Lots of news today so buckle in!
Here’s your Daily News for Wednesday, December 9.
1. State House makes adjustments ahead of session
- In a little less than two months from now, the Alabama Legislature is scheduled to meet again for its 2021 Regular Session.
- (ADN Insiders will remember how we have pretty much concluded, with rugby references, that there will be no special session before then.)
- The State House is going to look a lot different, especially on the 5th and 6th floors, where the House of Representatives conducts its business.
- House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, on Tuesday explained new safety measures and demonstrated new electronic devices at the State House meant to create a safe environment for lawmakers to meet amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
- Though legislative leaders say they want to ensure transparent proceedings, it remains doubtful that the public will be able to walk the hallways or fill the galleries like in a traditional session.
- “What is a priority for me is I want members to be safe,” McCutcheon told reporters. “We have members who would fit into the high-risk category, so their safety is of upmost importance to us and we want to make sure that we can bring these members back in to do their work in a safe manner based on the health department’s regulations.”
- Since the current House chamber is too small to safely hold all of the 105 members in a socially distanced manner, members will be spread out in the House gallery and two overflow rooms just outside of the chamber, McCutcheon explained.
- Those members who won’t be on the House floor will be able to cast their votes and even speak on bills remotely through recently purchased Microsoft Surface tablets.
- There will be 58 members allowed in the House chamber, 34 members in the gallery and 13 in two different overflow rooms.
- Read more and see pictures of it all from ADN’s Caroline Beck HERE.
2. Pandemic learning loss may not be known for years
- Many Alabama students will see some amount of learning loss as a result of complications created by the COVID-19 pandemic, but just how much backsliding has occurred may not be known for years, education leaders say.
- The state was set to launch a new statewide assessment test this spring but the pandemic halted all standardized testing in March. The plan now is to give the assessment in the fall of 2021, but there won’t be previous testing to compare it to.
- “We just don’t really have long-term data to look at,” State Superintendent Eric Mackey told Alabama Daily News.
- A recently released report from the Northwest Evaluation Association suggests the effects of the pandemic have created a decrease in learning, particularly in math. The results showed that students scored an average of 5 to 10 percentile points lower in math, with students in grades three, four and five experiencing the largest drops.
- Mackey said he expects Alabama’s loss to be slightly worse than what the NWEA report shows, especially among students who don’t have a supportive home structure and have received little in-person instruction.
- Utilizing summer school and before and after-school tutoring is going to be vital to making up for learning loss, so much so that Mackey plans to ask for double the amount of funding the Legislature gave toward those efforts this year.
- Mackey estimates that they will spend around $52 million from the summer of 2021 to the fall of 2022 just on summer school and after school tutoring programs to bring K-3 students back up to speed.
- Mark Dixon, president of A+ Education Partnership, agreed that greater investment in summer and after-school programming will be vital in the coming years to get students caught up to where they need to be learning wise.
- “We’re not going to be able to solve this problem in the normal school day,” Dixon said
- Read the full story from ADN’s Caroline Beck HERE.
3. House approves NDAA with veto-proof margin… maybe
- The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday easily approved a wide-ranging defense policy bill, defying a veto threat from President Donald Trump and setting up a possible showdown with the Republican president in the waning days of his administration.
- Each of Alabama’s seven members of Congress voted in favor of the National Defense Authorization Act, the annual bill spelling out policy and spending priorities for the Pentagon.
- The 335-78 vote in favor of the $731 billion defense measure came hours after Trump renewed his threat to veto the bill unless lawmakers clamp down on social media companies he says were biased against him during the election.
- Trump tweeted Tuesday that he will veto “the very weak National Defense Authorization Act,” unless it repeals Section 230, a part of the communications code that shields Twitter, Facebook and other tech giants from content liability.
- Section 230 is unrelated to the NDAA, but this bill is one of the last legislative vehicles to which Trump can attach this policy change.
- Congressional leaders vowed to move ahead on the hugely popular annual defense bill — which affirms automatic 3% pay raises for U.S. troops and authorizes other military programs — despite the veto threat.
- The final vote represented approval from more than 80% of the House — well above the two-thirds support required to override a potential veto. A total of 140 Republicans joined 195 Democrats to back the bill, which now goes to the Senate.
- Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, a member of the House Republican leadership, urged Trump not to follow through on his veto threat, but added that if he does veto it, “We should override.”
- However, the conservative Freedom Caucus, of which Alabama Reps. Mo Brooks and Gary Palmer are members, has vowed not to vote to override a potential veto. That would take the Yes vote down to under 300, with 290 needed to override. If more Republicans join them, a veto could stand.
- Full story HERE.
4. White House celebrates vaccine victory
- President Donald Trump celebrated the expected approval of the first U.S. vaccine for the coronavirus Tuesday as the White House worked to instill confidence in the massive distribution effort.
- Trump said the expected approvals are coming before most people thought possible. “They say it’s somewhat of a miracle and I think that’s true,” he declared.
- Trump led Tuesday’s White House event celebrating “Operation Warp Speed,” his administration’s effort to produce and distribute safe and effective vaccines for COVID-19.
- “Every American who wants the vaccine will be able to get the vaccine and we think by spring we’re going to be in a position nobody would have believed possible just a few months ago,” Trump said.
- Read more about and watch the White House event on Operation: Warp Speed HERE.
- Meanwhile, U.S. regulators Tuesday released their first scientific evaluation of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine and confirmed it offers strong protection, setting the stage for the government to green light the biggest vaccination effort in the nation’s history.
- The analysis by Food and Drug Administration scientists comes ahead of a Thursday meeting where the agency’s independent advisers will debate if the evidence is strong enough to recommend vaccinating millions of Americans. A final FDA decision and the first shots could follow within just days.
- They are among a whirlwind of developments that are expected to make multiple vaccines available by early next year, in the U.S. and beyond.
- Pfizer developed its vaccine outside of “Operation Warp Speed,” but is partnering with the federal government on manufacturing and distribution.
- Read more on that HERE.
5. Latest on COVID relief talks
- The Trump administration dove back into Capitol Hill’s confusing COVID-19 negotiations on Tuesday, offering a $916 billion package to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that would send a $600 direct payment to most Americans — but eliminate a $300 per week employment benefit favored by a bipartisan group of Senate negotiators.
- Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made the offer to Pelosi late Tuesday afternoon, he said in a statement. He offered few details, though House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy said it proposes the $600 direct payment for individuals and $1,200 for couples, which is half the payment delivered by the March pandemic relief bill.
- Mnuchin reached out to Pelosi after a call with top congressional GOP leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who remains at odds with Democratic leaders over COVID-19 relief. Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., responded to Mnuchin’s entreaty with a statement that said they would prefer to let a bipartisan group take the lead.
- The bipartisan group, led by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, among others, is seeking to rally lawmakers in both parties behind a $908 billion framework that includes a $300-per-week pandemic jobless benefit and $160 billion for states and local governments. It is more generous than a GOP plan that’s been filibustered twice already but far smaller than a wish list assembled by House Democrats.
- Full story HERE.
Bonus: Jones a top contender to be Biden’s attorney general
- U.S. Sen. Doug Jones and federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland are emerging as the leading contenders to be nominated as President-elect Joe Biden’s attorney general.
- A decision hasn’t been finalized and the dynamics could shift in the coming days as Biden builds out his Cabinet with an eye to ensuring diverse leadership in the top ranks of his administration.
- But Jones, who lost reelection last month, and Garland, whose Supreme Court nomination was snubbed by Republicans, appear increasingly well positioned ahead of other rivals. Democrats are particularly concerned about the prospect of Biden nominating former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, fearing she could face a difficult confirmation in the Senate because of her role in issues related to the Russia investigation.
- The president-elect is facing pressure to ensure that Black and Latino leaders are prominently positioned in his administration. He selected retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin this week to become the first Black secretary of defense.
- Jones has had a long-standing personal relationship with Biden dating back to Biden’s first presidential campaign in 1988. The former U.S. attorney prosecuted members of the Ku Klux Klan who were responsible for a 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, and later served as the U.S. attorney there from 1997 until 2001.
- Biden met with civil rights activists on Tuesday to discuss diversity in his Cabinet. The Rev. Al Sharpton, who attended the meeting, encouraged Biden to select a Black attorney general but gave him room to select someone of another race as long as they had a background in civil rights.
- “I said the least we could have is someone that has a proven civil rights background that’s someone that’s going to handle this heightened racist bigoted atmosphere,” Sharpton told reporters.
- Full story HERE.
INSIDE ALABAMA POLITICS – December 3, 2020
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – New voting system, distancing measures in place to protect House members
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Total COVID-19 impact on learning loss in Alabama may not be known for years
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – House approves defense bill with veto-proof margin
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – New White House offer adds $600 checks to COVID-19 relief
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Pfizer vaccine moves closer to getting the OK in the US
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Trump hails vaccine ‘miracle,’ with millions of doses soon
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Biden’s attorney general search is focused on Jones, Garland
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Alabama hits new record for virus hospitalizations
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Biden picks Lloyd Austin as secretary of defense
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Ward sworn in as head of Alabama parole agency; Special election called
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Parnell reelected to lead Farmers Federation for fifth term
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Daily News Digest – December 8, 2020
AL.COM – Alabama AG Steve Marshall takes wait-and-see approach on Texas presidential election lawsuit
AL.COM – Richard Shelby expects government shutdown will be avoided
AL.COM – Canadian financier fights deportation in multi-million dollar fraud: ‘Never been to Alabama’
AL.COM – UAB asks retired nurses to help fight pandemic as staffing levels wane
AL.COM – How court-ordered drug testing in Alabama poses impossible choices
AL.COM – Auburn firm busy preparing COVID-19 vaccine vials
AL.COM – AL.com, Report for America partnering to expand Alabama education journalism
AL.COM – Alabama Power rates to climb 2 percent next year
AL.COM – Alabama House gearing up for session during COVID-19 pandemic
AL.COM – No layoffs, no furloughs: Alabama airports hold on despite aviation industry COVID struggles
Montgomery Advertiser – 16-year-old charged with murder in shooting death of 18-year-old
Montgomery Advertiser – As COVID-19 spike grows, Alabama hospitals ask for retired nurses, students for help
Montgomery Advertiser – Police seeking information about man accused of robbing adult entertainment superstore
WBRC Fox 6 Birmingham – Decades of research led to quick development of COVID-19 vaccine
WBRC Fox 6 Birmingham – A plea to retired nurses: ‘We need you’ as Ala. faces nursing shortage due to COVID-19 pandemic
WBRC Fox 6 Birmingham – New voting system, distancing measures in place to protect House members
Tuscaloosa News – Overpass on campus will facilitate Tuscaloosa traffic flow
Tuscaloosa News – Baton Rouge-based sports bar to open Tuscaloosa location
Tuscaloosa News – Maddox: No need for additional limits despite rising COVID-19 cases
Decatur Daily – Decatur Morgan Hospital running out of ICU beds, staff
Decatur Daily – Longtime teacher remembered for her compassion
Decatur Daily – Trial for indicted Limestone sheriff Blakely set for March 29
Times Daily – Florence man pleads to child porn charges
Times Daily – United Way is seeking board members
Times Daily – Man charged with giving teen mushrooms
Anniston Star – Warrants: Muscadine man planned to deal meth
Anniston Star – Jacksonville council takes steps toward heavy-vehicle rules in city
Anniston Star – Man wanted on Georgia sex crimes arrested in Calhoun County
YellowHammer News – Alabama experiencing highest-ever levels of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths
YellowHammer News – Jalen Hurts to make first NFL start on Sunday
YellowHammer News – 2020 Alabama red snapper season closed for private anglers
Gadsden Times – Shouts, signs and shooting advice: Pilgrim’s Pride rendering plant conflict continues
Gadsden Times – As COVID-19 spike grows, Alabama hospitals ask for retired nurses, students for help
Gadsden Times – As COVID-19 spike grows, Alabama hospitals ask for retired nurses, students for help
Dothan Eagle – Police: Marijuana grow rooms discovered in Enterprise residence
Dothan Eagle – Plant Farley to test outdoor sirens Wednesday
Dothan Eagle – State court to hear appeal from 8-year-old girl’s killer
Opelika-Auburn News – Opelika’s annual Victorian Front Porch Tours to begin Wednesday
Opelika-Auburn News – Watch now: Auburn Christmas parade carries on
Opelika-Auburn News – Where to find Christmas light displays in Auburn-Opelika this holiday season
WSFA Montgomery – Montgomery monument to honor ‘mothers of gynecology’
WSFA Montgomery – Luverne seniors still get help, food from closed care center
WSFA Montgomery – ‘We messed up’: Ex-state senator warns of virus before death
WAFF Huntsville – Morgan County Sheriff’s Office using new program to help keep people with disabilities safe
WAFF Huntsville – Athens City School Board votes on historic superintendent, high school principal
WAFF Huntsville – Decatur Housing Authority resident’s toilet overflows, flood house after filing maintenance request
WKRG Mobile – Mel Showers receives prestigious Emmy GOLD Circle Award
WKRG Mobile – Family of missing Monroe County man desperate for answers as search continues
WKRG Mobile – Motorcycle rider says he ‘couldn’t live’ with guilt after killing 7-year-old boy
WTVY Dothan – Portable heaters can be useful, but also hazardous if not used correctly
WTVY Dothan – Redevelopment plan continues in downtown Ashford
WTVY Dothan – Dothan man faces child porn charges
WASHINGTON POST – Supreme Court denies Trump allies’ bid to overturn Pennsylvania election results
WASHINGTON POST – Biden selects Marcia L. Fudge as HUD secretary and Tom Vilsack to lead Agriculture department
WASHINGTON POST – Gen. Lloyd Austin, defense secretary nominee, brings deep combat experience and a connection with Biden
NEW YORK TIMES – Blunders Eroded U.S. Confidence in Early Vaccine Front-Runner
NEW YORK TIMES – Two Presidents, Two Messages, One Killer Virus
NEW YORK TIMES – White House Offers $916 Billion Stimulus Proposal, Cutting Jobless Benefits
WALL STREET JOURNAL – Fragile Covid-19 Vaccine Rolled Out in the U.K. Tests Global Supply Network
WALL STREET JOURNAL – White House Makes Offer to Democrats of $916 Billion Covid-19 Relief Bill
WALL STREET JOURNAL – Chinese Consumer Prices Show First Annual Decline Since 2009
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