Author: Virginia Martin

Report: State Improved in Several Child Health Indicators but Still Struggles With Poverty, Racial Disparity

Alabama has made significant progress in infant mortality rates, teen pregnancies and child safety, but poverty and a racial disparity in indicators of wellbeing remain a problem for children in the state, according to a report released today.

The report, called the Alabama Kids Count Data Book, explores 70 key indicators across four issue areas: health, safety, education and economic security. The Montgomery-based nonprofit group Voices for Alabama’s Children has produced the data book every year since 1994.

Angela Thomas, communications manager for Voices, said that while the state’s child population has decreased, it has also become more ethnically diverse. And that trend follows national demographics.

Despite the diversity, African American children track below their white peers in every indicator covered in the data book, she said.
“Alabamians of color are overrepresented in measures of disadvantage,” she said. Read more.

Changing Climate: Many in Coastal Alabama Act Now to Rebuild Shorelines, Prepare for Storms

Over the next year, BirminghamWatch will visit places in Alabama where ways of life have been affected as climate changes and look at what’s being done to mitigate or avoid the effects. This is the fourth in a series of four stories from Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Read the earlier stories: Alabama Sees Heat, Storms, Drought and Turtles, Cloudy Future for Dauphin Island, a Canary in the Coal Mine of Climate Change , In Pursuit of the Disappearing Alabama Oyster. Will They Ever Return?

Some Alabamians and the politicians they elect traditionally have denied global warming. But many people in coastal Alabama are preparing now for what they fear will be inevitable consequences of increased warming of the air and oceans. They see Mobile Bay and the Alabama coast as uniquely susceptible in the state to harm from forces of nature.

Money for their programs comes from a variety of public, private and institutional sources. Some dollars are being generated from a man-made disaster in the past – the BP Horizon oil spill. It’s being spent to help prepare the shoreline and bay for man-made disasters ahead as scientists say temperatures and sea level will rise, storms intensify, and the state will be slammed with more torrential rain alternating with periods of severe drought.

Here are two examples of those efforts.

Bayou la Batre’s Lightning Point

Judy Haner heads the Alabama chapter of nonprofit The Nature Conservancy, part of a collaboration of entities using oil spill money from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to restore 40 acres of marsh, tidal creeks and other habitat for fish, shellfish and birds in Bayou la Batre. That small fishing and seafood processing town has not fully recovered from the twin hits of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the BP Horizon oil spill five years later. Read more.

Sessions Running for Senate, Hoping to Make Up With Trump

Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on national television tonight that he will seek election to the U.S. Senate seat that he held for two decades.

Appearing on Tucker Carlson Tonight on the Fox News channel, Sessions told the host that he will file his papers to run for his former seat on Friday.

Carlson called Sessions the most popular person in the state after the University of Alabama football coach at the time he stepped away from the Senate. But the Selma native said he has no regrets about leaving the seat.

“I had a great tenure at the Department of Justice in so many different ways,” he said. “I don’t ever worry about regret and things like that.” Read more.

Jeffco Commissioners Set Rules for Use of Economic Development Fund

Updated with video — Despite the “very, very strong” objection of Economic Development Chairman Steve Ammons, the Jefferson County Commission today established new guidelines for using money from the commission’s economic development fund.

In a roll call vote, Ammons voted a “very, very strong no” on a presented resolution. Commission President Jimmie Stephens joined Ammons in voting no, but the matter passed on the yes votes of Commissioners Lashunda Scales, Joe Knight and Sheila Tyson.

Scales offered a resolution at the last meeting that required spending from that fund to be approved by the full commission. Ammons asked that the matter be held over so that he and his staff could make a presentation about economic development. Commissioners agreed Tuesday for a special economic development committee meeting to take place Nov. 18, at which the presentation would take place.

In the meantime, Knight sent a draft of a resolution to his fellow commissioners to address how and when money can be used from the economic development fund. Scales offered that resolution as a substitution for the one she presented at the Oct. 24 meeting in Bessemer.

“This is not to be a fund for everyone to travel on,” Knight said. Read more.

Local Charities: Soup Kitchens, Fine Arts and … Your Newspaper?

Everyone recognizes the financial distress of most news organizations today. But a speaker at an academic seminar I attended this summer – the founder of a nonprofit news website that covers Vermont – took it a dramatic step further: She believes it is no longer possible to make a profit from reporting news at the local and regional levels. Well, yikes.

That assessment drew disagreement from some other seminar speakers, but it’s nonetheless clear that journalism needs some new business models. One emerging model is the nonprofit news outlet, such as the one in Vermont and BirminghamWatch (which you are reading right now and to which I have donated). Read more.

Jeffco Commission Ready to Hash Out Details of Health Care Authority, Debates Economic Development Funds

Today’s committee meeting of the Jefferson County Commission yielded two more meetings.

One addresses the county’s pending agreement with UAB concerning the master plan for the university healthcare authority; the other is to settle a potential change in an administrative order regarding spending from the economic development fund.

Commissioners agreed to reconvene this Thursday’s commission meeting at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 12 to hash out details of the healthcare authority. The panel will go into executive session so commissioners can address questions to the county attorney and the independent attorney who are working on this matter.

The Economic Development Committee will meet at 9 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 18 to discuss spending from the fund.

Commission President Jimmie Stephens said the master agreement with UAB was sent to the commission and county manager Tony Petelos. Subsequently, the county sent the agreement back to UAB with some changes. Read more.

Birmingham Council Chips in on East Lake Grocery Revamp as Part of Battle Against Food Deserts

Birmingham Council Chips in on East Lake Grocery Revamp as Part of Battle Against Food Deserts

The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to approve a slate of economic incentives for one East Lake grocery store, continuing the Woodfin administration’s pledge to work toward eliminating food deserts in the city.

Village Market, located at 7737 Second Ave. S., will receive up to $865,000 in incentives from the city, which will allow for “substantial improvements” in the store, “to include upgrades in the refrigeration and point-of-sale equipment, painting, rebuilding the cash office, adding new storefront signage, installing new shelving units, gondolas, replacing the motor room and providing additional security,” according to the meeting’s agenda.

The city will pay the first $200,000 of those incentives up front out of the city’s Healthy Food Fund. That fund, specifically focused on providing incentives to grocery stores, was created by the council in May and was initially allocated $500,000; Village Market is the first store to receive money from the fund. Read more.

Easier Rules Proposed for Power Companies’ Coal Ash Storage

The Trump Administration is seeking changes in federal coal ash rules that could allow power producers to store toxic coal ash in unlined basins for up to eight more years and ease rules on temporary storage of ash for use in construction projects as filler material.

Electric utilities in Alabama are using a decreasing supply of coal. Alabama Power uses coal to produce power at locations in Jefferson, Shelby and Mobile counties, but it has inactive plants where coal ash is still stored. PowerSouth Electric Cooperative announced it would close its coal burning facility in Washington County within a year and cap-in-place its coal ash waste, and the Tennessee Valley Authority stores coal ash at its inactive coal plant in Colbert County.

The Southern Environment Law Center, with offices in Birmingham, along with EarthJustice and several other “green” organizations, is opposing the proposed rules that govern one of the nation’s largest industrial waste products. Read more.