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Daily News Digest – December 14, 2020

Good morning!

Who tripped over the power cord at Google early this morning?

Here’s your Daily News for December 14.

1. Electors meet today

  • The Electoral College meets today in state houses throughout the country to formally cast votes for president and vice president. The results will be sent to Washington and tallied in a Jan. 6 joint session of Congress over which Vice President Mike Pence will preside.
  • In Alabama, the state’s electors will gather in the Capitol at noon today for a ceremony full of pomp and circumstance hosted by Secretary of State John Merrill (I’m told J. Danny Cooper will be in character as Uncle Sam).
  • In other states, the process will not be as celebratory. In Michigan and Arizona, two states that have seen continued protests since the election, the proceedings will take place amid heightened security precautions.
  • Following weeks of Republican legal challenges that were dismissed by judges, President Donald Trump’s allies tried to persuade the Supreme Court last week to set aside 62 electoral votes for Democratic challenger Biden in four states, which might have thrown the outcome into doubt.The justices rejected the effort on Friday.
  • The Constitution gives the electors the power to choose the president, and when all the votes are counted today, Biden is expected to have 306 electoral votes, more than the 270 needed to elect a president, to 232 votes for Trump.
  • The voting is decidedly low tech, by paper ballot. Electors cast one vote each for president and vice president.
  • The Electoral College was the product of compromise during the drafting of the Constitution between those who favored electing the president by popular vote and those who opposed giving the people the power to choose their leader.
  • Each state gets a number of electors equal to their total number of seats in Congress: two senators plus however many members the state has in the House of Representatives. Washington, D.C., has three votes, under a constitutional amendment that was ratified in 1961. With the exception of Maine and Nebraska, states award all their Electoral College votes to the winner of the popular vote in their state.
  • Read more about the Electoral College and its process HERE.




2. Malzahn out at Auburn

  • Auburn has parted ways with football coach Gus Malzahn, ending an eight-year run that began with a trip to the national championship game.
  • Athletic Director Allen Greene announced the firing Sunday, a day after the Tigers finished the regular season with a 24-10 victory over Mississippi State. Auburn is 6-4 in a pandemic-shortened season of all Southeastern Conference opponents, losing by double digits to highly ranked teams Alabama, Georgia and Texas A&M.
  • The Tigers also were upset by a struggling South Carolina, which wound up firing coach Will Muschamp during the season.
  • “After evaluating the state of the Auburn football program, we’ve decided that it was time to make a change in leadership,” Greene said in a statement. “We appreciate everything that Gus did for the program over the last eight seasons. We will begin a search immediately for a coach that can help the Auburn program consistently compete at the highest level.”
  • Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will be interim coach. Auburn will owe Malzahn a $21.45 million buyout for the remaining four years of a seven-year, $49 million deal.
  • The school must pay half of that within 30 days.
  • Malzahn went 68-35 in eight seasons and was 39-27 against SEC opponents. He had the best record of any SEC coach by far against rival Nick Saban at 3-5, but struggled against Alabama and other Auburn rivals away from Jordan Hare Stadium. Malzahn never beat Alabama, Georgia or LSU away from home.
  • He led the Tigers to an SEC title in 2013, his first season, losing at the last minute to Florida State in the national championship game.
  • Read more HERE.

3. Universities request funding increase for FY2022

  • There are 51 days until the Alabama Legislature meets for its 2021 Regular Session.
  • Given that we’ll still likely be in the throes of this pandemic, we don’t know exactly how they’ll proceed. But, one thing we do know is that they’ll eventually have to write and consider the state’s two budgets.
  • So, we can look forward to various budget requests and recommendations between now and then.
  • Next up is Alabama Commission on Higher Education, which is requesting funding increases of 3.47% for public universities and 3.06% for two-year colleges in the next fiscal year.
  • New in the 2022 budget request is the Retain Alabama initiative, an effort to keep Alabama higher education graduates working in the state after they receive their diplomas. The first year of the program, if funded, would focus on graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math, said ACHE Executive Director Jim Purcell.
  • The 2020 ACHE Employment Outcomes Report indicated only one in five out-of-state bachelor’s degree graduates were working in Alabama one year after graduation.
  • “We certainly believe in public education’s role to help the needs of the business industry in our state,” Purcell said. “Our outcomes report identified that we didn’t necessarily retain as many people in the STEM fields as we did in other areas so this initiative in the beginning will target those in STEM fields to make sure that they see the opportunities that we have in the state and connect them to business and industry that need those types of graduates.”
  • State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, chairs the Senate education budget committee. He said he has been working with Purcell for several months about how to retain more students attending Alabama colleges. The two have met several times to plan a strategy for retention of not only in-state students, but also those from out of state.
  • “We need to do more to keep Alabama college graduates and we are working on a plan,” Orr said.
  • Conversations have involved the economic development groups, Orr said.
  • Full story from ADN’s Mary Sell HERE.

4. State may resume to-go alcohol sales as virus surges

  • Alabama officials may go back to allowing bars and restaurants to make curbside alcohol sales amid a surge of coronavirus infections in the state.
  • The state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has scheduled an emergency virtual meeting on the issue today, roughly three months after its order authorizing to-go sales of beer, wine and liquor was allowed to expire after businesses had been allowed to reopen with limited capacities.
  • “The spread of COVID-19 appeared at that time to be on the decline,” Dean Argo, government relations manager of the Alabama ABC Board, said in a statement. “…However, COVID cases have steadily increased over the last month causing a need to authorize curbside delivery options.”
  • Alabama in the past week hit record highs for daily infections and the number of COVID-19 patients in state hospitals. Reported deaths also jumped from nearly 22 deaths per day on Nov. 26 to almost 37 deaths per day on Dec. 10.
  • Read more HERE.


5. US agencies hacked in global cyberspying campaign

  • U.S. government agencies were ordered to scour their networks for malware and disconnect potentially compromised servers after authorities learned that the Treasury and Commerce departments were hacked in a months-long global cyberespionage campaign discovered when a prominent cybersecurity firm learned it had been breached.
  • In a rare emergency directive issued late Sunday, the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity arm warned of an “unacceptable risk” to the executive branch from a feared large-scale penetration of U.S. government agencies that could date back to mid-year or earlier.
  • The threat apparently came from the same cyberespionage campaign that has afflicted FireEye, foreign governments and major corporations, and the FBI was investigating.
  • “This can turn into one of the most impactful espionage campaigns on record,” said cybersecurity expert Dmitri Alperovitch.
  • Read more HERE.


News Briefs

Retired Alabama Supreme Court Justice Hugh Maddox dies

  • MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A longtime member of the Alabama Supreme Court, retired Associate Justice Hugh Maddox, has died.
  • An obituary published by a funeral home said Maddox died Friday at his home in Montgomery. He was 90. No cause of death was given.
  • Maddox, a native of Covington County, was first appointed to the court in 1969 and then won five terms before retiring in 2001 because of the state’s mandatory age limit for judges. He also was a legal advisor to three governors and retired as a colonel from the Air Force Reserve.
  • Maddox is survived by his wife of 62 years, Virginia Roberts Maddox, and two children. A private graveside service is planned because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Service set for Medal of Honor recipient killed by COVID-19

  • OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) — A Medal of Honor recipient from Alabama who died after contracting COVID-19 earlier this year will be laid to rest this week at Arlington National Cemetery.
  • Services for retired Army Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie G. Adkins of Opelika were announced by the foundation he began to provide educational assistance for members of the Special Forces.
  • Adkins died in April at the age of 86 after falling ill with the disease caused by the new coronavirus. He received the nation’s highest military honor in 2014 for his heroic service with the Army Special Forces during the Vietnam War.
  • Adkins’ body will be escorted from an Opelika funeral home to the Atlanta airport by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office on Monday. He will be buried with full military honors on Wednesday morning at Arlington beside his late wife, who died last year.
  • The service for Adkins will be shown by livestream. His funeral was delayed because of the continuing pandemic.

Expanded ER and trauma center opens at Alabama hospital

  • MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — A new emergency department and trauma center opened Friday at a major Alabama hospital serving the Mobile area after a $20 million expansion project.
  • USA Health cut the ribbon on a new emergency department at University Hospital. The 27,000-square-foot addition is nearly three times the size of the current ER and trauma center at the hospital.
  • The expansion includes 38 examination rooms and three trauma bays, plus X-ray and medical imaging equipment. USA Health describes the facility as the only top-tier trauma center on the northern Gulf Coast.
  • The facility is named for Fanny Meisler, the late wife of area philanthropist Bert Meisler, who gave $5 million for the project. The state provided $4 million to help fund the work.

Pilot killed after aircraft crashes in Alabama field

  • ATTALLA, Ala. (AP) — The pilot of a small aircraft was killed when his plane crashed into a field in Alabama over the weekend, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
  • The pilot was not immediately identified. No other injuries or deaths were reported.
  • The plane, a Beech V35A, took off from Murray, Kentucky, at around 11:31 a.m. Saturday and was heading for Merritt Island, Florida, National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Peter Knudson said Sunday.
  • The plane climbed to 9,000 feet (2,743 meters) and made contact with air traffic controllers in Birmingham, Alabama, but later lost radar communication, Knudson said, adding: “That’s the last we heard.”
  • The plane went down in a field in Attalla, Alabama, just before 1 p.m., officials said.
  • Knudson said two inspectors from the Federal Aviation Administration were on the scene with local officials.

New book focuses on ‘America’s Amazon,’ Mobile River basin

  • MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — A new book tells the story of one of the nation’s premier wilderness areas, the Mobile River basin, and the challenges it is facing.
  • “Saving America’s Amazon: The Threat to Our Nation’s Most Biodiverse River System” by Mobile writer, filmmaker and conservationist Ben Raines is being published Tuesday by Simon & Schuster.
  • The book focuses on an area that’s often considered the continent’s most ecologically diverse river system, and it discusses how development and lax enforcement of environmental regulations are driving some species to extinction.
  • “The book is a call to arms to protect the most diverse river system in North America, which happens to be in Alabama,” Raines said in an email.
  • Stretching nearly 250 miles (402 kilometers) from the Tennessee Valley to the Gulf of Mexico, Alabama is home to twice as many species per square mile as any other state, Raines said. Many of those animals live in the vast Mobile River basin, which covers most of Alabama and parts of Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee.
  • Yet Alabama ranks last nationally in spending for environmental protection and has more extinctions than five surrounding states combined, according to Raines.
  • “Ultimately, Alabama cannot go on forever being both the king of diversity and the king of extinctions,” he said.
  • Acclaimed biologist and Alabama native E.O. Wilson wrote a foreword for the book.



A message from

Auburn University

Auburn alumnus, trustee selected to be next Secretary of Defense
Auburn celebrates a lifetime of achievement by Gen. Lloyd Austin, who provides immeasurable support to our university.
We are grateful for his leadership in defending our freedoms and know his best days in serving our nation are still ahead.
Congratulations and thank you!
See the full story here.




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