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House Committee Passes General Fund Budget, Selma Police Start Using Drones

Selma's police department used these drones for security at the Bridge Crossing Jubilee.

A bare-bones General Fund budget that could mean deep cuts for Medicaid passed a House committee and could see a House vote next week.

The House Ways and Means Committee approved the draft budget yesterday, putting it in line for a House vote next week. The state Medicaid commissioner says this budget will result in some deep cuts to Medicaid and other state services. Gov. Robert Bentley has already threatened to veto the budget unless lawmakers find more Medicaid funding.

The $1.8 billion spending plan does provide an additional $15 million for Medicaid over last year. But that's well short of the additional $100 million the agency says is needed just to maintain services.

Committee Chairman Steve Clouse says lawmakers are working with the funds they have available.

Medicaid Commissioner Stephanie Azar says the Medicaid program would have to cut reimbursement rates and optional services. She says it would also halt plans to transition the state’s Medicaid system to managed care.

There’s something new in the skies over the city of Selma. The local police department is using drones to increase public safety.

The department spent $9,000 to buy four of the small unmanned aircraft at the beginning of the year. The drones were first used last weekend during the Bridge Crossing Jubilee and have been used several times since. The remote controlled vehicles will be used for traffic control and during police investigations.

John Brock is Chief of Police in Selma. He says the drones can help protect officers as they enter potentially dangerous situations.

“If they’re up and flying, for officer safety it’s great because they can see a lot more from the air than the officers can see on the ground around buildings, corners, down the street.  For officer safety, just so we can see before we get there what’s going on around the neighborhood, around the house.”

The city of Selma hopes to purchase one or two more drones in the future for the fire department and police department.

Civil engineering students at the University of Alabama will get a chance to show off their skills this week. They are hosting the American Society of Civil Engineers Southeast Student Conference.

The conference showcases improvements to the UA campus, particularly the engineering infrastructure.

James New is a co-chair for the conference.  He says engineering competitions will be featured prominently this weekend. 

“We host the regionals for two national competitions. It is the steel bridge competition where students fabricate a steel bridge that is about twenty feet long. Then the other regional competition we host is the concrete canoe where students design, fabricate, and race canoes made out of concrete.”

UA hasn’t hosted the conference since 2005.  This year’s event is expected to draw 1,000 student participants and faculty members.  The competition begins today and lasts through Saturday.

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