- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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Jan. 11

The Opelika-Auburn News on prison reform in the state:

Alabama can’t afford to build new prisons, but it can less afford not building them.

The state Legislature will grapple with several important issues during 2017, including health care concerns, and as always, there seems to be no money in the pot to cover all the fixes.

Yet, unless the state does act, the federal government will take over Alabama’s prison mess, and you can bet the cost will be far greater than what state taxpayers will face if Alabama doesn’t clean up its dishonorable stain first.

Alabama prisons are jammed with 23,000 inmates in spaces intended for 13,300.

Not only are the conditions inhumane, but they present dangers in a variety of ways, including to stressed prison guards so heavily outnumbered and to inmates in need of proper medical attention such as mental health treatment.

Yet another inmate was found dead in late December, of what was reported to be a suicide. The male inmate, only 24 years old, had only weeks earlier testified in a trial accusing the state of denying proper mental health care to prisoners.

Cases like that if they continue to mount will only prompt federal intervention much sooner, and with good cause. If our state can’t solve our own problems, perhaps we deserve someone else telling us what to do.

That notion has never and will never sit well with Alabamians.

Yet the fact remains: Our prisons no longer can be simply a distant afterthought fed by a lack of interest.

It’s time to look at the real numbers behind cost savings in consolidating prisons, shutting down what already should be relics of the past, and exploring the necessary bond issues or other means of generating needed revenue.

Alabama must start seeing this expense as one that will be much worse if we don’t act now.

Furthermore, human lives should matter much more than do dollars, whether they are inmates, or guards trying to do their job and make a living.

Alabama’s governor is said to be planning a special session to take up the topic. He and legislators in recent years have yet to agree on how to handle what already is a deadly and costly ignorance of responsibility.

There will be a cost. The question is, how much of it will be charged to that continued ignorance?

Online: https://www.oanow.com/

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Jan. 16

The Cullman Times on a new gas tax for roads:

Alabama’s road and bridges are a crumbling mess in most rural areas across the state, including Cullman County, but the remedy for the problem is not popular.

The state has problems piled up like a stack of teetering pyramids, but lawmakers have not been able to agree on how to generate revenue to solve the issues. The Republican-dominated Legislature typically ducks any talk of taxation and instead relies heavily on moving money around or borrowing from trust funds, methods which only leave the funding crisis to grow with no long-term answer for roads, prisons, Medicaid, courts or, really, anything.

The Association of County Commissions of Alabama has proposed a roads plan that would allow proceeds from a tax on gasoline and diesel fuel to go toward paying back a bond issue to fund road work. Cullman County is projected to receive $19 million, with 20 percent going to municipalities to be divided by population. County officials estimate the money would fund resurfacing 200 miles of roads and 20 new bridge structures locally.

County Commission Chairman Kenneth Walker has given his support to the plan, but state Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Fairview, rejected the proposal, preferring voters decide on whether to raise taxes.

For Alabama, it’s a familiar conflict. Taxation is certainly not popular in Alabama, even though most people want better roads and schools.

The last locally-approved tax came for education in an effort led by former County Schools Superintendent Billy Coleman, who held a series of community meetings and explained in detail how new revenue would benefit the schools.

After years of failure to gain voter approval of a new tax, Coleman was successful because he provided solid details and fielded questions from community to community.

Alabama needs some tax increases to improve services and resolve lingering issues. And, since the obvious solution - increasing property tax always falls on deaf ears - other options must be put on the legislative agenda.

Walker’s support of the plan is understandable because Cullman County has the second highest miles of roads in the state to maintain. The issue is always on the mind of the public and something commissioners contend with daily.

Shedd, on the other hand, has a point to consider, too. Perhaps the best solution before anyone rejects the plan is to provide citizens with a series of meetings outlining the specific use of the projected tax revenue and how it will benefit the county’s road system. Voters have proven in the past they will support a tax or tax increase when the benefits can be shown clearly.

There is time to schedule meetings for explaining how the proposal would work. Cullman County needs more money for its roads. But securing the confidence of taxpayers will make the difference on whether this plan survives.

Online: https://www.cullmantimes.com/

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Jan. 17

The TimesDaily of Florence on statements made by U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks:

U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, on Tuesday complained of a “war on whites.” His comments were a response to criticisms of U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile, during hearings on Sessions’ nomination to serve as attorney general.

“This is a part of the war on whites that’s been launched by the Democratic Party,” Brooks said on a radio talk show while discussing Sessions’ hearing and immigration. “And the way in which their launching this war is by claiming that whites hate everybody else.”

Brooks stood firmly behind his statement in the days after it created a media swirl.

“You can either sit back and let it happen or with the knowledge that I have try to take the Democratic Party to task that they will quit doing this and I’m not going to sit back,” he said. “I love my country too much for the Democrats to interject race as a motivation to vote.”

There’s some truth behind the Alabama congressman’s “race as a motivation to vote” comment. Democrats have been very vocal in their opposition of Sessions during his confirmation hearings, with most of their objections focused upon decades old and disputed statements they claim were racially inflammatory.

But Brooks’ attempts to trump Democratic efforts with his own race card merely added fuel to the ongoing discord.

Rep. Terri Sewell, Alabama’s only congressional Democrat, called Brooks’ remarks “insensitive” and “inflammatory.”

“I am very disappointed in the comments made by my colleague Congressman Mo Brooks,” said Sewell, who represents Alabama’s seventh congressional district. “To invoke racial motives in the debate for comprehensive immigration reform is neither productive nor warranted. . Our nation is facing a crisis. This is the time for America to put aside partisan politics … The time is long overdue to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill.”

For Brooks, the “war on whites” language was a way to get national headlines. Astute political observers will recall he pulled the same phrase out of his political toolbox in 2014.

Using the same analogy last week, Brooks criticized Democrats for trying to turn immigration into a racial issue, “which is an emotional issue, rather than a thoughtful issue,” he said. But the most volatile emotional issue of all is “racism,” and Brooks’ “war on whites” claim is just as divisive as the claims by Democrats that Sessions is a bigot whose hostility toward civil rights groups makes him a bad choice for the attorney general’s position.

Much progress has been made on civil rights since the days of slavery and poll taxes and mandated segregation which cloud the past of Alabama and other Southern states. But we all know the battle for equality continues. It’s rooted deep in all segments of our society, far deeper than the confines of party politics. We owe it to the welfare of our country to continue to work to overcome it.

Online: https://www.timesdaily.com/


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