Alabama editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:
The Gadsden Times on suspending the driver’s licenses of people who have not paid traffic tickets:
You’ve heard countless times — you’ve heard it from us — that driving is a privilege, not a right.
Because of that, Alabama — just like the remaining 49 states and the District of Columbia — has the right to assess your skills behind the wheel to ensure they’re adequate before turning you loose on the streets and highways.
It can require that you carry at least liability insurance on your vehicles, to protect both you and the other driver(s) should you be involved in an accident.
In November, however, The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit against the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency to prevent it from suspending the driver’s licenses of people who have not paid traffic tickets. The organization contends that policy — which is contained in Alabama Rule of Criminal Procedure — violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That amendment says “no state shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
The SPLC says that prevents punishment of people simply for being poor, and contends that is happening in Alabama under the license suspension policy.
The suit was brought on behalf of two women and a man — out of an estimated 23,000 Alabamians who have their driver’s licenses suspended so far this year — who have been unable to pay traffic tickets. The SPLC claims that’s an unfair burden on the poor — it cited statistics that show, no surprise, there are a lot of poor folks in Alabama — and hurts these people’s ability to get and hold onto jobs, especially since public transportation options are quite lacking in the state.
Similar lawsuits have been filed in five other states, and Mississippi in 2017 stopped suspending licenses for non-payment of tickets.
OK, queue up the law-and-order crowd: “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” And need we say again, “Driving is a privilege, not a right?”
Those attitudes aren’t completely invalid. People know the traffic laws — if they don’t, Alabama’s whole procedure of licensing drivers ought to be re-examined, too. Choosing to violate them is a personal choice that should be subject to consequences. We are sympathetic to the plight of the poor and the trials they face, and are cognizant of the fact that a traffic ticket certainly is more of an “ouch” to them than to someone in a higher income bracket, but that shouldn’t be a “get out of jail free” card.
Still, this situation isn’t starkly black or white; there’s some gray, as usually is the case in the real world.
The SPLC contends in its lawsuit that driver’s licenses often are suspended without prior notice, without any consideration of whether the non-payment was willful and without people getting their day in court to explain the circumstances and possibly set up a plan for paying the tickets.
It’s possible to think (a.) there absolutely should be consequences for violating the law; and (b.) there should be more due process in these situations and, unless we’re talking about total scofflaws with multiple violations (the plaintiffs in these suits aren’t; one had a single ticket), a willingness to work with folks to get the fines paid.
That’s where we’d like to see this go, but the final act has to be acceptance of the consequences and payment of the tickets, however long it takes. That’s non-negotiable.
Decatur Daily on the refugee caravan:
Unlike the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the great border war of 2018 may be short-lived. In fact, it may be over before it started.
President Donald Trump rushed 5,800 troops to the U.S./Mexico border in order to beat back what he calls an “invasion” of refugees coming up through Mexico from Central America. The refugee caravan has only just started arriving at the border, but some of those troops may already be on their way home.
Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan said in an interview last week that some of the troops could start coming home as early as now, and they could all expect to be home by Christmas, as originally planned. As far as military deployments go, sending troops to the border seems relatively painless, but also pointless — unless the point is purely political.
A Monmouth University poll found that most Americans believe the caravan of migrants poses “at least a minor threat to the country,” yet most Americans, 7-in-10, also believe “these migrants should be given the opportunity to enter the country if they meet certain requirements.”
Predictably, the results break down largely along party lines: Republicans (54 see the caravan as a major threat, but they are joined by only 28% of independents and 11% of Democrats.”
Poll results also varied by region, and here the results are telling. Residents of the four states that share a border with Mexico were the least likely to be worried about the refugee caravan, with only 21 percent seeing it as a major threat. If the caravan were truly a threat, one would expect the people living in the states that would be most impacted to be the most concerned. They’re not, and that’s probably because they are also the people with the most experience dealing with immigrants from Mexico and Central and South America.
“Most of the public express some level of concern about the approaching caravan, some of which may be due to unsubstantiated claims that the group includes terrorists. At the same time, though, most Americans feel that each migrant should be given the opportunity to state their case for entering the United States,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.
In fact there is no evidence of any terrorists among the caravan, just as there is no evidence of the caravan being full of criminals. Most of the evidence suggests the refugees are exactly who they say they are: people fleeing political unrest in their homes in Central America, which is still dealing with fallout from the U.S. drug war and the Cold War fight against communism.
“Most Americans (70 say that these migrants should be given the opportunity to enter the country if they meet certain requirements such as showing they were persecuted in their home countries and not having a criminal record,” according to the Monmouth poll.
To do so, they must have access to legal ports of entry into the U.S. The U.S. does not allow people to claim refugee status while still in their home country.
Monmouth found that playing up the caravan during the midterm elections didn’t change anyone’s mind, but it did harden people’s positions, reinforcing the base on both sides.
Even with the election over, the president is still talking tough, saying troops at the border can use lethal force and even threatening to close the border.
“I have no choice,” Trump said, according to CNN. “You’re dealing with a minimum of 500 serious criminals” and “rough people.” Trump provided no evidence to back up his claim, because such evidence doesn’t exist.
The caravan is little threat to the United States, and we already have in place a legal process for dealing with and processing refugee claims. It can and does work, if allowed to do so.
Demonizing refugees is bad enough during the heat of an election. It’s even worse now.
Dothan Eagle on day care centers changes:
In recent years, the Alabama Legislature considered a common-sense measure that drew criticism from several Alabama organizations that would be affected by the change.
The proposal would have required all day care centers in the state to be licensed, which would have been a new requirement for church-associated day cares that had been exempt from the licensing rule.
Understandably, there was pushback. However, the idea that all day cares should be licensed is not a draconian governmental intrusion. It simply makes sense that the facilities to which parents entrust their children meet a minimum standard.
Licensing allows the state to ensure a facility meets minimum health and safety standards, that workers pass criminal background checks and have appropriate CPR training, that the facility meets mandated staff-to-child ratios, and that the buildings, grounds and equipment are properly maintained.
While there are many church-based programs that voluntarily adhere to the guidelines or welcome DHR inspections, many do not.
Lawmakers sought the changes in response to a growing number of unlicensed day care facilities in the state. Those changes, coupled with a federal requirement that facilities receiving federal or state funding be inspected, have spurred some positive results.
According to the Alabama Department of Human Resources, the number of facilities claiming licensing exemption dropped last year by 12 percent. But there are still 838 day care operations in Alabama that are exempt from the licensing requirement.
Lawmakers originally considered holding faith-based day care facilities to the same requirements, but retreated after some opponents argue that lifting the exemption is an affront to religious freedom.
It’s an option they should revisit periodically. Licensing is a reasonable expectation. Plumbers, electricians, even those in the business of cutting trees are expected to secure a license in the state. Surely we can expect the same assurances from those who care for our children.