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Alabama editorial roundup

February 7, 2018

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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Feb. 5

The Decatur Daily on a state bill to regulate nonprofit church daycare centers:

The Alabama House of Representatives has passed a bill that would place a few paltry regulations on child daycare centers operated by churches.

Under current state law, churches are exempt from inspections and from meeting minimum regulations, such as criminal background checks for employees, as required of commercial daycare centers. The latter are inspected by the Alabama Department of Human Resources.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, would have placed church daycares on the same regulatory footing as for-profit centers. She introduced a similar bill in the 2017 legislative session, where it passed the House but was killed in the Senate.

As the bill was filed, pressure was applied to make changes that seriously weakened it. There is an exemption in the bill that limits regulation of church-operated daycare centers to those receiving state or federal funding. Rest assured, very few of them do.

Opponents have argued the regulatory requirements are a government intrusion into church business. When did daycare centers become part of churches’ core mission?

The opposition to regulation by some churches defies logic. The regulations used by the state are not onerous, and they are not designed to influence the church mission in any way.

Requirements such as adequate staff numbers, some child safety training, and criminal background checks before a care worker is hired should be welcomed by any institution that is caring for children.

There are almost 2,000 child daycare centers in Alabama, and about half of them are exempt from state licensing and inspection because of their church affiliation.

The compromise bill passed by the House would require state inspections for church daycare centers that receive state or federal funding, operate for a profit, or accept children whose care payment is subsidized in some fashion.

It speaks volumes about the lack of concern for children who could be at risk of harm when lawmakers bow to pressure born of ignorance and greed.

Church affiliation should not be a consideration in determining whether a daycare center is subject to state regulation. Safety must be the first consideration.

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

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Feb. 6

The Dothan Eagle on opioid litigation:

This week, Alabama became the 14th state to file a lawsuit against the makers of OxyContin and other opioids in a move to lay the blame for the nation’s drug epidemic at the feet of the manufacturer of the drugs.

The state’s attorney general, Steve Marshall, said as many as 30,000 Alabamians are addicted to opioids; our state ranks first in the nation in the number of painkiller prescriptions per capita with more than 5.8 million opioid prescriptions written in 2015. That equates to a rate of 1.2 prescriptions per person; the national per capita was 0.71 in 2015.

Litigation may not be the best approach to combating the addiction problem. The disparity between the number of prescriptions written and the addiction count suggests that the vast majority of patients receiving opioid painkillers don’t become addicted. Pursuing a punitive settlement from the drug manufacturer will likely drive up prescription costs - and insurance rates — that are already out of reach for many Alabamians.

There’s no doubt that opioid addiction has taken countless lives and cost millions of dollars in healthcare spending. A portion of a multi-state settlement could, in theory, offset those costs. However, it would more likely become a political football, as did settlement funds from a suit against the tobacco industry, which were treated as found money by lawmakers struggling to balance the state’s General Fund.

One has to wonder where a successful suit against opioid manufacturers might lead.

“The opioid epidemic has devastated Alabama families, leaving a trail of addiction and death winding through every community of this state,” Marshall said. “It will take years to undo the damage but an important first step we must take is to hold the parties responsible for this epidemic legally liable for the destruction they have unleashed upon our citizens.”

In Marshall’s statement, the words “opioid epidemic” could be interchangeable with other controversial challenges. According to Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s Crime in Alabama 2016 report, 18,457 people were arrested for abuse of alcohol crimes such as public drunkenness and driving under the influence. Guns account for 9,650 crimes - 98 rapes, 3,098 robberies, 6,069 assaults, and 270 homicides. In contrast, 10,438 arrests were made for drug violations in 2016, including all illicit substances.

There is no easy fix. However, rather than jumping on the litigation bandwagon, Alabama would be better served to approach to the opioid epidemic by addressing the addiction, and working with the medical community to re-assess the use of these drugs as opposed to others that may lack the habit-forming properties of opioids.

Online: http://www.dothaneagle.com/

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Feb. 1

The Gadsden Times on the state Department of Revenue announcing a program with an app that uses selfie IDs:

Some people look down on folks who take selfies, whether it’s a simple mug shot for social media purposes or proof that someone actually was somewhere. (We’ve “nay-sayed” a few times when that somewhere was inappropriate for levity, like the Alabama teenager who four years ago took a selfie at the Auschwitz concentration camp.)

Will they change their minds and start snapping away now that a selfie could (a.) ensure their Alabama income tax return will be more secure; and (b.) speed up any refund they’re due?

The state Department of Revenue last week announced the eID program, designed by IDEMIA, a Massachusetts-based global technology company which for years has been involved in, according to its website, “civil identity, public security, commercial markets and biometric identification and document authentication.”

The company has created a smartphone app for both Android and iPhone devices, available for download at no charge from both the Google Play and Apple stores.

Here’s how it works: After downloading the app, photograph your driver’s license or state ID card. Use the app to take a selfie (you must take some pains to get the photograph just so and also turn your head from side to side to show that you’re a real person; the details are at alabamaeid.com).

That will activate your eID, which then must be registered with the Department of Revenue by scanning a QR code with your smartphone from a desktop or laptop computer. (Sorry, you’ll have to use that bit of old-fashioned technology.) That also will verify your identity with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. Anyone with an eID on file will receive priority refund processing.

According to state officials, the photograph and the accompanying biometric technology (part of the “just so” we referenced with the selfie) is the only way to open the app, and should protect you if your phone is stolen. There are no user names or passwords.

The officials also assure app users that they won’t be deluged with advertising and spam for providing their information.

One downside — this doesn’t work with every smartphone. Right now, the only eligible devices are the iPhone SE, 5/5c/5s, 6 and 6 Plus, 6s and 6s Plus, and 7 and 7 Plus; the Samsung Galaxy S4, S5, S6, S6 Edge, S7, S7 Edge, Note 4 and Note 5; and LG G4. If you’re still clinging to your flip phone, you’re out of luck.

Alabama is the first state to use this technology to guard against tax fraud and identity theft, in response to increased activity along those lines in recent years. Some folks tested the app last year in a pilot program before it was launched statewide.

We know some people shut their ears to this the second it was announced. Some are understandably leery of sharing that information online, regardless of any assurances of security. Others with end-times scenarios swirling in their brains are probably fearful of being “marked” by the government.

Nobody’s forcing anybody to participate, however. It’s there if you want to try it; if you don’t, the app isn’t going to suddenly materialize on your phone.

We’ll simply offer kudos to state officials for coming up with a way to deal with a legitimate problem. It’s good to see Alabama leading the way for once, instead of straggling along at the rear.

Online: http://www.gadsdentimes.com/

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