- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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Jan. 17

The Decatur Daily on Gov. Kay Ivey’s State of the State message:

A week into the legislative session is too early for a projection on whether lawmakers will be productive, but Gov. Kay Ivey is hoping for a session that is both harmonious and ambitious.



On the first day of the session, Ivey last week delivered an optimistic State of the State message about a legislative agenda that will focus on a number of educational initiatives, pay raises for state employees, increasing jobs through economic development, and addressing the state’s prison system issues.

In pointing out her successes in the nine months since she took over the state’s top office when Robert Bentley resigned, Ivey laid the groundwork for her re-election campaign. Political observers and voters alike will watch closely the current legislative session to gauge how effective she is in getting lawmakers to back the key points of her agenda.

Most of the governor’s agenda centers on the general fund and education budgets.

“Our improved economy allows us to not just fund state programs, but to expand the ones making a positive difference,” Ivey said.

Education is atop the list of programs “making a positive difference.” Ivey’s “Strong Start, Strong Finish” initiative emphasizes the need to improve teaching from pre-kindergarten through career readiness or higher education.

As such, she has proposed an education budget that, if approved, would be the largest state educational investment in a decade. It would include:

. Pay raises for educators, as well as other state employees;

. Increasing K-12 funding by $144 million as requested by the Department of Education.

. Increasing funding for the First Class pre-kindergarten program by $23 million.

. Creating the Alabama School of Cyber-Technology and Engineering, which will be based in Huntsville.

Balancing those educational priorities against a host of other funding challenges is likely to generate some spirited discussions this session. The uncertainty about federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the dilapidated, overcrowded state of Alabama’s prison system are two major concerns.

Ivey herself said Alabama’s troubled prison system is “perhaps our state’s biggest challenge.”

For years, lawmakers have bandied about a number of proposals to address the overcrowding issues of the state prisons. Adding a sense of urgency to the problem was a 2017 ruling by a federal judge that found mental health care in the prison system was “horrendously inadequate.”

Ivey’s budget proposal includes more money for the Department of Corrections to improve health care and hire additional correctional officers. She calls the proposal a “workable solution.”

“With the support of the Legislature, we will solve this problem for generations to come,” Ivey said in her address. “Now is the time to act.”

The upbeat tone of Ivey’s message is a nice change from the “dark cloud” of discontent that has marked state politics the past several years. But the challenges she and lawmakers face heading into this session are likely to temper the optimism her message conveyed.

Online: http://www.decaturdaily.com/

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Jan. 15

Opelika-Auburn News on lawmakers’ roles in funding the Children’s Health Insurance Program:

The 2018 Alabama legislative session began last Tuesday with the normal full slate of needs awaiting action.

No doubt the halls and offices of the Statehouse already are filled with lobbyists pushing their agendas, but perhaps one of the Legislature’s first priorities should be to do a bit of lobbying itself.

Congress has yet to provide definitive action on restoring funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. If it fails to do so, much of the burden will fall to the state.

Tens of thousands of Alabama children have their health care depending on what Congress and ultimately the Alabama Legislature do.

Simply put, both halls of lawmakers should put an end to political gamesmanship anytime it comes to dealing with the welfare of our children.

CHIP, as the program is known, provides subsidized health insurance for children in lower-income working families.

Congress has kicked the can down the road and extended the program through March, but then what?

An estimated 84,000 children in Alabama would lose health insurance if CHIP is discontinued, and another 77,000 could be affected through the program’s funding of state Medicaid services.

Given those numbers affect children in Alabama alone, it stands to reason that other states are facing the same dilemma and would like to see Congress take the appropriate action to ensure health services for children in need nationwide.

Our representatives in Washington need to remember what is at stake here for the children, and for their home Alabama if this problem lands back in the state’s lap.

The latter situation would require targeting up to $45 million in additional Medicaid costs alone and threaten an Alabama general fund that already has too many siphons drawing from it, ranging from spending on prisons in hopes of preventing much costlier federal oversight, to debate over teacher raises.

Members of Congress from both parties have voiced support for CHIP, but they’ve disagreed on how best to do so, and thus the children wait as the risk factor and the states wait with an uncertain financial burden hanging over them.

Alabama lawmakers must be prepared to act and act quickly if Congress fails. The looming problem can’t be ignored.

For those reasons, perhaps their own bit of lobbying should be among their earliest efforts this session.

Online: http://www.oanow.com/

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Jan. 14

The Cullman Times on a practice allowing sheriffs to keep unspent money intended to feed inmates:

The controversial practice of Alabama sheriffs being allowed to keep unspent money intended to feed inmates deserves attention from the Legislature.

Two civil rights groups are suing 49 sheriffs across the state for not disclosing records on how much of the state-approved money is being spent on inmates.

Alabama allows the sheriffs to pocket whatever they deem is not needed for those incarcerated in the county detention centers.

Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry, one of individuals named in the lawsuit, said last week he supports changing the state law and is working with local lawmakers to pass a bill that would amend the system.

While many sheriffs ensure that food is more than adequate at their jails, the system creates a pathway to corruption, which has been proven more than once.

A former Morgan County sheriff earned the dubious nickname “Sheriff Corndog” for feeding inmates two corndogs a day while pocketing thousands of dollars from the meal money allotment.

Another sheriff invested in a get-rich-quick scheme involving a used car lot.

What has happened is a complete breach of public trust by the state not changing the system for funding inmate meals.

A lot of good sheriffs fall under a cloud because of the liberties that are allowed under this openly flawed system.

It comes down to sheriffs being allowed to use taxpayer money to stuff their pockets, if they so choose.

The funding method could easily be repaired by state lawmakers.

Some sheriffs like the idea that they can keep a portion of the money as a type of bonus or supplement to their incomes.

Law enforcement leaders carry tremendous responsibilities for their communities.

They have to ensure that deputies and staff are professional and highly trained to deal with crime, patrolling, and educational programs.

This is a large administrative job that deserves to be salaried better. But meal money is not the way to increase pay for sheriffs. Again, this is taxpayer money being used with no accountability.

The first priority of the Legislature should be to halt the meal money program and place funds directly into accounts that can only be used for feeding inmates.

The next step should be to re-evaluate the salaries of sheriffs and bring their pay to a level that recognizes their responsibility and value to communities across the state. Continuing to allow the meal money system only builds mistrust.

We encourage sheriffs named in the lawsuit to provide records of their handling of the money, and for lawmakers to intervene and create a system that is accountable to the people of Alabama.

Online: http://www.cullmantimes.com/

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