- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 27, 2016

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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April 24

The Tuscaloosa News on campaign finance reform:

They call it “dark money” because it avoids the light of day. If the term sounds sinister to you, that’s because it is. And it has become the lifeblood of politics.

Gov. Robert Bentley knows a thing or two about it. So does Rebekah Caldwell Mason. While Bentley made a big deal about not accepting dark money in his campaign for governor, he turned around and paid Mason, his top “political adviser,” with dark money.

But the problem didn’t start with Bentley and Mason. It certainly isn’t limited to just this type of influence and it most definitely isn’t a new problem. And, as you may have guessed by now, the problem is bigger here than in most other states and it is growing.

In November, the Center for Public Integrity gave Alabama a grade of “F” because of all the loopholes in the state’s laws that allow for dark money to flow freely in and around our political process. Donations flow through political action committees, political parties and to candidates, skirting already inadequate campaign finance laws.

It is called “dark” because it is in effect political spending that isn’t adequately tracked and doesn’t require the disclosure of donors, who are allowed to build huge influence over our politicians and the political process. While the voters aren’t informed as to who is pouring money into “nonprofits” that make donations, you better believe the politicians benefiting from the donations know. And they’re influenced.

Not surprisingly, there isn’t a strong appetite among many lawmakers to stop the flow of dark money. But there are some rays of light starting to poke through the cloak of secrecy. Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) has introduced a bill that would help change the way campaigns are financed. The bill is championed in the House by Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia).

House Bill 404 and Senate Bill 356 rightly state “The people of Alabama have a right that money used to fund campaign activity and to influence governmental action be disclosed publicly so that the people may make informed electoral choices, have accurate information about election-related spending sources and ensure government is acting in their interest.”

Critics of the efforts of Orr and Jones say they’re trying to quell political speech. That’s a laughable position, but that’s what they’re saying because they have little else to stand on. Nothing is wrong with people giving to campaigns and candidates who support their positions. But Orr and Jones are absolutely right when they say we have a right to know who is giving to — and influencing — the people we elect. Also, when voters get a mailer or see an advertisement attacking a candidate, they should be able to know who is behind it and discern their motivation when determining if it is trustworthy.

The bill pushed by Orr and Jones isn’t a fix-all, but it is a good start — and one that desperately needs to happen. We hope it will lay the groundwork for more extensive campaign finance reform.

Online:

https://www.tuscaloosanews.com/

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April 24

The TimesDaily of Florence on last week’s Medicaid hearing in Montgomery:

The Medicaid hearing in Montgomery last week was a bizarre spectacle, both in timing and substance.

Lawmakers explained the hearing was necessary because Medicaid is complex. They needed a better understanding of who depends on the system and how Medicaid funds - 11 percent of which come from the General Fund - are distributed.

They’re right, of course. It would be grossly irresponsible to make funding decisions on a program they don’t understand.

Which is why the timing is remarkable. They held the hearing after passing a budget that reduces per-recipient Medicaid funding, and leaves the agency with $85 million less than the agency head and other experts say is the absolute minimum for an effective agency. The hearing also came after Gov. Robert Bentley vetoed that budget because it underfunded Medicaid, and after they overrode that veto. It was a little late for fact-finding.

Questions hurled at Medicaid Commissioner Stephanie Azar suggested a reason for the timing. Lawmakers focused on the possibility that people eligible for Medicaid could be a notch above destitute; that they are choosing the barely functional program not because they need it, but so they can buy stuff. Another vacation home? A fully staffed yacht?

These suggestions that Medicaid recipients are scammers in a system that makes scamming legal were aimed at our neighbors.

In Morgan County, 30,658 people - 25 percent of the population - rely on Medicaid. In Lawrence County, 9,811 people (30 percent) rely on the system for health care. In Limestone, 18,971 people, or 25 percent of the population, depend on it.

Granted, we all know people in our communities who are quite capable of trying to get something for nothing. Our pride in our community is sincere, but not blind. Poor, sick people are not immune from reckless greed, even if theirs tends to be on a lesser scale than several lawmakers have demonstrated.

So the implication by lawmakers, most blessed with excellent health insurance, that a significant number of our neighbors are cheating us out of our tax dollars is not immediately preposterous. Our impulse to protect our neighbors from insult is tempered by realism.

But the hearing did not go according to lawmakers’ scripts. Or maybe they really are oblivious about the program they have been arbitrarily funding and defunding.

Because it turns out the neighbors who are being blamed by lawmakers for the state’s woes and whose access to life-sustaining treatment is at risk are people our parents taught us to protect. Montgomery lawmakers may not have been raised better, but we were.

A majority of Medicaid recipients are children in impoverished families. That includes 18,019 children in Morgan County; 5,203 children in Lawrence County; and 11,146 children in Limestone County.

Others are impoverished people over 65. The blind and otherwise disabled are significant beneficiaries of the program, as are pregnant and impoverished women.

Moreover, the cost per recipient has not changed since 2008, a remarkable feat as health care costs rise. More people are eligible for benefits in Alabama because the struggle for survival has intensified for more children, the disabled, the elderly and pregnant women.

Focused on ledger sheets and their abject fear of implementing an equitable tax system, lawmakers have forgotten those people their folks once taught them to protect.

They’ve forgotten the responsibility we as Alabamians were raised to cherish: to protect the children, the elderly, the disabled, the sick.

And to justify this lapse in Alabama values, they’re labeling many of the most needy in our community as reprobates.

Maybe they’ve forgotten their values. Here in north Alabama, we haven’t.

Online:

https://www.timesdaily.com/

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April 22

The Montgomery Advertiser on a so-called ‘personhood’ constitutional amendment:

In a welcome turn of events, Democrats in the Alabama House were able Thursday to use a filibuster to derail a bill to put a so-called ‘personhood’ constitutional amendment before voters on ballots in 2016.

As the Advertiser’s Brian Lyman reported, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, acknowledged the bill had essentially no chance of passing this session, which is drawing to a close.

That’s a common-sense victory. Alabama can’t afford life-saving medications and treatments for poor Medicaid recipients, yet lawmakers still find it acceptable to fritter away time and taxpayer money on clearly unconstitutional anti-abortion proposals.

The ballot referendum would have defined a person as “any human being from the moment of fertilization or the functional equivalent thereof.”

If passed by voters, the measure would have made all abortions illegal, restricted some kinds of birth control and in-vitro fertilization, and potentially turned doctors who perform abortions and women who receive them into incarcerated felons.

The amendment contained no exceptions for rape, incest, medical emergency or the safety of the mother.

Had it been approved, expensive litigation would have followed. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision and subsequent rulings allow women to have abortions in some circumstances.

But that’s mostly the point of personhood bills here and in other states - to challenge Roe v. Wade and perhaps have it overturned.

It’s hard to guess how many Alabama tax dollars would have been wasted on such a legal fight - for prosecutors, state attorneys and courts staff.

We don’t usually call attention to the wise doings of our friends in Mississippi, as that state is often the only one with worse ratings for things like education than Alabama.

But Mississippi voters didn’t fall for the personhood ploy in 2011, defeating the proposal because of its potential effects on birth control and health care for pregnant women.

Neither did voters in North Dakota and California in 2014.

We doubt Alabama voters would either. While people hold many views about a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy, polls show that most do not support total bans on abortions.

About 56 percent of Americans think abortion should be available in all or most cases, according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

Many others who hold deep religious convictions still think the procedure should be allowed in some instances, such as rape or if the life of the mother is endangered.

The personhood amendment may not be on Alabama ballots in 2016, but its advocates are likely to raise the proposal in future sessions. It should again be blocked.

The best way to reduce unplanned, unwanted pregnancies is through comprehensive sex education for young people and affordable access to contraception - not by returning to the era of botched, back-alley abortions.

Online:

https://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/

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