Alabama editorial roundup
By The Associated Press
Sep. 13, 2017
Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:
The Decatur Daily on lawmakers addressing funding for state prison issues in the 2018 legislative session:
Lawmakers aren't likely to be called into a special session this fall to deal with the state's prison problems, which sets up an interesting scenario for the 2018 legislative session.
Following a ruling in June by U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson that the prison system's mental health care is unconstitutional, state officials have been meeting with lawyers for the plaintiffs to work out a plan to remediate the issues discovered.
Last week, representatives of both sides reported they are optimistic resolutions can be reached before a scheduled status conference later this month.
If the state and plaintiffs can't reach an agreement, a remedies trial could be scheduled before the year ends.
John Rogers, communications director for the Office of Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed of Jasper, said Wednesday that lawmakers already have started kicking around ideas about how to address the prison issue when they return for the 2018 session. It will be a difficult and costly process, and therein is the rub, Rogers said.
The state's prison woes have been a major issue for the two past legislative sessions, but lawmakers have failed to agree upon a funding mechanism for building new prisons to relieve crowding. But this session's discussions must deal with more than overcrowding. The mental health lawsuit agreements will almost certainly stipulate the hiring of additional mental health workers and correctional officers. Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, has estimated the new hires could cost $30 million.
"It's going to impact the budget. The question is how much, and where do you get the money from?" Ward said.
Rogers points out there's an added wrinkle to this year's discussion. Lawmakers will have to raise those additional funds during an election year. Historically, they have shied away from controversial issues and raising revenue during election years.
Also, as lawmakers grapple with funding for prisons and other key state programs, a third claim in the same class-action lawsuit involving the mental health problems could be heard next spring. That claim alleges the Alabama Department of Corrections has been providing inadequate health care coverage for inmates.
Fixing the state prison system's problems will be even less popular for constituents if the money is siphoned from programs that help low-income citizens, like Medicare or the Children's Health Insurance Program, or reduced funding for education.
That means lawmakers may not have the luxury of dodging this election year the tough discussions about tax increases that would funnel some much-needed revenue into state coffers.
The Cullman Times on local crime rates compared to state averages:
Cullman County's population grew in 2016, while crime fell in all categories except homicide and theft. The result: the area is below the state average in crime.
According the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center, the crime rate in 2015 for Cullman County was 2,125.4 incidents per 100,000 people. By 2017, the rate dipped to 2,064.73 per 100,000. Statewide, the number rose by 2 percent in the same period. The report compiles statistics for homicide, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft.
The report does not account for drug arrests, but law enforcement officials have long attributed a huge percentage of thefts and burglaries to illegal drug activity.
Nevertheless, reviewing the Cullman County statistics is encouraging news and a compliment to how law enforcement and the community work together to solve and prevent crimes. Programs such as Citizens Academy and the long-standing school resource officers' presence in schools builds trust, participation and appreciation for the challenges law enforcement officers face daily in protecting the community.
Area drug agents are also making frequent arrests of people accused of selling drugs. Some of the suspects are local, while others are arriving from out-of-town to sell drugs. The efforts of citizens to learn and recognize suspected drug activity is a large factor in making the arrests possible. Stepping forward to provide information to police and deputies can clear a neighborhood of drug infestation. The intervention of law enforcement also at times find children in homes where methamphetamine is being manufactured, which puts them at risk of physical harm from explosions and careless adults.
Law enforcement officers are primarily responsible for enforcing laws. It's sometimes a thankless job of issuing tickets, intervening in potentially dangerous domestic disputes, and going undercover to stop drug trafficking. We understand, too, that the more police and deputies interact with the community, the more crime becomes preventable.
We encourage citizens to continue taking an interest in the role of law enforcement officers in our community. If you haven't attended a Citizens Academy event, try it. The reviews are impressive from those who complete the class. Any opportunity to hear police speak about crime trends and enforcement is rewarding and educational. And you will get to know those who patrol and investigate the streets of Cullman County.
While the job is often criticized, we know that law enforcement is a partnership with the community. We appreciate the efforts to keep our community a good place to live, while recognizing it is a 24-hour job.
The Dothan Eagle on community college aviation programs growing as Alabama pursues more flight-related operations:
Alabama's jobs landscape has changed over the years, most notably after the North America Free Trade Agreement, and the subsequent withering of the needles trade across the state as sewing operations moved offshore.
At the center of the state's efforts to reinvent the workforce was the state's community college system, which offered job training to displaced workers who sought more marketable skills for the changing jobs outlook.
Our state has been moving into a different direction with regard to manufacturing, first with automobiles and, more recently, with aircraft. And while the Wiregrass area has long had a viable aviation program operating on a campus in Ozark, the focus on developing a strong aviation workforce throughout the state has gained traction.
The Alabama Community College System recently created a new position of director of aviation programs, and hired Michael "Mac" McDaniel to fill to job, bringing experience as general manager of aircraft maintenance training at ExpressJet Airlines.
ACCS deserves commendation for rising to the challenge, as FAA-certified aviation programs are currently in operation on the Ozark campus of Enterprise State Community College, as well as Coastal Alabama and Snead State community colleges.
We hope to see these programs grow in anticipation of a steady increase in jobs in the aviation field as Alabama pursues more flight-related operations.