Presented by the
Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition
Good morning and Happy New Year!
I hope you and your family have a blessed and prosperous 2021.
Today marks not only a much-needed restart after a tumultuous year, it also marks three years of operation for Alabama Daily News. We’ve grown since then, both in number and output, and we’re having fun reporting What Happened, Why it Matters and What’s Next.
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It feels good to write this: Here’s your Daily News for Friday, January 1, 2021.
1. Baker bringing bill to fix teacher retirement imbalances
- Some lawmakers will try again in 2021 to change the retirement benefits for newer teachers in an effort to attract and retain more educators.
- Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton, said House Bill 93 focuses on correcting some of the imbalances between Tier I and Tier II benefits, but it doesn’t create a Tier III as legislation he proposed in 2019 and 2020 did.
- House Bill 93 would allow Tier II teachers to collect their retirement after 30 years of service, as opposed to waiting until age 62 under current rules, and allow them to rollover unused leave each year, which isn’t currently allowed under Tier II but is under the older Tier I.
- “Those were two of the overarching disparities that needed to be addressed given that you have educators in the same line of work and performing the same essential duties, but yet on two different tracks in regards to their retirement,” Baker told Alabama Daily News.
- Unlike his previous bills, HB93 does not increase the 1.65 multiplier, which determines how much retirees earn. The legislation does increase teachers’ contributions to their retirement from 6% to 6.75%.
- The bill also changes the beneficiary benefit of retirement-eligible teachers in active service to “Option 2,” allowing the beneficiary to receive 100% of the teacher’s salary should he or she die. Currently, beneficiaries receive 50% under Tier II.
- “This can help retain retirement-eligible education employees that want to continue working but are worried about not being able to provide for their families if something happens to them prior to retirement,” David Bronner, RSA’s chief executive officer, said in the December issue of RSA’s monthly newsletter. “With the health uncertainties for many older employees, this change would be extremely important.”
- Full story from Mary Sell HERE.
2. Pelosi likely speaker again, but vote will be ‘tricky’
- There’s little doubt that Nancy Pelosi will be reelected House speaker when the new Congress convenes Sunday. It could take a high-wire act for her to get there, largely thanks to the pandemic.
- The only woman in history to serve as speaker, the California Democrat has a reputation as a formidable vote-counter and wily deal-cutter. Those skills have helped her fend off threats and cement her as leader of her party in the House since 2003, and seem likely to carry the day on Jan. 3, when the Constitution requires the new Congress to begin.
- The full House elects the speaker, and Democrats will have the chamber’s smallest majority in 20 years in a vote in which Republicans are certain to vote unanimously against her, joined by Democratic defectors. Democrats will have a 222-211 edge, with one race still undecided and one vacancy after Rep.-elect Luke Letlow, R-La., died Tuesday after battling COVID-19.
- To avoid risks of exposure to COVID-19, the House altered its rules this year to let its members vote by proxy from their homes, but that change dies with the old Congress.
- “I still have people come up to me who say, ‘Well, I can vote remotely, right?’” House Rules Committee Chairman Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said earlier this month of his colleagues. “No, you can’t.”
- “It’s extraordinarily tricky” for Pelosi, said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., an 18-year congressional veteran. Still, he said, he expects her to prevail “because I don’t see what the alternative is” for Democrats.
- Full story HERE.
A message from the
Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition
- The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted Alabama’s digital divide and the significant need for the expansion of rural broadband all across our state.
- High-speed broadband is a basic personal necessity in today’s society and will bring an array of benefits related to education, telemedicine, economic development and agriculture.
- Currently, Alabama ranks 38th in the nation in terms of broadband access, but for Alabama to thrive in a 21st century economy every Alabamian should have access to a reliable internet connection.
- Click here to learn more about the ABRC, join the coalition and contact your legislator in support of expanding rural broadband.
3. Restoring longleaf pines, keystone of once vast ecosystems
- When European settlers came to North America, fire-dependent savannas anchored by lofty pines with footlong needles covered much of what became the southern United States.
- Yet by the 1990s, logging and clear-cutting for farms and development had all but eliminated longleaf pines and the grasslands beneath where hundreds of plant and animal species flourished.
- Now, thanks to a pair of modern day Johnny Appleseeds, landowners, government agencies and nonprofits are working in nine coastal states from Virginia to Texas to bring back pines named for the long needles prized by Native Americans for weaving baskets.
- Longleaf pines now cover as much as 7,300 square miles — and more than one-quarter of that has been planted since 2010.
- “I like to say we rescued longleaf from the dustbin. I don’t think we had any idea how successful we’d be,” said Rhett Johnson, who founded The Longleaf Alliance in 1995 with another Auburn University forestry professor.
- Scientists estimate that longleaf savannas once covered up to 143,750 square miles, an area bigger than Germany. By the 1990s, less than 3% remained in scattered patches. Most are in areas too wet or dry to farm.
- Johnson and alliance cofounder Dean Gjerstad spread the word about the tree’s importance. “We were like Johnny Appleseed — we were on the road all the time,” said Johnson, who retired from the alliance in 2012.
- Full story HERE.
4. Nashville bombing spotlights vulnerable voice, data networks
- The Christmas Day bombing in downtown Nashville led to phone and data service outages and disruptions over hundreds of miles in the southern U.S., raising new concerns about the vulnerability of U.S. communications.
- The blast seriously damaged a key AT&T network facility, an important hub that provides local wireless, internet and video service and connects to regional networks. Backup generators went down, which took service out hours after the blast. A fire broke out and forced an evacuation. The building flooded, with more than three feet of water later pumped out of the basement; AT&T said there was still water on the second floor as of Monday.
- The immediate repercussions were surprisingly widespread. AT&T customers lost service — phones, internet or video — across large parts of Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama. There were 911 centers in the region that couldn’t take calls; others didn’t receive crucial data associated with callers, such as their locations. The Nashville police department’s phones and internet failed. Stores went cash-only.
- At some hospitals, electronic medical records, internet service or phones stopped working. The Nashville airport halted flights for about three hours on Christmas. Rival carrier T-Mobile also had service issues as far away as Atlanta, 250 miles away, because the company uses AT&T equipment for moving customer data from towers to the T-Mobile network.
- “People didn’t even realize their dependencies until it failed,” said Doug Schmidt, a Vanderbilt University computer science professor. “I don’t think anyone recognized the crucial role that particular building played” in the region’s telecom infrastructure, he said.
- Full story HERE.
5. Auburn ignoring upheaval, hoping to beat No. 15 Northwestern
- It’s been a whirlwind three weeks for Auburn, given longtime coach Gus Malzahn getting fired on Dec. 13, new coach Bryan Harsin being introduced 11 days later, several players opting out of the Citrus Bowl and the Tigers hurriedly trying to prepare for a showdown against a stout Northwestern defense.
- The dizzying stretch, Auburn offensive coordinator Chad Morris said with a shrug and a sigh, has been something of a microcosm of how the unpredictable and disappointing 2020 season has gone for the Tigers (6-4).
- “It’s kind of been the norm. It’s what we have had to deal with all year long,” said Morris, who will work alongside interim head coach and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele in Friday’s game at Camping World Stadium. “You don’t know one day to the next or one game to the next who is going to be out there with all the uncertainties that we’ve had to deal with. So really, it’s business as usual.”
- It’s unclear how much of the Auburn team interim coach Steele will have at his disposal against Northwestern. Steele said his team found out Thursday morning — just hours before leaving for Orlando — that an unidentified player had tested positive for COVID-19 and would not be available. Standout running back Tank Bigsby is questionable because of injuries, while wideout Anthony Schwartz, safety Jamien Sherwood and defensive back Christian Tutt opted out because of either injuries or hopes of avoiding them ahead of the NFL draft.
- Read more HERE.
A message from
Alabama Daily News
- Don’t get left out!
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