The Alabama Legislature reconvenes today for the 17th day of the 2021 regular session. The House meets at 1:00 and the Senate at 2:00. It will be a two-day week with committees only tomorrow.
Here’s your Daily News for Tuesday, March 30.
1. A contrast in COVID confidence
- Alabama’s daily COVID-19 statistics continue to improve, with hospitalizations, deaths and new cases trending downward to look like they did at almost a year ago when the pandemic was first starting.
- On Monday, just 193 new cases were reported with a 7-day average of 301, according to Bama Tracker. That includes at least one day of backlogged cases. The last time the state saw that few cases consistently reported was mid-April and early May of last year.
- There are currently 350 confirmed hospitalizations for COVID-19 as of Monday, the least since mid-April of last year.
- While state health officials still urge caution and concern about the possible spread of variants, the progress has them cautiously optimistic.
- “There’s a lot of things to be encouraged about, even though we still have some concerns about what the future might look like,” Dr. Scott Harris told Alabama Daily News. He’s the state health officer.
- That’s in contrast, at least in tone, to what is being said at the national level.
- CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Monday during a White House health briefing that she had a feeling of “impending doom,” concerned about a fourth wave of new cases as more states eased off of COVID-19 restrictions.
- “We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope,” she said. “But right now, I’m scared.”
- The contrast wasn’t just from health officials, but from the top leaders themselves.
- President Joe Biden himself made a plea for states to reinstate mask orders and other restrictions.
- “This is deadly serious,” Biden said, urging governors to reinstate mask mandates and other restrictions that some states have been easing.
- Alabama’s current mask mandate is set to expire on April 9 and Gov. Kay Ivey has no plans to change that.
- “We have made progress, and we are moving toward personal responsibility and common sense, not endless government mandates,” Ivey press secretary Gina Maiola told reporters on Monday.
- Read the full story from Caroline Beck and see the latest charts HERE.
2. Schools, colleges to get $282M from A&T fund
- Alabama K-12 schools and colleges could receive about $282 million this year separate from the state education budget or any federal relief money flowing to them.
- Senate Bill 193 allocates money through the state’s Advancement and Technology Fund, which can be spent on one-time purchases in tech, capital improvements and a few other select expenses. The proposal that passed the Senate distributes nearly $76.3 million to higher education institutions and nearly $206 million to K-12.
- For the smallest school systems, it’s several hundred thousand dollars. Mobile County, the state’s largest K-12 system, would get $14.8 million. Every school’s proposed allocation is listed in the bill approved by the Senate and now in the House. Schools would receive the money this summer.
- While K-12 schools, colleges and universities are expected to get more than $4 billion total between three rounds of federal COVID-19 relief, the Advancement and Technology Fund can be spent in ways the federal money can’t and is still critical to schools.
- Those areas include transportation, repairs and deferred maintenance and school security measures.
- Read more from Mary Sell and see the bill for yourself HERE.
3. Amazon union vote ends today
- Nearly 6,000 Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer are deciding whether they want to form a union, the biggest labor push in the online shopping giant’s history.
- The stakes are high for Amazon. The organizing in Bessemer could set off a chain reaction across its operations nationwide, with more workers rising up and demanding better working conditions.
- But the stakes are also high for the State of Alabama, which owes much of its success at attracting marquee manufacturing jobs to its “right to work” status and general failure of unions to gain a foothold in newer plants.
- Organizers say they want a union to negotiate higher pay, better benefits and longer work breaks. Some have complained that they only get two 30-minute breaks in a 10-hour work day.
- Amazon says it has created thousands of jobs that already pay well. Wages average $15.30 per hour, more than double Alabama’s minimum wage. Workers also get benefits including health care, vision and dental insurance without paying union dues, the company said.
- Workers have until today to cast their votes. It will take a majority of those voting, not a majority of employees overall, to vote “yes” to form a union.
- Read more about the situation HERE.
4. Good news: Vaccines are working
- The U.S. government’s first look at the real-world use of COVID-19 vaccines found their effectiveness was nearly as robust as it was in controlled studies.
- The two vaccines available since December — Pfizer and Moderna — were highly effective at 90% after two doses, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Monday. In testing, the vaccines were about 95% effective in preventing COVID-19.
- “This is very reassuring news,” said the CDC’s Mark Thompson, the study’s lead author. “We have a vaccine that’s working very well.”
- The study is the government’s first assessment of how the shots have been working beyond the drugmakers’ initial experiments. Results can sometimes change when vaccines are used in larger, more diverse populations outside studies.
- “The evidence base for (currently available) COVID-19 vaccines is already strong, and continues to mount ever higher with studies like this one,” said David Holtgrave, dean of the University at Albany’s School of Public Health, in an email.
- Read more HERE.
5. Biden aims for summer to pass infrastructure package
- President Joe Biden is aiming for summer passage of an infrastructure plan that is expected to cost more than $3 trillion, and the White House hopes to take a more deliberate and collaborative approach with the contentious Congress than it did on the COVID-19 rescue package.
- The president will announce parts of his “Build Back Better” package Wednesday in Pittsburgh. Sweeping in scope, the ambitious plan aims to make generational investments in infrastructure, revive domestic manufacturing, combat climate change and keep the United States competitive with China, according to the officials.
- It could include $3 trillion in tax increases.
- The final price tag is in flux but was expected to be between $3 trillion and $4 trillion. One White House official said Monday night that it may end up being closer to $3 trillion.
- Republicans are objecting to the scope of the enormous package and the potential tax increases that would be needed to pay for it.
- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday at a stop in his home state of Kentucky that if the Biden administration wants to do an infrastructure bill, “Let’s do an infrastructure bill. Let’s not turn it into a massive effort to raise taxes on businesses and individuals.”
- Read more HERE.
Bonus: Can Mike Pence be Trump’s heir?
- When former President Donald Trump was asked to list those he considers the future leaders of the Republican Party, he quickly rattled off names including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz. Conspicuously absent from the list: Mike Pence.
- The former vice president is steadily reentering public life as he eyes a potential run for the White House in 2024. He’s joining conservative organizations, writing op-eds, delivering speeches and launching an advocacy group that will focus on promoting the Trump administration’s accomplishments.
- “That was not an exclusive list,” said Trump adviser Jason Miller. Still, Trump continued to deride Pence in the interview, falsely claiming Pence had the authority to unilaterally overturn the results of the election, even though he did not.
- But Trump’s neglect in mentioning Pence signals the former vice president’s unique challenge. For someone who built a reputation as one of Trump’s most steadfast supporters, Pence is now viewed with suspicion among many Republicans for observing his constitutional duty in January to facilitate a peaceful transfer of power to the Biden administration, a decision that still has Trump fuming.
- Read more HERE.
A message from
- It’s time to do something big for broadband & Connect Alabama for good.
- Senate Bill 215 creates the Alabama Digital Expansion Authority which will develop and implement a statewide connectivity plan.
- This effort is a long-term investment with direct impacts on education at all levels, healthcare, and economic development.
- Join us as we work to Connect Alabama.
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