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Christmas & New Year A Time for Priorities & Reflection

During the Holiday Season we are usually inundated by the wants of our consumer culture, and have to fight to keep the focus on the real reason for the season. In my house, we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ above all else. And while we probably buy too many toys for our daughter, we also think of ways to serve those who struggle to both pay their bills, and provide a nice visit from Santa for their families.

In this economy, after 5 years of recession and slow growth, it is important that we keep in mind those less fortunate than we are.  I’m talking about the elderly woman who cannot pay the heating bill, the young family trying to stretch their dollars until the end of the year, and the dad working two jobs, plus a seasonal job just to make sure his little girl can get that bike that she wants. These are the folks we need to keep in our thoughts in prayers during this time of good cheer, laughter and mirth.

I personally like to take the time over the Christmas and New Year’s season to count up my blessings, with which my cup runneth over. I have an amazing wife who stands by me through thick and thin, and we have a beautiful young daughter who is thriving in her pre teen years. All the while she is growing into a young lady before our eyes. We are blessed to have a good life.

I also have the distinct blessing of representing the best parts of the state. The people of Shelby, Bibb and Chilton County have allowed me to represent them in both the House and Senate. I do not take a single one of my constituents for granted, and I am thankful for every single one of you.

I’m thankful for the people who have supported my family.  Without you we could not enjoy the blessings we have today. I’m also thankful for the people who welcome me into their homes and businesses.  Many of you face your own challenges, but share in many blessings. I’m thankful for the kind words I receive, and for the people who call my office to give me a piece of their mind that might include words that can’t be printed in a family publication.

You see, without all of these people, our area, and state would not have the type of freedom and the differences of opinion, which make ours the greatest country in the world. Debate is a blessing to be thankful for, not scorned.

This Christmas, let’s all take the time to reflect on our many blessings, give a hand to those less fortunate, and celebrate the common threads we all share. We celebrate The Prince of Peace, so let’s honor him with our words and actions. 

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Sen. Ward Steps Up for Thompson Community Service Project

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Alabaster’s canine mascot, Warrior, wasn’t sure what to think as state Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, leaned in for a smooch in front of hundreds of Thompson Intermediate School students on Dec. 16.

After Ward planted a kiss on the beloved Australian shepherd puppy, the students broke into applause as Warrior backed away and let out a high-pitched bark.

“He promised that if we got 500 items, he would agree to give Warrior a little smooch smooch,” TIS gifted teacher Rita Sparks told the students. “Always remember the importance of community service and giving back to your community.”

For the past several weeks, gifted students at TIS have been collecting items to donate to the Alabaster and Helena-based Faithful Paws Mission, a no-kill animal shelter founded by Alabaster resident Christina Tatum.

On Dec. 16, stacks of items ranging from large bags of dog food to cat toys lined tables in the middle of the school’s cafeteria. During the donation drive, the school’s gifted students made frequent announcements on the TIS morning news show, and several students recruited support from local businesses.

When the drive concluded, the fourth- and fifth-grade students had collected more than 800 items, thanks in no small part to Ward’s promise to the students, said Sparks.

Tatum, a Helena native, said the donations will greatly help the upstart animal shelter, which currently is caring for about 40 cats and dogs who otherwise may have been euthanized in other shelters or died as strays.

Faithful Paws works to provide foster care placement for animals who are looking for their forever homes, Tatum said.

During the presentation, Tatum and other Faithful Paws volunteers showcased a few animals in the shelter’s care, including a dog recovered after he was struck by a car on a local road.

“It means so much to us for the kids to want to do this,” Tatum said after the presentation. “We are trying to make it to as many schools and events as we can right now.”

To learn more about the organization, visit Faithfulpawsmission.org or Facebook.com/FaithfulPawsMission.

- See more at: http://www.shelbycountyreporter.com/2013/12/16/senator-smooches-warrior-the-dog/#sthash.oCmxuQo9.dpuf

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Ward Makes Bibb County Community Development Tour

Senator Ward Announces Rural Development Grants for Bibb County 

Dec 13, 2013 – Bibb County, AL – Senator Cam Ward and the Tombigbee RC&D (Resource Conservation and Development) Council presented checks to projects throughout Bibb County, including schools, libraries and even the county jail.

“The RC&D folks do a good job at filling in funding gaps for worthy projects,” Ward said. “They have a focus on education and restoration projects that will provide opportunity for all the citizens of Bibb County.”

Starting at Brent Elementary School and stopping at The Bibb County Jail, The GM&O Caboose project and ending at the West Blocton Library, Ward and the Tombigbee RC&D presented these projects for money for internet access, facilities restoration and computers.

“Senator Ward was a key fighter for the money for these projects, and we enjoy working with him not only in Bibb County, but in all of the counties we both serve,” Tombigbee RC&D Executive Director Susan Wesson said. “This money will go a long way towards helping these projects, and it would not be possible without Senator Cam Ward’s influence.The Tombigbee Resource Conservation and Development Council Resource Conservation & Development (RC&D) is a 501(c)(3) organization that supports educational and community development projects in Central Alabama. The RC&D Program was founded in the 1960s to address rural poverty and help rural communities generate sustainable economic programs. 

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State Leaders Face Big Decisions with Natl Energy Policy

I have the pleasure of serving as Vice Chairman of the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said that states are The Laboratories of Democracy – the good ideas of governance come from the state level, and then are often adopted nationwide if proven to work. My experience with the NCSL Energy Task Force certainly bares this out. 

This week as the Chairman of the Alabama Senate Energy Committee, I was in Washington, DC with colleagues from across the nation, working on a document regarding management and usage of America’s energy supply. While sometimes these types of things tend to get off in the weeds of minutiae, there is much good news for our state and country when it comes to energy. 

Alabama ranks 13th in Energy production, and has the highest percentage of “mix” in base load production of any southeastern state. That’s a fancy way of saying we’re in the top 25% of energy producing states, and we get our energy from a diverse set of fuels: hydro-electric, nuclear, coal and renewables. Each one of the industries creates jobs for our state, and each receives industry-specific tax incentives to ensure lower consumer costs, and higher worker retention rates. 

What we do in Alabama has an effect on the national energy situation, just as what is done in North Dakota, Wyoming, Texas, Oklahoma and even California has an effect on the national energy production picture. North Dakota has the Bakken Oil Fields, which has transformed their economy, and is altering the worldwide balance in oil production. Wyoming and other western states are producing more and cheaper coal and natural gas through a variety of new technologies. Oklahoma and North Texas are taking advantage of their wide-open spaces, and are at the forefront of wind turbine production. Even “Governor Moonbeam” out in California has approved of legislation establishing a permitting system for hydraulic fracturing oil exploration. 

Every bit of this is a boon not only to the United States’ economic outlook, but also our foreign policy. In 5 years we will be a net energy producer, and exporter – something that has not happened in over 40 years. I am proud to represent our state on such a vital and cutting edge taskforce that will have long-term policy indications for our country in the years to come.  Energy production will be the next big issues to confront state governments and Alabama needs to be a leader in this area.

 

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KidCheck Plus Program Offers Opportunities in Rural Alabama

Last week I had the privilege of visiting three schools in Bibb County for free health screenings that were staffed by KidCheckPlus, affiliated of Sight Savers America. Headquartered in Pelham, this vital program is provided to schools free of charge, via donations and volunteer hours by nursing students from around the state.

I saw their operation in action first hand, serving children of all ages at Brent Elementary, Centreville Middle, and Bibb County High Schools. The KidCheck volunteers screened over 1,500 kids for overall health indicators like Height & Weight, BMI, Temperature, Blood Pressure, Vision, Dental, Hearing, Heart & Lung Sounds, Heart & Respiratory Rates, Skin & Musculoskeletal, and Examinations of the Eyes, Ears, Nose, & Throat.  

The Bibb County Schools began these health screenings in 1996, and were the first school system in the state to make head-to-toe health screenings an annual part of their school year.  KidCheck Plus began in 2008 as a way to expand school-based health screenings across Alabama using the model approach that had been highly successful in the Bibb and Blount County Schools for over a decade.  

Programs like these are conceived because of need, funded through the kindness of regular folks and the community spirit of local companies, and staffed through ingenuity by students who need the experience.  They fill a vital role in our community’s health. They have the added benefit of not burdening citizens with overhead, bureaucracy and taxes, while saving government funds for other uses. They are a model for the future, and will become more important as we continue to reexamine the types of services government provides, and shrink the overall goal of government in the lives of Alabamians.  

The health and welfare of our young people is important to the state for so many reasons. Children are our future, and how we treat them says much about our society and our morals. I am proud to represent an area that founded a program like this, and proud of them for their continued work and expansion of their scope through the years.

It is always great to interact with our schools, see how the students and teachers are faring, and be a part of something that promotes healthy lifestyles and outcomes for the next generation of our great state!

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Medicaid Expansion in Alabama Not Easy

As we move closer to 2014, the country finds itself questioning the impending Healthcare Reform provisions that are about to take effect. The New Year will ring in myriad new regulations under Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, AKA Obamacare including but not limited to; Health Insurance Exchanges, mandatory coverage, and the first wave of Medicaid Expansion. Initially mandated by Obamacare, the Supreme Court overturned mandatory Medicaid Expansion, allowing states to choose whether to participate or not. The state of Alabama has so far chosen to opt-out of Medicaid Expansion.

To better understand why some states are more willing to opt-in than others, you must understand the complexity of Medicaid. Prior to Obamacare adults with children, pregnant women, children, elderly, and disabled individuals with low incomes were eligible for Medicaid. The Federal government required states to provide certain services, but states had some flexibility in deciding what they see fit as mandatory coverage levels. In essence, Medicaid is essentially 50 state-level programs with the federal government picking up no less than 50 percent of the and no more than 83 percent of the tab.

Until now, states have also had the ability to determine what level of the Federal Poverty Line (FPL) makes one eligible for their Medicaid program. The Federal government, using census measures, calculates the FLP as a dollar amount for what they consider to be poverty according to how many members are in a family. On average, most state Medicaid programs set eligibility around 45 percent of the Federal poverty line. The states alone do not provide for the Medicaid funding.

Obamacare’s Medicaid Expansion requirements drastically changes the way states’ fund and provide Medicaid. The first and most notable difference is the requirement to cover individuals up to 138 percent of the FPL. No state has covered individuals up to this percentage, so all states have to increase funding. This is three times more than what most states are currently providing. As an incentive to opt-into the expansion program, the Federal government created a graduated system providing funding to states in decreasing percentages from now until 2019. The rates of funding will be: 100% in 2014-2016, 95% in 2017, 94% in 2018, 93% in 2019 and 90% in the following years. Despite the small percentage, states will still be required to pay more than what they are currently paying.

Eligibility requirements also will change with Medicaid’s expansion. The Expansion would now include all adults from ages 19-64, not just adults with children. So while 138 percent of the FPL is an increase by itself, you are also looking at adding an entire demographic into the mix.

There are several issues states are facing when considering Medicaid Expansion. One issue is administrative cost. States would be required to cover the entirety of this unknown cost for all years -- even the years the Federal government provides “100 percent” funding. Simply put, administrative costs are unknown and not included in the funding scheme. Another issue, based state by state, is the FPL. The number of individuals under the FPL in New York is very different than Alabama. What this means is that more affluent states will be covering proportionally less people than poorer states. The burden of increasing funding, for both 138 percent FPL eligibility and an entire new demographic, disproportionately weighs on less affluent states.

Ultimately, uncertainty is a key reason for states opting-out of the Medicaid Expansion at this time. While the majority of the funding will be covered from 2014-2016, states are still unsure of the administrative costs. Many states, like Alabama, create their budgets based on tax revenue. If any event occurs that decreases the amount of revenue taken in each year, the state might not be able to fulfill Federal requirements. A recession or natural disaster could put many citizens out of work, which would greatly increase the population of the 138 percent FLP. In these instances, many states cannot risk defunding other programs to cover the amount of money the Federal government requires for the funding scheme. Many states are still recovering from the recession and committing to funding at this time is not possible.

Medicaid Expansion is a complicated issue that still has many questions unanswered. In the coming years, we will get a chance to see how the Expansion works in other states but, as of now, many smart states, including Alabama, are choosing to wait. 

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AT&T Expands Chilton County Internet Coverage

Alabama AT&T President Fred McCallum brought good news to many AT&T customers in Chilton County hoping for fewer dropped calls and improved cell phone coverage.

“Customers wanted more broadband and more mobility,” McCallum said. “We are in the process of doing just that.”

McCallum spoke during an AT&T statewide investment announcement on Tuesday at the Performing Arts Lobby at Jefferson State Community College Clanton campus.

McCallum, who has worked with AT&T since 1987, spoke about the ever-changing market of technology.

“When I first started with AT&T the big news was when we turned on call waiting,” McCallum said. “The speed of change continues to get faster and faster.”

McCallum spoke about AT&T’s recent announcement of a nearly $1.4 billion investment in Alabama wireless and wireline networks with a focus on expanding 4G LTE (long term evolution) mobile Internet coverage and enhancing the overall performance of its networks, including Chilton County.

“Currently, 40 percent of households are wireless in the country,” McCallum said. “We thought it was not a bad thing to give some good news to people.”

AT&T is also hiring in Alabama with hundreds of jobs available in all areas of the state.

McCallum said the jobs range from retail store employees to outside wire technicians.

The recently launched Project Velocity IP (VIP) is a three-year investment plan to expand and enhance AT&T’s wireless and wired IP broadband networks.

Through the initiative, AT&T plans to expand 4G LTE to cover more than 300 million people by the end of 2014, expand the AT&T wired IP broadband network to cover about 75 percent of customer locations in the wired service area by the end of 2015 and expand the AT&T fiber networks to reach 1 million additional business locations by the end of 2015.

Tuesday’s event in Clanton was one of a series of stops AT&T officials are holding across the state to highlight investment and job growth, including Montgomery, the Shoals, Huntsville, Birmingham and Mobile and rural areas such as Brewton and Jackson.

State Rep. Kurt Wallace and State Sen. Cam Ward both spoke at the event highlighting the news of expanded coverage from AT&T in Chilton County.

“As our communities continue to be more mobile, our work and our lives become more seamless regardless of where we may be,” Wallace said in a release. “This is the latest technology and a major tool for education, economic development and enhancing our quality of life.”

Ward said Clanton is competing with the rest of the world regarding technology, and technology and infrastructure are essential.

“Today, communications technologies are a key ingredient and necessary infrastructure for attracting new jobs and investment,” Ward said in a release. “Not only am I thrilled to have AT&T’s investment in our city and county, I believe that it will lead to more investment and jobs as business naturally goes to cities and areas that are prepared and have the necessary infrastructure to support them.”

For more information about job openings with AT&T, visit www.att.com/jobs.

- See more at: http://www.clantonadvertiser.com/2013/10/08/att-expands-coverage-in-chilton-county/#sthash.XFaR53aY.dpuf

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Ward Says No to Congressional Run

senator-cam-ward-alabama.jpg
State Sen. Cam Ward will not run for Congress

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – State Sen. Cam Ward this morning said he will not seek the Republican Party nomination for the Sixth Congressional District seat in Congress, a seat that represents much of the Birmingham-Hoover metropolitan area.

That seat unexpectedly opened on Monday when Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Vestavia Hills, said he would not seek a 12th term to the seat he has held since early 1993.

Ward, 42, was considered by many political insiders as an early favorite in the race. The Alabaster Republican, a 12-year veteran of the Legislature, is seen by political insiders as a savvy politician who was likely to draw the support of traditional GOP business interests, but also a politician who has shown an ability to appeal to some traditional Democratic groups, such as trial lawyers.

Ward, who served on Bachus' staff as a young lawyer, has not hidden his ambitions to climb the political ladder or his love of politics. He said Bachus' decision to not seek reelection represents a "tremendous opportunity" for broader public service for someone who feels the call to serve.

But, that someone won't be him, at least not now.

"It has been an honor to be considered as a candidate in the race to succeed my former boss Rep. Bachus in Alabama's Sixth Congressional seat. The outpouring of support has been both overwhelming and humbling. But, in 2014 I will stand for re-election to the Alabama Senate as planned," Ward said in a statement today.

Ward said his decision was driven by two considerations, one personal and one political.  

"God has given me a short window of time to spend with a little girl who means more to me than anything in this world," said Ward referring to his 11-year-old daughter Riley, who has autism. "The fact is she has made tremendous progress, but it has taken both of us, my wife Julie and me, being there every day for her and running for Congress at this time would essentially make me a part-time father and I just can't do that."

On the political side, Ward said he has serious reservations about serving in a Congress that is dysfunctional.

"They can't even keep the lights on," Ward said referring to the on-going government shutdown. "My political life has been about getting things done, about building coalitions, about reaching out to all sides in an issue to try to build the best possible solution to a problem and I'm not sure you can do that in Washington now and I think it's why you see so many members leaving because they're just miserable in that environment." 

Bachus issued this statement following Ward's announcement he would not seek the seat of his old boss.

"While Cam has the background, qualifications, and temperament to be an excellent Member of Congress, the decision he made reflects the essence of who he is. He and Julie were concerned about how it would impact their daughter Riley (a close friend of my grandchildren), and family considerations must come first. While not essential, Cam's time in the state legislature has helped prepare him for a very bright future in any endeavor he and his family undertake.

© 2013 al.com. All rights reserved.

cdean@al.com By Charles J. Dean | cdean@al.com 

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Ward Talks Anti-Bullying Laws on Helena

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Ward Pursues Prison Reforms

MONTGOMERY — Some state lawmakers want the Department of Corrections to explore expanding community-based programs as a way to ease prison crowding.

State Sen. Cam Ward, chairman of the legislative committee that oversees prisons, said Texas saved about $241 million during three years by moving people from prisons to community corrections programs. Kentucky estimates it will save about $400 million during 10 years with similar changes.

“These are conservative states with conservative solutions,” Ward, R-Alabaster, said Tuesday. The committee is asking for a blueprint in the next few months of what expansion in Alabama could look like.

Department of Corrections Commissioner Kim Thomas said community corrections programs vary from county to county. Some mandate inmates spend nights in jail and go to work, school or drug treatment during the day. Others are probation-type programs where inmates live at home and check in with officers daily. Some use electronic monitoring devices.

It cost about $10 to $12 a day to have an inmate in community corrections, Ward said. Earlier this year, Thomas said it costs $42.54 a day to care for an inmate in prison, including $10.47 in health care, $24.40 in salaries and benefits for staff, and $2.41 for food and clothing.

Violent offenders are not eligible for community corrections programs. Of the about 26,000 inmates in the Department of Correction’s care, about 74 percent are violent offenders.

But expanding community corrections, for which the state spends about $5 million a year, will have one immediate challenge: Not all counties have the programs. Though the number has grown in recent years, 23 counties have yet to get on board.

“You can’t force anyone to have community corrections,” Ward said. “But hopefully there is a way ... to make communities realize the benefits.”

All north Alabama counties have the programs.

Committee member and Senate Democrat Bobby Singleton, of Greensboro, said some community corrections and work-release programs have struggled in economically depressed rural areas.

“Because of poverty, there is no work,” he said.

Getting people jobs is key to keeping them out of prison in the long term, officials said.

Lawmakers allocated about $389 million for corrections for 2014. That’s about $16.7 million more than in the current budget year. About $5 million of that will be used to hire 100 new correctional officers. Earlier this year, Thomas said the inmate-to-correctional officer ratio was 11 to 1.

Next to the state Medicaid agency, corrections is the biggest general fund expense.

Currently, state prisons are at about 188 percent capacity and staffed at about 60 percent.

“I don’t think you can build your way out of (the problem), and even if you could, we can’t afford to staff it,” Ward said.

Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, said Tuesday he’s in favor of expanding into community programs. The state spends too much on prisons and not enough on education, he said.

“That’s where you stop crimes from happening,” Bedford said. “Educate people and let them get decent jobs and support their families.”

Mary Sell is the Montgomery bureau chief for the TimesDaily. She can be reached at mary.sell@timesdaily.com.

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