- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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Dec. 18

The Decatur Daily on stiffening the Alabama child abuse penalty:

Child abuse is always ugly, but a case now being investigated by 19th Judicial Circuit District Attorney Randall Houston is particularly horrific.

As the Montgomery Advertiser’s Marty Roney reported, Hallee Ann McLeod, 28, of Wetumpka, faces aggravated child abuse and chemical endangerment of a child charges in Elmore County.

McLeod’s 4-year-old son was found unresponsive and injured in the back of the car of her boyfriend, Scott Hicks, in Panama City, Fla., in September.

The boy was dehydrated and found to have bruises and injuries over his entire body, having been tortured, allegedly, by the adults who should have been protecting him.

Houston, calling what happened to McLeod’s son monstrous, is now pushing for legislative action next year to boost the penalty for aggravated child abuse in cases where victims are under the age of 6.

Currently, aggravated child abuse is a Class B felony, bringing two to 20 years in prison. Houston backs a bill that would make the charge a Class A felony with punishment ranging from 10 to 99 years, or life in prison.

A number of other states treat aggravated child abuse as a Class A felony, and it certainly makes sense for the youngest victims, least able to evade violence inflicted upon them.

Alabama lawmakers should approve the stiffer penalty in the February 2016 session.

But there is much more to be done to curb child abuse and protect potential victims. More than 9,000 children are victims of child abuse and neglect around the state each year, according to a University of Alabama report released in April.

And the state invests too little in child maltreatment prevention, the report authors concluded.

The overriding reason Alabama should bolster those efforts is obviously humanitarian - to safeguard vulnerable children. But damage to the state’s economy also results when child abuse prevention is short-changed.

The UA researchers pegged that price at $2.3 billion in annual direct costs to the state. And that’s taking into consideration only the child victims, not economic harm to families or the greater community.

All the more reason to hold the line on more budget cuts to Alabama’s child welfare system, and restore as soon as possible funding lost in recent years to services such as child advocacy centers.

Gov. Robert Bentley’s Alabama Human Resources Task Force is now reviewing the Department of Human Resources, the agency that investigates child abuse, looking for ways to improve delivery of services.

It’s a complicated process and the task force’s deadline has been extended to January 2017, leaving uncertainty about how DHR’s funding will be handled in budget proposals for the 2016 fiscal year.

We hope lawmakers don’t use the delayed directive as an excuse to downsize child-abuse related programs, services or personnel. Alabama’s children deserve better.

Online:

https://www.decaturdaily.com

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Dec. 18

The Opelika-Auburn News on scuffle between Birmingham leaders at City Hall:

It’s a sad day for the state of Alabama when its largest city makes the news after the mayor and a city councilman resort to fisticuffs and end up at the hospital.

Such was the case during a Birmingham City Council meeting Tuesday in which, outside the council chamber, Mayor William Bell and Councilman Marcus Lundy came to blows. The mayor later underwent a CT scan and an MRI, and both reported minor injuries.

Birmingham deserves better, and so does the image of the entire state.

Ironically, Bell, who has been mayor since 2010, once mentioned workplace violence while speaking at a law enforcement training session, and Councilman Lundy serves as chairman of the council’s Economic Development, Budget and Finance Committee.

What kind of message does it send to prospective economic partners or potential new industries considering the state if one of the ambassadors sent to recruit them is known for resolving his differences in a fistfight instead of finding more constructive ways to reach a solution?

What does it say when an Alabama city the size of Birmingham has its most senior elected leader in headlines because of a dispute that got out of hand and his colleagues see him as being so divisive?

This kind of story might seem amusing if we see it coming from overseas, but not so much when it comes from home and reflects to some degree on all of us.

It’s a timely reminder for local government representatives throughout Alabama to keep professionalism in the workplace and to be mindful of the far-reaching effects personal actions can have when representing others.

Locally, Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller and Auburn Mayor Bill Ham and their respective councils both certainly have their fair share of heated issues to arise in their many dealings, as with other area mayors and councils. We’re fortunate and appreciative of the professional manner in which their meetings are conducted.

Constituents and colleagues alike can strongly disagree with city policies and make opposing arguments heard, and should. Losing composure and resorting to physical violence, however, is not only counterproductive in the worst of ways, but also a clear sign to others that a serious lack of professionalism exists.

“Boys need to grow up and be men and do the job they were elected to do,” Birmingham Councilwoman Kim Rafferty was quoted as saying. “They need to sit across the table and talk about conflict resolution.”

Let’s hope that’s exactly what happens as Birmingham leaders move forward and strive to make headlines in the national media for positive reasons, not as an embarrassment.

Let’s also hope that no matter how tense or challenging the job becomes, other elected officials in Alabama remember the same thing as they represent those who put them in office.

The council chamber is a place for visionary leaders to solve problems and set a course for direction, not for growing up.

Online:

https://www.oanow.com

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Dec. 17

The Gadsden Times on considering gas tax increase:

The American Society of Civil Engineers issued a report last week grading Alabama’s infrastructure. It was not pretty, with the state getting a C-minus overall and an incomplete on one category because the state doesn’t have a dam inspection program. Ouch.

Bridges were graded at a C+ and roads got a D+. Gov. Robert Bentley thinks it’s time for the state to raise its gasoline tax and use the money for road construction and maintenance. He told the Alabama Asphalt Pavement Association that he wouldn’t lead the effort but would support a gas tax hike if the Legislature passes one in 2016.

Supporters of the idea point out that Alabama has seen a drop in gas tax revenue because cars are more efficient - the higher MPG vehicles average, the less gas drivers buy.

Critics point out that while a tax hike might be more palatable today, gas prices are unlikely to stay at their current levels. If a flat tax is added to the cost of gas, it won’t likely go away if gas prices return to the $3 or above level.

Some things to ponder about the gas tax:

- What amount is right, if a hike is needed at all? Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, said an increase of about 11 cents to 12 cents per gallon would be needed to raise the equivalent of the early 1990s revenue in buying power.

- Raising the gas tax hits Alabama’s poor the hardest. Could the tax on groceries, also a big burden on the state’s poor, be removed to offset the regressive nature of a gas tax hike? It’s easier to restrict driving than it is putting food on the table, right?

Increasing the gas tax, if the money is used correctly, could benefit Alabama drivers. ASCE estimates the poor condition of state roads and interstates costs drivers $300 annually in vehicle repairs but there are always going to be questions about whether the state spends its tax revenue wisely. History is our guide on that issue.

It’s likely the Legislature will consider a gas tax next session. We hope lawmakers take an objective look at the issues and don’t just make knee-jerk reactions. Alabama has issues with roads and bridges. That’s undeniable. The best way to address those issues is less clear.

Online:

https://www.gadsdentimes.com


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