- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

Oct. 7

Anniston (Alabama) Star on executions:

If the state of Alabama is going to execute condemned prisoners, it must be upfront and transparent about the process. Today, that’s not happening.

Until that changes, Alabama and its embattled Department of Corrections carries the stench of a government that wishes the public didn’t have a right to know how it plans to kill those on death row.

On Tuesday, Star reporter Tim Lockette outlined the situation of inmate Thomas Arthur, 73, who has been on death row since 1983 for the murder of Troy Wicker of Muscle Shoals. Arthur’s execution has been delayed as Alabama, along with other states that execute prisoners by lethal injection, dealt with a shortage of the necessary drugs.

Stocked with its new three-drug execution cocktail - an anaesthetic, a drug that relaxes the muscles, another drug that stops the heart - Alabama is on the verge of resuming executions. Problem is, the state hasn’t revealed the protocol it will follow when executions begin again at Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore.

The state, according to Lockette, says its protocol follows that of Florida, which has executed seven prisoners without significant difficulties since adopting this new combination of drugs.

But as for specifics?

The state isn’t saying - not to the public, not to inmates and their counsel, and not to The Star, which asked for a copy of the Department of Corrections’ new execution protocol. The DOC says pending litigation forces it to keep that information hidden from view.

That litigation is with Arthur, the death-row inmate whose attorney has filed a motion with the Alabama Supreme Court over the information. The state has plans to execute Arthur, but it won’t give him or his attorney the details for how it will happen and what safety measures will be in place. That’s particularly important considering the prevalence of stories about botched lethal-injection executions in other states in recent years.

Arthur’s attorney, Suhana Han, told The Star that “(T)here’s no basis for the state of Alabama to refuse to provide us with a copy.”


State-sponsored killing is a stain on Alabama’s reputation. It neither deters violent crime nor rehabilitates the guilty. On this, the United States is the outlier, the exception: most civilized, Western nations hold an abhorrent view of the death penalty. So, too, should the United States.

Alabama owns no believable or defensible excuse for refusing to release its execution protocol. Closeted information makes people believe there’s something to hide.




Oct. 7

The Gadsden (Alabama) Times on hydrocodone:

Some might call the image of scales, representing an effort to balance competing interests and arrive at a fair course of action, unrealistic or even trite. Of course, it goes along with our frequent praise of compromise as a concept, not just a noun, and our bemoaning its absence in today’s political and social realms.

And a set of scales is what we see when considering the changes in the prescribing of the opioid painkiller hydrocodone that took effect Monday.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has moved hydrocodone in all its formulations to Schedule II on its list of controlled (i.e., potentially addictive or abusable) substances. Previously, hydrocodone in combination with other, non-narcotic painkillers was listed in Schedule III, which has fewer restrictions.

Now, patients using those combinations must submit a new, written prescription from a doctor on every visit to a pharmacy. A doctor’s office cannot call, fax or email a prescription.

On one side of the scales are the patients, who just want to stop hurting. According to the Institute of Medicine, 100 million adult Americans suffer from chronic pain, defined as pain lasting more than three to six months. We don’t think anyone, not even the DEA, is callous to their suffering.

Many of those people take hydrocodone with acetaminophen. It’s the single most frequently prescribed drug in the U.S.; the numbers in recent years have been consistent at about 130 million prescriptions annually. It’s going to be more burdensome, complicated and difficult for them to get that drug, as well as more expensive for Medicare and insurers since they’ll have to cover more office visits.

On the other side of the scales is the spiraling number of drug overdoses in the U.S. over the last two decades (the push for rescheduling hydrocodone actually started in the 1990s). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 113 people die of drug overdoses and 6,748 are treated for ODs in emergency rooms each day. More people ages 25 to 64 die of drug overdoses than in vehicle accidents - and about three-fourths of those deaths involve opioid painkillers like hydrocodone.

There’s also a sense that doctors are too quick to prescribe hydrocodone, without considering or recommending alternative pain treatments.

Patients and pharmacists fear the worst. We hope it doesn’t play out that way, or that people will become desperate and do unwise or illegal things.




Oct. 7

Dothan (Alabama) Eagle on straw man:

The worst possible result of the U.S. Supreme Court refusal to hear a challenge to Alabama’s property tax system would be to interpret it as an assessment that everything is just dandy with regard to our state’s tax system.

That would be a twist on the straw man fallacy.

The case involves rural, predominantly black school systems in Sumter and Lawrence counties, where there is a meager tax base and a lot of timber and agriculture land, which is taxed at a lower rate than other property. The plaintiffs argued that the tax structure was racially discriminatory, and they lost at every stage of litigation until the high court declined to hear the case.

State AG Luther Strange, who defended Alabama in the case, chose his words carefully, saying, “The Supreme Court’s decision not to intervene confirms our consistent position that Alabama’s property tax structure does not violate the United States Constitution, and equally as important, that the citizens of Alabama have a right to structure their own tax system.”

That’s where the trouble starts.

Alabama has the third lowest property tax in the nation, coupled with a population that feels it’s “taxed enough already.” That keeps taxes low - and perpetuates the chronic underfunding of the state’s general fund budget and all the services that rely on it.

No one enjoys paying taxes, and it’s the rare Alabamian who actually doesn’t mind a tax hike, particularly when it targets a specific need.

Alabama lawmakers should see the case turned down by the Supreme Court as an alarm to the growing deficiencies borne of their refusal to reassess our state’s tax structure.



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