on long-sought Democratic priorities, including universal pre-school, an expanded child tax credit, measures to combat climate change, low-income housing and reduced prescription drug costs.

    As written, the budget also extends tax credits for the uninsured in the 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, including Alabama. The White House estimates that will allow 4 million Americans to afford private insurance through the healthcare.gov exchange, including 300,000 in Alabama.

    Alabama Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Selma, has pushed for expanded health coverage in the bill and worked with colleagues in other non-expansion states to see the provision included in the final House bill.

    “Alabama has over 300,000 people that fall in that gap, where they make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to afford health insurance premiums,” Sewell said in an interview. “We just made this our No. 1 ask. In every room that I’ve sat in, whether it’s at the White House or smaller tables here in Congress, health care is just my No. 1 issue. Read more.

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  • Education

    In Teacher Shortage, Advocates Stress Better Benefits

    Alabama’s salaries and benefits for K-12 teachers are on par with what surrounding states offer and better in some instances, including out-of-pocket health care expenses, according to a recent report to lawmakers.

    But educators and some lawmakers say the state must do better, particularly with retirement packages, to attract a shrinking pool of young teachers.

    “We absolutely have a shortage of teachers, but I don’t think you can point a bright light to any one of these things as being the reason for that,” Kirk Fulford, deputy director of the Legislative Services Agency, told a panel of lawmakers earlier this month during a presentation on Alabama’s pay and health and retirement benefits for educators. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    COVID Decline: Alabama Almost Down to Low Virus Transmission Rate

    For the first time in more than four months, Alabama is very near a level of community COVID-19 transmission that public health officials have been hoping for.

    In BirminghamWatch’s periodic analysis of the state’s pandemic data, the two-part criteria for officially rating the transmission level as “low” has almost been met.

    The positivity rate — the percentage of all COVID tests in a 7-day period that return a positive result — is at 4.6%. The rate has been below the required 5% threshold for more than a week.

    But the 7-day average of total cases per 100,000 residents isn’t yet at the required level, though it is very close. It’s now at 10.02, just above the 9.99 mark classified as “low.”

    The last time the community transmission level met both criteria for a “low” classification was in early July, and then it was only for three days as the positivity rate dipped below 5%. On July 5 and 6, the cases-per-100,000 average reached 2.41, the lowest reading since the pandemic began in early 2020.

    But while the statewide transmission level is the best it’s been in months, county-by-county data tells a different story. Eight of Alabama’s 67 counties are still in the highest of the four classifications, which means that one or both criteria are above the top thresholds. Among them is nearby Walker County, which has a moderate 8.9% positivity rate and a high 7-day cases-per-100,000 average of more than 100. Read more.

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  • Public Health

    Wastewater Failures for Lowndes County’s Black Residents at Center of DOJ Investigation

    The U.S. Department of Justice is opening an investigation into the Alabama Department of Public Health and Lowndes County Health Department over concerns that the wastewater systems in rural Alabama discriminate against poor Black residents.

    The investigation, opened Tuesday, is looking into the health departments’ wastewater disposal and infectious disease and outbreaks programs.

    In a press release, the department said it is examining whether ADPH and LCHD are violating Civil Rights Law and whether the departments’ policies have reduced Lowndes County’s Black residents’ access to sufficient sewage and water systems and increased their exposure to harmful infections associated with poor wastewater management, such as hookworm — an intestinal parasite widely eliminated elsewhere in the U.S. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Vaccinated Jefferson County, You Can Put Away Your Masks!

    Let’s see that smile, Jefferson County.

    As of Tuesday, the county has been classified as having a moderate rate of transmission of COVID-19 based on CDC guidelines, meaning persons who are fully vaccinated need not wear a mask in public, indoor settings.

    The move to drop the classification from substantial reflects two main factors: the total number of new cases per 100,000 persons in the past seven days and the percentage of COVID nucleic acid amplification tests that have been positive over the past seven days, said Dr. Wesley Willeford, medical director of Disease Control for the Jefferson County Department of Health.

    Willeford said Thursday that moderate transmission means, “We would be seeing between 10-49.99 new cases of Covid per 100,000 persons in the past seven days and our percent positive would be between 5-7.99%.” Willeford said Jefferson County currently has a 4.1% positivity rate for COVID-19 cases and 45.1 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 persons.

    The no mask requirement in public indoor settings comes through guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But it does not apply to those who have not yet been vaccinated.

    Another caveat from the CDC is that persons who may be at higher risk for bad outcomes related to COVID-19 may still benefit from wearing a mask. Willeford describes those persons as older than 65 or who have weakened immune systems or other high-risk conditions. Read more.

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  • Alabama

    COVID-19 Federal Funds in Alabama Total $46B, Contribute to Big 2021 Tax Revenues

    About $46.8 billion. Billion with a B.

    That’s how much federal COVID-19 relief money has gone to Alabama residents, businesses and government agencies since the pandemic began.

    About $30.3 billion of that has been given directly to individuals and businesses to assist them, Kirk Fulford, deputy director of the Legislative Services Agency, told state lawmakers recently. About $6.3 billion was in the Paycheck Protection Program, forgivable loans to help businesses weather the economic drought caused by COVID-related shutdowns.

    And nearly twice that much, $12.6 billion, has gone directly to individuals in stimulus checks.

    The money had a big impact on the state’s record tax receipts for fiscal 2021, which ended last week, Fulford said. That’s especially true in the Education Trust Fund, where sales and income tax are the main contributors. Read more.

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  • Alabama Legislature

    Bill Would Prevent Social Media Companies From Blocking Users Over Viewpoints

    Proposed legislation would prohibit large social media platforms from blocking a user in Alabama or deleting the opinions or information they share. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    Researchers Probing Effects of “Long COVID”; Cases and Deaths Continue Decline

    While COVID-19 infection numbers have turned downward over the past couple of months, there are multiple symptoms of the virus that are causing problems over extended periods of time.

    Health officials are just starting to get a handle on how extensive the problem, appropriately called “long COVID,” is and what the longstanding effects are.

    Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, director of UAB Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases, said more research is being done to try to pin down what causes some COVID patients to suffer symptoms for months at a time. Loss of the senses of taste or smell are probably the best-known symptoms affecting those who were not hospitalized for COVID, but the range of symptoms is much wider than that for both those who were hospitalized or not.

    “It became pretty clear after the first wave, last spring, starting in the Northeast and in Europe, that there was a significant subset of people who really took a long time to get better from COVID, didn’t get better, or got better but had relapses of some very distinct symptom complexes,” Marrazzo said. Read more.

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  • Coronavirus

    An Unlikely Place, Lowndes County, Has the Highest COVID-19 Vaccination Rate in Alabama

    At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, Lowndes County was one of the hardest hit places in Alabama. So when the vaccine became available, doses were rushed to Lowndes and other Black Belt counties by the federal government.

    Churches and other community groups encouraged the vaccine, and as of November, more than 50% of Lowndes County residents are immunized. That’s higher than the state’s vaccination rate of 45%. Read more.

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  • State of Alabama

    Labor Shortage Hitting State Agencies

    The labor shortage that is stressing the private sector nationwide has made its way to the Alabama state employee workforce. Agencies and departments are experiencing a higher than normal employee turnover rate and more job vacancies. Read more.

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  • Birmingham City Council

    Birmingham Council Revokes Crestwood Boulevard Motel License After Crime Complaints

    The Birmingham City Council has revoked the business license of a crime-ridden Crestwood Boulevard motel. The USA Economy Lodge had been given eight weeks to fix its numerous issues — including drug trafficking, prostitution and damage to neighboring properties — which had led to 151 calls to police between Feb. 2 and Aug. 8. Read more.

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  • City of Birmingham

    Goodbye to Ensley High; Demolition Making Way for New Housing

    Demolition has begun on the old Ensley High School and should be complete in about four months.

    Redevelopment of the derelict property is aimed at making way for a 244-home mixed-used neighborhood at 2301 Avenue J for people earning between $16,000 and $45,000 annually.

    “Neighborhood revitalization is our top priority,” Mayor Randall L. Woodfin said in a statement. “For many years, Ensley High School provided the educational foundation for this community. As the next steps are taken, this site will provide a new foundation for vibrant and livable space for our residents.” Read more.

    Previously:

    Project to Turn Old Ensley High Project Into Apartment Complex Moves Forward

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  • Birmingham City Schools

    Board Rejects Bid for Woodlawn High Stadium

    Just shy of four months after the ceremonial groundbreaking, the Birmingham Board of Education Tuesday rejected the bid to build a stadium and fieldhouse on the campus of Woodlawn High School.

    Five board members — Leticia Watkins, James A. Sullivan, Derrick L. Billups, Neonta Williams and Jason Meadows — voted against approval of the bid. Walt Wilson and Sonja Smith voted in favor with Sherman Collins Jr. and Mary Boehm abstaining.

    The stadium had been trumpeted as a major boost to Woodlawn High School, one of just two Birmingham City Schools that does not have an on-campus stadium. The other, Ramsay High, is landlocked.

    “I would like for us to start the project over, bringing as much information as we have to the forefront in the beginning,” Watkins said. “If the cost of the materials has gone up at that time, I don’t think there’s a question about what we’re willing to invest in our young people and we’re willing to make this happen for them. We just want the process to be better.”

    The initial base estimate on the project was $4.2 million. Architect Charles Williams said the revised estimate is $8.7 million. Read more.

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  • 2022 Senate Election

    Internal Poll Shows Katie Britt Ahead Slightly in U.S. Senate race

    MONTGOMERY — A new internal poll released by Katie Britt’s U.S. Senate campaign showed the first-time candidate now with a slight lead in the race among likely GOP primary voters.

    The online survey conducted by TargetPoint on behalf of the campaign showed Britt leading a ballot test 31% to U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks’ 30%, with Mike Durant at 12% and Jessica Taylor at 7%. A full 20% of respondents were undecided, according to the internal Britt poll. Read more.

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  • Birmingham City Council

    Birmingham Promise Gets $1.8M Grant From Bloomberg Philanthropies

    Mayor Randall Woodfin’s Birmingham Promise educational initiative has received a $1.8 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, it was announced Tuesday.

    That grant will go toward the program’s apprenticeship initiative, which Woodfin said “will be used to help Birmingham City Schools high school students to start gaining work experience to gain career skills that will last them a lifetime.”

    Woodfin also told the City Council during Tuesday’s meeting that Bloomberg Philanthropies’ “very vigorous vetting process … shows that this program is sustainable, and it’s a model for any city across America for how we should engage in partnerships to invest and give opportunity and exposure to our youngest generation and our high school students.” Read more.

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  • Economy

    Authority: $40.8M in Emergency Rental Assistance Has Reached Alabamians

    About $17.5 million in federal emergency rental assistance reached Alabamians in jeopardy of losing their homes in October after a dip in distributions from August to September.

    Through October, a total of $40.8 million from a possible $263 million in pandemic help made available earlier this year has been distributed, the Alabama Housing Finance Authority told Alabama Daily News.

    The authority is charged with distributing the federal funding. The pace of those allocations has worried some lawmakers and advocates. Read more.

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  • Reading Birmingham

    Professor Explores Relationship Between White Police and Black Citizens Through the Years in New Book

    In recent years, American cities have exploded in protests against police violence. Whether the protests were over the murder of George Floyd in 2020s Minneapolis or Bonita Carter in 1970s Birmingham, these Black communities’ reactions were about more than the killings of individuals. These communities were responding to a century of police violence and murder directed at African American citizens.

    In his new book, “Race, Crime, and Policing in the Jim Crow South,” Brandon T. Jett, a professor of history at Florida SouthWestern State College, explores this long history of the fraught and dangerous relationship between white police and Black citizens.

    “Jim Crow law enforcement officers and institutions,” Jett writes, “by rule and practice, were not created to improve the lives of African Americans.” The white community wanted police to prevent and solve crime, but whites associated crime disproportionately with African Americans and saw police as the frontline enforcers of Jim Crow.

    Looking at three major Southern cities — Birmingham, New Orleans and Memphis — Jett finds that while African Americans had good reason to be wary of white police officers, they also needed the help and cooperation of the police to reduce or punish crimes in the Black community. Read more.

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  • Alabama Legislature

    Lawmakers Begin Special Session

    MONTGOMERY — As the gavels sounded to bring the Alabama Legislature into special session Thursday, many lawmakers were getting a first detailed look at how their districts would be redrawn following the 2020 census.

    Some are happy with the changes so far, some are not, and many are not seeking reelection to begin with. Ready or not, the new maps for State House and Senate, Congress and state school board have now been introduced to begin their journey through the legislative process. Read more.

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  • 2021 Birmingham City Election

    Women Will Hold the Majority on the Birmingham City Council Over the Next Four Years

    Three new councilors will be sworn in Tuesday.
    Read more.

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  • 2022 Elections

    Super PAC Supporting Katie Britt for U.S. Senate Launches

    The first super PAC of the Alabama Senate race has arrived.

    Alabama Conservatives Fund, which supports former Business Council of Alabama President Katie Britt’s candidacy, launched this week and is planning a series of advertising spots touting the Republican from Enterprise.

    The group is planning six-figure ad buys each on broadcast, cable and digital television platforms, seeking to “penetrate likely Republican primary voters at a significant rate” in the Montgomery, Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile media markets. Read more.

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  • Alabama Legislature

    Low Math, Reading Scores Have State Leaders Looking for Options

    MONTGOMERY — A north Alabama lawmaker says he plans on introducing a bill for next year’s regular session that would seriously address the state’s drastically low math scores.

    Only 24% of Alabama’s public school fourth graders were labeled as proficient or better on a springtime math assessment taken this year.

    For eighth graders, it was even worse: just 14%.

    Those are significant, but not unexpected, drops from previous statewide assessments, according to an analysis released this week from the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama. Read more.

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  • Birmingham City Council

    No More Euphoria; Bham Council Revokes License of Infamous Club

    The Birmingham City Council has revoked the business license of Club Euphoria, an Ensley nightclub deemed a “nuisance” by the surrounding neighborhood.

    The council originally considered shutting the club down in June after repeated instances of gun violence inside and outside the club, including the June 13 killing of 21-year-old Euphoria patron Lykeria Briana Taylor. The council was split on revocation then, settling on a 13-week delay to give owners time to tighten up their safety plan.

    At Tuesday’s meeting, Monica Hatcher, an attorney representing club owner Morris Bradley, told councilors that the club had “beefed up security” since June, including patrols around the surrounding neighborhoods to prevent club visitors from parking off-site.

    But numerous residents argued that Bradley hadn’t done enough to address problems of parking and loud noise. “I have multiple documented occasions where the loud noise and the nuisance was such that neighbors were calling me at all hours of the night,” said Costella Adams Terrell, president of the Rising-West Princeton neighborhood association. Read more.

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  • Jefferson County Commission

    Stephens Left as Last Man Sitting, Recesses JeffCo Commission After Other Commissioners Had to Bolt

    They say it’s lonely at the top. As Thursday’s meeting of the Jefferson County Commission neared its end, it was lonely on the dais.

    Commission President Jimmie Stephens was the only commissioner remaining after others were either absent or had to leave because of other commitments.

    “I guess I’m the last man standing on this particular deal,” Stephens said after recessing the session. “This is not the pattern, practice or the way we do business. We have commissioners who had other commitments, and this did run over very long. We wanted to give the citizens an opportunity to speak.

    “At the end of that, we did do what was needed and necessary to take care of the business of the county,” he continued. “We’ll have a full quorum next meeting and continue the operations and business.” Read more.

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  • Downtown Birmingham

    A new stadium has been a 35-year conversation in Birmingham. It’s finally here.

    For decades, there’s been talk about a new football stadium for Birmingham. Saturday, it will finally open, when the UAB Blazers play their first home game at the brand new Protective Stadium. Read more.

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  • Government

    Former Sen. Jones Forms Right Side of History PAC to Support His Causes

    Former U.S. Sen. Doug Jones is forming a new political action committee, Right Side of History PAC, according to papers filed Thursday with the Federal Election Commission.

    Douglas Turner Jr., treasurer of the Jones campaign, said Jones intends to use the PAC to advocate for causes and candidates he supports. “He intends to better the causes that he’s been involved with – voting rights, civil rights, racial justice,” Turner said. “It’s not a big ‘D’ democratic effort.” Read more.

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