- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

March 17

Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News on state needing to fix open meetings law:

In a landmark press freedom case, Cox Broadcasting Corp. v. Cohn, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron White wrote that “the citizenry is the final judge of the proper conduct of public business.”

Justice White was spot on, and to that end, the judgment of the citizenry is largely dependent upon the press reporting on governmental proceedings.

Unfortunately, recent - and in our view, misguided - Alabama Supreme Court rulings, including one that allows governing bodies to hold serial meetings, have weakened the state’s open meetings law to the point of uselessness. The rulings effectively prevent the state’s press - the media, in modern parlance - from holding public officials accountable. The people now have no way of knowing what their elected representatives are up to, except at the whim of those same officials should they deign to allow light to shine on their proceedings - not exactly a democratic ideal. After all, the press is not some independent entity looking after its own interests. It is the proxy for the people, the citizenry.

A bill that would rectify the problem, for the most part, has passed the Alabama Senate but has stalled in the House, ironically during Sunshine Week (March 16-22), a national initiative of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in support of open government. The good news is, we can think of no better time for the House and, specifically, Rep. Mike Ball, to let it through. The bill is slated to go before Ball’s committee on Wednesday.

The GOP labored in the minority for more than a century in the Legislature before finally wresting control four years ago, in part by promising to forego the cronyism and ruthless power-wielding that had become entrenched under the one-party rule of the Democrats.

If the GOP wants to make a point, there is no better way to do so than to uphold a core principle of democracy.




March 18

Dothan (Ala.) Eagle on Sen. Scott Beason wanting guns, not quality education:

State Sen. Scott Beason wants Alabamians to have free access to their guns, but not a quality education.

If you think that seems like an unfair characterization of the Gardendale Republican, take a closer look. Beason is the sponsor of the measure that would allow people to carry loaded pistols in their cars without a permit, an expansion of his successful legislation to relax gun-carrying laws passed in last year’s session. Now he’s got Common Core standards in his crosshairs, most recently by pushing a measure that would give local school systems the ability to opt out of the state Board of Education-adopted standards. Systems that would opt out of Common Core would revert to standards adopted a decade or more ago.

These are initiatives that blindly pander to his conservative base without regard to realistic consequences. Law enforcement officials argue that Beason’s gun-in-the-car bill would remove the background check procedure sheriff departments use when issuing gun permits. Beason counters, “We’re the only state in the entire region that says you have to pay someone to have your Second Amendment right.” (Gun permits carry a modest annual fee.)

His wrongheaded thinking on education is just as dangerous, but in a more subtle way. Flooding the streets with weapons doesn’t mean one will fall victim to gun violence. However, hobbling students by blocking access to contemporary education standards guarantees they’ll enter adulthood at a disadvantage.

There’s a great deal of controversy over Common Core standards, with advocates and critics firmly entrenched. While the Alabama Board of Education adopted Common Core to the great dismay of many, an effort in the Legislature to overturn the adoption failed.

Beason’s ill-conceived opt-out measure, disingenuously linked to the idea of “local control,” is a desperate Hail Mary that would create a confusing patchwork of standards across the state and put Alabama’s students further under the thumb of partisan control.

That simply must not be allowed.

The Common Core standards, regardless what laypersons think of them, are the choice of the state Board of Education, elected by the people to operate the education system in our state. If standards are to be changed, it is the state school board that should change them, not a crusading politician who’d as soon burn down the schoolhouse than see these standards applied.




March 17

The Gadsden (Ala.) Times on nailing down commercial drone regulations:

Government agencies don’t move very quickly. Depending on the situation, that can be a good thing (diligence in ensuring something’s truly safe before it’s legalized is generally appreciated) or a bad thing (getting lost in a bureaucratic maze when you really needed something yesterday can be a nightmare).

For a decade, the Federal Aviation Administration has been working on regulations for small drones, weighing 55 pounds or less. Since 2007, it’s banned the use of such drones for commercial purposes, out of concerns about congestion and potential safety issues in the skies.

Congress already has given the FAA a kick in the pants, ordering it to complete by September 2015 regulations that would permit drone flights, and actually granting permission via legislation for an oil company to fly drones over the Arctic Ocean.

Those who see the small aircraft being used commercially - and safely - elsewhere on the planet and are concerned about the United States falling behind in technology aren’t waiting on the FAA, however. Drones already are being used by photographers, real estate agents, farmers, filmmakers and others, basically in defiance of the FAA. And remember Amazon’s plan for drone deliveries?

People probably will be even braver in their defiance following a federal judge’s ruling March 6. The judge tossed out a $10,000 fine levied by the agency against a Virginia man for flying a camera-equipped drone after being employed by a communications company to shoot video of the University of Virginia’s campus and medical center. The judge said there was “no enforceable FAA rule” that barred the man from flying the drone.

The FAA plans to appeal, and we understand its hesitation to say “launch ‘em.” U.S. skies are a lot busier than some of the places where drones are being used, and it’s going to be more difficult to ensure that both tiny and mammoth aircraft can safely occupy their respective spaces.

However, both Congress and commerce are pushing to get something in place, and we think they have a point that this has taken so long, the U.S. is in danger of getting left behind on this technology.

The FAA needs to expedite the regulations and let the U.S. officially embrace this new world. Drones already are in the air, we’d just prefer it be with rules in place rather than freestyle.



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