- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

April 14

The Anniston (Ala.) Star on the attorney general’s fight over casinos:

“Big Luther,” Alabama’s hyper-ambitious Attorney General Luther Strange, had been warned more than once. This page warned him. Other commentators warned him. If he had bothered to ask, members of the Alabama Bar Association most assuredly would have warned him, too.

Nevertheless, Strange went to court to challenge the right of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians to operate their casinos on tribal land in Alabama. The attorney general and his staff spent considerable time and taxpayer money to pursue this case. And just as we and others warned, he lost.

U.S. District Court Judge Keith Watkins, in a 60-page decision released last Friday, navigated what he described as “a complicated jurisdictional and federal statutory maze” that took him down a variety of legal pathways. “Ultimately,” Watkins wrote, “each pathway leads to a dead end for the State of Alabama.”

Therefore, the judge continued, “after careful consideration of the arguments of counsel, the pertinent law, and the pleadings, as supplemented by undisputed evidence,” he ruled in favor of the Poarch Creeks.

However, in his ruling the judge did more than dismiss the case Alabama brought against the tribe. In a stinging repudiation of the state’s claim that it had some jurisdiction over gaming on tribal land, Watkins wrote, “the bottom line is that even if Defendants are operating illegal class III gaming at the Poarch Band casinos, (the law) does not provide the state authority to prohibit such gaming.”

This ruling, if it stands, might well lead to the Poarch Creeks opening the sort of casinos that Mississippi Indians operate.

Putting his best spin on the setback, Strange issued a statement to the effect that the decision “puts us one step closer to a final resolution of this issue, which has been our goal all along.” Then he added that he intended to file an appeal.

So, more time and money will be spent on a case that, looking at Watkins‘ impressively researched and reasoned ruling, would do little more than keep the attorney general’s name in the news and the Poarch Creek casinos operating.




April 13

Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News on Alabama Accountability Act:

U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins distilled the issue down to its simple truth when he tossed out the lawsuit aimed at nullifying the Alabama Accountability Act.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs, eight schoolchildren in Wilcox County, argued that since their clients couldn’t escape failing schools because they could not afford to travel to non-failing schools, then no one should be allowed to benefit from the Alabama Accountability Act. The judge didn’t think that made sense.

“The only remedy requested thus far would leave the plaintiffs in exactly the same situation to which they are currently subject, but with the company of their better-situated classmates,” Watkins said. “The equal protection requested is, in effect, equally bad treatment.”

The act enables students in failing schools to receive tax credits to help pay the cost of attending a non-failing public school within the same district or in another district. They can also get tax credits to attend private schools. It also gives tax credits to corporations and individuals donating to scholarship funds.

The Alabama Education Association has unleashed a barrage of criticism against the act, claiming that it takes money out of the Education Trust Fund and thus away from public schools. The AEA claims that the best way to improve failing schools is to force students and the state appropriation that comes with them to stay in those failing schools.

The AEA’s crusade against the Alabama Accountability Act has included disinformation. At one point, AEA supporters were claiming that the state “spent” $40 million to send 52 students to private schools. That claim ignores the 737 students who took advantage of the act to transfer to other public schools.

The AEA is getting its licks in while it can - flinging around inflated numbers without putting them in context - before the act’s full impact is felt.

The AEA complains that money is being taken away from public schools. But the money in the Education Trust Fund isn’t the sole property of public schools; it belongs to the state’s citizens. It should be used to educate Alabama children. We think the education students get is more important than where they get it.




April 15

Dothan (Ala.) Eagle on banning brick mailboxes on county roads:

Governmental regulations often seem random and picayune, and can leave those affected by them puzzled, infuriated or both.

Consider, for instance, that you’re a resident along a county maintained roadway in Houston County. Your road is scheduled to be resurfaced, and you get a letter stating that you have to replace your mailbox with a “breakaway” mailbox or move it off the easement that extends several feet onto your property from the roadway. Your mailbox is enclosed in a brick structure you installed after the fourth or fifth time vandals had taken a baseball bat to your box from a speeding car.

What are you going to do?Who’s going to reimburse you for what you’ve spent on the mailbox structure?

These questions will surely be raised when the county implements a policy requiring mailbox posts to have “breakaway” designs so that they’ll snap off if struck by a vehicle.

“This is one of those things we don’t have control over,” said Houston County Commission Chairman Mark Culver during a discussion of the Alabama Department of Transportation mandate.

That’s not entirely true. The county could ignore ADT’s requirement, but in doing so would risk losing federal funds for maintenance of county roads, so that’s really not an option.

Instead, Houston County road and bridge department personnel will work with residents as each road comes up for resurfacing. They’ll determine which mailboxes don’t comply, and then replace them at no cost to the homeowner. And the brick structures? County workers will help move them from the right of way.

It’s a whole lot of trouble and expense for the affected residents and for county workers, who surely have more important tasks that replacing mailboxes.

The logic behind the mandate is that breakaway mailbox posts would be safer if struck by a vehicle.

A better approach would be to ensure that the edges of county roadways are clearly marked with reflective lines.



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