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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

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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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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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