- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

March 2

Times Daily, Florence, Ala. on firearms legislation:

State legislators fought every effort last year to ensure deadly weapons are carried only by those who will use them properly.

Their reasoning was if they give the anti-gun crowd an inch, they will take a mile. With that logic in place, legislators loosened gun permit and concealed carry laws, and attempted to put weapons in the hands of gun-trained teachers in schools in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shootings in Connecticut.

Now they are the ones trying to stretch an inch into a mile.

Legislation moving through Montgomery would allow people to carry loaded guns on them or in their cars without a concealed carry permit. Last year, the state Legislature passed a law saying without a permit, guns must be carried out of the reach of a driver and unloaded.

In Alabama, guns are uniquely a part of our history. When our ancestors landed on the beaches of the Carolinas and Georgia, they hit the woods with their guns. It was the smartphone of its day - it provided settlers with their best means of survival.

Their traditions have been handed down, and though we don’t need them for daily survival anymore, many of us use our guns for hunting, target competitions, and perhaps most important, protection. We believe strongly in our rights to protect ourselves, and we’ve inherited an independence from a time not so long ago when there was little else to help guarantee that protection.

But our ancestors were living in a time with less access to health care. We still have much rural countryside, but they had few options when faced with danger other than to pull their shotguns or revolvers.

Most significantly, when they loaded the wagon for a road trip, they weren’t traveling interstate highways at 70 mph. Allowing every driver to have a gun within reach, and little means to trace that weapon if it is unpermitted, is not self-protection. It’s self-endangerment.

While we hold on to our traditions, it’s important that we ensure not only our rights, but the safety of ourselves and our loved ones. To call this bill a good idea is not to protect our rights to self-defense. It’s legally allowing the road-rager in the next lane access to a weapon within arm’s length.

We ask our legislators to think this through carefully. They can say this is about Second Amendment freedom, which they have done a good job protecting. But in this instance, they should acknowledge that this bill is going to endanger honest Alabamians.




March 3

The Anniston (Ala.) Star on prisons:

More of the world now knows about the embarrassing and barbaric state of Alabama’s prisons thanks to a New York Times article this weekend.

The Times summed up conditions at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women this way: “Corrections officers have raped, beaten and harassed women inside the aging prison here for at least 18 years, according to an unfolding Justice Department investigation. More than a third of the employees have had sex with prisoners, which is sometimes the only currency for basics like toilet paper and tampons.”

For attentive followers of the news in Alabama this is, sadly, old hat. The state has a long and sordid history of mistreating its prisoners. The abuses at Tutwiler and the cruel and dangerous overcrowding at prisons across the state are but the most recent revelations.

The New York Times lays out the numbers that would cause any rational observer to gasp.

- The state budgeted $389 million for prisons for this year.

- The Department of Corrections is asking for an additional $42 million for the next year.

- Gov. Robert Bentley’s version of the 2015 prisons budget is $7 million less than the current year.

Hey, they’re going the wrong way, is the natural response. With a federal investigation pointing out Tutwiler’s abuses and overcrowding that could result in a federal takeover of the state’s prisons, Alabama should spend more, not less, right?

Not here, where the easiest path to election success is to pretend that Alabama’s government is a bloated nanny state that spends and taxes too much.

Alabama’s ruling Republicans imported the template that works for conservative politics on the national level. They are here to get government off your backs and to cut, cut, cut - taxes, spending, regulation and so on.

The success of this campaigning is disastrous for Alabama, where taxes and services are already low and we have the weak schools and underfunded state agencies to prove it.

Swept into office on promises to cut away the fat from the state’s bloated government, Bentley and others had few options when faced with an already-withered operation where cuts went into bone.

Cut they must, however, and so Montgomery’s big-shots went after line-items that are more necessity than luxury. Public-safety funding landed on the chopping block. Crime labs were closed. Courthouse staffing was cut. As The Times pointed out, an already-bad prison system was left to sink to its current deplorable condition.

The politicians behind these foolish cuts likely consider their actions free from consequences. That is a wrong assumption, however. As Alabama becomes a more dangerous place, the state’s residents will pay a steep price.




March 1

The Daily Home, Talladega, Ala., on open meetings act sailing through Senate:

Commendations are in order for the Alabama State Senate, and especially State Sen. Cam Ward, President Pro-Tempore Sen. Del Marsh who provided the leadership to get a revision to the state’s Open Meetings Act through their chamber of the Legislature.

The 2005 act was intended to set out standards for the conduct of meetings of public boards and elected bodies to help ensure transparency about how they handle the public’s business. A series of rulings by the State Supreme Court disregarded the intent and spirit of the law. Those rulings declared meetings of the state legislature do not have to be open to the public, that members of public bodies could meet together in serial meetings to avoid discussing public business in public, and that members of the public had no standing to file suit to complain about violations of the parts of the Act that the Court hadn’t yet declared null and void.

Ward’s bill, written with the cooperation of the Alabama Press Association, Association of County Commissions, League of Municipalities, Association of School Boards and others is intended to close those loopholes and put some teeth back into the law. They worked together to reach an agreement on language that protects public access to the governmental process.

The bill would leave intact provisions for executive sessions. Executive sessions permit bodies to meet outside of public view to discuss certain types of issues_to discuss lawsuits with an attorney, or to protect the identity of an undercover informant, for example. But the bill would prohibit serial meetings, require legislators to hold their meetings in public, and allow people to file suit for violations. The person filing suit would also keep any damages the court might award, up to $1,000.

The bill can’t guarantee that public boards and bodies will always abide by the law, but it can reinforce the state’s commitment to the public’s right to know.

Now it’s up to the House to pass its version, sponsored by Sen. Mike Hill. With the legislative session now past its halfway point, we hope to see our State Representatives see it makes it to the governor’s desk.



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