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Long Past Time We Fixed I-65

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Anyone who frequently travels I-65 in Shelby County could tell you traffic congestion has been brutal at times throughout the summer when commuters and vacationers clogged the road.

State Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) says the summer congestion is the worst he’s ever seen. The rest of the year rush hour traffic remains a major headache for commuters.

Ward says a long overdue projects to widen I-65 to 3 lanes between the Pelham exit at Co Rd 52 and the Alabaster exit at US 31 should finally begin next year, but he says he’ll keep the pressure up until it’s finished.

“Sometime next summer originally it was the spring, but you know I’ll I’ll be glad if we could just get started next summer. I understand how long these things take, but the area’s been mapped out, they have the right-of-way determined, they’ve done everything they need to do it’s just time to start the construction,” said Ward.

“As someone who’s been up and down that road a lot this past summer yes the beach traffic has been worse I think than it’s ever been… that I’ve ever seen it. The congestion has just been absolutely awful. That traffic this summer shows clearly why you’ve got to widen that road. At least down to the Shelby County Airport exit. I understand your gas tax revenue is declining, which means there are fewer  road projects in the state, but at the same time I-65’s been  on the books for a long, long time to be widened. So I think we as elected officials in that area have to hold their feet to the fire in that area and say we expect it and it’s definitely needed from the traffic counts.”

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Prison Oversight Committee to Ask Hard Questions

Decatur Daily-

PRISON CAPACITY

While lawmakers are in Montgomery, the Joint Legislative Prison Committee is going to meet. Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, chairs the committee and said its agenda includes asking the Alabama Department of Corrections commissioner to come up with a detailed explanation of prisons’ capacity.

“I think we all agree that we’re over capacity, but give us some solid numbers on how much over capacity,” Ward said Friday. He said there is a difference between construction capacity — how many prisoners a facility was originally built to house — and structural capacity, which is how many they may hold after renovations and additions.

The committee wants to know how many more beds are needed, Ward said.

Bentley in February first pitched to lawmakers his plan to shutter most of the state’s 16 crowded and dated prisons by borrowing $800 million to build three mega-prisons housing up to 4,000 male inmates each and one women’s prison. The legislation died on the last day of the spring session.

Bentley has said he’ll bring it back next year. The ADOC, meanwhile, has a nearly half-million-dollar contract with an engineering firm to study the prisons.

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Cam Ward Receives National Award for Health Care Reform Efforts

Friend of Government Accountability award recognizes Ward’s leadership in promoting patient choice in healthcare

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) was presented last week with the Foundation for Government Accountability’s 2016 “Friend of Government Accountability Award” for sponsoring the Alabama Right to Shop Act to reward patients who utilize high-value health care options.

Leaders like Ward want to help American patients play a larger role in the health care services they consume while rewarding them for using options that are cost effective. With a shared savings structure, SB116 would have encouraged patients to fully explore their health care service options and reimbursed them when they chose cost efficient services.  

“Our health care system is in dire need of reform, and that’s why it’s so important policymakers seek out and support innovative and proven options like Right to Shop, and continue to push for their passage until they cross the finish line,” said Tarren Bragdon, CEO of the Foundation for Government Accountability.

“It is a honor to receive this award, and I look forward to continuing the effort to empower patients with choice in our healthcare system,” Ward said.

A similar program to the one sponsored by Ward helped save the state of New Hampshire $10 million through their employee health plan. The employees have enjoyed nearly $2 million in reward payments.

“Leaders like Sen. Ward understand the transformative power of reinserting market forces and incentives back into our health care system, where programs like this can finally deliver lower costs and higher patient satisfaction,” Bragdon remarked.

Ward is one of a handful of state leaders from around the country being recognized with the annual award for their efforts to transform health care in 2016.

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Republican Senator Cam Ward represents District 14 in the Alabama State Senate, which includes all or parts of Shelby, Bibb, Chilton, Hale, and Jefferson Counties. He serves as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

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Ward Appointed to Faith & Justice Fellowship

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – State Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) is working with federal and state lawmakers on a new, major criminal justice reform initiative.

On Wednesday, Prison Fellowship, the nation’s largest outreach program to prisoners and their families, announced the launch of the Faith & Justice Fellowship, a bi-partisan coalition of state and federal lawmakers motivated by various faith traditions to pursue restorative values in criminal justice reform.

Senator Ward was named a State Leader for the Fellowship’s campaign in Alabama.

“Any efforts aimed at helping the victims of crimes and rehabilitation of offenders must include a faith-based component,” remarked Ward. “While criminal justice reform must always keep public safety first, we cannot ignore the need for proper rehabilitation in the prison system.”

“I am proud to join this distinguished group of state and national lawmakers in kicking off this nationwide fellowship to promote best practices in our corrections system. Though Chuck Colson is no longer with us, his organization continues on today, making even greater strides with the announcement of Faith & Justice Fellowship,” continued Ward.

According to Prison Fellowship, the mission of the Faith & Justice Fellowship is “to build, inform, and inspire a movement of policymakers and voters who believe that human dignity and redemption should be represented in our national dialogue on criminal justice.”

The founding federal leaders of the Faith & Justice Fellowship include: U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, N.C.; U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Texas; U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, Ill.; U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, Ill.; U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, Utah; and U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, N.C.

In addition to Senator Ward, state leaders include: State Sen. Konni Burton, Texas; Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Mich.; State Rep. Rob Hutton, Wis.; State Rep. Matt Krause, Texas; State Del. Dave LaRock, Va.; and State Sen. John Proos, Mich.

 

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Ward Honors USS Chilton at Jemison Veterans Event

USS CHILTON PROCLAMATION

 

Whereas citizens of Chilton County Alabama have served with honor and distinction as members of the Armed Forces of the United States of America; and

 

Whereas 106 residents of Chilton County gave their lives in service to the United States and their fellow citizens during the First World War, the Second World War, Korea, Southeast Asia, Lebanon and Iraq; and

 

Whereas members of Chilton County’s Greatest Generation responded to the call to service during the Second World War; and

 

Whereas, 53 residents of Chilton County sacrificed their lives in service to the United States and their fellow citizens during the Second World War; and  

 

Whereas civilian residents of Chilton County supported the effort to defeat the Axis Powers thorough numerous community activities, especially the purchase of War Savings Bonds; and 

 

Whereas the citizens of Chilton County were honored for their efforts by having a Bayfield Class Attack Transport Ship named in their honor; and

 

Whereas APA-38 was commissioned the USS Chilton on 7 December 1943; and

 

Whereas the USS Chilton and crew served with honor and distinction as Flag Ship of Transport Squadron 17 in support of military assault operations during the invasion of Okinawa and evacuated casualties from that combat zone; and 

 

Whereas the USS Chilton and crew survived multiple direct hits by Japanese kamikaze aircraft during this engagement; and

 

Whereas the USS Chilton and crew continued to serve with honor and distinction following the war, participating in support of the Bay of Pigs Operation, the blockade of Cuba during the Thirteen Days of October 1962, and as a member of Task Force 180 in  support of the Apollo 10 space mission; and 

 

Whereas the USS Chilton was decommissioned in July 1972 after three decades of service to the citizens of the United States of America; and

 

Whereas the Commissioning Bell of the USS Chilton is the sole remaining artifact of this proud vessel;

 

Be it proclaimed that the Commissioning Bell of the USS Chilton is hereby dedicated in honor of those citizens of Chilton County Alabama who have served in the Armed Forces of the United States of America and especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of the United States of America and their fellow citizens.   

 

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Police Jurisdiction Bill Could Lower Taxes

Legislation clarifying the police jurisdiction of municipalities passed the Alabama House of Representatives by a 77-9 vote in the final hours of the legislative session. 

SB 218, sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, establishes a three-mile police jurisdiction beyond corporate limits for municipalities with populations of 6,000 or more and one and one-half miles for towns with fewer residents. David Cole of the Alabama Farmers Federation said the bill builds on legislation passed last year which limits the ability of local governments to tax and regulate property far outside corporate limits.

“This legislation will provide clarity and consistency to the way police jurisdictions are established while giving local governments the ability to adjust those boundaries based on future needs,” said Cole, the Federation’s House Legislative Programs Director. “We appreciate the members of the House of Representatives working to ensure final passage of this bill in the closing minutes of the session.”

After the law is enacted, any extension of police jurisdiction as a result of annexation would require a vote of the municipal governing body. Cities with a three-mile jurisdiction, however, would be allowed to reduce their enforcement area to one and one-half miles.

The bill also states when any noncontiguous property is annexed, the municipality shall not exercise any jurisdiction or authority, including the assessment of any tax, outside the corporate limits.

Gov. Robert Bentley signed the bill into law.

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Budget Funds Essential State Services

The Alabama Legislature is nearly two-thirds of the way through the 2016 regular session. While the Legislature is considering a number of bills, the only constitutionally required duty of the Legislature is to pass budgets for both the Education Trust Fund and the General Fund (the budget for all non-education state spending). 

The Legislature fulfilled part of its constitutional obligation by passing a $1.8 billion General Fund budget. There has been some criticism leveled at the budget, which I will address, but first I want to describe how the General Fund budget was put together.

Before the session began, lawmakers held a series of intense, public budget hearings with every major state department. We were determined to take a new approach to budgeting your taxpayer dollars. This new approach, called zero-based budgeting, requires state agencies to prove from the ground up each line-item request, and forces legislators to ask hard questions and carefully examine each department’s spending habits. 

It established a sound financial precedent for future Alabama legislatures. Requiring each agency to make a rigorous, line-by-line, case for their budget means agencies must prove to lawmakers that the agency’s mission and programs are still an essential function of government. In other words, the pressure is now on the state agency to prove why it should continue to receive taxpayer money. 

The reform and downsizing of government can only happen by focused intentionality. Left to its own devices, a state agency will drift from year to year, treating its budget request as a birthright owed instead of a case to be proven. 

So, here are some details on the Legislature’s $1.8 billion GF budget. The budget slightly increases funding for Public Health, National Guard units, Corrections, and the Department of Human Resources. Most other state agencies were level funded, while the budgets for some like the Department of Labor and the Department of Finance were cut. A massive outbreak of tuberculosis in rural west Alabama meant Public Health needed every bit of its $10 million increase..  

By far, the most difficult challenge for state lawmakers continues to be the behemoth of Medicaid, the federally-mandated health insurance program for children, the elderly, the disabled, and the pregnant. More than one million Alabamians are on the Medicaid rolls, and the program consumes nearly 40% of the budget. For the upcoming fiscal year alone, the Legislature allocated $700 million for Medicaid, an increase of $15 million over last year.  

Many have said Medicaid’s funding must be increased even more so that Alabama can access additional federal matching dollars and finish implementing the reforms we passed a few years ago. Yet the options for increasing Medicaid’s budget by an additional $85 million – via new taxes, or moving money from the Education budget- are not palatable to most people or the Legislature.  

The Legislature has done its duty in passing an austere General Fund budget that avoids new taxes and prioritizes funding for the agencies that need it most. Medicaid still is a problem but we have to reign in where the money will come from to pay for it. 

 

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Legislature Gives Autism Research & Treatment a Boost

Despite the political distractions, the Alabama Legislature has worked hard this session to enact policies to move our state forward. 

This session, the Legislature unanimously passed a $6.3 billion Education Trust Fund for fiscal year 2017 (FY17), the largest education budget since the recession, and it gives a much-deserved pay raise to teachers and support personnel. As a conservative, I do not believe more money necessarily equals better outcomes. Yet there is no doubt Alabama must pay our teachers a high-enough salary to compete with neighboring states and private sector employment for bright college graduates entering the workforce. 

In the Education Trust Fund, the Legislature also made a smart move to invest $288,900 in autism research and treatment through the establishment of local autism regional centers, which will be focused on care for rural areas. 

According to the Autism Society of Alabama, one in sixty-eight Alabamians are on the Autism Spectrum Disorder. 

Depending on where you are on the spectrum, autism can be a debilitating condition. A person (adult or child) with severe autism has trouble picking up on social cues and has difficulty interacting with other people. Children with autism have trouble relating to schoolmates and teachers, while autistic adults can have difficulty navigating complex social interactions in the workplace. 

Thankfully, treatment can gradually improve social skills for those on the autism spectrum. Over time, children and adults on the spectrum can learn to pick up on non-verbal cues and figure out how to read what people are saying in their non-verbal communication: a skill intuitive for most people, but which is so essential for healthy relationships!  

I have had personal experience in dealing with someone on the autism spectrum. There are many dedicated health care professionals in our state working to help kids and adults with autism. But there are gaps in the system, especially for families in rural areas where people often have to travel many miles to see any kind of health care specialist. The establishment of autism regional centers will help fill that gap for the rest of the state. 

Fittingly, April is autism awareness month, and I am thankful the Legislature made the right call last week to fund these new research centers to provide additional help for our friends, neighbors, and relatives affected by autism. 

 

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Medicaid Reform Can Help Solve Prison Problems

With our prison population at almost double capacity and consuming almost a third of the General Fund Budget which funds all the other agencies in state government, I decided to take one of the most difficult challenges in my political career. As a strong conservative who believes my most sacred obligation I have as an elected official is to protect you from those who would us harm you, and to be a wise steward of your tax dollars, I have worked tirelessly to pass reform bills that will do just that. The news events in the past couple of days continue to highlight the violence and unrest within our prison population. With our prisons in a severe state of crisis with over population and the highest number of prisoners to prison guards in the nation, I continue to bring common sense legislation that will result in keeping us safe, insuring that violent criminals are locked away in a secure environment, and will better protect those whom have the job of managing and staffing our prisons. This past week I passed Senate Bill 268 out of committee. Senate Bill 268 mandates that Medicaid will suspend Medicaid benefits instead of terminating upon incarceration. The focus behind this bill is twofold, stop the revolving door with the serious mentally ill (SMI) population in our jails and prisons and to reduce prison medical costs to the state. In short, if the state terminates Medicaid coverage upon incarceration the state loses the ability to shift those costs to the federal government. In an aging prison population those costs could be significant. In addition, passage of Senate Bill 268 could result in sizeable savings to Alabama municipalities and counties by allowing a jail prisoner that has been diagnosed as serious mentally ill (SMI) to have their Medicaid benefits suspended instead of terminated. According to the National Association of County Commissions, it can take months to get Medicaid benefits reinstated once they have been terminated. Senate Bill 68 would result in Medicaid benefit being restored in a matter of days. The logic is that to stop the revolving door of incarceration for a prisoner diagnosed as serious mentally ill, it is imperative they get the care and medicines they need in a timely manner or as statistics prove, they will continue to recycle though the jail system. This results in increased costs to cities, counties, and the state but most of all, it puts you the citizen at risk. It is a proven fact that with treatment and medication, the SMI population can be effectively managed which again reduces cost and provides a safe outcome for them and you. As always, please don’t hesitate to call or write with your concerns or suggestions.

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Teachers to Receive Training on Appropriate Behavior Under New Bill

SB274, focused on social media interaction between students & teachers, passes Senate Committee  

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Yesterday in the Alabama Senate, the Education & Youth Affairs Committee passed legislation by Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) and Representative Mack Butler (R-Rainbow City) requiring all K-12 teachers and administrators receive annual training on appropriate behavior towards students, especially in the context of social media. The bill is strongly supported by the Alabama Education Association (AEA). 

“Most teachers behave with admirable character and maturity in and out of the classroom,” Ward remarked. “However, there are ethical questions the use of social media has raised: for instance, is it appropriate for teachers to be friends with a student on Facebook? This training seminar will establish what the legal and ethical standards are for our teachers as they interact online and in person with students.”

Senate Bill 274 stipulates the training must includestandards for interaction between educators and students inside and outside the classroom, with special attention given to social media.

“The use of Internet technology is essential in our classrooms, and that can certainly include social media, in certain circumstances,” Butler observed. “Yet we also need to make sure there are clear lines defining what is appropriate and inappropriate, especially as it relates to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.This bill is about protecting our state’s most precious resources: our children. ”  

“We commend Senator Ward for recognizing the need for this essential training for Alabama educators,” said AEA President Sheila Hocutt Remington. “AEA supports his efforts and we look forward to ensuring implementation in all Alabama school districts.”

Senate Bill 274 now goes to the full Senate for consideration. 

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