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Senator Joins AT&T in Announcing New, Local Fiber Network

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. Nov. 15, 2016 —

AT&T launched ultra-fast internet service in parts of the Birmingham area, including in parts of Chelsea,  Montevallo, Pelham and surrounding communities. We’re offering a 1 gigabit connection to area homes, apartments and small business locations on our 100% fiber network powered by AT&T FiberSM.

In addition to the homes and small businesses connected to our 100% fiber network in the Birmingham area, we connect nearly 25 area apartment and condo properties.

We plan to expand access to our ultra-fast internet speeds in parts of Alabaster, Calera, Hoover and Tuscaloosa in the future.

The Birmingham area is one of 44 metros nationwide where our ultra-fast internet service is currently available. We plan to reach at least 67 metros with our fastest internet service.

We market our ultra-fast service to over 3 million locations nationwide, of which over 500,000 include apartments and condo units. We’re on track to meet the 12.5 million locations planned by mid-2019.

“The strength of our state’s economy relies on innovation and investment, and it is exciting to have AT&T already fulfilling the promise made less than a year ago to bring ultra-fast internet to Birmingham and surrounding communities,” said State Senator Jabo Waggoner. “New technology enriches the quality of life for area residents and business owners. I applaud AT&T’s continuing investment across Alabama.”

“AT&T’s robust investment in the greater Birmingham area and continued fiber deployment offer enhanced opportunities across all segments of our economy,” said Senator Cam Ward. “AT&T is the first major provider to offer these speeds to area residential customers. AT&T's ultra-fast internet is a welcome addition to Jefferson and Shelby Counties and our state.”

“AT&T is committed to extending access to ultra-fast internet in the greater Birmingham area because our customers are increasingly interacting with their world in more data-intensive ways,” said Fred McCallum, president of AT&T Alabama. “A growing number of people are streaming content directly from their devices and interacting with family and friends through live videos. For these reasons, we are proud to now offer our fastest internet speeds in Birmingham and its surrounding communities.”

Internet-only pricing for customers who choose AT&T Internet 1000, our fastest speed tier on our 100% fiber network, starts as low as $70 a month. Customers may be able to add one of our award-winning DIRECTV or U-verse TV services. We have single, double and triple play offers to fit each customer’s needs.

Internet customers on the 100% fiber network have access to the latest Wi-Fi technology. They can enjoy our best in-home experience with faster Wi-Fi speeds and broad coverage to seamlessly connect all their devices.

What can I do with a service that starts with a 1 gig connection?

These internet speeds are 20x faster than the average cable customer.4 You can download 25 songs in 1 second or your favorite 90-minute HD movie in less than 34 seconds.5 Customers can enjoy our fastest upload and download speeds.

You can also instantly access and stream the latest online movies, music and games. These ultra-fast speeds let you seamlessly telecommute, video-conference, upload and download photos and videos, and connect faster to the cloud.

What is AT&T Fiber?

The 100% fiber network under the AT&T Fiber umbrella brand gives customers the power to choose from a wide range of internet speeds over an ultra-fast internet connection. This network is just one of the network technologies we plan to use to connect customers as a part of AT&T Fiber.  

For more information on AT&T Fiber, visit att.com/getfiber. To find an apartment or condo on the 100% fiber network, visit att.com/apartments.

AT&T in Alabama:

AT&T has invested nearly $1.2 billion in its wireless and wireline networks in Alabama between 2013 through 2015. This drives upgrades to reliability, coverage, speed and performance for residents and business customers. 

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Amendment 14 Protects Chilton County

By Sen. Cam Ward & Rep. Jimmy Martin

We are very fortunate to serve in the Alabama Legislature, and are grateful to the voters who have supported us over the years. We do not go to Montgomery simply to represent our voices and views – we go to Montgomery to represent the will of the people in Chilton County.

Many of our colleagues – both in the House and the Senate – approach their work in the same ways. They fight for the local folks back home, and they work hard to pass local acts that create jobs, fund public safety, provide access to healthcare and improve education.

Over the past thirty years, hundreds of local acts were passed through the state legislature and later voted on by citizens in local referendums. Although these acts benefit Alabamians every day, we have recently discovered a minor gap in the way our state House of Representatives voted on them. The gap is very small and easy to correct, and it must be fixed.  

If we want to maintain hospitals, fire departments, schools and jobs programs in communities across the state, then Alabamians need to come together to correct the gap. Thankfully, Amendment 14 gives voters a chance to do just that.

By casting a YES vote for Amendment 14 on November 8, you will be voting YES to protecting our families, defending our way of life and securing our future.

Simply stated, Amendment 14 Protects Alabama.

In Chilton County, we know that a YES vote will defend the decision by the Chilton County voters to approve construction of the new hospital in Clanton that now serves the entire County and surrounding areas.  Folks no longer have to drive to Shelby County or Montgomery for access to quality health care, especially in an emergency. But due to this voting gap issue, lawyers have sued to stop the revenue stream supporting the hospital and thus undermining the will of the people in Chilton County.  It is critical that we vote YES on Amendment 14 to protect our new hospital and the services it provides.

On November 8, vote YES for Alabama. Vote YES for Amendment 14. In the coming weeks, we strongly encourage you to share this message with your family, friends and colleagues. 

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Hundreds of Local Laws at Stake on November Ballot

Voters statewide will decide the fates of 14 proposed amendments to the Alabama Constitution on Nov. 8.

The topics range widely – from protecting money for state parks to expanding the Auburn University board of trustees.  A few affect only one county.

Voters might find some of the amendments confusing unless they do some homework before heading to the polls.

An example is Amendment 14, which officials say is needed to save hundreds of local laws from legal jeopardy.

"All 67 counties would have something at stake should this go down," Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said.

The issue goes back to another amendment added to the state Constitution in 1984.

Amendment 448 requires legislators to pass the state budgets before other bills.

The budgets are long, detailed documents that need lots of fine-tuning, so lawmakers circumvent the mandate to approve them first.

To do that, they pass a "budget isolation resolution" for each bill they consider before the budgets, which is allowed under Amendment 448.

The so-called BIR vote is ingrained in the legislative routine.

In December, a court ruled that a Jefferson County sales tax law was invalid because the BIR vote did not get the required three-fifths vote.

Amendment 448 says approval requires three-fifths of a quorum, meaning at least 32 votes in the House.

But a House of Representatives rule says approval requires three-fifths of those voting, a lower standard.

The Jefferson County sales tax bill passed the House after a 13-3 vote on the BIR.

Hundreds of other local bills have become law since the 1980s with BIR approval by fewer than 32 votes in the House. That's because it's customary for House members to abstain on local bills outside their districts.

The court ruling invalidating the Jefferson County law is on appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court.

Ward said more than 600 local laws would be ripe for lawsuits if the Supreme Court upholds the decision.

That would "pretty much guarantee that any other challenges will sail right through," said Ward, who sponsored the bill to put Amendment 14 on the ballot.

Local laws that are potentially at risk affect sales taxes, gasoline taxes, property taxes, court costs, pistol permit fees, Sunday alcohol sales, annexations and dozens of other matters.

One example is a Chilton County law passed in 2014 to allow a referendum for a 1-cent sales tax to build a hospital.  St. Vincent's Chilton Hospital will have a grand opening on Sept. 30.

Amendment 14 would ratify and validate all the bills that have passed under the House BIR rule.

Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, said Amendment 14 is the logical way to resolve a technicality that jeopardizes established laws needed to deliver government services.

Brasfield said it's not practical to think that the Legislature could pass them again.

Local bills have to be advertised for four consecutive weeks before passing, and Brasfield said that alone would cost an estimated $3 to $4 million.

Brasfield said he's worried because there are 13 other amendments before Amendment 14 on the ballot.

"Sometimes voters lose interest," Brasfield said.

Ward said mayors, county commissioners, sheriffs and other local officials have participated in conference calls about the importance of approving Amendment 14. He said they will be the leading the effort to get the word out.

"That's going to be your principal cheerleaders and surrogates out there because they realize what it can do to so many local laws and sources of funding," Ward said.

There is a new resource to help voters understand the proposed amendments.

The Legislature passed a bill in 2015 to create the Fair Ballot Commission. The commission writes summaries of constitutional amendments in plain language, easier to digest than the legalistic wording of some amendments.

The summaries are on the Secretary of State's website.

Some of the other amendments:

Amendment No. 1 would add two at-large members to the Auburn University Board of Trustees and ensure that no more than three trustees have terms that expire the same year. The board would increase to 16 members.

Amendment No. 2 would prohibit the Legislature from using money generated at state parks for purposes other than maintaining the parks. It would allow certain parks and lands to be operated and maintained by someone other than the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Amendment No. 4 would allow county commissions to create policies on county personnel, litter-free roadways and public property, public transportation, safety on public roads and emergency assistance. Currently, counties have to seek passage of a local law for many basic policy decisions. The amendment would not authorize tax increases, planning and zoning or salary changes.

Amendment No. 6 would repeal and replace Article VII of the Constitution, which governs impeachments.

Currently, the impeachment article does not say how many votes is required in the Senate to remove an official from office.

Amendment 6 would say a two-thirds vote is required.

It would not change reasons for which an official can be impeached.

The amendment was proposed by a bill passed in 2015, before the ongoing move to impeach Gov. Robert Bentley, which is being investigated by the House Judiciary Committee.

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Special Session Allows Medicaid Reform to Move Forward

On Wednesday, the Alabama Legislature concluded a special session focused on Medicaid called by Governor Robert Bentley. The state’s Medicaid program has faced enormous fiscal challenges over the past few years: Medicaid’s costs have skyrocketed over the past decade as the number of recipients has increased in a sluggish economy, while state tax revenues for the General Fund budget (the budget for all non-education state spending) have mostly flat-lined.

Indeed, going into the special session, Medicaid faced a $85 million shortfall between what administrators had requested for the coming fiscal year and what the Legislature had been able to budget. The $85 million deficit led Medicaid to cut physician reimbursements in August, and the department warned cuts in other service reimbursements would soon follow. I spoke with medical group directors and hospital administrators across the state who warned that Medicaid’s cuts would lead to higher health care costs for all Alabamians, as people who were previously on Medicaid would begin using the ER for routine services.  

After much debate in the special session, the Legislature chose to use the state’s BP settlement for three purposes: pay off debt, increase Medicaid’s funding, and jump-start critical infrastructure projects in Mobile and Baldwin counties, an area that sustained enormous economic loss as a result of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. All told, Medicaid will receive an increase of $190 million over the next two years from the BP settlement. That increase should stave off cuts for the next two years.

Most importantly, the Legislature’s plan enables long-term reform of Medicaid to move forward. There is no doubt that Medicaid – the largest expense line by far in the state’s General Fund – must be reformed for our state to be financially stable. In 2010, Medicaid cost the state $314 million. By 2015, Medicaid’s costs had spiked to $685 million, consuming 37% of the General Fund.

In 2013, conservatives in the Legislature passed a series of reforms designed to bend down Medicaid’s long-term cost curve. Under this plan, groups of local health care providers called Regional Care Organizations (RCOs) would each be given annual budgets to care for Medicaid patients in their geographic region. Essentially, part of Medicaid’s budget would be block-granted to the RCOs, which would assume responsibility for the delivery of care.

Poised to begin this coming year, the RCOs are projected by independent actuarial studies to save the state millions of dollars. Federal administrators at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have praised Alabama’s RCO innovation and recommended it to other states. CMS has even set aside over $700 million in additional federal money to help jump-start the program, with the proviso that Alabama must continue to adequately fund the state portion of the program’s costs.

The outcome of the special session for Medicaid, then, is this: impending cuts to Medicaid have been averted, and more importantly, long-term reform of the program via the RCOs can move forward. By any definition, the special session was a success for stabilizing Medicaid, and that is a win for the entire state.

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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. Follow him on Twitter: @SenCamWard

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Senator Works to Save Local Bills

MONTGOMERY — A proposed constitutional amendment in the Statehouse to keep hundreds of local pieces of legislation from potentially being undone is facing the same deadline challenge that a lottery proposal did.

If it doesn’t pass and get to voters, more than 600 local laws could be invalidated by courts, Sen. Cam Ward said Wednesday.

The list of local bills that could be undone goes back more than a decade and in the Tennessee Valley includes tax referendums, changes to city limits and the distribution of TVA money.

“The ramifications would be very far reaching and you would have a pure disaster,” Ward, R-Alabaster, said.

Eric Mackey, the head of the state’s school superintendent association, said this morning some school districts’ local tax revenue could be impacted, but each piece of legislation would have to be overturned individually.

The issue, according to Ward, is that a trial court recently ruled that the way the Alabama House has been counting votes on its budget isolation resolutions is unconstitutional. Budget isolation resolutions are procedural votes in each chamber that allow bills to be discussed and voted on before the Legislature has passed the General Fund and education budgets.

The House and Senate rules differ on the definition of the three-fifths vote required to pass a budget isolation resolution, Ward said. A recent court challenge on a local bill led a state trial court to declare local bills passed by the House invalid. If an appeals court upholds that decision, more than 600 bills could be struck down, Ward said.

“Declaring all these local bills unconstitutional would have an enormous impact,” Ward said. “You’d see a lot of counties that would suffer financially…

“Money for your sheriffs, district attorneys, judges, county governments, school funding, annexations would all go away.”

Ward sponsored Senate Bill 7 in this special session. It calls for a constitutional amendment put before voters to essentially declare the local bills valid, as well as the Legislature’s voting process moving forward.

The bill passed the Senate last week and was sent to the House, where changes were made. The bill was sent to a conference committee of Senators and House members to work out differences in the two versions of the bill, but that meeting didn’t happen Wednesday.

That was the deadline to get proposed constitutional amendments on the Nov. 8 ballot, Secretary of State John Merrill said Wednesday. He said that unless the law was changed or he received an attorney general’s opinion telling him otherwise, a constitutional amendment allowing for a statewide lottery would not be on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Ward on Wednesday night said he was hoping Merrill would reconsider. Ward, an attorney, said he believed state law allowed a few more days to get an amendment on the ballot.

He said the conference committee was going to go ahead with work on the bill today.

“I’m not so sure the Secretary of State is going to be so hard and firm on that (deadline rule),” Ward said.

As lawmakers continue to hash out a proposed lottery and the best way to use the state’s nearly $1 billion BP settlement, Ward said his bill is a bit of a political pawn.

“What you’re doing, people are holding my bill hostage,” he said. “If you don’t (pass it) all 67 counties are hurt.”

The words “budget isolation resolution” aren’t sexy, Ward said, and he can’t see a special election being called on the topic. But not getting the proposal to voters could have disastrous ramifications.

“Not everyone is in love with lottery, not everyone is in love with BP, but all sides see that we have to (do) this,” Ward said.

Ward has a list of local bills that could potentially be challenged and undone. It includes:

• Limestone County’s TVA in-lieu-of-tax money distribution changes made in 2012;

• Hartselle’s 2015 ad valorem tax increase referendum to support education. The referendum was approved by voters.

mary.sell@decaturdaily.com. Twitter @DD_MarySell.

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Lottery Special Session Uncertain

The General Fund is in trouble and must be fixed before a rapidly approaching deadline.

But a shortfall that’s squeezing health care weeks before the 2017 budget goes into effect is a new and unwelcome development.

It’s one forcing doctors around the state to lay employees off, creating longer waiting times, and threatening to become much worse if legislators can't find a solution.

“That affects people, whether they’re on Medicaid or not,” said Linda Lee, president of the Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents pediatricians. “The impacts that are happening will be felt by all the patients who come to those practices.”

To address the problem, Gov. Robert Bentley will lay two options before legislators when they convene for a special session Monday. The governor plans to ask the Legislature to consider an amendment allowing a statewide lottery, with proceeds going to Medicaid. Because that money won't be available until 2018 at the earliest, Bentley should ask the Legislature to approve an agreement on distributing the state's share of the settlement 2010 Gulf oil spill, which could free tens of millions of dollars for Medicaid.

In appearances around the state, Bentley has said the health of hundreds of thousands of children – who make up the majority of Medicaid recipients – depends on finding a solution.

“All of this boils down to children, it boils down to the disabled, the elderly and the pregnant women that are Medicaid right now, the (one) million people in the state,” Bentley said at a press conference Aug. 3. “The lottery is just a means to an end.”

The question is whether legislators embrace that approach. Most last week rated the lottery’s chances of passage as no better than a coin flip.

“I wouldn’t vote for it,” said Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, the chairman of the Senate’s General Fund committee. “I think it’s a poor way to fund government, and it doesn’t solve our problems.”

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said Friday he "honestly didn't know" what the lottery's prospects were.

"At end of day, it’s getting 21 votes in the Senate," he said. "Right now, I don’t know that anyone can claim they have 21 votes."

But no one seems to deny the problem with Medicaid, or the need to address it.

“I have heard a number of practices specifically tell me A) they have already laid people off or B) they will be doing so in the near future,” said Mark Jackson, executive director of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama, which represents 7,000 physicians statewide.

Opening the Constitution

The Alabama Constitution bans lotteries and gambling. Any measure approved by the Legislature will be a constitutional amendment requiring the approval of three-fifths of both chambers, and then approval by the state’s voters. To get on the November ballot, legislators will have to approve a lottery by Aug. 24.The governor had not issued the formal call for the session as of Friday afternoon. Yasamie August, a spokeswoman for Bentley, said in emails Friday they were working on the language related to BP. August said the call would come on Monday. Legislators plan to meet Monday afternoon.

Bentley’s proposal, if approved, would authorize the Legislature to create a lottery with all proceeds going to the state’s beleaguered General Fund, where Medicaid funding originates. The state could set up its own lottery or join a multistate game, like Powerball.

For the most part, the General Fund’s revenue streams post flat growth year to year, and can't keep up with growing expenses. That affects Medicaid, which in June covered 1 million Alabamians, over 20 percent of the state’s population. While the federal government picks up more than two-thirds the program, Alabama must put up matching dollars to pull that money down.

The Legislature allocated $700 million for the program in the General Fund budget approved over Bentley's veto last spring. That was $85 million less than the agency said it needs to maintain its current level of services and implement regional care organizations (RCOs), aimed at moving Medicaid into a managed care model that supporters hope will slow cost growth in the program.

To address the shortfall, Medicaid cut physician reimbursements earlier this month. Bentley said he wants to reverse that as soon as possible, but layoffs have already begun in some practices, and physicians’ groups warn that waiting times will likely increase for all patients.

“The most obvious thing is the reduction in pay,” Jackson said. “The least obvious is the uncertainty, (and) not knowing what to expect down the road. It puts a tremendous strain on the practice and a tremendous strain on the employees at the practice.”

The cuts hit the state’s pediatricians particularly hard. The Alabama Medicaid Agency says more than 52 percent of Medicaid recipients – 542,697 people -- are 17 years old or younger. Pediatric offices rely on Medicaid to keep their doors open.  Some pediatricians have already laid off employees, Lee said, and they may not be coming back, even if the cuts are reversed.

"The more devastating effects are going to be felt in the rural areas," she said. "That’s where you may have only one doctor taking care of kids. If they stop taking Medicaid, (patients) have to travel further. And they’re already at a disadvantage when it comes to transportation."

Both Bentley and Medicaid officials have warned that other cuts may come. But Bentley said Aug. 3 that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency that administers Medicaid, have warned the state that any further cuts would jeopardize up to $748 million the state could get from the federal government to implement the RCOs and improve the state’s performance on benchmarks like infant mortality.

The governor estimates his lottery bill would bring about $225 million into state coffers. If voters approved the amendment, the Legislature would work out the details in a future session.

Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, who will sponsor Bentley's bill in the Senate, plans to file a second bill that would not only set up a lottery but allow virtual lottery terminals – resembling slot machines but considered Class II, non-casino gaming in some jurisdictions – at the state’s four pari-mutuel locations: VictoryLand in Macon County; GreeneTrack in Greene County; the Mobile Greyhound Park and the Birmingham Race Course.

McClendon’s legislation, also a constitutional amendment, would also allow the governor to negotiate a gaming compact with Poarch Band of Creek Indians, who own the Birmingham and Mobile facilities and also operate casinos in Atmore, Montgomery, and Wetumpka.

McClendon says his proposal would bring in $427 million, with about $127 million coming from the lottery machines.

For the most part, the state’s gambling industry has maintained public silence on the proposals. Attempts to reach VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor and GreeneTrack CEO Luther Winn last week were unsuccessful. Bentley and McClendon said in separate press conferences earlier this month they expect pushback from the Poarch Band against McClendon’s plan. Marsh said Friday he had heard nothing, "not from the existing tracks nor from the Indians" about the plans.

Sharon Delmar, a spokeswoman for the Poarch Band, said in a statement last week the tribe “supported the governor’s efforts to find a solution to the funding crisis.”

“We believe a lottery that is highly regulated can play a role in easing the shortfall, but there are a myriad of considerations and details that must be addressed before any such plan can be structured and implemented,” the statement said.

Support for gambling generally falls down party lines, with Democrats in support and Republicans – who control a supermajority in both chambers – usually opposed. Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, whose district includes GreeneTrack, said last week he preferred McClendon’s bill and believed the casinos could get the lottery machines in place quickly.

“I’m for whatever will give us most money to solve the Medicaid funding issue,” he said.

But Bentley and other legislators say gambling would kill any lottery proposal put forward.

“You can’t get the votes,” said Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster. “(McClendon’s) worked hard because he realizes you can’t get any Democratic votes without casino votes. But you put casino gambling in, you lose a lot of Republicans.”

The lottery itself will be a tough sell. Some legislators want to see at least some proceeds go to the state’s Education Trust Fund (ETF); McClendon said his plan would put the first $100 million of revenues toward education. House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, plans to introduce a lottery bill that would put the proceeds toward scholarships for college.

Others oppose the lottery on moral grounds or see it as at best a stopgap solution: Lottery revenues tend to post flat growth, and a lottery on its own may not be able to keep up with growing expenses in the General Fund.

Legislators give the chances of lottery passage mixed chances at best, particularly with the Aug. 24 deadline looming.

“I don’t see this thing getting any traction,” said Rep. Reed Ingram, R-Pike Road. “I’d give it a 98 percent failure rate.”

Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, said both he and members of the House Black Caucus would study the bills put before them.

“It’s got to generate money on a consistent basis,” he said. “It has to be something that makes sense. It has to be something fair for everybody.”

It may be a measure of the lottery bill’s chances that legislators see a settlement of the state’s claims against energy company BP over the 2010 Gulf oil spill as more likely. The bill, sponsored by House Ways and Means General Fund chairman Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, passed the House in the spring but never came to a vote in the Senate. Clouse will refile the bill for the special session, and it could be in committee Tuesday.

The issue last spring was not the Medicaid part of settlement – the bill would use most of an estimated $639 million to pay off outstanding debts and free up $70 million for Medicaid – but the allocation of money for road projects. The version that passed the House included $191 million for road projects for Mobile and Baldwin counties, hit hardest by the oil spill. North Alabama senators attempted to amend the bill to increase the debt repayment and give a smaller share of road funds to all 67 counties in the state.

Nothing had changed on the bill, Clouse said Friday, except the situation in Medicaid and the absence of other remedies.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily changed so much as the realism has set in that this is the only thing that’s going to pass,” Clouse said.

Pittman, whose district is in Baldwin County, fought north Alabama efforts to change the bill in the last session, said he would support Clouse’s proposal. If the Legislature can’t pass a lottery bill before Aug. 24, legislators could continue meeting until mid-September to come up with a solution.

“If the votes aren’t there for a lottery, you move for other solutions, you circle back and try come up with other solutions,” he said.

The state's health care providers will watch.

“Year in and year out, this is constantly happening,” Lee said. “Every year is a guessing game as to whether there will be enough funding. I think the Legislature is going to have to come up with sustainable funding, or those impacts will remain there.”

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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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