- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:


July 31

Tuscaloosa News on the governor’s lottery proposal

Although the Alabama Legislature ought to confine its upcoming special session, which begins Aug. 15, to Gov. Robert Bentley’s lottery proposal, we are wary of what might ultimately emerge from the proceedings.

First, the ground rules. Any gambling legislation would have to be in the form of a proposed amendment to the state constitution, which would require the approval of three-fifths of the House and Senate. Once passed, a proposed amendment does not require the governor’s signature and would not be subject to his veto. It would go straight to the voters in a statewide referendum. In a special session, only legislation on subjects included in the governor’s proclamation calling the session can be enacted. Two-thirds of each chamber would have to approve legislation on any other subject.

Bentley said his lottery proposal - intended to generate revenue for Medicaid and other strapped state services - would not include other types of gambling. Apparently, though, some lawmakers already are angling for a “compromise” that would add casino-type gambling to a lottery bill. Even before Bentley called the special session last week, Sen. Jim McClendon reportedly was working on a lottery amendment that also would allow video machine gambling at dog tracks in Greene, Jefferson, Macon and Mobile counties, presumably to win the support of Democrats who represent those areas.

This would be a huge mistake.

This is not the time to ensconce casino gambling in the constitution, especially in a way that would hand monopolies to privately run facilities, such as Greene County’s Greenetrack, with no accountability. Greenetrack and VictoryLand in Macon County, which have offered casino gambling in the guise of “bingo,” should not get preferential consideration simply because they already exist. Local constitutional amendments that allowed these “bingo” operations also stipulated that the revenue go to charity, but the amendments were written in such a way that there is no accountability to the public, no transparency as far as how much revenue these facilities have generated over the years, and what percentage of it has gone to charity.

We have a lot of smart people in the Legislature, so writing gambling legislation - of any sort - that does not specify where the money would go or that does not require transparency and accountability would violate the public trust. If casino gambling is added, it should require that the resulting revenue go to charity or the public coffers (save a modest amount for operating costs), that the facilities’ books are open to public scrutiny to ensure that it does, and that adequate penalties be in place for non-compliance.

Even so, including casino gambling could derail the lottery. It could alienate some GOP legislators on the front end, and voters who have overcome their reluctance to approve a lottery - in the interest of shoring up funding for Medicaid and other state services - might draw the line at anything beyond that. Besides, if the courts could determine an amendment doesn’t fall within the bounds of the governor’s proclamation, they could invalidate it.




August 2

The Gadsden Times on mandating students learn cursive in the state:

We imagine more people in 2016 use their thumbs and fingers on screens and keyboards on a given day than put pencil or pen to paper. It’s a sign of just how ensnared - sometimes we have visions of a really thick kudzu patch - we are by electronic gadgets that legitimately put the world at our fingertips.

The result is a lot of preschoolers with fairly advanced typing skills, high school and college students who have never completed an assignment without a word processing app or program, and a generation clueless to the notion of having to actually “write” something based on the pre-technological definition of that word.

Things will change this fall in Alabama, however. The Legislature this year passed a bill amending the state code dealing with educational curricula to require instruction in cursive handwriting.

Specifically, it says students must be “able to create readable documents through legible cursive handwriting by the end of the third grade.”

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Dickie Drake was approved by substantial margins in both the House and Senate (Etowah County’s legislative delegation was united in its support).

We understand some students (and likely teachers) will be groaning at the imposition of what these days will come across as busy work or a nod to Ludditism.

Cursive writing already was included in Alabama’s second- and third-grade curricula through the coming school year. Some might view Drake’s bill as extraneous and repetitive, but it does make the requirement permanent and adds a specific metric.

Common Core, the set of uniform academic standards we’ve supported (against those who see it as insidious federal infiltration), doesn’t require cursive writing to be taught. However, there’s a push in other states to mandate it, and Alabama’s law follows the passage of similar ones in Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee.

We understand this isn’t a revolutionary move that’s going to propel Alabama’s schools to the top of the national charts in academic performance, financial support or teacher salaries.

Is it a bad idea, though? We don’t think so.

Drake told a Huntsville media outlet last year, when he was unsuccessful in getting a similar bill passed, that the idea’s genesis was a complaint from a constituent that her son couldn’t read a letter written in cursive.

He also said he didn’t want to see cursive become a lost art, and that even in the age where so many things are electronically signed, including legal documents, it’s important to have a signature that “identifies the person.”

Those are sound arguments, but we’ll toss in the scientific research that shows cursive writing engages and uses - and more importantly, improves the coordination between - different parts of people’s brains.

A 2013 story in Psychology Today said cursive improves hand-eye coordination because of the different strokes required for letters. It also cited the psychological benefits gained by mastering what can be a challenging task, and one that requires self-discipline.

We’re also aware that some awfully famous and intelligent people have handwriting that looks like a Rorschach test gone wild. We hope teachers focus on the metric in the bill - legible, readable documents - instead of requiring or expecting calligraphy.

That’s not going to help anyone, or motivate students to keep using pens and pencils once they’re not required to - which is how the success of this bill will ultimately be gauged.




August 2:

The Cullman Times on letting the state vote on the lottery proposal

Here we go again. Gov. Robert Bentley has called for a special session of the Legislature on Aug. 15 to consider placing a referendum before voters to approve or deny a statewide lottery.

A lot of lawmakers are skeptical of going into special session over the topic because past attempts have ended miserably as the gaming lobby always finds a way to attach casino gambling to any bill attempting to establish a lottery. As a result, the bill dies because plenty of lawmakers and their constituents have historically not been interested in bringing gambling to the state beyond what is allowed for the Poarch Creek, which owns a casino in south Alabama.

Nevertheless, lawmakers will go into special session at the governor’s order in an attempt to pass a clean bill that lets voters decided only the lottery issue. If the House of Representatives and Senate can agree quickly on a bill and spell out how revenue would be decided, the referendum could be on the November ballot. That’s reasonable enough that lawmakers should reach a consensus and send it to voters.

At stake is an attempt to generate revenue for the crippled General Fund, which houses funding for prisons, Medicaid, courts and many others services vital to the state’s citizens.

There are few or no growth taxes tied to the budget. For years, taxes that grow with a healthier economy pour into the education budget and no one wants to rock that boat.

A lottery is not the only solution for the General Fund but it might be helpful to ensure some services receive a fair amount of improved funding. Lawmakers still need to reach an agreement in the regular session on how to tie reliable funding to the General Fund. For a lottery to win support, lawmakers should write into the bill specifically how the money would be appropriated: prisons, Medicaid, etc. Because funds would likely fluctuate, the division of the revenue should be based on percentages, not specific dollars.

Alabamians spend plenty of money on lotteries in states all around. The money spent by state residents on lotteries is simply benefiting financial needs and services in other states around the region. Lotteries are capable of generating millions of dollars and in this case would keep a lot of in Alabama. The special session will be a waste of time if the bill becomes entangled with any type of traditional gambling tied to it. Lawmakers should give voters a clean bill that addresses only the lottery and provide a breakdown of how revenue would be distributed within the General Fund.



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