Weekend Digest – September 26, 2021

Weekend Digest – September 26, 2021

1. Alabama lawmakers weigh using virus funds to build prisons

  • Alabama is weighing the use of $400 million in pandemic relief funds to build new prisons, a proposal that state Republican leaders say would save state taxpayer money but that critics argue is not the intended use of the federal aid.
  • Lawmakers on Monday are scheduled to begin a special session focused on a $1.3 billion prison construction plan to build at least three new prisons and renovate others. The projects would be done in phases and funded with a $785 million bond issue, $150 million in general fund dollars and $400 million from the state’s $2.2 billion share of American Rescue Plan funds.
  • Gov. Kay Ivey and Republican legislative leaders have defended the use of the virus funds, saying it will enable the state to essentially “pay cash” for part of the construction and avoid using state dollars as well as paying interest on a loan.
  • “We don’t have to borrow quite as much money and pay all that money back,” Ivey told reporters this week of why the virus funds should be used for prison construction.
  • Read more from Kim Chandler HERE.

 

2. Critics say prison problems go beyond buildings

  • On the eve of a special session on prison construction, critics of Gov. Kay Ivey and Republican legislative leaders argue the troubles go much deeper and won’t be remedied with brick, mortar and bars.
  • Ivey has called on lawmakers to vote on the construction plan as well as sentencing and supervision bills. Ivey said Alabama is risking a federal takeover of the prison system.
  • “We are already under several federal court orders that impose certain mandates and Department of Justice is getting ever so close to intervening. These federal mandates take critical funds away from hard-working Alabamians and their families which is something I won’t continue to allow to happen as your governor,” Ivey said in a speech this week.
  • Ivey said the main issue is “our prison infrastructure is growing worse day by day and is not capable of truly rehabilitating inmates.” But advocacy groups and lawmakers say the plan does not address the underlying problems.
  • Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, said unless the state takes on substantive sentencing reform and makes leadership changes, “we’ll just have shiny new buildings, with old problems.”
  • Read more from Kim Chandler HERE.

 

3. Chief justice says ruling guts access to police records

  • The Alabama Supreme Court on Friday ruled that a sheriff’s office did not have to turn over records about a fatal shooting by a deputy, a ruling that broadly interpreted an exemption for investigative records and prompted a sharply worded dissent by the court’s chief justice.
  • “With one sweeping stroke, today’s decision spells the end of public access to law-enforcement records that are connected in any way to an investigation,” Chief Justice Tom Parker wrote in his dissenting opinion. “Hidden now from the public eye are body-cam videos, dash cam videos, 9-1-1 recordings, and anything else that is remotely connected to a crime or even potential crime. After today, as to law-enforcement agencies at least, the statute might as well be titled the Closed Records Act.“
  • Lagniappe, a weekly news outlet, had filed a lawsuit after being denied records related to the 2017 shooting of motorist Jonathan Victor. The incident was investigated by the Baldwin County Major Crimes Unit and a grand jury cleared Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office Cpl. Matt Hunady in the shooting. Hunady fatally shot Victor after a one-car accident in which Victor ran off the interstate.
  • Justices on Friday upheld a lower court’s ruling in favor of the Baldwin County sheriff’s office denying the records to Lagniappe. Justices ruled the records fall under an exemption for investigative records.
  • Read more from Kim Chandler HERE.

 

4. Judge dismisses execution lawsuit

  •  A federal judge on Friday paved the way for Alabama to proceed with a lethal injection next month, but also reprimanded the state attorney general’s office for giving false information to the court during the litigation centered on forms given to death row inmates for selecting an execution method.
  • Chief U.S. District Judge Emily C. Marks dismissed a lawsuit that argued the state failed to give Willie Smith, who has an IQ below 75, required help under the Americans with Disabilities Act in filling out forms that affected the timing of his execution.
  • Smith is scheduled to be executed on Oct. 21 by lethal injection for the 1991 kidnapping and murder of 22-year-old Sharma Ruth Johnson in Birmingham.
  • After Alabama authorized nitrogen hypoxia as an execution method, the state gave death row inmates a brief window to select that as their execution method.
  • The state has not yet developed a protocol for using nitrogen hypoxia and is not setting execution dates for inmates who requested it. Smith did not turn in a form selecting nitrogen. His attorneys argued that the state was required by law to help intellectually disabled inmates like Smith with the form.
  • Read more from Kim Chandler HERE.

 

5. Alabama schools battling food shortages amid pandemic

  • COVID-19 has disrupted supply chains globally. It’s also made it hard to harvest, package and ship food consistently — which affects thousands of children who depend on schools to provide nutritious meals. Every district in the state is currently experiencing these supply chain issues, according to the Alabama State Department of Education.
  • The problems have been building for a long time, according to experts and child nutrition workers — and although some districts are trying pay raises and partnerships with local farmers, solutions may take awhile to arrive.
  • So far, no school has had to close because of an inability to serve meals — but the time spent finding ways to serve more kids with fewer resources has taken a toll on child nutrition programs.
  • Read more from Al.com’s Savanah Tryens-Fernandes HERE.

 

Headlines

ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Alabama lawmakers weigh using virus funds to build prisons
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Critics say prison problems go beyond buildings
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Chief justice says ruling guts access to police records
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Judge dismisses execution lawsuit, reprimands AG’s office
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Alabama schools battling food shortages amid pandemic
AL.COM – Hospitalizations plummet in Alabama while COVID deaths continue to mount: Week in review.
AL.COM – Alabama-based Invisible Histories Project earns grant to help document LGBTQ history in South.
AL.COM – Alabama capital city’s Jeff Davis Avenue closer to being renamed Fred D. Gray Avenue.
AL.COM – ‘A voice at the table’: In Africatown, patience wears thin over I-10 project.
AL.COM – Columnist Roy Johnson: Haitian migrants yearn to breathe free, just like many of your ancestors.
AL.COM – What is it that ranks Madison as Alabama’s best suburb?
AL.COM – Cyber Ninjas still push Trump election lies after Arizona recount.
AL.COM – Baldwin, Saraland schools decide to go mask-optional.
AL.COM – Tough choices when it comes to living on the beach.
YELLOWHAMMER NEWS – Grants support habitat restoration in Alabama.
YELLOWHAMMER NEWS – State Sen. Stutts: Probably a ‘yes’ on prison construction; Not in favor of adding sentencing reform issues.
YELLOWHAMMER NEWS – University of Alabama’s Culverhouse College of Business ranks among nation’s best business schools.
THE HILL – Abbott bows to Trump pressure on Texas election audit.
THE HILL – The Memo: Trump’s Arizona embarrassment sharpens questions for GOP.
THE HILL – Trump on what would prevent 2024 bid: ‘I guess a bad call from a doctor’.
POLITICO – Pelosi goes all in with domestic agenda on the line.
POLITICO – ‘The No. 1 issue’: Trump whips up election falsehoods after flawed Arizona report.
POLITICO – Jan. 6 committee seeks testimony from riot defendants who pleaded guilty.
ROLL CALL – Democrats pressure Biden to welcome Afghan refugees.
DECATUR DAILY – The Decatur Daily: Bad optics start with bad policy.
DECATUR DAILY – Mayor to propose hiring lobbyist for third Decatur bridge.
TIMES DAILY – COVID causing nursing shortage to rise.
TUSCALOOSA NEWS – ‘That’s one of your brothers’: Pain remains 20 years after Brookwood mine disaster.
DOTHAN EAGLE – Rise in COVID deaths a preventable tragedy.
DOTHAN EAGLE – The Dothan Eagle: A brewing storm.
THE GUARDIAN – Pelosi: Biden spending plan, infrastructure deal and funding ‘must pass’ next week.
THE GUARDIAN – Democrats position themselves as last line of defense for abortion rights.
WASHINGTON POST – As gun violence spreads to small towns, one suburb contends with a mass shooting’s aftermath.
WASHINGTON POST – The Washington Post: The nation faces financial calamity. Republicans will be to blame.
WASHINGTON POST – Top Democrats want to expand health care access. But they need to find a way to do it.
WASHINGTON POST – Fallout begins for far-right trolls who trusted Epik to keep their identities secret.
NEW YORK TIMES – The New York Times: This Is No Way to End a Pandemic
NEW YORK TIMES – Reparations for Black Residents Are Becoming a Local Issue as Well as a National One
NEW YORK TIMES – Long Hours, Low Pay, Loneliness and a Booming Industry: The ranks of home health aides are expected to grow more than any other job in the next decade. What kind of work are they being asked to do?