A Congressional Seat in Danger

The big count with major consequences for Alabama continues, and it looks like it will come down to a very tight margin.

The decennial census for 2020, the official count of people living in the United States, is expected to be released in February. But in the meantime, in December, the Census Bureau released its annual population estimates for the states. According to those estimates, as of July 1, 2020, Alabama’s population would be just high enough to keep its current seven representatives in the U.S. House. In that scenario, New York would lose a seat.

However, the estimates don’t count; the Census does. And it is the population as of April 1 that matters when calculating each state’s proportional representation in Congress.

How will the count and estimates differ, particularly considering that the count (and the estimates’ calculations) took place in the time of a pandemic, with all the disruptions, delays, and difficulties that accompanied it?

And not only that. This Census count took place in a fog of unprecedented controversy over who the Census is supposed to count and how it might be used to determine apportionment. Judging by the estimates, Alabama and New York are the two states closest to the line for losing or gaining a seat.

Alabama vs New York

Alabama added a net total of 13,567 residents between July 1, 2019, and July 1, 2020, bringing the state’s total population to 4,921,532, according to the estimates released in December.

Using those figures in an apportionment calculator created by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, Alabama would maintain its seventh Congressional seat, but only by a margin of 6,210 residents. Under that scenario, the state of New York, which is losing population, would lose 2 Congressional seats. According to the estimates, New York suffered a net loss of 126,355 residents between July 1, 2019, and July 1, 2020.

Where did the two states stand three months earlier, on April 1? And how closely will the count correspond to the estimates? The count is supposed to tally the population before a spike in deaths in New York caused by Covid-19 and before an exodus from the city due to the extreme outbreak there. If by April 1, Alabama had not achieved its needed net gain in population, or if New York’s population hadn’t seen its big drop, the tables might turn. New York might lose just one seat, and Alabama might lose one.

Looking Back Over the Decade

Looking back over a decade, the estimates had Alabama growing moderately throughout the decade, with stronger growth relative to other states in the most recent years. In percentage growth, Alabama’s growth ranked 26 among the 50 states in 2020.

In the middle part of the decade, Alabama’s annual growth rate lagged, ranging between 0.25% to 0.23%. Between 2018 and 2020, the annual growth rate bumped up, ranging between 0.28% and 0.33%.

Southeastern Comparison

According to the estimates, Alabama’s growth rate was 3% over the course of the decade, adding 141,414 residents. That’s a stronger rate of growth than Mississippi and Louisiana, tied with Kentucky, and just behind Arkansas. The gap with other Southern states is wider: Tennessee grew 9% over the course of the decade: Georgia, 11%; North Carolina, 11%; and South Carolina, 13%. In 2010, Alabama’s population exceeded South Carolina’s population by 150,000. By 2020, South Carolina’s population was estimated to have exceeded Alabama by almost 200,000.

In terms of numeric change, Mississippi was estimated to have lost a net total of 1,343 residents between 2010 and 2020, while Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Alabama gained between 100 and 150,000. Meanwhile, South Carolina and Tennessee each added over 500,000 residents; Georgia and North Carolina over 1 million and Florida, almost 3 million.

The South Region, as the Census defines it, was the fastest-growing region in the U.S. Beyond the Southeastern states, the Census South Region includes growth hotspots Texas, Virginia, D.C., and Maryland. It also includes West Virginia, which lost population at a faster rate, 4%, than any other state. Illinois suffered the greatest net loss in population, 244,042, over the course of the decade.


Jefferson County Mayors Study Municipal Cooperation on Jails

Taking population into consideration, Jefferson County may have more jails than any other major county in the U.S., and the county’s mayors are investigating options for decreasing the liability, expense, and inefficiency that comes with operating so many separate facilities.

Note: Birmingham jail’s capacity is potential capacity not current operational capacity.

As part of ongoing regional cooperation efforts, the Jefferson County Mayors Association commissioned a new study jointly funded by the Association and the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham. The resulting report, authored by the Public Affairs Research Association of Alabama, examines the capacity, occupancy, and age of Jefferson County’s 18 jails and identifies short-term and long-term options for decreasing the number of jails through cooperation between cities and the county.

The report finds that Jefferson County’s 18 municipal jails have a combined capacity that far exceeds the diminished number of municipal inmates typically held in them, a situation that predates the Coronavirus pandemic.

Several jail facilities including Bessemer, Birmingham, and Jefferson County’s downtown Birmingham jail, are aging and in need of serious repair or replacement.

Several factors are driving cities to reconsider operating jails. The cost of providing medical or mental health care to inmates can be high. Prisoner lawsuits and potential injuries to employees create a liability risk for cities. Municipal courts are now less likely to keep prisoners in jail, driving down occupancy and driving up per prisoner costs.

At both the national and state level, there is a trend toward shared jail facilities between cities and between cities and counties. Across the U.S., most jails are operated at the county level; 80 percent of jails are operated by county sheriffs. Most large cities in Alabama, including Huntsville, Mobile, Tuscaloosa, Auburn, Florence, and Decatur, now contract with the county sheriff for holding inmates. Several Jefferson County cities have closed their jails and contract with neighboring cities to hold prisoners. Other cities contract with Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office for both patrol and jail services.

The development of the report and discussions of the findings have launched conversations between mayors and county officials about the options, discussions that expected to continue in 2021.

As a long-term solution, Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway has expressed interest in constructing and operating a metro jail capable of housing inmates from interested municipalities.

However, that proposal is years away from being considered. Jefferson County is still recovering from bankruptcy and will not be in a position to provide financial backing until 2024. Depending on the location, a new facility could necessitate the construction of both a new jail and courthouse. Such an expensive project would require a broad array of support from county commissioners, judges, law enforcement, the district attorney and the defense bar. And, for the project to provide substantial savings for the community at large, municipal participation, particularly from the city of Birmingham would be crucial.

In the shorter-term, cities can collaborate through contract. Police officials in Birmingham say they are willing to house prisoners from other jurisdictions, using the revenue to renovate operate the Birmingham jail. Police officials in Hueytown and Adamsville also have excess capacity and are have expressed willingness to provide jail space to neighboring jurisdictions. Trussville and Warrior already are hosting inmates from neighboring cities.

In the long-term, political leaders in Birmingham and other cities are interested in getting out of the jail business. But in order to do that, an agreement would need to be struck either with the sheriff and Jefferson County or with a coalition of cities coming together to form a regional authority to construct and operate a shared jail.

Read the full report here.


Cooperating for Growth in the Wiregrass

Before the Coronavirus pandemic, economic developers in Southeast Alabama recognized the advantages of pulling together as a region rather than each city and county trying to recruit new industry independently. Wanting to take cooperation to a new level, they asked PARCA to investigate how other regional economic development organizations across the state and across the nation work.

When the pandemic struck, cooperation shifted into overdrive, and more counties rallied to the cause.

“We really pulled together as a region. We shared information about challenges and opportunities in the face of the crisis, and we strengthened our relationships,” said Veronica Crock, president of the Ozark-Dale County Economic Development Corporation. “As we come out of the pandemic, we will all benefit from working together to retain our existing businesses in a time of such uncertainty, and we will benefit from working together as a team to bring new jobs and industry to our region.”

PARCA’s newly released report, Growing Cooperation in Southeast Alabama, describes the efforts of the 11 counties in the state’s Wiregrass region to turn their loose alliance into a sustainable regional organization. Together, the counties hope to broaden their appeal, extend their reach, and amplify their message, while decreasing duplication of effort and expense.

Grow Southeast Alabama consists of economic development entities in Houston, Henry, Butler, Crenshaw, Coffee, Covington, Dale, Barbour, Bullock, Geneva, and Pike counties. Most off the Interstate corridors that connect the state’s largest metros, the counties in the Southeast corner of Alabama sometimes feel overlooked and undervalued. While known for peanut farming and pine forests, the region’s strength as a hub of aerospace and defense contractors is under-appreciated. Dothan, the region’s center of gravity, is the state’s seventh-largest city and is ringed by smaller but still considerable population centers, Enterprise and Ozark. Dothan is growing and serves as a trade and healthcare hub for a wide radius of counties in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.

Though the counties are united under the state’s regional workforce council system, they are spread and don’t have a long history of working together. While that’s not uncommon, some portions of the state have a head start on building economic coordination and regional identity across county lines. For instance, North Alabama counties have been working together for decades through the North Alabama Industrial Development Association and the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association. There is no set pattern for how the various roles in economic development and workforce development are organized and carried out at the regional level. Sometimes a regional chamber of commerce, like the Birmingham Business Alliance or the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce, may play an overarching role. And meanwhile, a locally-funded economic development organization engages in more targeted recruitment and support for existing industries.

The developers involved in Grow Southeast are sorting out which functions will be carried out by a regional organization and which will remain local. A central challenge will be sustainably financing the regional organization while preserving funding for the local economic development organizations and programs. Another will be setting up rules and expectations for working together for the region while, at times, competing on behalf of their local community.

“We greatly enjoyed working with the PARCA team and are grateful for the professional, thorough, and detailed report they provided,” Crock said. “Their research was not only instrumental in bringing to light the positive and negative aspects of working collaboratively in a competitive environment, but also confirmed our commitment to putting this competitiveness aside for the sake of the region.”

“We benefitted from the research into the framework of successful economic development in other regions in the United States,” she said. “We will certainly rely on this report as we position ourselves to move forward in our regional collaboration effort.”    


Proposed Statewide Amendment Analysis for November 3

When voters go to the polls on November 3, they will not only be voting in the primary race for President, Vice-President, one U.S. Senate seat, seven U.S. House of Representatives, multiple state judicial positions, and various other state and county offices, but voters statewide will also be asked to vote on six new amendments to the Alabama Constitution of 1901. An additional 36 amendments to the state constitution will appear on the ballots of individual counties across the state.

As always, PARCA provides a high-level analysis of each statewide amendment. We study the ballot wording, but also the authorizing legislation behind the language. We do not make recommendations or endorsements, rather we seek to understand the impact of the proposed changes and the rationales for them.

The Alabama Constitution is unusual. It is the longest and most amended constitution in the world. There are currently 948 amendments to the Alabama Constitution. Most state and national constitutions lay out broad principles, set the basic structure of the government, and impose limitations on governmental power. Such broad provisions are included in the Alabama Constitution. But Alabama’s constitution also delves into the minute details of government, requiring constitutional amendments for basic changes that would be made by the Legislature or by local governments in most states. Instead of broad provisions applicable to the whole state, about three-quarters of the amendments to the Alabama Constitution pertain to particular local governments. Amendments establish pay rates of public officials and spell out local property tax rates. An amendment from a few years ago, Amendment 921, granted municipal governments in Baldwin County the power to regulate golf carts on public streets.

Until serious reforms are made, this practice will continue, and the Alabama Constitution will continue to swell.

Read the full report here.


The 2020 Census: Is Alabama Census Falling Short?

2020 Census Logo

The 2020 Census is nearing its end—and apparently earlier than expected. NPR first reported that the U.S. Census Bureau plans to end the door-to-door count at the end of September rather than at the end of October. Subsequent media reports have added that the decision came at the direction of U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

What will this decision mean for Alabama?

It likely means an inaccurate count.

As of 2 PM CST, Tuesday, August 4, Alabama, has a Census self-response rate of 60.7%.

In the years leading up to the Census, the Bureau physically maps addresses, creating a count of households. The percentage of these households that complete the Census form online, by mail, or by phone is called the self-response rate, so sometimes the initial response rate. Households that do not respond to this initial request receive additional requests and, ultimately, a visit from a Census worker.

Tracking the self-response rate is a good measure of the effectiveness of Census promotion efforts and helps the Census Bureau adjust strategies. The self-response rate does NOT indicate the total percentage of households counted. However, the higher the self-response rate, the more accurate the final count.

The good news?

Alabama trails only Tennessee (62.4%) in the Southeast.

The bad news?

Alabama is 30th in the nation. Alabama trails the national average of 63.1%.

Alabama trails its 2010 initial response rate of 62.5%

To match our 2010 response rate, Alabama must increase its response rate by 1.8 percentage points. For comparison, it took the state 56 days (from June 10 to August 4) to add 1.8 percentage points. If that trend continues, Alabama might reach its 2010 response rate on October 1, after the new-end date of September 30, but clearly before the original end date of October 31. 

Top 10 Alabama County and City Response Rates, as of August 3

Top 10 Counties  Top 10 Cities
Shelby (74.9%)
Madison (72.7%)
Autauga (69.1%)
Morgan (68.4%)
St. Clair (66.7%)
Lauderdale (65.9%)
Elmore (65.7%)
Colbert (64.8%)
Etowah (64.7%)
Blount (64.2%)  
Indian Springs (85.9%)
Trussville (84.0%)
Mountain Brook (82.9%)
Helena (82.6%)
Priceville (82.5%)
Lake View (80.3%)
Chelsea (80.2%)
Vestavia Hills (79.4%)
Springville (78.4%)
Pelham (78.5%)

Even if Alabama reaches its 2010 initial response rate of 62.5%, that means as many as 37.5% of households must be contacted by other means, including by a Census worker knocking on the door, to ensure every household is counted. Reducing the time for this contact will inevitably mean people are not counted—in Alabama and every state.

Traditionally, populations likely to be under-counted are Blacks, Hispanics, the elderly, college students, and renters—all populations which are important to Alabama—and critical to some cities and towns.

While much of the Census promotion concentrates on Congressional representation and federal funding, it is important to note a critical consequence of an under-count.

People may not be counted in Alabama, but they still live here. They require services and use infrastructure, all with potentially less federal, state, and even philanthropic funds. Census data is critical to decisions of funders at all levels, public and private.

Likewise, communities desire new amenities, businesses, and services to enhance the quality of life and the economic base. Decisions to relocate or expand businesses are informed, in part, by Census data. Incomplete data can underestimate market demand and workforce potential.

An incomplete count will have long-lasting ramifications for the entire state.

The map below, provided by the Census Bureau, reports self-response rates by state, congressional district, county, city, and census tract.

Explore state and local data here.

For more on the 2020 Census, see The 2020 Census: What’s at Stake for the State of Alabama published by PARCA last fall.


Re-Opening Alabama: Congressional Recommendations

Alabama’s seven congressional representatives issued recommendations on re-opening Alabama’s economy to Governor Ivey last week. Governor Ivey plans to announce her decision on April 28.

Guidelines for Opening Up America Again

Several of the reports reference the Guidelines for Opening Up America Again published by the White House and the Centers for Disease Control on April 16. A summary of those recommendations is useful before considering the reports from Alabama’s congressional delegation.

The Guidelines suggest a three-phased strategy for re-opening. Phase One is most relevant now. Five metrics determine when a Phase One re-opening is safe:

  1. When flu-like illnesses decline for 14 days
  2. When COVID-like syndromic cases decline for 14 days
  3. When documented cases of COVID-19 or the percentage of positive tests decline for 14 days
  4. When hospitals are able to treat all patients without crisis care
  5. When robust testing, including anti-body testing, is in place for at-risk healthcare workers

Presuming the above conditions are met, the Guidelines make the following recommendations for a Phase One re-opening.

  • Vulnerable individuals should shelter in place.
  • All individuals should practice social distancing.
  • All individuals should avoid groups larger than 10.
  • Minimize non-essential travel.
  • Employers should:
    • encourage telework
    • return to work in phases
    • close common areas
    • minimize non-essential travel
    • consider special accommodations for vulnerable populations.
  • Schools and youth organizations should remain closed.
  • Visits to senior living facilities and hospitals should be prohibited.
  • Restaurants, theaters, sporting venues, gyms, and houses of worship can operate under strict social distancing guidelines.
  • Bars should remain closed.
  • Elective medical procedures can resume.

Congressional Recommendations

Below is a high-level summary of the reports. By necessity, the reports are summarized. Not all recommendations of every report are included. Unique contributions are summarized or quoted. Likewise, inclusion below does not reflect PARCA’s endorsement and should not be seen as an affirmation of the efficacy, practicality, or legality of the recommendation.

Disclosures: PARCA Board Secretary Tyrone Fenderson served on the Advisory Committee for Rep. Bradley Byrne. PARCA Board Member Ted Hosp served on the Advisory Committee for Rep. Terri Sewell. PARCA staff designed and conducted a stakeholder survey for Rep. Sewell’s report. PARCA Executive Director Ryan Hankins is listed in Rep. Sewell’s Advisory Committee because of PARCA’s work on the survey.

Key Themes

The reports differ in accessibility, approach, and focus, but there are common and reoccurring themes in the report, including:

  • balancing economic and public health concerns
  • the danger of mixed messages
  • the need for the state to speak a clear message with one voice
  • the need for expanded testing
  • accuracy of data reporting
  • the need to reduce maximum occupancy guidelines
  • the importance of social distancing
  • the importance of personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • the need for input from professional associations, licensing agencies, and regulatory boards
  • the availability of safety equipment, hygiene, and cleaning supplies

When Should Alabama Re-Open?

Immediately: according to Rep. Brooks. This is an inference. Opening immediately did not receive the most votes from Rep. Brooks’ committee, but it is listed first among the proposals. “When COVID-19 is no longer a threat” received the most votes among Rep. Brooks’ re-opening proposals.

May 1: according to Reps. Aderholt and Byrne.

After 14 days of declining hospitalizations: Rep. Sewell

No specific date or metric: Reps. Palmer, Roby, and Rogers

Recommendations from Rep. Bradley Byrne and Alabama’s 1st Congressional District

Rep. Bradley Byrne issued a 22-page report summarizing the recommendations of a 28-member advisory group. The report notes that every member may not agree with every recommendation in the report.

The report recommends the 1st Congressional District implement the CDC’s Phase One recommendations summarized above. The report includes data suggesting the District will reach the CDC benchmarks by May 1.

Thus, the report recommends retail and personal services businesses, beaches, and in-house restaurant service should re-open or resume on May 1. 

However, a key caveat is included. Rep, Byrne states his recommendations should be superseded if expected data trends do not hold, or “by the advice of public health professionals on whom Governor Ivey relies.”

Rep. Byrne’s report includes the most extensive discussion of the mental health implications of the economic shutdown.

The report includes topline recommendations.

  • Retail and personal services businesses should reopen beginning on May 1.
  • Restaurants should reopen for in-house dining beginning May 1
  • Beaches should reopen beginning May 1.
  • Self-enforcement and reporting are critical.
  • “Future closures should be implemented on an individual basis for businesses/organizations who fail to comply with guidelines.”
  • Local law enforcement and health department officials must be prepared to handle oversight and complaints related to non-compliant businesses.
  • The state must prioritize expanding testing and workforce contract tracing.
  • The state must increase the supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
  • The state must improve reporting.
  • The state should expand mental health services.

Recommendations from Rep. Martha Roby and Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District

Rep. Roby issued an 8-page report summarizing recommendations from “individuals from a cross-section of Alabama’s Second Congressional District.” The report includes five concise recommendations that summarize the thoughts of people in the district.

“1. There must be an increase of personal protective equipment (PPE) available and more testing capacity.

2. Any changes to the existing State order should be clear and concise.

3. The re-opening of businesses should be on a rolling or tiered base consistent with set benchmarks.

4. Social distancing guidelines should be in place inside buildings such as businesses, restaurants, and schools.

5. Health and prevention measures should be implemented in places of business.”

Also included in the report are other suggestions and recommendations from constituents. These comments may not be representative of the entire district but offer a glimpse of Alabamians’ ideas and concerns. Unique recommendations in the report include:

  • declaring community colleges as essential businesses
  • fines or other legal action for businesses failing to comply with public health regulations
  • rolling or tiered reopening as determined by state officials, then county and local officials
  • staggering of class schedules to reduce the number of students on campus (the report does not clarify if this recommendation is restricted to higher education or could apply to elementary and secondary schools also)
  • increasing social distancing from 6 feet to 25 feet
  • deferring re-opening guidelines for business regulated by state boards and agencies to those board and agencies

The top five recommendations and subsequent suggestions are presented as the sentiments of those in the 2nd District and not the formal recommendations of Rep. Roby or her office.

Recommendations from Rep. Mike Rogers and Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District

Rep. Rogers issued a four-page letter based on talks with “numerous small business owners, farmers, employees, elected leaders, EMA directors, hospital administrators, law enforcement, and Chambers of Commerce….” and “…conference calls with Alabama’s National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), Members of the State Legislative delegation, mayors and city councils, and county commissioners.”

Unique observations and recommendations from the report include:

  • recognition of the uniqueness of businesses, even if in the same industry
  • high levels of cleanliness and regulations already required of restaurants
  • the impossibility of social distancing in most medical fields
  • hospitals’ reliance on elective medical procedures
  • coordinating with various sports’ governing bodies and conferences to determine “…appropriate public health protocols, including the possibility of a closed venue setting regarding these sporting events.’”
  • providing virtual job fairs and job training
  • limitations on businesses’ cash transactions and new requirements for PPE and sanitation
  • tax deductions for supplies necessary to comply with public health mandates
  • incentives for Alabama manufacturers to produce PPE and other goods in short supply
  • creating resiliency plans to prepare for future public health crises

Recommendations from Rep. Mike Aderholt and Alabama’s 4th Congressional District

Rep. Aderholt issued a two-page letter, posted on his website summarizing the recommendations of a 13-member advisory board and input from 26 chambers in the 4th District. Rep. Aderholt’s office also sent surveys to both chambers and chambers’ members. The office collected 400 responses to the survey or similar surveys conducted by chambers.

The report notes that 29% of respondents are in favor of opening immediately, 35% on May 1, 9% on May 15, 7% on June 1, and 20% chose “other,” with the caveat that most respondents choosing other had not closed.

Similar to Rep. Byrne, Rep. Aderholt recommends Alabama follow the CDC guidelines summarized above and re-open on May 1 on a county-by-county basis.

The report noted the need and opportunity to seek guidance from various professional associations and regulatory agencies.

The report also notes concerns that employees cannot or will not return to work due to a lack of childcare.

He also notes concerns that some employees may earn more collecting unemployment than working.

Recommendations from Rep. Mo Brooks and Alabama’s 5th Congressional District

Rep. Mo Brooks’ report, a letter and appendices, present the results of the votes of a 14-member advisory committee on various re-opening proposals. The proposals are designed as responses to Alabama Public Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris’ April 3 stay home order. The appendices include Governor Ivey’s request to the Congressional delegation and a set of recommendations to keep employees safe.

The report makes no direct mention of public health measures or metrics but does note that the advisory committee voted 13 – 1 to maintain the stay-home orders “so long as a COVID-19 Pandemic emergency exists.”

Other proposals and votes include:

  • rescinding the stay at home order immediately [April 20], without any replacement government mandates [emphasis in the original] (10-0)
  • allowing the order to expire on April 30, without any replacement government mandates [emphasis in the original] (10-4)
  • following the Guidelines for Opening Up America Again, summarized above (11-3)
  • the state adopt mandates and recommendations concerning employee safety (12-0)
  • “promoting and continuing” telehealth and telemedicine (12-0)
  • repealing Certificate of Need (CON) laws governing the numbering allowable hospital beds and other medical services (10-0)

Specific recommendations regarding employee safety mirror those made in other reports. Noticeable variances include:

  1. training employees on CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19
  2. noting that employees are free to wear reasonable PPE provided by employers
  3. requiring employees interacting with the public at a fixed workstation wear face masks/shields or be shielded by a barrier and wear gloves.  
  4. retail establishments may ask customers to wear masks
  5. personal care providers such as barbers, nail, and beauty salons should wear masks and gloves
  6. self-serving resturants and buffets should be avoided.
  7. employers of high-risk workers should consider:
    • telework
    • FMLA-like policies
    • loosened sick pay regulations
    • unpaid leave with positions held
    • leave advances
    • no or low-interest employee loans

Recommendations from Rep. Gary Palmer, Alabama’s 6th Congressional District

Rep. Palmer’s four-page letter references “…ideas and concerns … received from business owners representing a broad cross section of Alabama’s economy. “

Chief among these concerns and recommendations are:

  • Strong oversight of unemployment benefits. Rep. Palmer notes concerns about some people earning more in unemployment, employs filing for—and receiving—unemployment while still working, and employees refusing to return to work when called by their employers.
  • The need for a steady supply of PPE and the importance of both removing barriers to production and enforcement of anti-gouging laws.
  • The opportunity for “non-essential businesses” to open and demonstrate the capacity to comply with current or new occupancy and social distancing regulations
  • Clear expectations and clear communications.

Rep. Palmer includes general and specific suggestions for medical facilities (screen all patients), restaurants (disposable menus and tableware, reservations), hotels, industry, childcare (waivers from social distancing), home builders, barbers and salons (requiring masks, gloves, gowns).

Recommendations from Rep. Terri Sewell, Alabama’s 7th Congressional District

Rep. Sewell issued the longest report (55 pages). The report reflects the general, but not unanimous, consensus of a 61–member advisory committee, including several public health professionals.

The report established a 14-day downward trend in hospitalizations by public health district as the primary metric for a safe re-open.

The report makes recommendations in three broad areas: public health, workplace and workforce, protecting vulnerable communities. These include:

Public Health

  • provide widespread testing
  • recruit a contact tracing workforce,
  • ensure widespread access to affordable treatment when developed
  • establish information systems that allow for the swift detection of any increase in cases following the reopening.

Workplace and Workforce  

  • create flexibility for businesses
  • implement phased re-openings based on employees’ exposure to the public
  • work with the State Superintendent to address the childcare needs of workers, including grant possibilities and state funding for childcare, after-school care, summer learning, and care for young children.
  • provide increased support to small businesses, hospitals, and nonprofits through expanded loans and grants
  • ensure that COVID-related federal resources received by these businesses are not taxable at the state level

Protecting Vulnerable Communities

  • prioritize testing, tracing, and treatment for vulnerable communities and essential workers
  • ensure testing in all 67 counties
  • provide financial assistance for disadvantaged businesses
  • protect Alabama’s uninsured population by expanding Medicaid
  • expand broadband access
  • incentivize paid sick leave and emergency family leave
  • provide hazard pay or state tax credits to health care and essential workers

What’s Next?

The current stay-at-home order expires on April 30. Governor Ivey has indicated she will announce a decision on April 28.


Alabama Public Opinion Survey 2020

PARCA’s 2020 Public Opinion Survey, completed before the onset of the COVID-19 in the U.S., hints at the challenges state policymakers will face in responding to the pandemic.  

The survey finds, once again, aversion to certain taxes, support for public education, and mistrust in state government. At the same time, the survey finds a lack of consensus in how the state should respond to other critical issues facing the state.

Taxes

Alabamians have a strong aversion to taxes but may not fully understand their tax burden.

  • 57% believe they pay the same or more taxes than people like themselves in other states.
     
  • 51% say upper-income earners pay too little. The percent of respondents who believe upper-income earners pay too little has dropped in each of the last four years.
     
  • 49% say lower-income earners pay too much, up from 40% in 2016.
     
  • 48% say they pay the right amount of taxes, compared to 45% in 2010.

Public Education

Alabamians believe education is the most important service state government provides.

  • 78% believe the state spends too little on education, compared to 74% in 2019 and 68% in 2013.
     
  • 69% support increasing taxes to support education, but no single tax increase option garners majority support.

Alabamians value local control of schools.

  • 87% say the local board (45%) or state board of education (42%) should set school calendars, while only 3% say the legislature should decide.
     
  • 59% say local boards of education are best suited to decide how education dollars are spent.

Other notable education findings:

  • 76.5% believe that taxes on Internet sales should be distributed to local schools in the same way as sales tax revenue from brick-and-mortar sales.
     
  • 66% say any potential lottery revenue should be restricted to the Education Trust Fund.
     
  • 59% oppose using state tax credits to fund private school scholarships.
     
  • 49% say charter schools provided expanded opportunities rather than diverting funds from other schools, but almost 25% don’t know or have no opinion.
     
  • 41% say new education funding should be prioritized to increasing teacher compensation.

Trust in State Government

Alabamians’ trust in state government improved slightly compared to 2019 but is still well below rates reported in the early 2000s.

  • 80% support keeping the General Fund and Education Trust Fund separate, down from 82%, but still well above the 69% reported in 2016.
     
  • 66% believe state government officials do not care about their opinions, down from 69% last year. This compares to a low of 55% in 2008 and a high of 74% in 2010.
     
  • 55% believe they have no say in state government, down from 57% last year, but well above the low of 43% in 2008.

Policy Preferences

Alabamians express a wide variety of opinions on pressing policy issues. We asked respondents to choose their preferred policy response or policy action to such issues as prison overcrowding, taxes, education, and healthcare. Each of these six questions offered multiple responses from a range of perspectives. No single policy proposal garnered a majority response. The closest was a proposal to expand mental health services for the homeless, identified as the most important response to homelessness by 45% of respondents.

Download the full report here.