- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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July 27

Montgomery Advertiser on anti-LGBT legislative bills:

There’s a moral and an economic lesson the Alabama Legislature needs to learn from the National Basketball Association’s recent decision to move the February 2017 All-Star Game out of the North Carolina.



That lesson is: Don’t pass laws that give state sanction to bigotry against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people. Also, don’t wrap prejudice in the sheep’s clothing of “religious liberty” bills.

The NBA’s action is a direct consequence of the North Carolina legislature’s foolhardy passage of HB2, a bill that wiped out protections for LGBT individuals, specifically banning transgender folks from using bathrooms in public buildings - such as on university campuses - that don’t correspond to the gender on their birth certificate. The law also bars localities from enacting sexual orientation or gender identity anti-discrimination protections.

Cue the strong and correct backlash from civil rights groups, businesses and entertainers over the discriminatory law. Companies such as PayPal and Deutsche Bank nixed plans to bring hundreds of new jobs to the state; musicians canceled concerts.

The price tag to Charlotte’s economy alone from the NBA’s All-Star departure will be $100 million, according to CNN.

As of yet, Alabama has no equivalent to North Carolina’s HB2. But in this year’s regular session three anti-LGBT bills masked as religious freedom initiatives were floated by Yellowhammer Republicans.

The Alabama Child Placing Inclusion Act, House Bill 158, would have let faith-based adoption and child placement agencies, which rely on tax dollars, discriminate against same-sex couples who want to serve as foster or adoptive parents, based on religious objections. It should more properly be called a child-placing exclusion act.

House Bill 159, the Health Care Rights of Conscience Act, would allow doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other medical personnel to refuse to provide any services that conflict with their religious beliefs. While this broad-brush bill could affect Alabamians of every stripe, it also would allow medical workers to deny treatment to gay individuals, same-sex couples and their children merely because of prejudice.

House Bill 130 would let ministers and public officials opt out of performing wedding ceremonies, such as for same-sex couples, because of religious convictions. Clergy don’t need that protection - they already have it, and no one can force them to marry anyone. Public employees such as judges who perform marriages work on the taxpayers’ dime, however. They shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate against same-sex couples. If they don’t like the duties of their office, they can quit.

Fortunately, all three bad bills died in committee this spring. We expect they’ll be resurrected in 2017, along with other hate-based anti-LGBT measures that will only worsen Alabama’s reputation as a backwards state. And threaten its already feeble economic standing.

Online:

https://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com

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July 25

The Tuscaloosa News on putting the Alabama lottery on ballot again:

Alabama lawmakers are being polled to gauge their support for a lottery as Gov. Robert Bentley floats the idea of holding a special session of the Legislature to address a looming budget crisis, according to Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh.

If you ever wondered why Alabama is in the shape it is in, there is little need to look beyond this issue.

Bentley ran for governor touting his strong Baptist faith. When he was elected to his first term, the Republican from Tuscaloosa was not a champion of a state lottery. Now, halfway into his second term, newly divorced, fully embroiled in controversy and possible grand jury investigations - and having parted ways with his church — he appears to be warming to the idea of a lottery, recently saying it would be a realistic option to raise revenue for the state’s underfunded Medicaid program.

Here in Alabama, the buckle of the Bible Belt, where mainline Protestant roots run deep, gambling has long been frowned upon by many as sinful and not a way to fund government. But now, lawmakers are running out of time and options. The Legislature budgeted $700 million for the state Medicaid program for the next fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1. That’s about $85 million short of what the governor says the state needs to maintain health care for the 1 million Alabamians on the program. Most of those are children, the disabled and the elderly.

Lotteries spread like kudzu through much of the nation beginning decades ago, as states without a lottery recognized how much money was going to neighboring states that had one. Alabama is one of only six states without a lottery, and the only state bordering Alabama that doesn’t have one is Mississippi. Tellingly, the stores with the biggest sales in the Georgia lottery have always been those on the state border.

The Georgia Lottery Corporation announced last week that this year, for the first time in a single year, the state lottery will transfer more than $1 billion to the state’s education fund. That’s $117 million more than was transferred last year alone. Since starting the lottery in 1993, Georgia has raised more than $17.6 billion for education. Because of the way the lottery was structured to keep Georgia lawmakers from using the money for other purposes, it has paid for more than 1.7 million students to attend college on scholarship while Alabamians took out future-crushing loans to go to school. More than 1.4 million 4-year-olds in Georgia have benefited from a statewide, voluntary pre-kindergarten program.

And 23 years after watching our neighbors to the east benefit, we’re polling lawmakers in Alabama to see if they will support a lottery because they can’t fund Medicaid without it.

Alabamians overwhelmingly rejected a lottery in a vote nearly 20 years ago, but the political climate is different now. It’s time that lawmakers recognize this and put a state lottery — structured to ensure the revenue is properly allocated — on the ballot again.

Online:

www.tuscaloosanews.com

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July 27

The Dothan Eagle on a lawsuit aimed to stop the state from using BP oil spill funds to pay for a hotel and conference center at Gulf State Park:

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley’s plans to build a hotel and conference center at Gulf State Park may be thwarted by a lawsuit filed this week by state auditor Jim Ziegler and state Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow.

The two officials are suing to stop the state from using BP oil spill funds to pay for the project. A similar suit was filed earlier by a former state conservation director, but that case was dismissed because the judge ruled that the plaintiff lacked standing to bring suit.

The people of Alabama would benefit from this latest suit being allowed to proceed, as it could establish a line in the sand over what is and what is not appropriate use for the funds.

BP paid $18.7 billion in a settlement over damages from a 2010 oil spill from its Deepwater Horizon drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico. Alabama received about $2.3 billion. The funds were intended to address conservation issues, compensate those whose livelihoods were damaged by the spill and cover response costs incurred by state and local governments.

Bentley was criticized for using about $1.8 million to refurbish the governor’s beach mansion, which had fallen into disrepair, sitting unused since it sustained hurricane damage.

To be fair, Gulf State Park is in dire need of revitalization, and a new hotel and conference center would be a boon to the economy of Alabama’s Gulf Coast, which suffered mightily in the wake of the oil spill.

However, it’s debatable whether such an initiative - or restoration of the governor’s beach house, for that matter - should supersede an effort to compensate individual fishermen and associated small businesses that buoy the economy of Bayou Le Batre and other non-tourist communities that shouldered the worst effects of the spill.

Online:

https://www.dothaneagle.com

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