- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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June 4

The Cullman Times on the Alabama legislature:

The Alabama Legislature finished another lackluster session in Montgomery last month, leaving behind a dangerous, unresolved overcrowded prison system issue.

For many Alabamians, the idea of spending more money on prisons is not a popular topic. The general consensus is that the thousands of people locked up at a 175 percent capacity are there because they deserve it. The truth, however, is that not much thought goes into the correctional system.

Major problems are not often addressed adequately by the Legislature because the state lives in a political environment that has long thrived on emotion and some of the worst demagoguery ever portrayed in the United States.

Less than a decade ago, there were signs of promise in the state. Some significant investments have been made by companies that brought better economic opportunities. Some lawmakers were intent on weeding out duplication and bureaucracy in state government, as well as corruption.

Then came the debacle of former House Speaker Mike Hubbard and his felony ethics problems. Former Gov. Robert Bentley made a last-minute departure before House members could unleash impeachment procedures against him. Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore again violated ethical standards of a top judiciary figure and was tossed from office.

Getting those three people out of public office at least leaves open the door for some much needed change and progress within state government.

Nonetheless, it is baffling how the prison issue can continue to linger with the federal government closely looking at the conditions of the prisons and the impact on inmates and the officers who work within those dangerous environments.

Fights among inmates are not uncommon, but they become increasingly deadly encounters. Prison guards are now becoming targets at an alarming rate as they deal with an overpopulated element of criminals in outdated facilities.

The families of those guards have every right to be angry at the lack of action by the Legislature. And sure, a lot of people are skeptical about massive bond issues and how to repay them. That’s understandable. What’s lacking is a will to study and find the approach that will best serve the state where incarceration is concerned.

With a stubborn resistance embedded in lawmakers against raising property taxes, which is the most fair and reliable taxation available, the hope of fixing prisons, enhancing education, and making the vast services under the General Fund more functional is fading.

An election year on the horizon ensures not much will be accomplished in the next session.

Again we stand in the face of federal intervention to make Alabama solve a desperate and dangerous situation. Perhaps that is what many lawmakers want. In an election year, or anytime across Alabama, it is good politics to say the federal government forced its will on the good people of the state.

The truth is that the politicians who employ this low form of political preservation are mocking the obligations of their offices and betraying Alabamians who have long wanted trustworthy, effective government.

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

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May 31

Opelika-Auburn News on ‘crossover voting’:

One piece of good legislation successfully passed during the 2017 session was Alabama’s move to ban crossover voting between primaries and runoffs.

Simply put, Alabama has a new law that prohibits voters from switching parties between a primary and until after the runoff.

“If you vote in one party’s primary, you can’t switch to the other’s runoff,” Sen. Tom Whatley of Auburn explained about a bill that he sponsored.

It was a piece of common-sense legislation that is yet another move into law something that Alabama lawmakers should have done long ago.

Still, credit them for getting the measure approved this year, especially since it comes at a timely juncture in Alabama politics.

A crowded field of candidates is in the running for the Aug. 15 primaries to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by now Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Republicans and Democrats both will have candidates to choose, but this new law prohibits voters jumping ship mid-stream to try and influence the other party’s outcome before a runoff.

The law was backed by the GOP, which in recent years strongly has dominated Alabama’s political landscape.

Democrats already had a party rule prohibiting Republicans from cross-over voting, but it meant little without state law to back it.

The new law will be in effect before Sept. 26 runoffs, if either party requires such, according to Secretary of State John Merrill.

Voters, therefore, should decide now and commit to the party of their choice if they plan to be involved in either of the primaries to determine a party’s final candidate for the seat.

The general election for the Senate seat is set for Dec. 12, and voters on that ballot can choose whomever they like from either party.

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

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May 31

The Gadsden Times on state park renovations:

Like a collection of paintings forgotten in a studio abandoned in a hasty move, Alabama’s state parks had begun to show varying signs of distress.

Lake Lurleen State Park in Tuscaloosa County, for instance, recently got 91 new barbecue grills - hardly an emergency, but the lack thereof certainly was off-putting to visitors.

Cheaha State Park, however, had a different and much worse issue with its swimming pool, according to Alabama State Parks Director Greg Lein.

“The pool at Cheaha State Park was on the verge of needing to be closed because of how dire the maintenance needs had become in recent years,” Lein said.

Instead, like a rediscovered canvas, it is getting new life.

Thanks goes to the taxpayers and voters who, in November, approved Amendment 2 with 80 percent of the votes cast.

The amendment put a stop to lawmakers being able to transfer money away from the state parks to be used elsewhere. In five years, about $15 million was stripped and moved to the state General Fund. In 2015, five state parks closed, others prepared to and maintenance and repairs were deferred.

Even with Amendment 2 in place, the state parks are funded heavily by visitor fees, so recovery is going to be slow. Last week, Alabama State Parks officials released an update of projects at several sites.

At just a bit more than six months out, the list is impressive. That pool at Cheaha is getting new life by being converted to a salt-water pool as part of the renovation. Cheaha also is one of several parks to have its comfort stations overhauled, with heating and air conditioning upgrades to boot. Lake Guntersville State Park Lodge and Conference Center also has more comfy comfort stations. Both sites and several more got new bedding in their resort lodges.

Other projects are so basic it’s shameful: Replacing showerheads. Replacing lawn equipment that is dead. Repairing rotten wood on cabin porches.

And let us be clear: That shame belongs squarely on the shoulders of those who turned a deaf ear to repeated pleas from officials, staff members and park visitors that the filching of funds had to stop. It’s a shame it took yet another amendment to Alabama’s creaky Constitution to get hands out of the proverbial cookie jar.

Now, of course, the fight is on to keep the “forever” in Forever Wild, as legislators continue to salivate over the money set aside to purchase and maintain land used for outdoor activities or preserves.

Like its recent counterpart, Forever Wild legislation passed with 80 percent support among voters. In 2012, its reauthorization garnered 75 percent approval.

As summer gets underway, we would like to encourage you to do a few things: Support a state park with a visit. Find out how important Forever Wild is and why it, too, should be protected from raids.

And tell any lawmakers seeking to soil a masterpiece that mustaches don’t belong on the Mona Lisa.

Online: https://www.gadsdentimes.com/

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