Hubbard Ethics Trial To Begin Next Week, Funding Restored to State Reading Program

May 19, 2016

Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard and his wife Susan enter the Lee County Courthouse in Opelika, Ala.
Credit Brynn Anderson / AP

A jury has been chosen, and Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s ethics trial will begin next week.

Hubbard is facing nearly two dozen felony ethics charges accusing him of using his position as Speaker and past position as chairman of Alabama’s Republican Party for personal gain for himself and his businesses. Each count is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Hubbard has pleaded not guilty and maintains he didn’t do anything illegal.

During jury selection, attorneys asked the prospective jurors if they thought all politicians were crooked or if there were some good people elected to government office. They also tried to gauge attitudes toward high-profile witnesses in the case, including Alabama Governor Robert Bentley.

The trial is scheduled to start Tuesday, but Hubbard’s defense lawyer Bill Baxley plans to file a motion challenging a pretrial decision in the case. Lee County Judge Jacob Walker says he doesn’t want to seat the jury until all pretrial appeals are finished, so that may delay the beginning of the trial.

Teachers across the state are breathing a sigh of relief after the Alabama Department of Education restored funding to a state reading program.

Superintendents and educators had been scrambling for funding in the wake of a $7.5 million cut to the Alabama Reading Initiative. That’s a program aimed at improving literacy by placing reading coaches in public elementary schools. The cuts were based on performance, so schools with above-average reading grades would have gotten nearly $60,000 less than below-average schools.

Dr. Eric Mackey is the Executive Director of School Superintendents of Alabama. He says schools would have had to do away with reading coaches, or make significant cuts to instruction.

“For instance, they might have gone from one reading coach per school to one covering five or six schools. Obviously, a reading coach can’t be nearly as successful if she is working with five or six schools rather than just one school.”

Mackey says the funding increase will allow all schools to maintain their reading programs, and schools in need of more support will still receive additional funds.

The start of the 2016 hurricane season may be two weeks away, but that’s not stopping forecasters from talking about it.

The National Weather Service in Mobile is holding an open house for school kids and the public. Those in attendance will have a chance to check out things like the hurricane hunter planes which fly into storms as they approach.

But there’s a serious message as well. Forecaster Jason Beeman says everyone near Alabama’s gulf coast needs to be on alert for storm surges.

“So, it’s imperative, if you’re close to the coast, to know if you’re in an evacuation area, if you’re in a surge-prone area. Even if you’re in a surge-prone area, are you living close enough to the coast that access routes may be cut off if a storm surge does come in from the hurricane?”

Beeman says residents farther north need to be on guard for flooding or tornadoes generated by hurricanes. Also, residents need at least three days of food, water, and survival supplies on hand. The 2016 Hurricane season runs from June 1 through the end of November.