Weekend Digest – January 31, 2021

Weekend Digest – January 31, 2021

Good afternoon!
Here’s your Daily News for Sunday, January 31.

1. Ivey to sign prison lease deal, lawmakers bristle at higher cost revelation

  • Gov. Kay Ivey is set to sign lease agreements for two new men’s prisons as part of a long-negotiated plan to overhaul Alabama’s dilapidated corrections infrastructure. However, some state lawmakers are unhappy with the project after being told it will cost more each year than originally estimated.
  • On a call with state lawmakers Friday, Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said Ivey would soon sign contracts with CoreCivic, one of the developers bidding for the massive prison project.
  • Asked to confirm the news, Ivey Press Secretary Gina Maiola said the contracts are scheduled to be signed on Monday.
  • “Yes, it is our expectation the governor, on Monday, is expected to sign lease agreements to lease two new men’s correctional facilities to be constructed by CoreCivic’s Developer Team,” Maiola told Alabama Daily News.
  • “We are anticipating her to put pen to paper and as soon as she does, we will be releasing more details. We hoped it would have been sooner, but we are working as quickly as possible to get the best deal as possible for the state.”
  • But on subsequent calls that afternoon, administration officials shared updated cost estimates that showed the lease payments would exceed the original $88 million cap.
  • Read more from Todd Stacy and Mary Sell HERE.

 

2. Alabama expanding vaccine eligibility despite lack of doses

  • Alabama will roughly double the number of people eligible to receive immunizations against COVID-19 next month even though there’s still not enough vaccine for everyone who qualifies for a shot, the head of the state health agency said Friday.
  • Dr. Scott Harris, the state health officer, said everyone 65 and older; educators; court officials; corrections officers; postal employees; grocery store workers; some manufacturing workers; public transit workers; agriculture employees; state legislators and constitutional officers will be eligible to get vaccinations when the program expands on Feb. 8.
  • Currently, only people 75 and older; first responders, health care workers and long-term care residents are eligible. The state has been hearing complaints that more people aren’t allowed to get in line for shots.
  • The change means that as many as 1.5 million people in the state will qualify for shots, up from about 700,000 currently, Harris said during a media briefing. But there still won’t be enough vaccine. Harris pleaded with healthier, younger people who are at reduced risk for the virus to let others go first.
  • Read more HERE.

 

3. COVID-19 protocols limiting public access to legislative session

  • In-person public access to the legislative session that starts Tuesday will be severely limited and State House leaders are asking people to watch the action online and communicate with representatives electronically. 
  • “We need public input in what we do down here because of the things we do make the decisions on taxpayer dollars and public welfare,” Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, said recently. But in-person interactions with House or Senate members will require appointments.
  • “You won’t be able to just walk through the front door and go up to the seventh floor,” McCutcheon said. “What we’re telling people is, don’t come to the State House anticipating to meet someone unless you have made some phone calls and you have a prior appointment.”
  • On the typical Wednesday during a typical legislative session, more than a dozen meeting rooms can be in use at any given time as the Legislature’s 50-some committees gather throughout the day.
  • Space is sometimes standing-room-only and tight hallways can be lined with lobbyists, representatives from state agencies, advocates cheering for or trying to kill a specific bill and the occasional school group.
  • That won’t be the scene this session.
  • This is the first of our three-part series leading up to the beginning of the legislative session.
  • Read more from ADN’s Mary Sell HERE.

 

4. GOP lawmakers urge Biden to meet with them on virus relief

  • A group of Senate Republicans called on President Joe Biden to meet them at the negotiating table as the newly elected president signaled he could move to pass a new $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid package with all Democratic votes.
  • Ten Senate Republicans wrote Biden in a letter released Sunday that their smaller counterproposal will include $160 billion for vaccines, testing, treatment and personal protective equipment and will call for more targeted relief than Biden’s plan to issue $1,400 stimulus checks for most Americans.
  • “In the spirit of bipartisanship and unity, we have developed a COVID-19 relief framework that builds on prior COVID assistance laws, all of which passed with bipartisan support,” the Republican lawmakers wrote. “Our proposal reflects many of your stated priorities, and with your support, we believe that this plan could be approved quickly by Congress with bipartisan support.”
  • The call on Biden to give bipartisanship negotiations more time comes as the president has shown signs of impatience amid growing calls from the more liberal wing of his party to pass his $1.9 trillion legislation through budget reconciliation, a process that would allow him to move the massive bill with only the support of his Democratic majority.
  • Read more HERE.

 

5. News Briefings

Gulf State Park pier reopening on Alabama coast after Sally

  • GULF SHORES, Ala. (AP) — Another part of the Alabama coast will return closer to normal more than four months after Hurricane Sally as the fishing pier at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores reopens on Saturday following repairs.
  • The pier was cut in two by the storm as it made landfall on Sept. 16, and workers have restored a 725-foot section closet to the beach, according to an announcement from the state. The end of the pier furthest from land remains inaccessible and won’t reopen yet.
  • The pier, which was built to withstand hurricanes, had just undergone some $2.4 million in renovations when Sally struck. The work included new wood, improved lighting, renovated restrooms and other additions.

Alabama parole board plans extra meetings for pardons

  • MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s parole agency plans to hold additional meetings to reduce a backlog of more than 8,000 requests for pardons, officials said.
  • The Board of Pardons and Paroles will hold extra hearings and use special dockets to review pardon requests, it said in a statement.
  • The board has a backlog of about 8,500 requests for pardons, said Gabrelle Simmons, head of operations.
  • The new director of the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles, Cam Ward, said the board wants to make sure everyone who is eligible for a hearing gets one “in the most efficient way possible.”
  • “We are willing to work as hard as possible to accomplish this goal,” said Ward, a former state legislator who took over from Charlie Graddick in December.
  • Graddick, a former state attorney general and circuit judge, resigned amid criticism that prisoner releases slowed during his tenure, and that Black people in particular were unfairly kept behind bars. The board refused release to 90% of the inmates up for consideration in May during its first hearing following a monthslong suspension amid the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Alabama prisons held about 21,000 inmates in November, the last time the Department of Corrections released statistics, but they were designed to hold about 12,400 people.
  • The Justice Department filed suit in December against Alabama over conditions in prisons, alleging the state failed to protect male inmates from inmate-on-inmate violence and excessive force at the hands of prison staff.

Former Alabama Sen. Doug Jones joining CNN as commentator

  • BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Former Alabama Sen. Doug Jones is moving on from elective office to become a political commentator on cable television.
  • The former federal prosecutor who served part of a term as a U.S. senator said in a tweet that he would make his debut on CNN on Friday afternoon.
  • The Democrat will also work this spring as a fellow in politics and public service at Georgetown University.
  • Jones was elected in a special election against Republican Roy Moore in 2017 to finish the unexpired term of Republican Jeff Sessions. Jones lost the once reliably conservative seat to GOP nominee Tommy Tuberville in the 2020 general election.
  • Jones had been a finalist to become the U.S. attorney general under President Joe Biden, but Biden earlier this month picked judge Merrick Garland for the post instead.

Headlines

ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Ivey to sign prison lease deal, lawmakers bristle at higher cost revelation
 
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Alabama expanding vaccine eligibility despite lack of doses
 
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – COVID-19 protocols limiting public access to legislative session
 
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – GOP lawmakers urge Biden to meet with them on virus relief
 
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – State health officer on vaccine: ‘Not enough to go around’
 
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Cutting edge health tech making a difference in rural Alabama, but funding is uncertain
 
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Long-awaited incentives package filed ahead of session
 
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Medical marijuana: first look at Melson’s bill for the 2021 session
 
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – General fund budget looks OK; law enforcement agencies ask for increases
 
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Mental health services in schools improving, more help needed
 
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Alabama becomes latest state to detect COVID-19 variant
 
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Virus aid package tests whether Biden, Congress can deliver
 
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – State redistricting data won’t be ready until July
 
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Daily News Digest – January 29, 2021
 
AL.COM – Alabama ends January with dropping COVID-19 cases, mounting deaths: Week in review.
 
AL.COM – Alabama to offer COVID vaccine to teachers, people 65 and older next month.
 
AL.COM – FEMA gives Alabama $51.6 million for COVID vaccinations.
 
AL.COM – More states may allow mental health days as excused absences for students.
 
AL.COM – Alabama soldiers on quarantine after guarding Biden inauguration.
 
AL.COM – Gov. Kay Ivey to sign lease agreements on 2 new prisons Monday.
 
AL.COM – Iconic landmark, Gulf State Park Pier, reopens.
 
AL.COM – Columnist Frances Coleman: There are still some things we can all agree on.
 
ALABAMA TODAY – Contributor Jim Carnes: Underfunding of public health has devastated Alabama in our time of need.
 
YELLOWHAMMER NEWS – Tuberville: ‘Folks, you are getting ready to see prices jump — They are coming after oil, they’re coming after coal’.
 
YELLOWHAMMER NEWS – Help pours into tornado-damaged Alabama.
 
YELLOWHAMMER NEWS – Mobile Mayor Stimpson calls on local officials to reengage with ALDOT on I-10 Bridge; Says Gov. Ivey has faced ‘undue criticism’ over project.
 
THE HILL – Top Trump impeachment lawyer Bowers leaves team: reports.
 
THE HILL – Gun sales on the rise amid pandemic uncertainty, Biden’s vow for gun reform.
 
THE HILL – Trump notches court wins by running out clock on lawsuits.
 
THE HILL – Biden wants Democrats to keep Trump trial short.
 
AP NEWS – Uproar: Alabama governor to lease prisons, despite criticism.
 
DECATUR DAILY – Gun permits, sales at record levels: ‘I’ve never seen anything like this’.
 
DECATUR DAILY – Lawmakers aim to revamp corporate tax incentives.
 
TUSCALOOSA NEWS – City Hall, UA team up to tackle blight across Tuscaloosa.
 
TUSCALOOSA NEWS – Alabama tops U.S. in COVID-19 positivity rate. Here’s how those numbers add up.
 
GADSDEN TIMES – Why a proposed Gadsden rendering plant is causing controversy: Five things to know.
 
ANNISTON STAR – Columnist Phillip Tutor: The names on a university campus .
 
 MONTGOMERY ADVERTISER – Contributor Lecia Brooks: SPLC: It’s time to remove the Confederacy from Montgomery’s flag.
 
DOTHAN EAGLE – Defense bill opens door for changes to Fort Rucker, other Army bases named for Confederate officers.
 
DOTHAN EAGLE – The Dothan Eagle: What’s the rush?
 
WASHINGTON POST – ‘Be ready to fight’: FBI probe of U.S. Capitol riot finds evidence detailing coordination of an assault.
 
WASHINGTON POST – Coronavirus mutations add urgency to vaccination effort as experts warn of long battle ahead.
 
WASHINGTON POST – The Washington Post: It seemed the GOP might show some self-respect. Now it’s crawling back to Trump.
 
WASHINGTON POST – Contributor Kathryn Anne Edwards: The pandemic is completely changing the way we treat unemployment.
 
NEW YORK TIMES – Daily Covid Toll in U.S. Remains Enormous, but Cases Are Falling
 
NEW YORK TIMES – The New York Times: The Capitol Attack Was a Failure of Policing, Not Architecture
 
THE GUARDIAN – Revealed: study exposes racial disparity as whites vaccinated at higher rates than Black Americans.
 
CNBC – Covid, payday loans, student debt — here are the issues Biden’s consumer bureau may tackle.