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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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Editorial: A Jeffersonian Approach- Sen Ward is wise to defend other Republicans opinions

Remember what Thomas Jefferson said in his second inaugural address? That speech was given at a time when some in his party and in the opposition were calling for a crackdown on those who dared deviate from what one group or the other felt was the path all should follow.

Jefferson said to let the dissenters and the doubters “stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”

Essential to the toleration Jefferson espoused was the understanding that if the “error of opinion” could not be combated with reason, it might not be error at all.

Put simply, all opinions have a place in the debate.

Which is why this page wishes to thank Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, for going on record that it is just “plain wrong” for the state GOP to prohibit anyone from serving on its steering committee if that person publicly disagreed with the platform adopted by the national Republican Party.

Ward was referring to a resolution recently introduced at the Alabama Republican Executive Committee to remove anyone from the steering committee who had the audacity to disagree with what the national party deemed the proper position to take.

As the senator went on to note, the resolution to remove “is all (about) one person, Stephanie Petelos,” the chairwoman of the College Republicans Federation of Alabama.

Petelos’ crime against the party was to point out that young Republicans would be speaking out in favor of gay marriage if they “didn’t live in fear of a backlash from party leaders.”

So, to prove Petelos’ point, state party leaders are lashing back.

Except for Cam Ward, who came not to the defense of gay marriage, he opposes that, but to the defense of Petelos’ right to speak her mind on the issue without being punished by the party for her opinion.

Chiding some in his party for wanting a “100 percent litmus test for everybody,” Ward expressed the “hope that our party sees the need to reject this resolution and welcome the views of all our party members and not just a select few.”

We agree with Sen. Ward. 

So, we believe, would Thomas Jefferson.

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Governor Signs Prescription Drug Abuse Bills

MONTGOMERY – Governor Robert Bentley on Monday held a ceremonial signing for three bills aimed at decreasing the abuse of prescription drugs in Alabama.

“Used properly under a physician’s direction, pain relievers and other prescription drugs bring much-needed comfort to many Americans, but their abuse is a serious and growing threat,” Governor Bentley said.  “As a physician, and as a governor, I understand the importance of fighting prescription drug abuse.  These bills are designed to help us address this problem while also protecting the rights of patients.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2012, Alabama had one of the highest rates of prescription painkillers sold per 10,000 people.  Three bills that were approved during the 2013 Legislative Session will help decrease the abuse of prescription drugs.

Bills that are part of the Prescription Drug Abuse and Diversion Package include:

  • HB 150 – The prescription drug monitoring program bill clarifies language for the Board of Medical Examiners to regulate the use of a monitoring program which lists individuals who receive controlled substances and the names of the medical professionals who prescribed them.  Physicians can now designate members of their staffs to access the database on their behalf.  The bill also grants the Medicaid Agency the ability to access the database and check prescription drug use by people enrolled in Medicaid.

House Bill 150 was sponsored by Rep. Jim McClendon (R-Springville) and went into effect on August 1.

 ·        HB 151 – The pain management bill increases the regulation of pain management clinics where drugs are prescribed for chronic, nonmalignant pain.  It also gives the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners subpoena power to investigate those clinics when needed.  To operate, these clinics must have a medical director who is a physician licensed in Alabama.  Clinics providing pain management services must acquire pain management registration from the board.  With certain exceptions, this bill requires that clinics for pain management services be owned by doctors who are licensed to practice in Alabama or by businesses registered with the Secretary of State.

House Bill 151 was sponsored by Rep. April Weaver (R-Brierfield) and went into effect in May when it was officially signed.

 ·      HB 152 – The “doctor shopping bill” establishes criminal penalties for patients who “doctor shop” for prescription drugs.  The bill makes it a crime for a patient to get prescription drugs by deceptively concealing from a doctor that he or she had received the same or similar prescription drugs from another physician during a concurrent period of time.  If convicted, the offense is a Class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to one year in jail.  If a patient is convicted four times in five years, the offense becomes a Class C felony, which is punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

House Bill 152 was sponsored by Rep. April Weaver (R-Brierfield) and went into effect on August 1.

“There are many good physicians treating patients who have legitimate issues with pain, and we want to encourage the continued treatment of those patients,” said Buddy Smith, MD, Chairman of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama Board of Censors.  “Some states that have tried to combat prescription drug abuse have passed legislation that had disastrous effects on patient care and placed tremendous burdens on physicians.  This package presents a workable solution.  It comprehensively tackles this growing problem in our state, and we appreciate Representatives Weaver and McClendon, Senator Ward and the Governor for fighting prescription drug abuse.”

“A lot of work has been put into these bills over the past year, and it’s exciting to see them become law,” Representative Weaver said.  “Prescription drug abuse is on the rise, and healthcare providers across the state can confirm that the cases are becoming more frequent.  By addressing prescription drug abuse at the point of prescribing, our goal is to focus on this issue at the beginning of the process while also protecting patient confidentiality and preserving the rights of healthcare providers.”

“This package of new laws will help take prescription drugs off of the street corner, reduce drug abuse and make it easier to identify those involved in the illegal sale of prescription drugs,” Representative McClendon (R-Springville) added.

“Prescription drug abuse is a threat to the public health and safety of our citizens,” Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) said.  “I was proud to work with Governor Bentley in the Senate to tackle this growing problem for our state.”

 

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Ward Names Statesman of the Year by Senior Citizens Hall of Fame

Award Given in Recognition of Landmark Elder Abuse Law Passed in 2013 Regular Session 

August 4, 2013 - Montgomery, Ala.  – The Alabama Senior Citizens Hall of Fame named Senator Cam Ward Statesman of The Year at their annual Hall of Fame Awards Ceremony in Montgomery this evening. Senior Services Commissioner Neal Morrison and Hall of Fame Chairman Warner Floyd both praised Sen. Ward’s commitment to passing 2013’s landmark Elder Abuse Law.

 

“This legislation has been a long time coming for our state,” Morrison said. “For too long people have preyed upon the elderly in this state, and we have lacked the laws to find and punish them effectively.”

 

The Elder Abuse Laws include tools for law enforcement to use against people and companies whose practices result in harm to Alabama citizens over the age of 60, such as deception by commission or omission. Neglect, not feeding, sheltering or tending to the medical needs of an elderly person, whether harm is intended or not, is now against the law in Alabama.

 

“It is sad to say but there are people out there who see older people as easy prey, and they try to defraud them. There are others who just don’t want to do what is needed to ensure the health and safety in their care,” Floyd said. “Thanks to leaders like Senator Cam Ward we can now put these types of people in jail.”

 

The 2013 Alabama Senior Citizens Hall of Fame Awards Ceremony was held at First Baptist Church in Montgomery this evening. The annual ceremony honors the people in Alabama who do the most to help senior citizens.

 

“This is what government is for – to help the most vulnerable of our citizens get the care and safety they deserve,” Ward said. “It’s an honor to receive this award, and it’s an even bigger honor to be a part of something that will make sure the grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles of our state can grow old in safety and dignity because we can now punish those who specifically prey on them.”

 

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Shelby County Receives $24 million in New Road Dollars

Martin J. Reed | mreed@al.com By Martin J. Reed | mreed@al.com 
Email the author | Follow on Twitter 
on July 24, 2013 at 12:57 PM, updated July 24, 2013 at 1:08 PM

 

CALERA, Alabama -- When Clayton Burton opened his Burton Campers business in Calera in 1984 off the Interstate 65 exit that connects with Highway 31, not much was around in terms of development.

"It wasn't but one service station within a half-mile of here," Burton said this morning. "Now there's all kinds of stuff."

Indeed, there's a Walmart shopping center with strip malls and various businesses scattered around the interstate exit where Burton Campers still calls home. There's also plenty of traffic in the area, with Highway 31's bridge that crosses the interstate clogged with cars at morning and evening rush hour.

Thanks to the latest round of funding through the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program announced today, Calera has some relief in sight.

Among the $372 million worth of funding announced for 45 counties today by Gov. Robert Bentley, Shelby County is getting nearly $24 million, including money for the overpass widening project.

Listed below, the projects include additional lanes on Highway 119 in south Alabaster, a new bridge on Cahaba Beach Road, resurfacing of many streets and an intersection improvement in Helena.

Calera Mayor Jon Graham said the $10 million interstate bridge project should begin construction in the next 18 months. "It's been a long time coming. We have tried many different avenues for years," Graham said.

Calera will get $8 million through the ATRIP funding and the city must contribute $2 million, a 20 percent match on the project's total cost.

Burton and others know the project is a huge boon for Calera, which has faced growing pains over the last several years.

"It's going to be a good thing," Burton said. "You can't hardly get across the bridge when it gets real busy."

The project will widen the bridge to six lanes from the two lanes that become congested with traffic at various times throughout the day. "The biggest thing is no turn lanes up there," Burton said, noting that cars must wait for others that are turning.

The latest and final round of ATRIP funding for Shelby County illustrates an ongoing partnership between the state and local entities to find money to put toward needed projects.

Calera is "willing to be partners and that says volumes" about the municipality's role in sharing responsibility, state Sen. Cam Ward of Alabaster said this morning.

The Calera City Council on April 1 approved a 1 percent sales tax increase to generate additional revenue for more police and firefighters, money toward the interstate project and completion of the sports complex.

Calera leaders later went to Montgomery to meet with Bentley and Alabama Department of Transportation officials to discuss the possibility of getting funding for the interstate project. ALDOT officialsorganized a meeting in June to talk about the possibility of the project.

State Sen. Paul Bussman of Cullman, who serves on the ATRIP committee that reviews project funding, said the program works because it puts the local authorities in control of where funding needs to happen.

Bentley "gave the local people the opportunity to make the decisions" on their priorities for funding, Bussman said.

Bentley said the Calera project will be a major benefit for the city and central Alabama.

"ATRIP will help widen the Highway 31 bridge," the governor said. Calera will "be able to recruit more companies to this business park."

 

Other Shelby County projects include:

Alabaster: Additional lanes on State Highway 119 from County Road 26 to County Road 80 in south Alabaster. Total cost is $10.3 million; ATRIP funding is $8.2 million; local match is $2.05 million.

Alabaster: Resurfacing County Road 44 from County Road 17 to 1st Street Southwest (U.S. Highway 31) in Alabaster. Total cost is $434,700; ATRIP funding is $347,760; local match is $86,940.

North Shelby County: A bridge on Cahaba Beach Road over the Little Cahaba River. Total cost is $4.44 million; ATRIP funding is $3.55 million; local match is $887,382.

Helena: Intersection improvements on Helena Road (State Highway 261) at County Road 17 and County Road 52 West. Total cost is $150,000; ATRIP funding is $120,000; local match is $30,000.

Helena: Resurfacing County Road 17 from County Road 58 to County Road 52. Total cost is $438,500; ATRIP funding is $350,800; local match is $87,700.

Wilsonville area: A bridge on County Road 441 over Fourmile Creek, just north of State Highway 25. Total cost is $1.5 million; ATRIP funding is $1.2 million; local match is $301,646.

Calera: Interstate 65 interchange improvements at Highway 31 with a wider bridge. Total cost is $10 million; ATRIP funding is $8 million; local match is $2 million.

Calera: Add turn lanes and traffic signals at the intersection of State Highway 25 and 10th Street in downtown Calera. Total cost is $846,708; ATRIP funding is $522,451; local match is $324,258.

Columbiana: Resurfacing Old Highway 25 from State Highway 25 to County Road 47. Total cost is $272,000; ATRIP funding is $217,600; local match is $54,400.

Columbiana: Resurfacing County Road 28 from Columbiana's city limits to State Highway 145. Total cost is $680,520; ATRIP funding is $544,416; local match is $136,104.

Columbiana: Resurfacing County Road 30 from Columbiana to County Road 9. Total cost is $766,100; ATRIP funding is $612,880; local match is $153,220.

Shelby: Resurfacing County Road 99 from County Road 47 to State Highway 145. Total cost is $340,700; ATRIP funding is $272,560; local match is $68,140.

 

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Prison violence a growing concern

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

Experts and lawmakers are concerned about conditions inside the state's prison system after two inmate on inmate homicides in the past two weeks.

An inmate from Houston County was stabbed by another inmate over the weekend at the Bibb Correctional Facility in Brent. And another fatal stabbing at the Donaldson Correctional Facility in Jefferson County happened just last week.

"This is an issue that's going to have to be addressed as a priority for the state," said Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. "We can't just assume that just because it's behind prison walls, it doesn't touch us, because it does."

Stevenson says the EJI has received a number of complaints about violence at Bibb and Donaldson.

"It's disheartening and sad but not completely shocking the institutions that have created these most recent incidents of violence."

Stevenson said state leaders need to invest more money into programming at prisons and try to address the culture of violence inside the walls.

The budget for next fiscal year increases funding for the prison system from $372.8 million this year to $389.5 million next year. Commissioner Kim Thomas said the funding should help provide money to hire more correctional officers and provide security upgrades.

But more some lawmakers say more needs to be done to address overcrowding in the state's prison system or problems inside and outside of the prison walls will get worse.

"If we don't deal with it, what we're going to end up stuck with is a system where the federal court is going to come in and take it over," said Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, and Chairman of the Joint Legislative Prison Committee. "And the average citizen is either going to pay more or end up with an increased crime rate as a result of it, and none of us want that."

Thomas was not available to comment for this story, but we did receive a statement from Governor Robert Bentley's office.

"The Governor is concerned about the conditions inside Alabama prisons," said Jennifer Ardis, Press Secretary for the Governor. "Unfortunately, we cannot eliminate all violence in the prison system no matter how much we do, but the Governor is confident that Commissioner Thomas is addressing the difficult conditions inside Alabama prisons to ensure safety for inmates, officers, and the community to the maximum extent possible."

 

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Governor Bentley Signs Fleet Management Bill Into Law

MONTGOMERY – A more efficient method of managing state-owned vehicles will soon be developed thanks to legislation signed by Governor Robert Bentley on Wednesday.

Governor Bentley held a ceremonial signing for Senate Bill 57, which authorizes the Alabama Department of Transportation to review state agency fleets and develop a statewide program to achieve cost savings and greater efficiencies in operating state vehicles.

“This is a continuation of our efforts to make government more efficient and save money for taxpayers,” Governor Bentley said.  “The goal of this program is to find the lowest possible cost per mile driven on our state-owned vehicles.  A fleet management program is one of the recommendations made by the Commission on Improving State Government, which I established to help us reduce government costs and operate more efficiently.  I am proud to sign this legislation that helps us accomplish this goal.”

Approximately 8,800 state-owned vehicles are operated by various agencies, departments, commissions and boards in Alabama.  However, there is not a uniform program for managing those vehicles throughout the various entities.  Senate Bill 57 addresses that issue and establishes ALDOT as the primary department responsible for assessing the state’s fleet and developing a streamlined, uniform management program.

The legislation was sponsored by Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster).

“It’s been a real pleasure working with Governor Bentley as well as the Legislative Joint Oversight Committee on Energy to develop this piece of legislation that, in short, saves taxpayers money.  And that’s something we should all strive to achieve,” Ward said.

Senate Bill 57 complements an executive order signed by Governor Bentley in March.  The executive order established an Office of Fleet Management and a Fleet Manager within ALDOT.  Willie Bradley Jr. has been hired to serve in this capacity.  Bradley is currently conducting a detailed assessment of the state’s fleet.

“Our goal is to reduce costs to the state while also meeting the needs of agencies that rely on state-owned vehicles,” Bradley said.  “We will explore several options for saving money, such as short-term and long-term leasing.  We also have potential for savings through buying in bulk across state agencies and establishing more efficient maintenance and replacement procedures.  By bringing state agencies and departments into a uniform program, there is tremendous potential for reducing costs to taxpayers.”

The assessment of state-owned vehicles is expected to be complete by September 30 of this year.  ALDOT will then use the information developed from the assessment to finalize a detailed plan to meet the needs of entities utilizing state-owned vehicles.

 

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HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY

The 4th of July is always a time to celebrate our great country. We are truly the land of opportunity, and home to the best people in the world. 

This year’s 4th of July has particular resonance, as it’s the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Gettysburg, which was fought July 1-3, 1863. While we have the Confederate War Memorial in my district, and we will always remember The Lost Cause, Gettysburg was indeed the turning point for the Civil War, but it was also a turning point for our country. Because of that battle, we are still The United States of America, One Nation, Under God, Indivisible, With Freedom And Justice For All.

Make no mistake about it, even today we have continuing challenges to our freedoms. Federal infringement into our privacy rights and the recent IRS intrusion into our freedom of speech are just a couple of examples.

There are also those who profit from division, they seek to plant the seeds of discord in your mind, and pit American against American, Alabamian against Alabamian, but I want to celebrate our similarities and not our differences.

Despite the challenges we as citizens have faced over the history of our country it is still wonderful to see the way we unite to celebrate the independence of our nation and those that made the ultimate sacrifice for it.

So while you prepare for a weekend at the lake, the beach, or just grilling with your family, please keep in mind that no matter what issues may divide us, there are far more that bring us together.

We all want the same thing for our country and our planet: peace, security, and to make it a better place for our children than it is for us. That is one reason I am grateful to serve our state in the senate, and why I am optimistic for our future.  At the state level we have strong leadership that works hard every day to protect our freedoms, strengthen our economy and ensure our futures.

I hope that you will join me on this commemoration of the birth of our great nation in saying a prayer for continued leadership, strength and wisdom. I for one know that while there are true differences of opinion on the direction of our state and country, our leaders have the best outcome in mind. So Happy Independence Day to all of my fellow citizens and patriots, may we always remember those who made this celebration possible. 

 

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Supreme Court Ruling on Voting Rights Act Praised

MONTGOMERY, Alabama --- Gov. Robert Bentley today applauded the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling striking down part of the Voting Rights Act.

The governor said of the decision announced today: “It may be the most significant ruling in my lifetime.”

“Was there a reason to pass the Voting Rights Act 48 years ago? Yes, there was,” Bentley said. “Obviously there were areas of discrimination across the country that needed to be addressed. It was addressed. Unfortunately the reauthorization of the voting rights bill did not take into account the changes in areas they were trying to address.

And because of the fact that Congress did not update their rules and regulations in Section 4, because of that, that’s why this ruling came out today, because every state has to be treated equally.”

Bentley said Alabama is a strong example of progress made since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. He noted that blacks are now represented in the Alabama Legislature in proportion with the percentage of blacks in the state’s population.

But Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, said it's the Voting Rights Act that led to the election of blacks to the Legislature.

"We're not there because of the generosity of Alabama or the whites in Alabama," Holmes said. "They fought it every way, every chance, every inch. We got there because the 1965 Voting Rights Act was in place. Now they're doing away with the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  "It's a sad day in America. It's a sad day in Alabama."

Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, whose district includes the western part of Shelby County, the county that was the plaintiff in the case, praised today's ruling.

"I think it's absurd that Congress still uses the same formula in 2013 that they used on Alabama in 1966," Ward said. "I think we call can agree that Alabama has had a checkered past with regards to discrimination. But to deny that we have made great strides since the 1960s is just not factual. I think the Supreme Court recognized that we've made progress and at the same time struck balance by keeping portions of the Voting Rights Act in place."

Ward said Section 5 requirements posed an undue burden on local governments.

For example, Ward said Alabaster ran into problems in the early 2000s when it annexed a new subdivision and the Justice Department said the city failed to properly file for preclearance.

"So it cost the city a lot of money in legal fees and it cost the city a lot of time with regard to holding an election," Ward said. "All they were doing is annexing in a new subdivision. And that's happening in other cities, as well. They annex in and run afoul of the red tape the Justice Department puts on them with regard to annexation.

Very noncontroversial annexations suddenly become a holdup for the entire election process. That's not fair. That was never the intent of the Voting Rights Act."

Bentley said he would not tolerate racial discrimination.

“As governor, I can assure you we’re not going to have discrimination in the state of Alabama based on race, especially related to voting,” the governor said.

Updated at 4:33 p.m. to add comments from Rep. Alvin Holmes. Updated at 4:56 p.m. to add comments from Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster.

 

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