Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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Jan. 22

TimesDaily of Florence on a state law that allows sheriffs to pocket left over money meant for inmates:

An important part of being a sheriff that few people see is the feeding of inmates in the county jail. They are, under state law, personally responsible for providing at least two meals a day.

The state "helps" with this by providing sheriffs $1.75 per day for each inmate. If that falls short of the amount necessary to provide food, sheriffs must dig into their pockets and make up the deficit.

That might have been effective in the early 20th century, but it is as archaic a system as can be imagined today.

There is concern some sheriffs might not be supplying inmates with adequate food. Two groups have filed suit, demanding to see sheriffs' records to find out more.

The archaic law, part of an old fee system for elected officials, allows sheriffs to keep the money when they leave office, which is an incentive to hold back on spending all of it. Sheriffs in Colbert, Franklin and Lauderdale counties said when they took office, they took out personal loans of $10,000 to replenish their jail food accounts.

The Southern Center for Human Rights and the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice have filed suit to obtain information for 49 sheriffs about their food purchases and accounts. The accounts, when managed by a sheriff instead of a county commission, are not considered public records.

The suit wants information about what inmates are fed, how much is spent for food, and how the money is accounted for.

One aspect of the suit wants to find out if inmates are receiving adequate, nutritious food.

The two plaintiffs contend the interpretation of the law allows sheriffs to keep money provided by the state and not spent for food — tax dollars — for personal income.

A few counties have the food money routed to the county commission, freeing the sheriff of the responsibility of feeding inmates.

Members of the Alabama Sheriffs Association claim the county commission lobbying organization has resisted that arrangement for years. And the sheriffs don't want to totally lose access to the money because, by law, it is supplemental income. Complicating matters is the political minefield lawmakers encounter on the rare occasions they attempt reform. Both groups lobby hard to prevent reform.

It's clearly time for the law governing how inmates are fed to be rewritten. Greater accountability of how the money is spent is needed, and under no circumstance should that money be considered personal income.

Online: http://www.timesdaily.com

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Jan. 23

The Tuscaloosa News on Alabama's 2018 legislative session:

While the rest of the nation tries to figure out who can take credit for ending the federal government shutdown, and each party works earnestly to affix fault, state lawmakers in Alabama returned to work Jan. 23 on Goat Hill for Day 5 of the 2018 legislative session.

Gridlock, dysfunction and a ridiculous blame-game may have taken hold in the nation's capital, but in Montgomery, we have, well, business as usual, which is to say pretty much the same thing. It's just that the lack of progress in tackling problems is such a norm in the Alabama Legislature that the absurd doesn't convey the same level of dramatic flair in Montgomery as it does in Washington.

Faced with a crisis situation in its prison system that is impacting local communities across the state, a perpetually failing statewide educational system and a lingering budget problem that has no easy fixes, lawmakers have plenty to work on. Instead, more than 460 bills have already been introduced. Some of the bills have the potential to impact the lives of the average citizen of Alabama. Many do not. With an important election year looming, it is likely that Montgomery will follow Washington's current lead in showcasing a great deal of grandstanding and little meaningful legislation that will address festering problems.

Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford, has sponsored an education bill that will do little to improve education in Alabama, but it will generate some votes. HB258 would allow public schools to include Biblical theory of creationism along with evolution when the origins of man and earth are discussed in Alabama classrooms.

Over in the Senate, there's a bill that would stop cities from regulating companies such as Uber and Lyft. Those mobile app-based companies have had a difficult time, here in Tuscaloosa and elsewhere, with city leaders who demanded some basic rules be in place before they started operating. This bill, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, would put all the licensing and permitting power in the hands of the state's Public Service Commission.

A bill in the House would limit liability for injuries caused by animal traps on public lands. There's also a bill that would require commercial vehicles with three or more axles to use the right lane on the interstate and four-lane highways while driving outside of corporate limits under certain conditions and except for when passing.

Rep. Rolanda Hollis, D-Birmingham, is a newcomer to the Legislature. She won her seat by winning the Democratic primary this past March. No Republican or third-party candidate qualified for the seat, which previously was held by Oliver Robinson. She's already introduced five bills. One will prohibit smoking in a vehicle with a minor present. Two of her other bills call for the regulation of eyelash extension and microblading businesses. Microblading is a form of semi-permanent makeup for eyebrows.

The session is a little more than a week old. There's still time for our lawmakers to address some important issues. But it is looking more like it will be politics as usual.

Online: http://www.tuscaloosanews.com

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Jan. 22

The Gadsden Times on Alabama's flu season:

How bad is the 2017-18 influenza season?

Well, Gov. Kay Ivey last week declared a public health emergency in Alabama, after reports of hospitals being inundated with patients and at least one school, Briarwood Christian in Birmingham, having to close because so many students were sick.

The director of the national Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases told Bloomberg News that it was the first time the entire continental United States was the same color on the agency's flu graph. Translation: It's everywhere, at the highest levels since health agencies started keeping track a dozen years ago.

The Los Angeles Times had a particularly jarring headline on its website: "California hospitals face a 'war zone' of flu patients." The headline topped a story relating how hospitals there are literally having to set up tents in the parking lot to handle overflow cases.

Although the Centers for Disease Control insists the outbreak either has peaked or is close to that point, flu season won't end for another three months, and there are fears that other strains of the disease might materialize.

Reassuring, isn't it?

So, what should people do.

First, take this seriously. As bad as it makes you feel, flu generally is a few days' annoyance for most folks. It also, at its worst, has the capability of killing patients, especially the very young and old.

Second, get a flu shot, unless you are allergic to the vaccine. We know this is a flash point with the anti-vaccine crowd, it's not effective until a couple of weeks after it's administered and its effectiveness apparently is suspect this year — but doctors and health officials still strongly advise it.

Manufacturers cook up a different vaccine annually, based on their best guesstimate of the predominant strains of the disease for that year. (There are three basic types of influenza — A, B and C — but they are bad to mutate into countless strains.) This year's No. 1 strain is H3N2, which is included in this year's vaccine, but is one of the types most prone to mutation.

The shot is covered by most insurance carriers and there are cheap if not free options for others. We see it as simply playing the odds. Say it's only 10 percent, 20 percent or even 30 percent effective. That's better than zilch.

Third, remember and practice the health hygienic precautions that should be in place even if there isn't an epidemic percolating. The CDC's list: Keep your distance from people who are sick, stay home from work or school when you're sick (to bosses who grumble about having to cover for someone absent, one empty desk is better than multiples), cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, wash or sanitize your hands often, try not to touch your eyes, nose and mouth, and make sure to get plenty of sleep, drink plenty of fluids and eat right.

Finally, Alabama health officials have asked those who get the flu to make their doctor's office or a walk-in clinic their first stop, instead of the emergency room, to allow hospitals to focus on truly serious or problematic cases.

This will pass. Do your part to ease the way.

Online: http://www.gadsdentimes.com