Judge lifts driver license suspension of former astronaut

Sep 22, 2016

A judge in Tuscaloosa has delayed the driver license suspension of a former astronaut charged in the traffic deaths of two girls.

Records show the court delayed the state's move to take James Halsell's driver's license. An order issued earlier this month says the one-time space shuttle commander can keep his license until his case is resolved.

NASA is building a new satellite to study air pollution and scientists are gathering in Huntsville to learn how to use it.

A workshop for new air quality monitoring technology is being held at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. The air sniffing satellite is called TEMPO and its set for launch around 2020. A conference is a way for scientists on the TEMPO project to answer questions that general users may have about the data and workings of the satellite.

TEMPO data

NASA is inviting scientists to use data from a satellite set for launch around 2020.

The program is called Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution, or TEMPO. It’s designed to look for pollution in the upper atmosphere. NASA is teaming with the University of Alabama in Huntsville for a workshop on how scientists can get data from the TEMPO satellite for their research.

Professor Michael Newchurch came up with the idea of having the application workshop at the university. He says he only expected twenty to thirty people to attend.

The Tuscaloosa City Council has approved a deal that will allow the ride-sharing service Uber to begin operations in the city within a month.

The Tuscaloosa News reports the council voted 6-1 yesterday to change its vehicle-for-hire ordinance to allow Uber and similar companies to begin operations in the city.

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox says he plans to sign the amended ordinance into law.

The families of two girls who were killed in a DUI crash involving a former NASA astronaut in rural west Alabama have filed wrongful-death lawsuits in state and federal courts.

Authorities say 11-year-old Niomi James and 13-year-old Jayla Parler were killed in a crash that left two others injured on June 6 in rural west Alabama.

Former NASA astronaut 59-year-old James Halsell has been charged with reckless murder in the crash and now faces wrongful-death lawsuits in Tuscaloosa County and in federal court.

An Alabama judge will hear arguments today in a dispute between the state’s teachers and their health insurance provider.

The Alabama Education Association is suing the Public Education Employees’ Health Insurance Program, or PEEHIP. Coinciding with a raise that Alabama’s lawmakers allocated to teachers earlier this year, the health insurance program announced it was dramatically increasing its premiums. The AEA argues those rate hikes were decided upon in a secret meeting that violated the state’s Open Meetings Act.

A state judge is refusing to dismiss ethics charges against Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard.

Lee County Judge Jacob Walker says he will let the charges go to the jury, rejecting a defense request for a summary judgment of acquittal after prosecutors rested their case.

Defense lawyer Bill Baxley says he plans to call on former Gov. Bob Riley, who testified earlier as a prosecution witness.

Jury selection is ongoing in the trial of Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard.

About 100 of the 140 Lee County residents were on hand as the selection process began in Opelika. 

Republican Speaker Mike Hubbard faces 23 felony ethics charges of using his political position for personal gain back in October 2014. Hubbard has maintained his innocence throughout the indictments. 

Hubbard faces removal from office if he’s convicted.

Alabama Astrobiotics

Alabama’s state preschool program has been named the best in the country for ten years running.

The National Institute for Early Education Research ranks pre-kindergarten programs across the country each year based on quality. For the tenth year in a row, the institute named Alabama’s state-funded First Class Pre-K program the nation’s best. Alabama met or exceeded all of the institute’s quality benchmarks examining things like student-to-teacher ratios and educator qualifications.

Lawyers for an Alabama death row inmate are asking a federal court to stop his execution next week, saying he is incompetent because of mental illness, strokes and dementia.

Attorneys for 65-year-old Vernon Madison filed the emergency stay request Wednesday in federal court in Mobile.

Madison is scheduled to get a lethal injection May 12. He was convicted in the 1985 slaying of Mobile police Officer Julius Schulte.

The Alabama legislative session is over. Lawmakers have returned home, but some say very little was accomplished. APR’s MacKenzie Bates talks to one legislator who says there is still a lot work to do.

Lawmakers ended the session without agreeing a on a variety of issues like Alabama Governor Robert Bentley's prison construction proposal, how the state should spend the BP settlement from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and the lack of money to fund the state’s Medicaid program.

The Alabama House of Representatives voted unanimously yesterday to approve an education budget that gives teachers their first pay raise in several years.

The spending plan would give a 4 percent raise to teachers making less than $75,000 annually, and a 2 percent raise to all other teachers in the state.

All 105 state representatives approved the budget, sending it to the Alabama Senate for consideration.

In 2013, lawmakers approved a 2 percent pay raise for teachers, but that was offset by increases in benefit costs. The last raise before that came in 2007.

Montgomery city officials are planning their own investigation of the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer. A-P-R’s Stan Ingold reports the decision was made after complaints from the officer's colleagues…

Mayor Todd Strange told The Montgomery Advertiser that officers are unhappy, concerned and upset over the arrest of Officer Aaron Smith.

Alabama State House
Jay Williams / Flickr

The next session for Alabama’s state legislature will convene at noon today.

State lawmakers are starting the 2016 session on Groundhog Day to some very familiar budget issues, but there will likely be some new debates as well.

More than 100 religious group leaders are pleading to Alabama’s governor to soften his stance on the state accepting Syrian refugees. 

Pastors sent a letter to Governor Robert Bentley’s office in Montgomery, saying faith includes a requirement to welcome strangers and love neighbors.

The letter was signed by dozens of moderate clergy members and other religious leaders from around the state. It was initiated by Greater Birmingham Ministries, an ecumenical organization in the state's largest city.

Alabama’s embattled Department of Corrections is now being criticized for housing youth inmates in adult facilities.

41 youth offenders are currently locked up alongside adult inmates at corrections facilities in Alabama. That’s according to a report released earlier this month by the Campaign for Youth Justice, a national advocacy organization.

Carmen Daugherty is the policy director for the Campaign for Youth Justice. She says housing youth inmates alongside adults contributes to those youths landing back in prison in the future.

 NASA has named an interim director to lead the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

NASA officials say that Todd May has been named to the post after the retirement of former director Patrick Scheuermann.

May has served as the space center's deputy director since August and had managed the Space Launch System Program since 2011. Officials say May started his career with NASA in 1991 at the Materials and Processes lab at Marshall.

NASA’s new rocket program designed to eventually carry astronauts to Mars has a new   

  man at the helm. APR’s Alex AuBuchon has more.

            John Honeycutt has been named the new manager of NASA’s Space Launch System program.

            The program is currently in development at Huntsville’s Marshall Space Flight Center and aims to construct the largest rockets ever built.

House Committee approves tax hikes, NASA Smartwatch App

Sep 9, 2015

An Alabama budget committee has approved a cigarette tax increase and other revenue bills as lawmakers try to fill a budget shortfall.

The House Ways and Means Committee voted 8-6 for a 25-cent-per-pack cigarette tax increase. The increase would raise $66 million annually.

The committee also voted for bills to raise the car rental tax from 1.5 to 2 percent, increase the car title fee from $15 to $28, and adjusts the business privilege tax so smaller businesses pay less and larger ones pay more.

The civil rights trial of former Madison police officer Eric Parker was delayed for hours yesterday for a closed hearing involving the Madison police chief.

WHNT reports Police Chief Larry Muncey and other high-ranking members of the Madison Police Department were called into a closed hearing before the judge regarding allegations of improper contact between members of the department.

Muncey was asked to bring copies of all e-mails he sent regarding the trial. If the allegations are proven true, Muncey could face criminal contempt of court charges.

Huntsville Police Chief Lewis Morris says he's retiring on September first.

Morris made the announcement during a news conference this morning. Huntsville city officials say west precinct commander Capt. Mark McMurray will serve as interim police chief.

Morris has served as police chief since April 2012. The announcement comes a day after 48-year-old officer Brett Russell was convicted of federal excessive force and obstruction of justice charges for assaulting a suspect and filing a false report.

NASA Auburn
Auburn University

Auburn University has entered into a Space Act Agreement with NASA to explore and advance the applications of additive manufacturing, better known as 3D printing.

The act was signed yesterday by Dr. John Mason, Auburn's vice president for research and economic development, along with Patrick Scheuermann, director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

The agreement will allow Auburn students to engage in NASA's missions and opportunities, investigate and develop technologies and share NASA facilities and technical expertise.

Gulf Coast officials are worried that their communities won't get their fair share of Alabama's $2.3 billion portion of the BP oil spill settlement.

Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft says members of the Gulf Coast Recovery Council have some unanswered questions about the settlement.

The plan would give the council control over $599 million, but about half of that spending would still require federal approval.

VictoryLand Casino is asking the state of Alabama to return seized gambling machines and cash as the Macon County casino looks to reopen.

Lawyers for VictoryLand filed the motion yesterday after a judge ruled against the state's 2013 effort to close the casino.

Circuit Judge William Shashy ruled last month the state’s seizure violated the principle of equal protection since other electronic bingo operations remained in business in Alabama. Shashy dismissed the state's attempt to keep 1,615 machines and more than $260,000 seized in the raid.

Alabama workers are facing layoffs at the state’s Blue Bell Creameries facilities and at Walter Energy.

Blue Bell is trimming its workforce nationally due to the temporary closure over listeria concerns. Over 250 Blue Bell employees in the state will be temporarily furloughed, with another 45 losing their jobs entirely. Blue Bell recently stated that they’ll be cutting a third of their workforce nationwide.

Engineering students from Alabama are helping NASA design ways to dig for minerals on other planets. The agency’s Robotics Mining Competition begins this morning at the Kennedy Space Center.  Students from the University of Alabama and Shelton State Community College have built a robot digger for the competition.

Dr. Kenneth Ricks is an associate professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering.  He says this is robotics mining competition puts his team up against some of the best programs on the planet…

With only eight days left in the current legislative session, state lawmakers are running short on both time and options to patch a $200 million hole in the General Fund Budget.

The Alabama House of Representatives is set to vote tomorrow on a budget draft totaling $1.6 billion for next year. That would cut around 200 million dollars from funding for a wide variety of state agencies. House Speaker Mike Hubbard says his aim is to get that budget onto the Senate floor, and then work with Senators on a possible solution to avoid those cuts.


The last known surviving member of the German engineering team that came to the United States and designed the rocket that took astronauts to the moon has died.

   Oscar Carl Holderer died Tuesday at age 95 in Huntsville. His son Michael Holderer says his father suffered a stroke last week and didn't recover.

   The German-born Holderer came to the United States in 1945 with a group of rocket engineers led by Wernher von Braun.


A federal judge will review an agreement to settle a desegregation case involving Huntsville city schools.

The school system and the Justice Department released the agreement on Monday. It's aimed at resolving disputes over the racial fairness of a student attendance plan devised last year.

The federal government objected to the plan arguing it didn't improve academic opportunities for black students.   The school system agrees to take several steps in the settlement, which follows mediation sessions.


The controversy over the end of the football team at the University of Alabama in Birmingham may enter its latest chapter today. APR student reporter Kristen Feyt has more…