SOS National Day of Prayer Caravan holds prayer at Governor’s Mansion

Prayers of protest leaders to Expand Medicaid, Increase Testing and Save Lives
Montgomery, AL – The Save OurSelves Movement for Justice and Democracy held a caravan on May 7, 2020 with numerous cars circling the Alabama Governor’s Mansion downtown to urge Governor Ivey and others to expand Medicaid, save rural hospitals and focus COVID-19 resources to those most in need. After circling the Governor’s Mansion in downtown Montgomery, instead of the usual press conference, leaders held a prayer conference. Leaders were asked to take one minute or less to address their issues in uplifted prayer.
Attorney Hank Sanders said: “I pray that God will open the minds and hearts of Governor Ivey and other Alabama leaders so that they will immediately implement the expansion of Medicaid and will focus the pandemic resources to those most in need. I pray that God will strengthen the hand of the Governor so with a stroke of the pen she will expand Medicaid. I pray that those who are protesting to open up Alabama economically will also pray that the Governor will open Medicaid expansion in our state.”
World Conference of Mayors Founder Johnny Ford said: “I pray that our national leaders will do whatever it takes to limit the deaths and number of people who are getting the coronavirus. I pray that they will open back up the window for Medicaid coverage so people who now qualify can become covered.”
Civil Rights Advocate Attorney Faya Toure said: “I pray that people whose workplaces are too dangerous will not be forced to work and they will be able to get unemployment benefits if they choose not to work as a result of unsafe work environments. They should not have to choose between work with the possibility of death and survival – both physically and economically.”
Chair of the Greene County Health System, John Zippert, said: “I prevail upon state leaders to save rural hospitals, not only during this pandemic but also from now on. Rural hospitals must be strengthened economically, staff wise and in every way so they can keep serving the people of rural Alabama and other areas.”
Community Advocate Karen Jones said: “I pray the state will truly embrace testing and tracing, so that everyone who wants to get tested can do so without cost and so that people will know when they have come in contact with someone who has tested positive. I pray this because for Alabama to safely open, we must have available testing and tracing for all.
Law Professor Emerita Martha Morgan said: “I prevail upon the leaders of Alabama not to forget those in jails and prisons. I ask that their hearts will be touched in a way that they will let those who are not dangerous to the public out of prisons and jails and those who are in jails but have not been convicted out while they are pending trial. I ask that prison and jail sentences will not be death sentences because of COVID-19 as both prisons and jails have become hotspots for the virus. I urge our leaders act to save lives.”
During the SOS National Day of Prayer Caravan and Prayer Conference at the Governor’s Mansion in Montgomery, black and white balloons were again tied to the cars in the caravan and released at the end of the prayer conference in recognition of the lives lost and the lives in jeopardy in Alabama right now.
For more information, contact the SOS Movement for Justice and Democracy website and Facebook page.

The Save OurSelves Movement for Justice and Democracy: Standing Six Feet Apart so Alabamians Will Not Be Lying Six Feet Under

For Immediate Release: Wednesday, March 25, 2020
Montgomery, AL – We, leaders in the SaveOurSelves Movement for Justice and Democracy, are here on the steps of the Alabama Capitol standing up six feet apart so Alabamians will not have to be lying six feet under. We are profoundly concerned about the coronavirus pandemic here in Alabama.
We are deeply concerned that people who need tests cannot get tests. We are strongly concerned that rural hospitals have closed with even more on the verge of closing, and those that are there will not be able to be provide all the services that this coronavirus will require. We are deeply concerned for the health care – or profound lack of health care – for the working poor in our state. We were strongly concerned and vocal long before the coronavirus pandemic. We believe that the lack of health care for too many in Alabama will be exacerbated, not only during this pandemic but long after the pandemic.
We are in the biggest crisis this country has seen in a long time. Alabama is in its biggest crisis in a long time, and it is incumbent upon each of us to do what we can to deal with this crisis and the crisis that will follow. A data analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation found Alabama ranks among the top six most at-risk states for its adult population. Forty-six percent of Alabama adults are at risk. If we do not address this head on now, many more Alabamians will get the coronavirus and too many will die when we could take steps now to prevent that. Therefore, we are here, standing six feet apart so fewer Alabamians will not be lying six feet under. We know we take a risk by being here, even with all of our precautions, but the risk of not standing up and speaking out now and not expanding Medicaid now is profoundly greater. That is why we are here.
Attorney Faya Toure said: “I have a friend who had all of the symptoms of the coronavirus but could not get a test because, after being in line for hours, they told her a doctor had to refer her. People without health insurance have a hard time getting a doctor who will refer them. We must have tests for every person who needs a test in every county in the state. If we expanded Medicaid, Alabamians would have a much greater chance of getting tests and saving lives. In addition, the Black Belt has been ignored throughout the coronavirus pandemic, and that has not changed. There are no reported cases in the Black Belt because there is no testing in the Black Belt. We can and must do better.”
John Zippert said: “I am Chair of the Board of the Greene County Hospital System. Rural hospitals in Alabama are struggling mightily just to exist. Too many have closed and more will be closing. Rural hospitals need to be able to provide these services while the coronavirus is raging but also be able to provide necessary services after the coronavirus pandemic has subsided. And it will only subside if we take action now. Medicaid expansion would protect rural hospitals and citizens in rural hospitals, and it cannot wait. In fact, it is long overdue in Alabama. There are 340,000 human beings in Alabama, most of them working poor, who would benefit from Medicaid expansion. We must do something immediately.”
Law Professor Emerita Martha Morgan said: “There are so many Alabamians at risk because they have compromised immune systems, autoimmune disorders, are mentally ill, have dementia, are in foster care, are in prison or jail or detention and more. There are already plans to triage these Alabamians when it comes to treatment of the coronavirus, which means they very well would not receive any treatment and many will die if Governor Ivey fails to take action. We must do what we can do in Alabama. And we can expand Medicaid now.”
Founder of the World Conference of Mayors and former State Representative and Mayor Johnny Ford said: “Too many people’s heath is at risk. Some people are even at risk for death. The coronavirus pandemic is increasing the risks to health and the risk of death. Fifty-five years ago today, on the last day of the Selma-to-Montgomery March, leaders spoke powerfully at this Capitol demanding voting rights. We are here today demanding that health care be a right as is it in all other developed countries. We begin with Medicaid expansion. I want to also add that it is has been the mayors of our state who have stepped up and taken the lead in protecting Alabamians during this coronavirus pandemic, and we thank them for their leadership, courage and wisdom.”
Attorney and former State Senator Hank Sanders said: “I was here 55 years ago today when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked the question, “How Long?” about voting rights and other rights. I and the rest of the massive crowd responded, “Not Long!” We are here today standing six feet apart so that Alabamians will not be lying six feet under. Dr. King asked, “How Long?” 55 years ago, and today we are asking, “How Long” will it be until Alabama expands Medicaid so that the working poor can have health insurance and health care so they can stand a chance to be tested and treated, not only during the coronavirus pandemic but afterwards? I hope and pray the answer to “How Long? is “Not Long!”

Newswire: SOS calls for using the Alabama Bicentennial to remember, recognize and rectify past history

        The Save Ourselves Movement for Justice and Democracy (SOS) held a press conference on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama to call for Governor Kay Ivey, the Alabama State Legislature and the public to use the celebration of the Alabama Bicentennial to “remember, recognize and rectify the state’s racial history.  
        SOS is a movement comprised of more than 40 statewide organizations in Alabama focused on improving the lives of all Alabamians.  Sanders said, “We call upon Alabama to use this occasion of the celebration of the Bicentennial to remember all the history of the State of Alabama and to recognize the wrongs committed in order to repair and to restore the deepest hope for Alabama’s future.”

      “This year Alabama is celebrating its Bicentennial – the 200th anniversary of our state’s founding.  It is good to celebrate, but we need to understand what we celebrate. We need to know that we can do better.  We need to correct that which we did not do right.  To celebrate Alabama’s Bicentennial without acknowledging all the history of Alabama – including the taking of Native American lands, the enslaving of Black people, and the taking of the dignity and rights of Black Alabama citizens during Jim Crow segregation – does not lay a strong foundation to build the next 200 years,” said attorney and former State Senator Hank Sanders at a news conference on the steps of the Alabama Capitol today at noon.   

“To celebrate the Bicentennial without changing the present does not truly the 200 years since Alabama’s founding. Alabama has hundreds of thousands of citizens without medical care, and Alabama can do something about that right now. All it has to do is expand Medicaid. That would be a true celebration of Alabama’s first 200 years,” said John Zippert, Chair of the SOS Health Committee and Chair of the Board of the Greene County Health System.

“The advertisements for the Bicentennial show Native Americans, African Americans and Whites, and that is good but it is misleading. The Confederate monuments still stand on Capitol grounds, and a statute of Dr. J. Marion Sims still stands on Capitol grounds. We can truly honor these 200 years by removing the Confederate monuments and putting up monuments to those who fought to preserve the United States of America, including the 6,000 Black soldiers from Alabama who served in the Union Army,” said attorney and Civil Rights activist Faya Rose Toure.

“The promotions of the Bicentennial honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks and Booker T. Washington, but there are no statues on the Capitol grounds recognizing them. As we go into the next 200 years, in the spirit of unity we need to start by expanding Medicaid, removing from the Capitol the statutes of those who fought the legitimate government of the United States, and including statutes of people who fought for and lifted those who were excluded. Today is International Human Rights Day, which is especially appropriate because we need to acknowledge the denial of human rights in Alabama’s past,” said Martha Morgan, attorney and Law Professor Emerita at the University of Alabama School of Law.

The Greene County Democrat is publishing a Guest Editorial, by Attorney Faya Rose Toure, on page 4 of this newspaper, which gives more details on the concerns which prompted the SOS press conference.

Sheriff Benison awards additional $72,000 in bingo funds to Greene County Health System

Sheriff Joe Benison symbolically presents envelop with check to John Zippert, Chair of the GCHS Board, on October 23, 2019, at the monthly bingo fund distribution ceremony, while actual funds were delivered to GCHS on November 12, 2019

Dr. Marcia Pugh, CEO and Administrator of the Greene County Health System reported that she received a check for $72,000 from Sheriff Joe Benison. This check represents an additional distribution of funds paid to the Sheriff by electronic bingo operators for the month of October 2019.
Sheriff Benison said, “ I know that the Greene County Health System is in dire need of additional funds to serve the health needs of Greene County residents. I am awarding these funds and looking into finding other resources from electronic bingo for health care.”
Dr. Pugh said, “We are grateful and thankful for these additional funds. We will use them immediately to update our computer network and systems, help to move the CT scanner from an outside mobile unit into the hospital imaging center and to pay some of our outstanding bills.”
The Sheriff of Greene County is designated as the regulator of electronic bingo in Alabama Constitutional Amendment 743, which governs the establishment, operation and regulation of electronic bingo in Greene County.
In October 2017, Sheriff Benison amended the bingo operating rules to provide $25 per bingo machine, per month, for payment to the Greene County Health System for support of health care for Greene County residents.
The assessment for the healthcare system is in addition to the $200 month license fee for each bingo machine operated by bingo charities and organizations in the county.
The Sheriff distributes these license fees to county agencies, including his own bingo operations office, the Board of Education, municipalities and the GCHS for healthcare. Since November 2017, the GCHS has received $45,000 per month toward general operating support, which has helped to cover operating deficits and allow the hospital, nursing home and affiliated services to remain open and operating to serve the people of Greene County.
“We have recently received additional funds and donations from churches and community organizations to help improve our facilities and supplies at the hospital, nursing home and physicians clinic. These additional funds from bingo will help us to continue to upgrade and improve our healthcare services,” said Dr. Pugh.

Two-day celebration planned for 50th anniversary of ‘Greene Co. Freedom Day’, July 29, 1969, when Black people were elected to take control of county government

NDPA Political Planning Session
L to R: Rev. Peter Kirskey, School Board Member, Rev. William M. Branch Probate Judge candidate, Malcom Branch, Judge Branch’s son, Greene County Commissioner Franchie Burton, Dr. John Cashin, NDPA President, Rev. Thomas Gilmore, Sheriff Candidate, County Commissioner Levi Morrow, Sr., and County Commissioner Harry Means. The group shown here is meeting in a planning session for the special election for Greene County in 1968. (The Afro-American Newspaper in Baltimore MD.)
Packed courtroom on hand for the oath taking ceremony for Greene County Commissioners and school board members listened intently as Circuit Court Judge Emmett Hildreth read a six page speech in which he lists achievements of past administrations and county bank balance. Newly elected Black officials were joined by fifth commissioner, Dennis Herndon, Probate Judge and other school board members in 1969. ( AFRO Staff Photos  By Irving H. Phillips of The Afro- American Newspaper in Baltimore MD.)

Special to the
Democrat by: John Zippert, Co-Publisher

“We will be holding a two day celebration of the 50th anniversary of Greene County Freedom Day – July 29, 1969 – when a Special Election was held in the county that elected the first four Black County Commissioners and two additional Black school board members, which gave Black people control of the major agencies of government,” said Spiver W. Gordon, President of the Alabama Civil Rights Museum Movement in Eutaw, Alabama.
This special election in the summer of 1969 was ordered by the United States Supreme Court when the names of Black candidates, running on the National Democratic Party of Alabama (NDPA), were deliberately left off the November 1968 General Election ballot by the ruling white political officials of the time. The special election of July 29, 1969 allowed Black voters, many newly registered under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, who were the majority in Greene County to have their say in a free and democratic election.
This was a historic event, which heralded a change in political power across the Alabama Black Belt and began a generational shift in the political power in Greene County that has continued for fifty years.
“As part of our commemorative celebration on the weekend of July 27 and 28, 2019, we will be unveiling and dedicating three monuments with the names of the ordinary people who made extraordinary contributions to changing the history of Greene County, the Alabama Black Belt, the South and the nation,” said Gordon.
The three monuments will be dedicated on Saturday morning, July 27, 2019 from 9:00 AM to 12:00 Noon.
The first monument will be for the Carver High School Class of 1965 and other Greene County school students, who boycotted classes and closed the schools to demonstrate against segregated schools and unacceptable civil rights conditions in Greene County at that time. The Class of 1965 closed the schools for the remainder of the spring 1965 semester and there was no formal graduation that year. Many of the students received a “Freedom Diploma” signed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph D. Abernathy and James Orange, at Brown’s Chapel Church in Selma, Alabama later in the summer.
The monument at the former Carver High School, now the Robert H. Cook Community Center, features the names of over 120 young people that took part in the school boycott and demonstrations of 1965, which led to the voting rights and election struggles later in that decade.
The second monument will be placed in front of ‘The Freedom House’, home of the late Annie Thomas and Rosie Carpenter on Highway 14 in Eutaw. These two courageous sisters, one a businesswoman and the other a school teacher, allowed their home to be used, starting in the 1960’s and continuing into the 1990’s for strategy sessions and political action planning meetings related to the civil and voting rights struggles of Greene County.
The third monument to be placed in front of the current Robert Brown Middle School and former Greene County High School site, to honor the young African-American students who first integrated the schools of Greene County in the 1960’s. The names of 45 or more persons are on this marker.
On Saturday, July 27, 2019 at 6:00 PM there will be a banquet honoring the foot soldiers who participated in the civil rights and voting rights movement of the 1960’s in Greene County. Among the living leaders who participated in the struggle, who have agreed to attend are: Rosie Carpenter (who now lives in Bowie, Maryland), Bill Edwards (Portland, OR), Atty. Sheryl Cashin (daughter of John Cashin from Washington, D. C.) Fred Taylor, Tyrone Brooks, and Dexter Wimbush (Georgia), Wendell H. Paris (Jackson, MS), Judge John England, Hank Sanders, Sen. Bobby Singleton and many other dignitaries.
On Sunday July 28, 2019, at 4:00 PM there will be a Freedom Rally, honoring the fallen Black political leaders of Greene County, at the William M. Branch Courthouse in Eutaw.
The rally will be followed by a fish-fry and watermelon eating fellowship meeting on the grounds of the old Courthouse in Eutaw.
For more information and to support the Freedom Day 50th anniversary celebration, contact: Spiver Gordon, Alabama Civil Rights Museum Movement, Inc., P. O. Box 385, Eutaw, Alabama 35462; phone 205-372-3446;
email:
spiverwgordon@
hotmail.com

Rally held in Columbiana, on the sixth anniversary of the Shelby vs. Holder Supreme Court decision invalidating critical parts of the Voting Rights Act

Press conference after Rally

A hundred people gathered on the lawn of the Shelby County Courthouse in Columbiana, Alabama on June 25, 2019, the sixth anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Shelby vs. Holder to protest and call for renewal of the Voting Rights Act.
The protest in Columbiana was part of a series of national events, coordinated by “Lift Our Vote 2020”, to restore the preclearance and other provisions of the Voting Rights Act, which were stripped away in the Shelby vs. Holder Supreme County decision.
The Supreme Court in a 5 to 4 decision in June 2013, decided that due to progress in voting rights, that states and political subdivisions that previously had been required tosubmit changes in voting rules and procedures, such as district lines, polling place locations and times, early voting, voter ID, and many others, were no longer required to seek preclearance from the U. S. Department of Justice for these changes.
As a result of this Supreme Court decision many states, particularly in the southern states of the ‘ old Confederacy’ have instituted changes to make it more difficult for Black and other minority people to vote. In Alabama and other states, strict photo identification requirements have been put in place, early voting has been curtailed, voter lists have been severely purged as a result of the decision.
Bernard Simelton, State President of the NAACP said, “When five justices on the Supreme Court gutted the VRA in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder case, they made it easier for states and localities to revert back to discriminatory practices that restrict the voting rights of Black, Brown, Native American, and Asian American people.  It is time we address this injustice so that we have the tools to effectively combat current racial discrimination in voting.”
Attorney Faya Rose Toure from Selma said, “The Shelby vs. Holder decision was the 21st century version of the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision of 1850, which said that Black people had no rights that white people were bound to respect. We must work to restore the VRA and make sure that our people vote in every election for every contest on the ballot.”
Faya Rose and Jessica Barker spoke about plans for an August 3 to 7 bus ride to support amending and strengthening the Voting Rights Act . The buses will leave Selma that morning and drive to state capitols in Montgomery, Atlanta, Columbia, Raleigh, Richmond and on to Washington D. C. There will be a major rally in Washington D. C. on August 6, the 54th. anniversary of the passage and signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Rev. Kenneth Glascow of The Ordinary People’s Society, based in Dothan, Alabama spoke to the problems of disenfranchisement of incarcerated and prevuiously incarcerated people in Alabama and other states. “ We must make sure that people in jails awaiting trial can vote before their convictions and we must restore the vote to any persons who complete their prison sentences,” he said.
John Zippert speaking on behalf of the Alabama New South Coalitrion and the SOS Coalition for Justice and Democracy urged everyone to register to vote, to organize people in their communities to vote and to vote in every election for all for all conytests and items on the ballot.
For more information contact Alabama New South Coalition at 334/262-0932 or alabamanewsouth@aol.com and
Lift Our Vote 2020 at Liftourvote@gmail.com.

Greene County BBCF Community Associates launch shoe drive to raise funds for community grants

BBCF Community Associates L to R: Mollie Rowe, John Zippert, Miriam Leftwich and Carol Zippert

Eutaw, Al 2019 – Greene County Community Associates (GCCA) of the Black Belt Community Foundation are conducting a shoe drive fundraiser starting May 20, 2019 thru July 20, 2019 to raise funds to support community local level grants to be distributed in Greene County next year.
GCCA will earn funds based on the total weight of the pairs of gently worn, used and new shoes collected, as Funds2Orgs will issue a check for the collected shoes. Those dollars will come back to benefit Greene County organizations through the foundation’s community grants program. Anyone can help by donating gently worn, used and new shoes to GCCA members or at the Greene County Democrat Office – 206 Prairie Avenue, Eutaw – our primary collection point..
All donated shoes will then be redistributed throughout the Funds2Orgs network of micro-enterprise (small business) partners. Funds2Orgs works with micro-entrepreneurs in helping them create, maintain and grow small businesses in developing countries where economic opportunity and jobs are limited. Proceeds from the sales of the shoes collected in shoe drive fundraisers are used to feed, clothe and house their families. One budding entrepreneur in Haiti even earned enough to send to her son to law school.
“We are excited about our shoe drive,” said Miriam L. Leftwich, GCCA County Coordinator. “We know that most people have extra shoes in their closets they would like to donate to us. By doing so, we raise money for BBCF Community Grants, and we have the chance to help families in developing nations who need economic opportunities. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
By donating gently worn, used and new shoes to the Greene County Community Associates, the shoes will be given a second chance and make a difference in people’s lives around the world.
The Greene County Community Associates ask you to encourage others to donate shoes to this worthwhile cause.
Contact any member of Greene County Community Associates: Miriam Leftwich, Rodney Pham, Mollie Rowe, Geraldine Walton, Carol Zippert, John Zippert, Johnni Strode Morning, Andrea Perry. Nancy Cole, Valerie Watkins, Darlene Robinson or Johnny Williams.
The primary collection point at the Greene County Democrat will be open on Mondays from 8:30 AM to 2:00 PM; Tuesday- Thursdays from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM; and Fridays from 8:30 to Noon. Special arrangements for shoe drop-offs can be made by calling the Democrat at 205-372-3373.
You may also contact any member of the BBCF Greene County Community Associates, including Miriam L. Leftwich, County Coordinator at 205-496-2070 or by email at Leftwicm@bellsouth.net, for more information on the shoe drive.

Rev. William Barber says Alabama abortion ban is hypocrisy in claiming to be pro-life while disregarding the lives of poor people

Rev. William Barber, Co-Director of the Poor People’s Campaign joined the SOS Coalition for Justice and Democracy at its weekly Tuesday rally on the steps of the Alabama State House to urge Governor Kaye Ivey and the Alabama Legislature to support Medicaid Expansion, under the Affordable Care Act, for working poor people in the state.“I have come here today as a bishop of the church to expose the distorted moral narrative of the Governor and the Alabama State Legislature in claiming they are pro-life in adopting a mean spirited ban on all abortions, with no exceptions for rape, incest and health of the mother. They are forcing women in Alabama back to back alleys to seek reproductive health care services,” said Rev. Barber.
“ A number of states including, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio and Missouri are adopting these total abortion bans while at the same time having the highest rates of infant mortality, maternal death rates, food stamp utilization and failing to expand Medicare Expansion,” said Barber.
Rev. Barber indicated, “It is the height of hypocrisy for the Alabama Governor and the Legislature to say they are pro-life when 948,000 people in the state make under $15 hour. These are the very mothers who cannot get health care insurance coverage because the state has not extended Medicaid to the working poor. To be more concerned about the unborn, than with people after they are born, makes little sense.”
A grandmother from Birmingham, who had reunited her five grandchildren from foster homes, testified that she was working two jobs and still could not qualify for health insurance coverage because her income was still too low. She also indicated that she was struggling to keep her food stamps and other government support.
John Zippert, Chair of the Board of the Greene County Health System testified, “Our small rural 20 bed hospital is seriously challenged with providing $100,000 a month in uncompensated care to people who would have some health insurance to pay for their care if the State of Alabama expanded Medicaid. Our hospital, like most of those in the state, is operating with a financial deficit. We cannot continue operating this way very much longer.”
Sandy Fox, Southeast Regional Director for Planned Parenthood said, “My organization plans to sue the State of Alabama to prevent this abortion ban from going into effect.
We are continuing to offer reproductive health services to women in Alabama as we have since 1930. Black women in the South have a rate of cervical cancer six times higher than whites, and the Legislature and the Governor are trying to cut and stop health care services for poor women.
Zippert also said, “The SOS has developed a Citizens Arrest Warrant for Governor Kay Ivey. We want to arrest her for the crime of failing to expand Medicaid, which has lead to 500+ people a year dying unnecessarily without heath care; signing the draconian abortion ban, which hurts women; failing to act on prison reform and criminal justice; and continuing to suppress the votes of African-American, Latino and other voters.”
Rev. Barber pointed out that there was a statute in front of the Alabama State Capitol of Dr. Marion Sims, a medical doctor who practiced surgery on Black women during slavery without anesthesia to learn new gynecological procedures and that the Alabama abortion ban was following his brutal and misguided legacy.
“The most dangerous thing about the pro-life people is that they anchor these beliefs in their religious faith. But Jesus says nothing in the Bible about abortion but he does say a lot about treating the poor well and as you would want to be treated,” said Rev. Barber.

State House Committee holds hearing on bill to change Amendment 743 for bingo in Greene County

News Analysis
by: John Zippert, Co-Publisher

Twenty persons, mostly from Greene County, testified at Tuesday’s hearing before the Alabama House Committee on Economic and Tourism Development in Montgomery. The hearing room was packed with Mayors, County Commissioners and community leaders from Greene County.
The hearing was chaired by Representative Becky Nordgren of Calhoun County, north of Anniston. About half of the seats for the committee were filled.
The public hearing was to get input from people concerning SB321, proposed by Senator Bobby Singleton, and HB545, proposed by Rep. A. J. McCampbell, which would repeal Greene County’s current Constitutional Amendment 743 and replace it with a new system to regulate and administer gaming in Greene County. These bills would substitute a five member racing commission, named by the Legislative Delegation, for the Sheriff who currently regulates bingo in Greene County.
These bills would also change electronic bingo from charitable sponsors to allow any entity, including for-profit businesses, to qualify to be licensed to operate bingo in Greene County. The bill would establish a tax based on the gaming gross revenues as a means of supporting municipalities, government agencies, education, the hospital and other agencies currently receiving distributions from electronic bingo in Greene County. There would be a 2% tax to the State of Alabama and a 10% tax to the Greene County Gaming Commission and a formula for the distribution of those funds.
The legislation does not indicate how many bingo licenses could be issued by the new Greene County Gaming Commission and no guarantee that the current license holders would receive priority or automatic consideration for renewal under these bills. There is an unstated belief that this entire effort to rewrite the Greene County gaming Constitutional Amendment is designed to allow for only one license to be issued by the new commission to Greenetrack, which was the situation prior to the election of Sheriff Joe Benison in 2010. One positive result of adopting these changes would be to create more transparency about the ownership of the bingo licenses granted in Greene County and the gross amount of money coming through electronic bingo in Greene County. The tax provisions of the new bills would reveal the gross revenues generated by gaming in the county. We currently do not know the actual and accurate amount of funds generated in Greene County by electronic bingo.
The publishers of the Greene County Democrat have been interested in publishing this information for the public since the onset of bingo in the county. We have been denied this information as being proprietary (a private secret) of bingo operators. In the materials issued on both sides of the debate on these bills, the estimated gross gaming revenues have been cited as between $30 and $99 million annually.
Speakers at Hearing
At the hearing four speakers spoke in favor of passing the SB321 and HB545 including Representative A. J. McCampbell,
Luther Winn, CEO of Greenetrack, Beverly Gordon of Greenetrack and former Probate Judge Julia Spree.
Rep. McCampbell said that his bill, HB545, would provide more “permanency for bingo in Greene County and better define electronic bingo under the laws of Alabama. It also provides for a five member gaming commission which would be better than one person making all the decisions.”
Luther Winn, CEO of Greenetrack spent most of his remarks questioning a postcard that was sent to Greene County residents opposing the bills. Winn said the Sheriff was not truthful about the funds from bingo and said based on marketing studies he had reviewed that $62 million would be available and all of the current recipients of funds would receive the same or more funds.
Beverly Gordon echoed these remarks and said, “We are trying to help Greene County not hurt Greene County. We are not against the Sheriff but we are trying to help him do his job better. Former Judge Spree said having a five-member commission would be more efficient, offer more transparency about revenue generation and allow the Sheriff to devote full time to law enforcement and not divide his time as the bingo regulator.
Rev. James Carter of Tishabee, a local businessman and former Commissioner, questioned, “whether SB321 or HB545 were ever local bills since they have never been discussed at public meetings or were run in the newspaper, before they were introduced in Montgomery. While I do not see eye to eye with Sheriff Benison on every issue, he was elected three times overwhelmingly by the people of Greene County to operate bingo in the county among his many duties.”
Mayors and council members from various Greene County communities spoke on the benefits of Constitutional Amendment 743 to their municipalities and were opposed to making any changes. Mayor Charlie McCalpine of Forkland said,
“This is not a local bill, it seems to be a private bill. We have enjoyed the benefits of 743 and done many things for the people in our community.”
Mayor James Gaines of Union said until the Sheriff instituted new rules the Town of Union was not getting funding from bingo on a regular basis but since the changes the city has had matching funds for a storm shelter and a housing rehab program for senior citizens. “ We know what we have but we don’t know what we are going to get with these new bills,” said the Mayor.
Sharon Washington, speaking for the Town of Boligee said, “We opposes these bills because they were not discussed in Greene County before they were introduced in Montgomery.”
County Commissioner Cockrell, who is connected with one of the charities at Rivers Edge Bingo, said “These bills will cripple Greene County Commission and the municipalities because it does not guarantee Bingo the same amount of funds as Amendment 743. Why fix something that is not broken.”
County Commissioner Turner, who is also, connected to Rivers Edge Bingo, said, “The County Commission has earmarked funds from bingo for infrastructure and we have given scholarships in my District. We oppose these bills because we do not know how this will turn out.”
Sandra Walker of Greene County said, “We support the Sheriff. We voted for him and elected him to oversee bingo. We do not know who will be appointed to this new gaming commission, so we do not support these bills.”
John Zippert, speaking as Chair of the Hospital Board, said that he is concerned about the impact of the two bills. “We could support these bills if they were amended to provide more protection for electronic bingo in Greene County, if the current bingo licensees were ‘grand-farther –in’ and protected to continue and if there were provisions to guarantee that the current beneficiaries of bingo received the same or greater payments, under these bills.”
Former Governor Jim Folsom said he was concerned about the impact of these bills on Greene County’s finances. In his remarks, he said, “None of the Legislators who represent Greene County and would pick the new gaming commission actually live in Greene County. The potential that for profit entities could be licensed to operate bingo in Greene County is a major change that has statewide implications. You might want to leave the existing charitable agencies operating bingo in place.
At the conclusion of the public hearing, Rep. Nordgren said, “We will not vote on this today. We also need to see how other related legislation on the statewide lottery and bingo in Macon County work out before we make a decision on these bills.”

SOS plans rally at Statehouse in Montgomery on April 30th to push for Medicaid Expansion in Alabama

State Senator Malika Sanders Fortier address press conference. Others present on stage (L to R) are: Robyn Hyden, Karen Jones, John Zippert, Mayor Johnny Ford, Jeanette Thomas, Martha Morgan, Jeffrey Jones and Shelley Fearson.

Montgomery, AL – Members of Alabama SOS, the Save OurSelves Movement for Justice and Democracy, held a news conference today, Thursday, April 11, at 12:00 p.m. the 3rd Floor Press Room of the Alabama State House to address the dire need for expansion of Medicaid in Alabama.
John Zippert, Co-Chair of the SOS Health Committee said: “We are planning a rally at the Alabama State House for Tuesday, April 30, 2019 to alert the Governor, the Legislature and the public to the importance of acting to expand Medicaid immediately.”
He went on to say, “We have to do more to bring about Medicaid expansion in Alabama. Lives literally are depending upon it. Whatever it is required, we have to do it because citizens are dying, hospitals are closing, and access to medical care is diminishing. It is not enough to talk anymore. We have to do more, and SOS will do more.”
“Expanding Medicaid to reach the working poor will help 300,000 people who are currently uninsured to gain coverage. Currently, these folks fall in a gap between being not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid and not rich enough to qualify for insurance on the Affordable Care Act marketplace. Expanding Medicaid to serve this group will also be an economic development program to provide 30,000 new jobs in health care and related fields. It will touch every county in the state,” said Zippert.
Johnny Ford, Co-Chair of the SOS Health Committee and Founder and Leader of the World Conference of Mayors said: “We have given the Governor and the Legislature every opportunity to expand Medicaid. They not only have failed. They never tried. In the meantime, people keep dying and hospitals keep closing.
“We have to do everything in our power to move the Governor and everyone who is involved to implement Medicaid expansion in our state,” said Ford, who is also Board Chair of the National Black Leadership Commission on Health.
Robyn Hyden, Director of Alabama Arise, said: “There are several options to fund Medicaid expansion. Removing the federal income tax deduction for Alabama taxpayers, for example, would generate $719 million in new income tax revenue. This deduction primarily benefits people in the top 20 percent of taxpayers. This would allow the state to not only fund Medicaid expansion, but would also allow the state to remove the sales tax on groceries.”
Senator Malika Sanders Fortier said: “Health care is even more important than public education. Education helps us to live better. Health care helps us to live. I am calling upon everyone in a leadership position to move to implement Medicaid expansion right now. It is a matter of life or death in Alabama.”
SOS is comprised of more than 40 statewide Alabama organizations committed to justice and democracy. Other SOS members who spoke at the press conference included Law Professor Emerita Martha Morgan of Tuscaloosa County, Karen Jones of Montgomery, Faya Toure of Selma and Jeffrey Jones of Mobile.
Persons interested in participating in the rally should contact the SOS office through: alabamanewsouth.org or by calling 334-262-0933.