Whenever White House adviser Kellyanne Conway appears on a TV news or talk show, I switch the channel to more useful programming, such as the Home Shopping Network selling something in which I have no interest. Conway, who traffics in distortion and lies, is among the media circuit regulars who has spawned industry debate as to whether some people deserve an interview and appearance ban. A combative December appearance by Conway on Chris Cuomo’s CNN news talk show, for instance, produced a live, long and lively argument between Cuomo and CNN news anchor Don Lemon.
A more recent repeat of the same issue, but involving a more offensive individual, occurred two weeks ago when conservative commentator and author Ben Shapiro, who could less politely be described as a hateful troll, was aggressively questioned by an interviewer on a BBC politics show. Shapiro, who unlike Conway does not advise a national decision maker (but who is popular enough that he filled the lecture room at a February appearance at the University of Alabama), abruptly walked out of the interview on live TV. Nesrine Malik, a columnist for The Guardian, wrote: “No matter how much those with regressive, prejudiced or simply dishonest views are challenged, it is pointless if they are constantly provided a venue. It is the platform that legitimizes them, not how they perform when they are on that platform.”
Updated — Two IT companies have canceled or put on hold discussions about moving to Birmingham because of the abortion ban signed into law last week, according to Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin.
Woodfin told author Diane McWhorter about the changes for an opinion piece published Saturday on CNN.
McWhorter wrote that Woodfin “confirmed to me today that the abortion ban affected two IT companies considering moves to the city – one canceled outright, while the other ‘put the brakes on negotiations.’” Read more.
Jefferson County Commission
Residents of southern Jefferson County could have been forgiven if they doubted that the widening of Morgan Road would ever take place. After all, the project has been the subject of discussions for more than two decades.
But action at today’s Jefferson County Commission meeting brings the long-discussed project one step closer to reality. Commissioners authorized a construction funding agreement with the Alabama Department of Transportation for nearly $2.4 million to begin widening the road from Interstate 459 to the Shelby County line at South Shades Crest Road.
WASHINGTON – Members of the U.S. House voted almost unanimously last week for a bill to expand tax-favored retirement plans and benefits. The bill would remove limits on the amount people can contribute to IRAs each year and raise the age at which they must start making withdrawals, among other things. All of Alabama’s representatives voted for the bill, which is headed to the Senate.
The Birmingham-Hoover MSA grew by just 2,116 people in 2017-2018. The area ranked 251th out of 383 MSAs in terms of population growth rate, according to an analysis of census data conducted by the Public Research Council of Alabama.
The Huntsville MSA led the state in percentage of population growth, ranking it 64th in the country. It added 6,952 people to its ranks in the period.
Other large metros in the state fell below Birmingham-Hoover in terms of growth, with Mobile ranked 324th and Montgomery 327th. However, those two areas lost population in 2017-2018, as did some other metro areas in the U.S. Read more.
The $35 million Alabama needs for a federal health care program for low- and mid-income children isn’t in either of the state’s two budgets progressing through the Alabama Legislature. Lawmakers appear to disagree about whether the 2020 funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program belongs in the General Fund, which funds Medicaid and other public health expenses, or the education budget, as Gov. Kay Ivey suggested. Read more.
BirminghamWatch’s Nick Patterson looked at the importance of the CHIP program before it was renewed by Congress last year.
Tomatoes will likely soon get pricier. The Trump administration plans to impose a 17.5 percent tariff on tomatoes imported from Mexico. Those could take effect this week. Florida growers, who once dominated the market for off-season tomatoes, lobbied for the tariffs But today more than half the fresh tomatoes sold in the U.S. come from Mexico. Many Alabama growers and consumers are taking a wait-and-see approach. Read more.
The baby in St. Clair County believed to have had Alabama’s first case of measles has tested negative for the disease.
The Alabama Department of Public Health had reported that the baby had a presumptive positive measles case after initial tests run by a commercial lab returned a positive result.
But when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did a more detailed test, the baby was diagnosed as not having the disease, according to a press release issued by the state health department. Read more.
Jefferson County Commission
David Denard said overflow from Jefferson County’s wastewater treatment plant will never get down to zero. But the director of the county’s department of environmental services told commissioners at their committee meeting today that his department is trying to get as close to that mark as it can.
“We’ve reduced sanitary sewer overflows 60 percent the past six or seven years,” Denard said.
The commission also discussed several other issues, including road and bridge work, tax breaks for U.S. Steel and cooperation with the cities. Read more.
Woodfin Calls on Birmingham Council to Rezone Land in the Five Points West Area to Block a Planned Concrete Plant
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said Tuesday that he opposes the proposed relocation of a concrete plant from downtown to the city’s Five Points West community, and he called for the City Council to rezone the property in question to prevent future industrial use.
Last week, the council voted to oppose Sherman Industries’ announced plans to move its concrete batch facility from its current address of 1100 Second Ave. S. to 3240 Fayette Avenue, near the Birmingham CrossPlex Village. Read more.
Birmingham Council Passes Healthy Food Initiative to Offer Incentives to Bring in New Grocery Stores
The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to approve allocating $500,000 to a new “Healthy Food Initiative,” which officials said would give incentivizes for new grocery stores to move into the city.
The creation of that fund is separate from the pending Healthy Food Ordinance, which is aimed at increasing healthy food options in the city’s food deserts through measures such as limiting the expansion of dollar stores and loosening restrictions on grocers and farmers’ markets.
The two changes would work together to attract new grocery stores to the area, said Josh Carpenter, the city’s director of innovation and economic opportunity. Read more.
Updated — Wayne Wooley’s question cut to the heart of the Sewer Town Hall gathering Monday night at Regions Field.
“What did I do? What did my church do to deserve all this?” the 72-year-old Crestwood South resident asked. “Tell me why you’re putting all this burden on us? I’m on a fixed income. That’s to me illegal.”
Two and a half hours proved not to be long enough for the event, sponsored by County Commissioner Lashunda Scales.
More than 400 people attended the meeting, asking questions and listening to answers from Jefferson County officials about rising sewer rates that have left many ratepayers, including those on fixed incomes, questioning how they will shoulder the costs.
Reviews were mixed as people left the ballpark. Some were happy to have had an opportunity to ask questions and to have their voices heard. Many were displeased with responses.
Gov. Kay Ivey
Gov. Kay Ivey, speaking Thursday morning in Homewood, pointed to bi-partisanship and teamwork as the key to the successful passage of the Rebuild Alabama Act. The new law enacts increases in fuel taxes to provide funding for transportation infrastructure improvements statewide.
“We’ve seen the absolute tremendous team effort over the successful passage of my Rebuild Alabama Act and I just tell you, it took a truly strong team effort throughout this state to get that done,” Ivey told the Rotary Club of Homewood. Read more.
Birmingham City Council
The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday evening to formally oppose plans to relocate a concrete plant from downtown Birmingham to the Five Points West community, citing public health concerns. Read more.
Lottery and the Elections
A lottery proposal on the March 2020 primary ballot could increase Alabama’s voter participation in the presidential and U.S. Senate primaries.
“If this lottery bill is on the ballot on March the 3rd, you can expect another record-breaking turnout for a presidential primary,” Secretary of State John Merrill said this week.
“I think it certainly boosts turnout,” David Mowery, a political consultant in Montgomery said about a lottery. “But trying to figure out who it helps is interesting.” Read more.
BirminghamWatch’s Hank Black was inducted into the Wall of Fame for the University of Alabama’s Office of Student Media during an event April 26.
Black, who covers the environment for BW, was honored for his role as editor in chief of the Crimson White during one of the most turbulent years in the university’s history. Black was editor in 1963, when Vivian Malone and James Hood became the first two black students to successfully enroll at UA, following Gov. George Wallace’s infamous “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door.” Read more.
BirminghamWatch’s Solomon Crenshaw Jr. recently won a first place award from Alabama Media Professionals for his story “Jefferson County’s ‘Blue Wave:’ How the First Black Sheriff and District Attorney Won Election,” which he co-wrote with Virginia MacDonald, another writer for BirminghamWatch. Read more.
The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama in a new survey said Alabamians favor supervising non-violent criminals in the community and giving them more rehabilitation opportunities rather than sending them to prison.
In the ”Public Opinion Survey: 2019 Edition,” released Wednesday, a slight majority of residents surveyed, 58 percent, oppose building new prisons. Almost that many, 54 percent, thought only violent criminals should be held in the state’s prisons.
As in previous PARCA surveys, Alabamians ranked education as the most important service the state provides, followed by health care, public safety and highways. Read more.
City of Birmingham
Applications are now open for A Citizen’s Experience, a new initiative from the city of Birmingham designed to promote civic engagement. The free, seven-week program is slated to begin in June and is open only to Birmingham residents who are 18 years old or older. Applications are being accepted this month. Read more.
A smaller portion of new high school graduates is having to take remedial classes when they first go to college, according to a PARCA report on data from the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.
The rate of students needing remediation is dropping even though high schools have pushed to raise the graduation rate and are sending more students to college than they have in recent years. Read more.
Federal officials released a report Wednesday alleging conditions in the state’s male prisons violate the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, along with three U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the State of Alabama issued the findings. Read more.
Violence is the newest strategic focus for the Jefferson County Department of Health. During Tuesday’s annual State of Health in Jefferson County address, Dr. Mark Wilson said the department added the issue in response to increasing rates of homicide.
“It (violence) isn’t something that our health department has devoted resources to in the past,” Wilson said, “but it is clearly a public health problem.” Read more.
The Birmingham Police Department will soon have two new high-tech crime-fighting tools at its disposal. On Tuesday, the Birmingham City Council approved nearly $75,000 for two law enforcement software systems, PredPol and Assisted Patrol Bait Systems, which are designed to increase patrol efficiency and crack down on repeat offenders, respectively. Read more.
The Alabama Public Charter School Commission approved plans for a new charter school in Birmingham on Monday. The Birmingham school board rejected the i3 Academy application in January, and school organizers appealed to the state.
The next step is for i3 Academy and the state to negotiate a contract for the school. It will outline expectations for academic performance, school operations and finances, school officials said.
Tommy Bice, former state education superintendent, is part of the team working to open i3 Academy as a K-5 charter school in Woodlawn in 2020. Read more.
A report out Tuesday published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute ranks the health of all 67 counties in Alabama. This year, Shelby County comes in first. Jefferson County ranks in the top third. The report compares differences based on location as well as race and ethnicity. Read more.
Ali Massoud, a 2011 graduate of Hoover High School, says he was disappointed at a video depicting white students who attend Hoover schools using the N-word and anti-Semitic slurs. But he wasn’t surprised.
“I think a lot of students of color who have been through the Hoover High School system have seen small aggressions on display, and so the fact that this was caught on camera shows the rest of the world that those things are not just in our minds” Massoud says. “They are real and they are happening.”
Massoud and others want to know what school officials plan to do about it. Recently, Massoud started a petition demanding Hoover City Schools take meaningful action to address racism within the system. Read more.
The Klansmen who bombed Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963, killing four black girls, did not face justice for years. In 1977, then-Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley won a conviction against Robert Chambliss for his role in the attack. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that two others were tried and convicted. Senator Doug Jones led those later prosecutions and writes about it in his memoir “Bending Toward Justice: The Birmingham Church Bombing that Changed the Course of Cvil Rights.” Read more.
The Alabama Legislature will face tough choices this year on solving problems of the state’s crowded, obsolete and under-funded prison system, and the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama is preparing a series of briefings to address “a system in crisis.”
PARCA, a non-profit organization that does nonpartisan research on issues facing state and local governments in Alabama, outlined problems that it said could lead to a federal takeover of the prisons system if they are not solved.
Gov. Kay Ivey has proposed the construction of three new men’s prisons at a cost of $950 million as one step toward dealing with the issues of crowding, health care and crumbling facilities. Read more.
Four years ago the Black Warrior Riverkeeper roused public opinion to keep the Shepherd Bend coal mine from opening. Now the river protection advocacy organization is warning of another proposed mining operation – this one three miles upstream on the Mulberry Fork from Shepherd Bend.
What’s called the No.5 Mine is in the Walker County community of Dovertown, near the city of Cordova. Mays Mining Inc. would operate the mine at a former industrial site that was left with contaminated groundwater, according to Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke. Read more.
U.S. Steel Corporation will restart work on its electric arc furnace in Fairfield. The $215 million initiative will replace the former blast furnace at Fairfield Works. The project started almost four years ago, but was put on hold due to poor market demand for steel. Ty West, editor-in-chief of the Birmingham Business Journal, says this is good news. Read more.