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Alabama editorial roundup

February 6, 2019

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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Feb.

Dothan Eagle on construction of prisons:

In Tuesday’s annual legislative breakfast, an attendee asked the lawmaker in attendance to explain how a prison construction program would address many of the shortcomings in Alabama Corrections. The response from state Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), who serves as chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, was far sounder than the rationale employed by former Gov. Robert Bentley, who floated the idea four years ago. The proposal foundered; shortly thereafter, so did his administration.

In a story ..., staff writer Jeremy Wise reports Clouse’s explanation, which relies heavily on the assumption that state-of-the-art technology would allow a prison to be adequately staffed with far fewer corrections officers. That’s an attractive feature considering the trouble the prison system has had with staffing.

A prison building program can be expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars; Bentley’s proposal included a bond issue in excess of $800 million, with an ultimate cost in the neighborhood of a billion dollars. Before lawmakers commit taxpayers to such a whopping debt, they must ensure that a revitalization program would address every deficiency that exists today - in staffing, overcrowding and woeful lack of mental health services - and include contingencies to meet future challenges.

However, it’s difficult to forget the words of Equal Justice Initiative Director Bryan Stevenson when the proposal arose in the Bentley administration. Stevenson (said) the state’s correction system’s problems of abuse, poor management, understaffing, overcrowding, and excessive sentencing “will not get any better when it takes place in a new prison instead of an old one.”

A better approach would include a revamped sentencing structure and expansion of alternative options to the state penitentiary for offenders who pose no threat of violence.

Online: https://www.dothaneagle.com/

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Feb. 3

The Decatur Daily on a bill to allow Bible literacy to be taught as an elective in public schools:

Alabama has no shortage of religious instruction. More than half of Alabamians, according to a Pew poll, attend a religious service at least once a week. That’s a larger percentage than in any other state except Utah.

Alabama is also the second-most religious state after Mississippi, according to a Gallup survey, with 56 percent of its residents categorized as “very religious.”

State Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, who represents parts of the Shoals and Limestone County, says we need Bible literacy in the public schools, and he has pre-filed a bill authorizing Bible literacy classes as an elective.

Melson told ABC 33/40 that he is sponsoring the bill at the request of teachers in his district who would like to teach the Bible but don’t feel comfortable doing so without legal authorization.

Melson’s bill, SB14, is modeled after a Kentucky law passed in 2017 and would allow the Bible as an elective in grades six through 12. The State Board of Education would have to adopt specific rules and policies for how the classes would be taught.

Formulating those policies and seeing they’re enforced, so that Bible literacy classes don’t cross the line into unconstitutional religious proselytizing, however, is easier said than done. So, of course, the Alabama chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has raised the alarm, saying, Melson’s bill serves “no useful purpose and is an invitation to lure school districts into a false sense of security to take unconstitutional actions.”

How the law has been used so far in Kentucky shows just how difficult keeping Bible literacy classes on the right side of the law can be.

“While it is technically possible for a public school to offer a course focusing solely on the Bible that complies with the Constitution, it’s very difficult to actually do, even with the best of intentions,” writes ACLU attorney Heather L. Weaver, who notes that in one Kentucky county, the teachers show devotional and proselytizing films such as “God’s Not Dead 2″ and “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.”

Some supporters of Melson’s bill virtually admit they have proselytizing in mind.

Joe Godfrey, executive director of the group ALCAP, which lobbies on religious issues in the Alabama Legislature, told ABC 33/40 Melson’s bill was a good idea.

“In the early ’60s, we took Bible reading and prayer out of schools, and I think we see the result of that in the increase in violence and other problems within the schools,” Godfrey said.

According to the most recent data released by the federal National Center for Education Statistics and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, however, schools are safer than they have been in decades, even counting high-profile school shootings. Bullying is on the decline, and the presence of gangs in schools is also on the decline.

None of this is surprising. Overall juvenile crime has been trending down for decades and, after peaking in the 1990s, is now at about the same level it was in the early 1960s.

Regardless if the problem Godfrey cites is real, it sure sounds like he envisions Bible literacy as state-sanctioned moral instruction, which is exactly what invites lawsuits.

Even Bible literacy is a thorny issue. Literacy based on whose interpretation of the Bible?

Christianity is divided into Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterian, Churches of Christ and so on.

Can any meaningful Bible literacy class not step on some point of controversy among denominations? The list of disagreements has only grown since Martin Luther nailed up his first 95 in 1517.

Melson’s bill seems like yet another legal fight Alabama doesn’t need.

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

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Feb. 3

Gadsden Times on the flu season:

We occasionally revisit things we’ve addressed in this space, but we generally let a little time pass so it looks like we’re following up instead of re-plowing ground.

We’re making an exception, with good reason.

Jan. 9 online and in print the following day, we noted that it was going to be another bad flu season locally and nationally, and that more than 80 percent of Alabama’s counties (including Etowah) already were seeing significant flu activity with the season yet to hit its peak.

Well, the situation hasn’t gotten any better. According to the Alabama Department of Public Health’s most recent flu report, covering Jan. 20-26, influenza-like illness activity is up for the second straight week and the statewide level is running at a season-high 5.5 percent.

There is elevated ILI activity in five of the state’s health districts: Jefferson County, Northeastern (which includes Etowah County), Northern, East Central and Southwestern. State officials have informed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the geographic spread here (based on district activity levels and virologic surveillance) is “widespread.”

The seriousness of the problem was reinforced in recent days as four area school systems — Albertville, Boaz, Guntersville and Marshall County — had to cancel classes because of flu outbreaks that in some cases caused double-figure absentee rates.

Fayetteville City Schools and a private school in Greenville also had to shut down for the same reason. We support such moves, because the only way to clear something like this up is to get kids out of school buildings (so disinfectant crews can move in) and away from each other in such large numbers.

We know the world can’t shut down for disinfection until flu season is over; neither can people with family, work and other responsibilities quarantine themselves and not go out.

That doesn’t mean we should just fatalistically say “meh” and let whatever happens happen and take no steps to protect ourselves from the flu and other communicable diseases.

The steps haven’t changed since last time.

— Trust the science and not the worst-case scenario social media memes and get a flu shot. The effectiveness of this year’s vaccine won’t be officially determined until later, but it’s going to be a lot higher (no, it’s unlikely to be 100 percent) than in the past because manufacturers hit the bull’s-eye by including all the presently circulating strains.

— Seek medical attention if you think you have the actual flu (and not just a bug — you’ll easily know the difference) and don’t go back to school or work until you actually are over it.

— Practice proper hygiene to keep from spreading the virus.

One Alabama child died of flu-related illness during the week covered by the ADPH report. Fourteen adult deaths have been reported in the state since Sept. 30. As we noted last time, the flu killed about 80,000 Americans last year. It’s nothing to mess with.

We’ve often admonished people not to make it easy for criminals. Don’t make it easy for this nasty virus, either.

Online: https://www.gadsdentimes.com/

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