September 18 News

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September 18, 2012, Morning News


Polls open at 7 a.m. and turnout is expected to be light for today’s referendum. Voters are deciding whether to approve the transfer of $437 million out of a state trust fund to help balance the state General Fund budget for the next three years. The proposed constitutional amendment is the only issue on Today’s ballot and Secretary of State Beth Chapman estimates about 20 percent of Alabama’s voters will participate.

An attorney for HIV-positive prison inmates in Alabama says prisons continue to isolate inmates who have tested positive for the virus even though HIV is no longer the death sentence it once was considered. Trial started yesterday in a federal lawsuit challenging the policy. An attorney representing the state says HIV-positive prisoners are kept together in dormitories at Limestone Correctional Facility in north Alabama and at Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka. But, he says, the inmates can participate in most of the programs available to other inmates.

The state’s prepaid college tuition program continues to wind its way through the courts. The program ran into trouble in 2008 when the stock market plunged and it no longer could cover full tuition for all participants. In April the legislature passed a law removing the full funding provision, thereby allowing the program to freeze tuition payments at a lower level. Participants sued. The state Supreme Court sent the lawsuit to a Montgomery County Circuit judge and yesterday he ruled the legislature can retroactively apply the new law and freeze tuition rates at the 2010 level. That could pave the way for a settlement in the court case.

A group of Jefferson County officials and residents is again suing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court over the county’s multi-billion dollar sewer debt. The group, which includes two Birmingham city councilmen, a tax assessor and two state legislators, re-filed its suit yesterday, hoping to have the debt readjusted. They argue that corruption led to the county paying nearly $2 billion more than it should have to for the sewer construction project. About two dozen elected officials and others have been convicted of crimes related to the sewer construction and borrowing. A similar lawsuit filed two years ago in Jefferson County Circuit Court was unsuccessful.

Water and sewer rates in Gadsden will go up again next month to help finance ongoing improvements to the water system. The Gadsden Times reports residential and commercial customers will see an 11 percent rate hike on their October bills. That’s about $3.50 for the average customer. It’s the fourth of five planned increases. The Times reports the improvements are needed to meet new federal requirements for reducing levels of disinfection by-products in water treatment.

Heavy rains are drenching Alabama – raising flash flood warnings in the northern part of the state. Emergency workers had to help stranded motorists in some places in Northeast Alabama. The National Weather Service says streams along the Tennessee River will rise because of runoff from the storms.

Officials are conducting a large training exercise along Alabama’s coast to prepare for hurricanes and other emergencies. Helicopters and other equipment will be near Perdido Pass in Orange Beach today for what’s being called “Operation Raging Winds.” The training will include helicopter rescues and beach patrols along the coast. Agencies participating in the exercises include conservation, emergency management, homeland security and public safety.