- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

Feb. 2

Anniston (Alabama) Star on measles:

A full month into 2015, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 102 cases of measles, a pace surpassing the typical year. Disneyland in California is believed to be Ground Zero for this outbreak, which may have exposed 1,000 people to measles. In 2014, 644 cases of measles were reported in 27 states, the CDC reports.

These new infections are a shock to most medical professionals, who could rightly point to a steady decline in cases that culminated with a record low of 86 reported U.S. cases 15 years ago. The hero in this drop was widespread acceptance of vaccinations among U.S. parents.

The villain blamed for today’s alarming rise in measles cases is a small group of parents who are foregoing having their children immunized. Trustworthy health organizations - the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, for example - promote the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, which is 97 percent effective in preventing measles.

Yet, the dissenting parents cite unproven medical quackery in justifying their decision to reject vaccinations for children, a practice that endangers both their children as well as many others.

What’s playing out is the consequence of a serious national problem - the lack of trust. For some Americans, healthy skepticism has turned into widespread paranoia. The president’s ideological opponents tell us he is more than wrong; he is a secret Muslim and a non-U.S. citizen. A basic outline of public school coursework promoted by the states - Common Core - is believed by some to be a conspiracy to indoctrinate children. And dangerous vaccines are foisted on an unsuspecting public, according to some parents who withdraw their children from immunization shots.

The dangers of these illogical beliefs are clear. Until this mistrust is bridged, the nation will suffer the consequences.




Feb. 2

Decatur (Alabama) Daily on state’s same-sex marriage:

A federal judge’s ruling a week ago nullifying Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage is causing shock waves in many corners of the state. That’s not surprising, given the deeply conservative complexion of most people’s attitudes in Alabama.

U.S. District Judge Callie Granade’s ruling in a case filed by a Mobile same-sex couple who married in another state found Alabama’s ban unconstitutional because it violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection and due process clauses. The judge allowed a 14-day stay on the order, but when it expires, it’s likely probate judges in Alabama’s 67 counties will be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Same-sex relationships have been a source for scorn for most of recorded history, especially among fundamentalist Christians. But Judge Granade’s ruling is not about personal moral views; it’s about fair and equal treatment under the law.

A number of Alabama elected officials have voiced opposition to the ruling, and some have suggested they will defy it if it stands. That’s disturbing, given the state’s troubled civil rights past.

During the civil rights era of the 1950s and 1960s, Southern politicians fought efforts to allow blacks to vote and to end racial segregation in public accommodations and schools. They argued that states had the right to make their own decisions about those matters, regardless of the what the U.S. Constitution said. Many of the politicians, Alabama Gov. George Wallace chief among them, made long and volatile political careers with their opposition to the federal government.

Some of that discredited and wrong-headed rhetoric is showing up again in the arguments against same-sex marriage. State constitutions do not take precedence over the U.S. Constitution in matters clearly delineated in jurisdictional matters. In this case, the 14th Amendment does not distinguish between heterosexual and same-sex relationships. It simply says “person.”

Had the arguments of the past gone unchallenged, blacks in Alabama would still be second-class citizens denied the vote and equal protection under the law.

Those guarantees were in the Constitution, but it took a groundswell of opposition to the status quo to fully win those rights.

Applying the arguments used to block blacks attaining full citizenship to same-sex marriage is just as unfounded in constitutional principle.

Polls show a sea change of support for same-sex marriage, and the legal arguments made in support of it are on solid legal footing.

Many states have legalized same-sex marriage following legal challenges, and the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to weigh in on the matter soon. It would be wise of Alabama politicians to recognize these rulings carry the weight of constitutional law and move on.




Feb. 2

The Gadsden (Alabama) Times on payday loan:

Payday loan businesses and their advocates who have been fighting increased regulation of the industry in Alabama and elsewhere are about to face a new threat.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a relatively new (2011) agency tasked with protecting consumers’ interests in the financial sector, is preparing to issue the first federal rules on those loans.

Quick review: Payday loans are short-term loans (10 to 31 days in Alabama), usually for $500 or less, that get their name because, ideally, they serve as a cash advance until the borrower’s next paycheck. However, many borrowers end up renewing the loans, or paying the interest only (which can, effectively, be a 456.25 average percentage rate on a two-week, $100 loan), and get caught in an inescapable maelstrom of debt.

The industry says it’s providing a service to people who might not qualify for other sources of credit. Consumer advocates say they are buzzards preying on the poor and vulnerable, and have tried for years to rein them in.

Alabama’s Banking Department has been trying to launch a single database of borrowers to enforce the state’s limit of $500 in payday loans outstanding at one time. The payday loan industry already has lost one court challenge to the database, but continues to block its implementation with appeals.

The CFPB was given the authority to regulate the industry by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act. As with other federal interventions during the last half-century or so, the bureau is stepping in because it believes states aren’t doing enough to protect consumers or to close loopholes that give lenders an unfair advantage.

It can’t cap interest rates, but can stop lenders from doing things it believes are abusive, deceptive or unfair to consumers.

The regulations are expected early this year, and will attempt to ensure that borrowers actually have the ability to repay these loans. Possibilities include requiring credit checks for borrowers or placing hard limits on the number of times they can get a payday loan. The bureau may also try to encourage - more likely “pressure” - the 37 states where payday loans are legal to lower the effective interest rates.

We doubt the industry is happy over this development, and more legal battles are likely. However, it’s one thing to challenge state banking departments and lobby legislatures. It’s another to take on a federal agency that has been granted specific authority to do what it’s proposing.

Payday lenders will, ultimately, have to change some of the ways they do business, and we think that’s a good thing.

We’ve never advocated banning those lenders, and we think borrowers even in the most desperate circumstances have a responsibility to read the fine print and understand what they’re getting into.

They’re still entitled to a fair deal, though, and ensuring that will take a regulatory hammer, whether it’s from a state capitol, or Washington, D.C.



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