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Alabama editorial roundup

February 21, 2018

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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Feb. 15

TimesDaily of Florence on communicating with lawmakers:

The members of the Alabama Legislature represent you. (...)

So how do you stay in contact with your state lawmakers?

One of the easiest means of doing so is to use the official website of the Alabama Legislature — www.legislature.state.al.us. Once you are on the home page of the site, click the “Find My Legislator” link at the top portion of the website. You’ll be taken to a page where you can input your address and find out who represents your district in both the House and Senate. Clicking on their name provides you with contact information — an email link, personal websites if applicable, addresses and telephone numbers for their Montgomery and district offices.

Don’t forget about social media. The majority of our state legislators have a Facebook or Twitter account, or both. Most state representatives and senators will utilize these platforms to communicate with constituents.

And should you be able to actually visit Montgomery during a scheduled legislative session, you can call ahead and try to arrange a face to face meeting with your lawmakers. However, you may not actually be able to see your lawmaker. Instead, you may be referred to an assistant or intern.

There will be times, due to quickly called committee meetings or requests by the governor’s office, that your appointment will have to be cancelled or changed. Please be understanding of such situations as legislators can’t avoid these last-minute scheduling changes.

Also, here are a few tips to keep in mind when contacting your legislators:

. Identify yourself as a constituent. Being a constituent is important, so always identify where you live and how you are connected to the community. Include your name, address, phone number and email address in all correspondence.

. Be brief. Your lawmakers may not have much time on their hands, so present them with only the necessary points of the legislation you have concerns about.

. Be clear and accurate. When communicating with your legislator, be sure that you speak clearly about your points, and be sure that you are accurate on the information that you are presenting.

. Be timely. Potential legislation can face several possible votes as it works its way out of committees in hopes of getting a vote on the floor. So make sure you bring up your thoughts on pending legislation before key votes.

. Don’t be argumentative. It is important that you get your point across, but do so in a positive fashion. There is no need to be argumentative or demanding; this type of approach will likely not encourage your legislator’s support.

. Be grateful. Thank your legislators for any votes or support on issues that you have discussed with them.

Many residents are reluctant to reach out to their lawmakers to discuss pending legislation. Some are skeptical their thoughts and comments will fall on deaf ears, and won’t be taken seriously.

Don’t be scared to talk to your state legislators. They were voted into office to work for all of us — even those who did not vote for them. Your thoughts on issues are important, both during the legislative session and throughout the months between sessions.

Online: http://www.timesdaily.com/

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Feb. 21

The Tuscaloosa News on juvenile justice reform:

Nearly two-thirds of the children sent to the custody of the Alabama Department of Youth Services in 2016 did not commit a felony. Most were locked up for misdemeanors and probation violations. It costs taxpayers a lot of money, and it apparently is not the path to ending recidivism as these young offenders grow into adulthood.

These were among the findings of the Alabama Juvenile Justice Task Force, a bipartisan panel that was created on April 25 last year to examine the state’s juvenile justice system. The 20-member task force included state leaders from the Republican and Democratic parties, all three branches of state government and a number of groups impacted by the system.

The task force met six times, collected a large amount of data, reviewed input from hundreds of roundtable participants and examined what other states were doing differently from Alabama.

One of its most striking findings was that holding these youth in custody outside of their own homes “costs taxpayers as much as $161,694 per youth per year despite research showing poor public-safety returns, especially for youth who commit lower-level offenses.”

State Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, a retired juvenile judge, has sponsored a bill in the current session to overhaul the state’s juvenile justice system based upon the task force’s findings. The bill would limit which juvenile offenders are locked up or moved to adult court and instead focuses on creating programs that are aimed at redirecting young offenders.

Leaders were smart to begin this effort with a bipartisan task force. The task force included top leadership from the Alabama Senate and House, but also a wide range of people from across the state. Sheriffs, prosecutors and judges sat with defense attorneys and people who work with troubled youth to hash out how to fix a system that is in sore need of repair. As a result, there is already a great deal of support for this much-needed bill.

When nearly two-thirds of the children who are referred to the Alabama Department of Youth Services for state custody are there for relatively minor crimes, it is time to find a better way to handle the situation. There should be attempts to redirect children before we simply begin to warehouse them. This system rarely deals with the worst of the worst. Current Alabama law allows children as young as 14 to be tried as adults for the most heinous crimes and teens 16 and older are automatically placed in the adult system for capital offenses and the most serious felonies.

It is expected that in the next few weeks the House and Senate judiciary committees will hold a joint hearing on the bill and there is good reason to believe it will make it to a vote by the end of this session.

For all the criticism lawmakers earn with political shenanigans and grandstanding on Goat Hill, this effort has been an exercise in good government.

Online: http://www.tuscaloosanews.com/

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Feb. 12

The Dothan Eagle on asset forfeiture:

Officials in Alabama like to say our state is “open for business,” but the treatment of a local automobile dealer following his exoneration on criminal charges suggest significant changes are needed to achieve that end.

Several years ago, Jamey Vibbert sold some cars to a man who was later arrested with drugs. The Alabama Bureau of Investigators arrested Vibbert as well, and seized the money he was paid for the cars — $25,000 - under the state’s asset forfeiture law.

Vibbert was found not guilty six months later. But authorities refused to return his money. The whole episode cost him more than $300,000, he estimates. He eventually got his seized assets back after suing the state in civil court. But in the interim, the seizure of his business assets played a large role in the loss of his business.

That’s simply wrong, and the civil asset forfeiture laws should be changed to prevent this sort of abuse in the future. In this legislative session, there are two bills that would make conviction a requirement for the state to retain seized assets.

Asset forfeiture has its place in law enforcement and criminal justice. In theory, those who have benefited from their criminal activity could see their assets seized as the fruits of criminal enterprise. However, those who are accused and exonerated should have those assets returned forthwith. They’re guaranteed the presumption of innocence until proved guilty, and being cleared of charges in a court of law should underscore that presumption of innocence.

Vibbert considers himself fortunate to have had the means to fight and, ultimately, get his seized assets back. However, many people aren’t as fortunate. The Southern Poverty Law Center argues that many poor and minority Alabamians have assets seized but don’t have the economic ability to attempt to have the property returned.

Lawmakers must act on measures that reform civil forfeiture laws to ensure that no Alabamian winds up cleared of charges but bereft of wrongly seized assets.

Meanwhile, we applaud Vibbert for recounting his experience to shine a spotlight on the need for reform.

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

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