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Daily News Digest – April 9, 2019

Presented by the Alabama Sunlight Coalition


1. Casino crackdown in JeffCo.

  • Here’s some breaking news: state law enforcement this morning is executing search warrants on suspected illegal gambling operations in Jefferson County.
  • At least three low-rent casinos are being raided, multiple sources confirmed to Alabama Daily News.
  • The move comes after weeks of public disagreements between Attorney General Steve Marshall and newly-elected Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway over the enforcement of anti-gambling laws.
  • Pettway has repeatedly told news outlets it is not his job to investigate electronic bingo parlors, saying he doesn’t have the resources and he’d rather focus on more serious crimes.
  • Several make-shift casinos have cropped up in Jefferson County recently, one of which is licensed by Sheriff Pettway’s brother, Bruce Pettway.
  • Multiple JeffCo gambling operations were shut down a decade ago when then-Sheriff Mike Hale worked with state law enforcement to seize illegal machines. Pettway defeated Hale in the 2018 election.
  • Stay tuned. This is a developing story.


2. Storm brings damage in North Alabama

Photo from Amber White-Crow via @Spann

  • Tornadoes knocked down power lines and caused scattered damage across farms and a retail district early Monday in northeast Alabama, and forecasters say more bad weather is likely.
  • Photos shared on social media showed plants and other items thrown around the parking lot of a Walmart store in Guntersville, Alabama. Nearby stores had to close because of power outages.
  • High winds left trees tilted sideways and utility lines drooped toward the ground. Farm buildings and homes were damaged in rural Blount County, Alabama, where at least one person was reported injured.
  • The weather service said two twisters that spun out of the same storm system appeared responsible for the damage. An EF-1 tornado with winds of as much as 90 mph (145 kph) hit Blount County, and the EF-1 tornado that struck Guntersville was a little stronger with winds up to 100 mph.
  • There has been no loss of life reported.
  • Read and see more HERE.


A message from the

Alabama Sunlight Coalition

Recently, a reporter wanted to know if Alabama midwives were serving rural communities. When she asked for this information, she ran smack into a financial hurdle.
The Attorney General’s office required the reporter sign a form agreeing to unlimited fees and waive legal rights before they would start the search.
Join the Alabama Sunlight Coalition in calling on the legislature to reform the Alabama Open Records Act and ensure records are available to taxpayers. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to bring civil lawsuits; a neutral arbiter, like an ombudsman, should be empowered to determine that certain records are accessible — or exempted — under the law.
Learn more about the #shinethelight at .



3. Collins bringing Literacy bill.

  • Alabama third-graders who don’t have sufficient reading skills will not move on to fourth grade under proposed legislation that will dedicate more time, training and financial resources to early elementary literacy.
  • “If a child can’t read by third grade, their chances for retention later go up, their chances of not graduating go up,” Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, told Alabama Daily News.
  • She plans to file legislation called the Alabama Literacy Act this week.
  • Sixteen states have third grade holdback laws, including every state surrounding Alabama.
  • Collins said the Alabama proposal is modeled after legislation Mississippi lawmakers approved in 2013 and implemented in 2014-2015. Students who score in the lowest achievement level on the state annual accountability assessment are not promoted to the fourth grade.
  • Read more, including part of the draft bill, from ADN’s Mary Sell HERE.


4. DHS purge continues.


  • President Donald Trump and White House aides pressing for a harder line on immigration sped up their campaign to clean house at the Department of Homeland Security with a mission far wider than just the departure of Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
  • The dismantling of the government’s immigration leadership is being orchestrated by Trump adviser Stephen Miller, the impetus behind some of the administration’s most controversial policies. Beyond changing names and faces, Trump is considering re-starting the policy of separating migrant families at the border, a practice that drew so much outrage last year.
  • The shake-up is a result of Trump’s frustration with the increasing number of migrants at the border and his diminishing options for action. Court challenges, immigration laws and his own advisers have blocked several of his proposals as his re-election campaign looms. The White House has lashed out by demanding new leadership, although a new team is likely to face the same obstacles.
  • The head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, L. Francis Cissna, and Homeland Security General Counsel John M. Mitnick are expected to be pushed out of their positions.
  • Randolph “Tex” Alles, the director of the Secret Service, is being forced out of his job, but that departure is said to be unrelated to the immigration upheaval.
  • Read that full story HERE.
Go inside the Nielsen ouster
  • Cabinet-level resignations don’t just happen. Not in the middle of a presidential term.
  • For DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, it came after a 12-day saga that involved trying to talk the president out of shutting down the border with Mexico in response to a new influx of migrants from Central America.
  • Trump wasn’t having it. Shut the ports at El Paso, Texas, at noon tomorrow, he ordered. End of meeting.
  • The directive set off a frantic behind-the scenes push to get Trump to change his mind, and he ultimately relented. But the episode launched a turbulent 12-day stretch that would lead to the eventual resignation of Nielsen, the potential dismissal of much of her agency’s top leadership and the beginning of a new phase in which immigration hard-liners at the White House are determined to wield considerably more influence over Homeland Security.
  • Jill Colvin and Colleen Long’s account is really worth a read if you’re into this behind-the-scenes palace intrigue stuff.


5. News Briefs.


Penn won’t run after all
  • Former State Sen. Myron Penn has confirmed that he won’t seek the Democratic Party chairmanship after all.
  • Penn had announced that he would challenge current Chairwoman Nancy Worley after the Democratic National Committee called for a new leadership election for the part, but Penn confirmed to Mike Cason last night that he won’t run after all.
  • Subscribers to Inside Alabama Politics read last Thursday that party Vice Chair Joe Reed wrote a scathing letter to DNC Chair Tom Perez comparing Sen. Doug Jones to former Gov. George Wallace and calling Penn a “hand-picked candidate.”
  • “Doug Jones has hand-picked a Black to run against Nancy Worley in the ‘Special Election.’ But the Black he has selected has never been to a SDEC meeting in his life. If elected he would be a Figure-Head,” Reed wrote.
  • That was apparently enough for Penn to realize that, even if elected, he would face a lot of resistance in a divided party.
  • That full letter can be found on IAP HERE (subscription).
Bill to require county school superintendents be appointed clears Senate
  • Legislation from Sen. Tom Butler, R-Huntsville, would require that county school superintendents be appointed, not elected.
  • Senate Bill 222 received a 19-10 vote in Senate last week and moves to the House.
  • Currently, 37 of the state’s 137 superintendents are elected.
  • A similar bill was approved by the Senate last year but died in the House without a vote.
  • Butler’s bill is in the House Education Policy Committee on Wednesday.
  • Also on the committee’s agenda is House Bill 150 by Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, to limit the elected members of the state board of education to two four-year terms. The bill says current board members could have one additional term.
  • Three current members of the nine-member board have already served more than two terms and two are on their second terms.
House probably won’t revisit indexing
  • A bill to phase out the possible automatic increases or decreases in Alabama’s new gas tax was on a House committee schedule for this week, but was pulled on Monday.
  • Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, confirmed to Alabama Daily News the legislation won’t be considered this week. He’s chairman of the House House Transportation, Utilities and Infrastructure Committee.
  • The gas tax legislation that lawmakers and Gov. Kay Ivey approved in March calls for a gradual 10-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase to pay for improving Alabama’s aging roads and bridges. After fully implemented in 2021, the gas tax can go up or down by one cent every two years, depending on the National Highway Construction Cost Index.
  • House Bill 149 terminates the indexing in 2039. Bill sponsor Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, said that many of the constituents he spoke to weren’t opposed to the gas tax, but didn’t like the price indexing.
  • “It’s a response to many of my constituents who had concerns about this one piece of the legislation,” Garrett said.
  • “After 20 years, let’s let a future legislature look at it and see if it’s working,” Garrett said.
  • The gas tax is expected to generate about $320 million a year. About $11.7 million a year would fund improvements at the Port of Mobile.
  • In the Senate, Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, is expected to file this week a bill to direct $10 million a year to publicly owned inland ports, like ones in Decatur and Florence.
  • Greer that bill “has good intent” and does not impact the gas tax’s potential revenue.
Death Row inmate seeks stay of execution
  • An Alabama inmate is asking an appellate court to stay his upcoming lethal injection as he asks to instead be executed by nitrogen gas.
  • Forty-six year-old Christopher Lee Price is set to be executed Thursday at an Alabama prison.
  • Price was convicted of the 1991 stabbing death of pastor Bill Lynn who was killed with a sword and knife during a robbery at his home.
  • Alabama last year authorized nitrogen as an execution method but has not developed a procedure for using it.
  • Price’s attorneys argued the first drug in Alabama’s lethal injection method has been tied to problematic executions, and says Alabama has agreed to execute other inmates by nitrogen.
  • The Department of Corrections says Price missed a 2018 deadline to select nitrogen as his preferred execution method.
Selma’s St. James Hotel gets a buyer
  • A real estate investor says it is loaning a hotel operator $3.4 million to buy a historic hotel in Selma.
  • American South Real Estate Fund said Monday that it has closed a loan with Rhaglan Hospitality to fund the purchase of the St. James Hotel.
  • Birmingham-based Rhaglan says it plans to operate the hotel as part of Hilton’s Tapestry Collection.
  • Rhaglan says the now-shuttered St. James, owned by the city of Selma, is the last surviving antebellum riverfront hotel in the Southeast. The hotel reopened in 1997, but it’s been a financial drain on city government. A series of other purchase offers have fallen through.
  • The company says it will hire 40 employees. Local leaders hope the reopening will boost tourism.
  • Rhaglan previously redeveloped the Redmont Hotel in downtown Birmingham.



ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Literacy bill focuses on early reading, holding back third graders with poor skills
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Nielsen exit comes amid larger shake-up at Homeland Security
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Inside 12 days of turmoil that shook Homeland Security
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Southern storms leave tornado damage in Alabama
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Daily News Digest – April 8, 2019
AL.COM  – AG files brief explaining why Mike Hubbard convictions should stand
AL.COM  – Myron Penn withdraws from race for Alabama Democratic chair.
AL.COM  – Alabama bill would require Pledge in all schools
AL.COM  – Alabama Health Department issues warning about possible scam calls
AL.COM  – 3 Alabama prison officers hurt in 2 separate incidents in past 24 hours
AL.COM  – Walker County sheriff: I’ll enforce gambling laws whether popular or not
AL.COM  – Doug Jones’ gay son Carson pens open letter to Alabama
AL.COM  – Father of Huntsville elementary school shooting victim sentenced to federal prison
AL.COM  – Tommy Tuberville opens up about running for U.S. Senate, Sean Spicer and the need for ‘patriots’
AL.COM  – Contributor Kyle Whitmire: How a new ‘ethics’ bill ensures corruption won’t be prosecuted
AL.COM  – Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz says he’s not running against Alabama Senator Doug Jones
AL.COM  – Contributor State Sen. Cam Ward: Punishing violence, recognizing the dignity of work and the possibility of redemption
Montgomery Advertiser – Bill calls for appointed superintendent in Autauga
Montgomery Advertiser – Senate bill could strengthen Alabama open records law
Montgomery Advertiser – Reform advocates see narrow path forward for Alabama prisons after federal report on abuse, violence
Montgomery Advertiser – Servant leader: A 24-year journey to the diamond
Montgomery Advertiser – County misfired on procedural rules, must re-vote on solar project tax abatement
Montgomery Advertiser – Community coalition hosts meeting in hopes of claiming EJI lynching memorial column
YellowHammer News – Report: Montgomery, Birmingham, Mobile among American cities most in danger of housing crash
YellowHammer News – Episode 06: March Madness turns into April sadness
YellowHammer News – Cam Ward: Punishing violence, recognizing the dignity of work and the possibility of redemption
Dothan Eagle – Enterprise man ‘acting like a bird’ charged with attacking Level Plains police officer
Dothan Eagle – Felicity Huffman, 12 other wealthy parents agree to plead guilty in college admissions scam
Dothan Eagle – 3 months in, Peter Covert still learning ins and outs of Houston County’s chief administrative officer role
Tuscaloosa News – Search for missing hiker continues in northwest Alabama
Tuscaloosa News – Man released after guilty plea in 2014 fatal shooting
Decatur Daily – Storms sweeping through South cause damage in north Alabama
Decatur Daily – DOC: Inmate who left job site captured
Times Daily – Sheriff: Inmate’s death likely from natural causes
Times Daily – GOP lawmakers: Abortion ban bill worth potential fight
Gadsden Times – Board members, delegation clashing over proposed change in sports authority
Gadsden Times – RBC holding off on road project because of proposed legislation
Gadsden Times – Storm causes damage in Guntersville
Anniston Star – Cleburne County wreck Monday leads to second crash
Anniston Star – Drug trafficking defendants waive hearings
Anniston Star – Man charged with shooting woman, injuring her ear
Troy Messenger – FOR THE KIDS: Head Start celebrates ‘week of the young child’
Troy Messenger – More roads to be paved under 24-month plan
Troy Messenger – Argument leads to shooting
Andalusia Star News – Honky Tonk Bar opens near Coffee County line
Opelika-Auburn News – UPDATED: Man found dead near Lanett identified as 26-year-old
Opelika-Auburn News – Opelika police investigating armed robbery of gas station
Daily Mountain Eagle – Parrish man charged with trafficking
Daily Mountain Eagle – Rowe appointed vice chair of House Rules Committee
Daily Mountain Eagle – Mission of Hope turns life around for Shubert
Trussville Tribune – National Weather Service confirms EF-1 and EF-0 tornadoes in Blount County
Trussville Tribune – Argo City Council hears proposals to fix city hall roof
Trussville Tribune – New American Legion Post chartered for east Jefferson County
Athens News Courier – ALDOT officials urge caution in work zones
Sand Mountain Reporter – Finally Home | WWII sailor laid to rest in Nixon Chapel
Sand Mountain Reporter – Farm-City Awards honor outstanding counties
Sand Mountain Reporter – Clean up mission a success | Community unites for Mission Albertville
WSFA Montgomery – Selma man charged with sex crimes against minors
WSFA Montgomery – ‘An Evening of Remembrance’ planned to mark National Crime Victims’ Rights Week
WSFA Montgomery – Police looking for suspect in string of north Montgomery burglaries
Fox 6 Birmingham – Suspect shot during botched robbery at B’ham apartment complex
WAFF Huntsville – Florence school board to meet Tuesday
WKRG Mobile – WANTED: Creola inmate escapes Mobile hospital
WKRG Mobile – Hemp dispensary part of Tuesday’s Elberta Town Council work session
WKRG Mobile – Teen caught in rip current off Florida coast has died
WTVY Dothan – Man charged in deadly Dothan crash
WTVY Dothan – Elba first responders honored for safely delivering baby while on duty
WASHINGTON POST  – Trump removes Secret Service director as purge of DHS leadership widens
WASHINGTON POST  – Federal judge blocks Trump administration program forcing asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while awaiting court hearings
WASHINGTON POST  – CDC finds 78 new measles cases as outbreak sprints toward record and experts blame anti-vaxxers
NEW YORK TIMES – Trump Signals Even Fiercer Immigration Agenda, With a Possible Return of Family Separations
NEW YORK TIMES  – Barr to Appear Before Congress as Lawmakers Await the Mueller Report
NEW YORK TIMES  – Justice Dept. Works on Applying Sentencing Law as Critics Point to Delays

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