Author: Virginia Martin

BirminghamWatch Recommends

Attorney: Inmate Population Targets Not Part of Alabama Prison Negotiations (Montgomery Advertiser)

Dr. Angela Davis Will Be Inducted Into the National Women’s Hall of Fame (BET.com)

Bham Among Top 20 Metros With Largest Share of Profitable Businesses (Birmingham Business Journal)

Secret Donors and Trump Allies: Inside the Operation to Push Noncitizen Voting Laws in Florida and Other States (Washington Post)

Alabama Republicans in Congress Oppose Minimum Wage Increase, Votes on Other Bills in Washington Last Week

WASHINGTON – All of Alabama’s Republicans in the U.S. House voted against a bill Thursday to gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour starting in 2025. Democrat Rep. Terri Sewell voted for it.

The House on a 231-199 vote passed the bill (HR 582), which would increase the minimum wage from its present level of $7.25 per hour. The $15 figure would be indexed to keep pace with increases in the median hourly wage as measured by the Department of Labor.

In addition, the bill would phase out separate minimum wages for disabled and tipped employees and new hires younger than 20 so that these individuals eventually receive the same base wage as the rest of the private-sector workforce. Read more.

Birmingham School Officials Say Schools Can Work Around Woodfin’s Proposed Budget Cut

Birmingham City School Superintendent Lisa Herring said Tuesday that, although she’s not sure where BCS will go to make up the $2 million that Mayor Randall Woodfin is proposing to cut from the school’s budget, she’s confident “it doesn’t put the district in a state of distress.”

Woodfin’s budget proposal would cut the city’s funding for schools from $3.2 million to $1 million, shifting $2 million into a fund for the Birmingham Promise Education Initiative, a public-private apprenticeship and scholarship program.

In previous years, BCS has spent the $3 million allocation from the city on community-based and outreach programs through the schools; one-time purchases to meet security needs, such as metal detectors; and on personnel, athletics and academics, Herring said.

The city board of education in a letter to the mayor and council expressed support for the Birmingham Promise program but asked that the $2 million cut be reconsidered in the future.

Herring echoed that idea in an interview with BirminghamWatch, saying she understood the Birmingham Promise initiative would have a direct impact on students.

“We are aware that we are talking about an amount in which, given the overall budget of our organization, there is space for us to have recovery,” Herring said.

Several school board members also said they can deal with the cut, though some said they wish they didn’t have to. Read more.

Also Tuesday:

Woodfin Defends Proposed Cut to Education Budget

Woodfin Defends Proposed Cut to Education Budget

Mayor Randall Woodfin defended his plan for Birmingham’s education budget at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, arguing that shifting millions of dollars from city schools to his proposed Birmingham Promise Initiative would allow the city to invest directly in students.

Woodfin’s proposed FY 2020 operating budget would cut the city’s funding for Birmingham City Schools from $3.2 million to $1 million. It would place that $2 million into a fund for the Birmingham Promise Education Initiative, a public-private partnership that would provide juniors and seniors in Birmingham city schools with paid apprenticeships as well as dual enrollment opportunities with Lawson State and Jefferson State community colleges. The program also would offer scholarships for city school graduates to attend public colleges and universities in Alabama.

Woodfin’s proposed cut to the schools’ budget has gotten mixed reviews. The city board of education in a letter to the mayor and council expressed support for the program but asked that the $2 million cut be reconsidered in the future.

Some council members today expressed support for the program and said it would be a benefit to Birmingham’s students; others were wary and said they needed details about the plan before being asked to vote on it. Read more.

Jones, Byrne Lead in Fundraising Among Candidates in 2020 US Senate Race

Democratic incumbent Sen. Doug Jones raised $1.8 million for his election campaign during the past three months, outpacing the still-forming field of candidates for Alabama’s 2020 U.S. Senate elections.

Candidates for the Senate seat filed campaign finance reports Monday with the Federal Election Commission for the period of April 1 through June 30.

Among a broader field of candidates in the Republican primary, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne of Daphne was the fundraising leader, with $685,635 collected during the period. Read more.

Putting a Price Tag on a Fish Kill

WBHM

At about 10:30 a.m. on a recent Monday in Walker County, Martha Salomaa parks her white pick-up truck, walks to the edge of a parking lot and points to the river below, the Mulberry Fork.

“And so the plant, it’s in Hanceville, which is 28 to 30 miles upstream from here,” she says.

Salomaa is referring to the Tyson Foods Inc. chicken rendering plant. That’s where an estimated 220,000 gallons of partially treated wastewater emptied into this section of the Black Warrior River on June 6th.

“So by June 10th, you could see hundreds of fish, like floating by, either dead or dying,” Salomaa says.

According to state officials, it was Alabama’s largest fish kill in recent years. And Salomaa, who is president of the Walker County conservation group Sipsey Heritage Commission (SHC), said the spill didn’t just kill fish, it contaminated the river with high levels of bacteria. In the days following the incident, SHC and the Black Warrior Riverkeeper found unsafe levels of E. coli almost 30 miles downstream from the site of the spill.

As a result, the Sipsey Heritage Commission cancelled its annual kayak race, scheduled for mid-June, and Salomaa said residents avoided the water for several weeks.

“You know, like, this river is a way of life,” Salomaa said. “You can’t, you just cannot put a price on that.”

But state agencies are tasked with putting a price on it. Read more.

The U.S. House Votes to Lift Green Card Caps. How Did Alabama’s Representatives Vote on That and Other Bills?

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill last week that would lift the caps on the share of people from individual countries who could be granted green cards that give permanent legal status to the workers.

The House vote on HR 1044 was 365 for and 65 against. From Alabama’s delegation, Reps. Bradley Byrne, R-Mobile; Martha Roby, R-Montgomery; and Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham, voted to lift the cap. Reps. Mike Rogers, R-Saks; Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville; Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville; and Gary Palmer, R-Hoover, voted against lifting the cap.

The proposed change, which was among the major issues considered by Congress during the week ending July 12, affects immigrants living in the United States on temporary, employment-based H1-B visas.

Those visas are used primarily to bring highly skilled, well-educated foreigners into the U.S. workforce for periods generally ranging from three to six years, after which they are usually required to leave the country if they have not received a green card. Read more.

Frustration With Health Department Intensifies as Environmental Groups Seek to Overturn ABC Coke’s Air Permit Renewal

Environmental groups say ABC Coke’s air permit renewal issued in April is flawed and are appealing to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to agree that it does not comply with requirements of the federal Clean Air Act.

The groups are asking the EPA to object to the five-year renewal of the permit issued to the coke plant by the Jefferson County Health Department under Title V of the act.

The EPA has until Aug. 13 to respond to the request by the Southern Environmental Law Center and Gasp, a Birmingham-based clear-air advocacy group.

The permit renewal was hotly contested by area residents and organizations at a health department public hearing last year, largely over health concerns in the neighborhoods near the Tarrant facility. Read more.