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Latest Alabama news, sports, business and entertainment:

   3.1-magnitude earthquake rattles southwest Alabama
   COFFEEVILLE, Ala. (AP) -- The U.S. Geological Survey said a
3.1-magnitude earthquake rattled Southwest Alabama Friday
afternoon. But it apparently caused no significant damage.
   The agency says it was in Clarke County in the vicinity of rural
Coffeeville about 75 miles north of Mobile.
   The Geological Survey says it occurred about 1:40 p.m.
   Coffeeville Police Chief Clint Harrell says he didn't feel the
quake. But he says some residents told him they thought it was a
sonic boom until it lasted more than a minute.
   He says there have been no reports of any injuries or
significant damage.
   Buoyed by recent wins, Democrats eye Southern seats
   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The political fortunes of Democrats down South
once were so bad that people openly joked even Jesus Christ would
lose by a double-digit margin if he ran for office on the party's
   It might be time to put that joke to rest.
   In special elections recently, Democrats snatched away two
congressional seats that Republicans had held for decades in
Mississippi and Louisiana, the heart of the Bible Belt. Come
November, more GOP losses could play out in Alabama, Virginia,
North Carolina, Kentucky, Louisiana and Florida.
   No one is ready to paint the South blue. But for the first time
in years, Democrats are making noise in a region previously seen as
lost to Republicans for good.
   Democratic pollster John Anzalone of Montgomery, who worked on
the Louisiana and Mississippi elections, said "its harvest time."
   Demographic changes have played a role. According to census
figures many newcomers are Northerners and minorities who view
politics differently from native Southerners.
   DC court denies Georgia appeal on water ruling
   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington has
declined Georgia's petition to reconsider a recent ruling that
restricts the state's authority to tap a huge federal reservoir
near Atlanta for more drinking water.
   A three-judge panel of the court in February threw out an
agreement that Georgia reached in 2003 with the Army Corps of
Engineers. The agreement -- the lynchpin of Georgia's long-term
water plans -- would give the state about a quarter of Lake Lanier's
capacity over the coming decades.
   The court sided with Alabama and Florida, who argued that using
even more of the lake for drinking water would constitute a major
operational change that requires congressional approval.
   The court denied Georgia's request for a rehearing without
comment on Thursday.
   Ala's unemployment rate drops slightly in March
   MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- Alabama's unemployment rate declined
slightly in April to 4.0 percent.
   State Industrial Relations Director Tom Surtees said the April
rate was down from 4.1 percent in March, but it was up from the 3.4
percent recorded a year ago.
   Alabama's rate compared to a national unemployment figure of 4.5
percent. Alabama tied Kansas for the 17th lowest unemployment rate
in the nation. Virginia was the only state in the Southeast with an
unemployment rate lower than Alabama in April.
   The state Department of Industrial Relations reported that
Alabama counties with the lowest jobless rates were Shelby at 2.3
percent, Madison at 2.5 percent, and Baldwin, Tuscaloosa and
Limestone at 2.7 percent. The counties with the highest rates were
Chambers at 10.7 percent, Wilcox at 9.5 percent and Dallas at 8.0
   Renee Culverhouse leaves Gadsden State immediately
   MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- Renee Culverhouse is leaving Gadsden
State Community College immediately instead of waiting until
December 31st as originally planned.
   Culverhouse has been president of the northern Alabama school
since 2001 and cited health reasons for her abrupt departure
   She will be on extended sick leave for the rest of 2008.
   She had announced her retirement last month, saying she suffers
from several serious and potentially debilitating illnesses and
they were progressing.
   Chancellor Bradley Byrne appointed Valerie Richardson as acting
president and she will become interim president when Culverhouse's
resignation takes effect at the end of the year.
   Richardson is currently Gadsden's vice president of
institutional advancement and student services and has worked at
the school since 1999.
   Records missing from Ala. mental health department
   MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- Alabama Department of Mental Health and
Mental Retardation officials say records containing patient
information have gone missing.
   Index cards with patients' names, social security numbers and
birthdates were recently discovered missing at Greil Hospital in
   The department's investigation bureau is looking into the matter
and sending letters to affected individuals.
   Commissioner John Houston said in a statement that there is a
zero tolerance for policy violations that might have led to the
missing cards. He said any criminal activity will be vigorously
   The department has set up a call center and individuals can
learn more about the situation by calling 1-866-577-7269 or going
to its web site at
   Effort seeks to legalize stronger beer in Alabama
   MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- A two-year effort to legalize some of
the world's finest and most expensive beers in Alabama is coming to
a head.
   The Alabama Senate meets Monday for the final day of the 2008
legislative session. One of the bills pending before the Senate
would more than double the amount of alcohol that could be sold in
beer in Alabama.
   Stuart Carter of Free the Hops says Alabama's limit on beer is
more restrictive than 47 other states. Carter's group has been
trying to get the Legislature to raise the limit for two years.
   The Reverend Dan Ireland of the American Council on Alcohol
Problems says the bill would lead to more beer getting into the
hands of teenagers. A similar bill died in the 2007 legislative
   Harper Lee becomes special member of Alabama State Bar
   MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- The author of "To Kill a Mockingbird,"
Harper Lee, has received an honorary special membership in the
Alabama State Bar.
   Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb made the presentation Friday
in Montgomery.
   State Bar President Samuel Crosby said Lee's character Atticus
Finch has become the personification of the exemplary lawyer in
serving the legal needs of the poor.
   Lee studied law at the University of Alabama from 1945-1949, but
was unable to complete her studies and sit for the bar exam.
   The Alabama Supreme Court voted unanimously to approve the
presentation of the special bar membership to Lee.

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