- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

June 2

The Decatur Daily on Alabama Accountability Act:

One of the most controversial and anti-public education pieces of legislation passed by the Republican-dominated Legislature was struck down as unconstitutional last week by a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge. His ruling is sure to be appealed.

Judge Gene Reese struck down the key provisions of the Alabama Accountability Act, saying lawmakers violated the state Constitution by including more than one provision in the bill and by changing the bill from its original intent. He also said the act violates the state Constitution by providing public money to private schools through its income tax credits to parents who remove their children from failing public schools and enroll them in private schools.

It’s estimated that the tax credits will cost $40 million, which public schools can’t afford to lose.

Republicans, who forced the bill through after completely rewriting it over the objections of Democrats, argue the act offers a way for parents to remove their children from failing schools and enroll them in another school. Tax credits are offered to them, even if they move their children to a private school. There is also a provision for donating to scholarship funds to help parents pay tuition, and the companies collecting the money may keep 5 percent of the donations.

No matter how the bill is interpreted, it is clear that public money is being used to pay for private school education. That is an affront to the people of Alabama who fund public schools with taxes on their hard-earned income and their property.

If schools are failing, the problems should be addressed with additional support tailored to the specific school. If that requires extra money, spend it.

If lawmakers really want accountability in public schools, they should show some accountability of their own by placing greater value on public education.

Every available dollar should be funneled into our schools. Allowing millions of dollars to be siphoned away is not acceptable.




May 28

Dothan Eagle on campaign funds and criminal defense:

In the spring of 1993, then Alabama Gov. Guy Hunt was convicted in Montgomery County Circuit Court on felony ethics charges stemming from his conversion of about $200,000 from an inauguration fund to personal use. The first Republican governor since Reconstruction was removed from office immediately.

In the ensuing 20-plus years, there’s been a lot of conjecture about the case, whether Hunt got bad advice or spent the money ignorantly, whether the charges were politically motivated and whether he deserved what he got. Regardless of what Alabamians think of the Hunt case, there’s a strong belief that money meant for one purpose should not be spent on another.

Fast-forward a few years, when then-Attorney General Bill Pryor - now a federal judge - issued an opinion that’s given a freebie to any elected official accused of wrongdoing. Jim Woodard, then sheriff of Jefferson County, faced charges of illegally accessing a criminal database. He asked the attorney general if he could pay his legal fees with public funds. Pryor’s response points out that using public funds to pay for criminal defense is not allowed, but offered this:

“Excess campaign funds may be used by an incumbent office holder to pay legal fees incurred pursuant to the defense of a criminal indictment if the indictment is related to the performance of the duties of the office held.”

That was helpful for those lawmakers who faced charges in the vote-buying dragnet a couple of years back. (None were convicted). And it’s helpful to those at on the business end of a corruption investigation from Lee County.

Then there’s the language that describes what campaign funds can be used. The AG’s opinion says “excess campaign funds.” While that’s ill-defined, it would appear that $25,000 in from a PAC and $25,000 out to a criminal attorney is more funneling than use of “excess” funds, particularly when the candidate says he expects more from the PAC.

While the law allows the use of campaign funds for criminal defense under certain circumstances, many would argue that campaign contributions are intended to put a candidate in office, not keep them out of jail.




June 3

Anniston Star on nuclear power plant:

In the fantasy version, President Barack Obama is at the head of a rogue administration. Obama rules by dictate, laughing off the Constitution with reckless abandon and steamrolling ahead with various radical policies.

This version does plenty for elected Republicans opposed to Obama. It raises the blood pressure of supporters as well as campaign war chests of GOP politicians.

In reality, Obama hasn’t delivered on the grand plans he sold to Americans in 2008. Let’s take lessening the effects of climate change for an example.

“Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all,” Obama said in 2008. “Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response.”

Looking back from then to today, the president’s track record is a disappointment. His boldest plans are mostly stuck behind deep-pocketed interests who profit from our carbon-based economy, a PR effort intended to raise doubt over climate science and congressional Republicans hostile to Obama’s prescriptions.

Let’s face it, any president stymied by all this isn’t much of an authoritarian.

On Monday, the Obama administration issued new rules governing carbon emissions. The 16-year goal is to reduce the release of greenhouse gases from the nation’s power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels. The rules give states the ability to create their own plans for reduction.

“Today, climate change - fueled by carbon pollution - supercharges risks not just to our health, but to our communities, our economy, and our way of life,” Gina McCarthy, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, said Monday.

What happens next over this lengthy regulatory process? Expect a host of lawsuits from big polluters. Also, expect Republicans to campaign against what they term “job-killing regulations.”

Mike Duncan, CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, summed up the feelings of many in industry: “If these rules are allowed to go into effect, the administration for all intents and purposes is creating America’s next energy crisis.”

In the real world, increased carbon emissions are warming our planet. The overwhelming scientific consensus says so, and there’s no debate. The nation and the world needs a leader who will spur action on this crisis. While Monday’s announcement is positive, it’s clear Obama doesn’t have the capacity to bring about the changes required.



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