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Guest Columnists

National Guard Armory Closings Reveal Priorities

Darrio Melton



By Rep. Darrio Melton

This week, our hearts went out to the victims of tragedies in Paris and Beirut. Americans stood in solidarity with the victims of these horrific attacks and committed ourselves to continue working to prevent these attacks at home and abroad.

At the heart of the conversation about dealing with terrorism, extremism, and ISIS has been a conversation about Syrian refugees and their role in our nation.

Many have argued it’s time to shut down our borders to prevent bad people from coming in with those looking for safety, while others have quoted the lines etched onto the Statue of Liberty: “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”


Regardless of how you personally feel about Syrian refugees or immigrants in general, we can all agree that we don’t want to see an attack occur on American soil, particularly here in Alabama.

In this effort, Governor Bentley has vowed to close Alabama’s borders to Syrian refugees and block any attempts to relocate refugees into Alabama through the federal placement programs.

Unfortunately, it seems to me the Governor’s attempt to keep our state safe is merely a half-hearted, knee-jerk reaction to a hot button political issue.

The truth is that the federal placement program isn’t bringing Syrian refugees into Alabama en masse, and it never will. A processing center in Mobile was approved by the State Department, yet they have not placed a single refugee within Alabama borders.  A similar facility in Louisiana has only processed 14 refugees.

Typically, the state has a system in place to respond to large-scale disasters: the National Guard. They are at the discretion of the Governor and can be used to secure any situation from natural disasters to riots.

While our Governor is saying he wants to keep us safe, he’s allowing our National Guard Armories to close or consolidate, meaning our first-responders are less capable of managing a large-scale disaster on Alabama soil.

Six of Alabama’s armories are scheduled to close due to funding shortfalls, and another 15 are scheduled to be closed and consolidated.

While these armories usually require a 50/50 funding split between federal and state dollars, Alabama has only been willing to fund $16 million to match the $126 million in federal funds to support our National Guard.

I’ve said it before, and I will continue to say it: our budgets are signs of our priorities.

If our priority is to keep our state and our people safe from harm, we have to put our money where our mouths are. Whether it’s a hurricane or a security threat, our National Guard is critical to our safety, and I would urge the Governor to work towards providing the state with this critical funding.


Rep. Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma.  He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as Chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Licensing away economic prosperity

Allen Mendenhall



By Allen Mendenhall
Executive Director of the Blackstone & Burke Center for Law & Liberty

Do you want to alleviate poverty in Alabama? Do you want to curb the power of special interest groups over government agencies? Do you want more affordable goods and services in basic industries?  Do you want to help disadvantaged groups find good jobs and become productive citizens? Do you want to reduce the population of our overcrowded prisons?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you should read a new report published by the Alabama Policy Institute titled “The Costs of Occupational Licensing in Alabama.” Coauthored by Daniel Smith (Troy University), Courtney Michaluk (Troy University), David Hall (Troy University), and Alex Kanode (George Mason University), the report details the effects of occupational licensure on our state.

What is occupational licensure? In short, it’s governmental regulation requiring people to obtain a license before entering into certain trades or fields. Sounds harmless, right? Aren’t these regulations in place to protect consumers from exploitation and inexpert practices? Such reasoning led to the rise in occupational licensure, which today extends to several zones of economic activity.


However well-meaning, occupational licensure has had unintended consequences on the people it’s designed to protect. Instead of helping average consumers, it lines the pockets of industries that have lobbied to regulate away entrepreneurial forces that drive down costs.

If you’re poor and trying to find low-skilled work as a barber, manicurist, eyebrow threader, hair stylist, school bus driver, or shampoo assistant, you must obtain a license first. This license may be prohibitively expensive because of renewal fees, coursework, continuing education, and so forth.

“Alabama licenses a total of 151 occupations,” according to the report, “covering over 432,000 Alabama workers, which represents over 21 percent of the labor force.” Think about that: more than two of every 10 people working in Alabama need a license to do what they do for a living. Licensing boards governing admission standards and prerequisites can mandate expensive training and dues that don’t affect the quality of industry services.

Economists refer to occupational licensure as a barrier to entry. Barriers to entry ensure that those already within a profession or trade can raise prices to artificially high levels, in effect squeezing out competition by using the mechanisms of government to control the market.

Inflated prices harm low-income families who cannot afford to buy what they could have bought if the market had set prices based on natural supply and demand. Spouses of military service members often suffer from occupational licensure because, when they move from state to state, they must jump through hoops to enter the licensed profession in which they practiced in other jurisdictions.

Occupational licensure is, in short, a net burden on the economy, escalating prices, limiting consumer choice, and restricting economic mobility.  The API report estimates that the overall costs of occupational licensure in Alabama exceed $122 million. That’s a lot of money. What can be done to keep some of it in the hands of the ordinary people who need it most?

The report proposes five reforms for Alabama policymakers:

  1. “[T]hey can reform current procedures for extending occupational licensing to new occupations and mandate thorough review processes to ensure that licensing is not extended to new occupations without a demonstrable and severe threat to consumer safety that cannot be overcome with the market mechanisms, such as consumer or expert reviews, reputation, guarantees, or private certification, or the already existing government laws, such as those dealing with liability, fraud, misrepresentation, and false advertising.”
  2. “[T]hey can establish procedures to systematically review all licensure requirements for currently licensed occupations to ensure that they do not require unnecessary or excessive requirements or costs for licensure.
  3. “[T]hey can systematically review all currently licensed occupations to determine, individually, whether a demonstrable severe threat to consumer safety exists. If not, they can remove occupation licensing entirely for those occupations.”
  4. “[They] can explore licensure reforms that specifically target ex-offenders” to reduce the prison population and criminal recidivism.
  5. “[They] can … explore occupational licensing reform with military members and their families in mind.”

A short article cannot capture the nuance and particulars of the entire report; readers should view the report for themselves to make up their own minds.

During this time of partisan divide and political rancor, people of good faith on both the left and the right can agree that something needs to be done about occupational licensure. The problem cannot continue to grow. It presents a unique opportunity for Republican and Democratic lawmakers to come together to ease economic burdens on the people of Alabama. Let’s hope they seize it.

Allen Mendenhall is associate dean at Faulkner University Thomas Goode Jones School of Law and executive director of the Blackstone & Burke Center for Law & Liberty. Visit his website at

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Quail Forever, Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association come together with one conservation goal

Howard K. Vincent



I have been working with Pheasants Forever, Inc., & Quail Forever for more than three decades with one goal in mind: the conservation and restoration of pheasants, quail and other wildlife through habitat improvements, public awareness, education and land management policies and programs.

Our Minnesota-based organization was formed in 1982 and now has locally based volunteer chapters in 42 states, including our newest chapter formed during an eventful visit the last week of February to the Alabama Black Belt. The Black Belt chapter will be the sixth Quail Forever group in the state.

We were fortunate to be invited to visit the Black Belt for the first time by the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association (ALBBAA), an organization that holds the same values as Quail Forever. The ALBBAA is dedicated to wildlife habitat conservation and economic development of the beautiful rural areas in the 23 counties that make up the Black Belt. The marketing organization, founded in 2009, relies on the plentiful opportunities for hunting, fishing, camping and many other outdoors attractions to spur tourism. Thanks to the major role Raycom Media plays in supporting this effort by providing advertising on its many television stations across the country, visitors are increasingly finding their outdoor adventures in the Black Belt – and quail hunting is a growing pursuit.

We came to the Black Belt with modest goals, hoping to capture some fresh photography, videography and content for our Quail Forever Journal, Quail Forever website and social media platforms. We also brought along friends from Realtree, Browning firearms and apparel, The Flush television program on Outdoor Channel, LandLeader TV on RFD, Covey Rise magazine and Shooting Sportsman magazine. These partners were also on the trip to learn about southern Alabama quail culture and to generate content for their own media entities. Our goals were certainly surpassed.


In Alabama, we learned that Southern hospitality is no cliché – it’s the absolute truth. We enjoyed a sunset dinner at Shenandoah Plantation in Union Springs hosted by Tom and Sue Ellen Lanier. We savored breakfast at Rex and Jacque Clark’s High Log Creek Farm and Hunting Preserve near Hurtsboro. At High Log Creek, we saddled up horses and wagons to explore the habitat in search of quail behind the preserve’s fine array of pointing dogs. Acclaimed chef and Food Network Iron Chef winner David Bancroft of Auburn’s Acre restaurant prepared a dinnertime offering of Alabama seafood and wild game at Rex Pritchett’s Great Southern Outdoors Plantation back in Union Springs. And speaking of quality Southern food, Chris Hastings of Birmingham’s Hot and Hot Fish Club prepared a lunch featuring quail on Thursday at host Thomas Harris’ Gusto plantation in Lowndes County that showed why he is a nationally renowned chef. We also had the pleasure of enjoying a magnificent final quail hunt at Gusto that allowed participants to not only enjoy the work of gorgeous pointers that weaved through the loblolly and longleaf pines, but also to see the kind of habitat that should be the goal of all quail lovers. Internationally known trainer Mike Stewart of Wildrose Kennels of Oxford, Miss., wrapped up the day by sharing some of his expertise with four of his British Labradors working with unbelievable precision.

Other sponsors who helped make our incredible visit happen were the Alabama Power Company, Yeti, Jon Kohler & Associates, National Land Realty, Tutt Land & Company and John Hall and Company.

Perhaps the highlight of our Alabama adventure occurred at a gathering sponsored by Caliber at the Alabama Wildlife Federation’s NaturePlex in Millbrook where Dr. Bill Palmer of Tall Timbers Research Station in Tallahassee, Fla., addressed a crowd of 100, excited to hear his quail expertise. I was energized by the group’s enthusiasm for quail and quail habitat. It was at that event that the Black Belt Quail Forever chapter was announced.

Unique among conservation organizations, Quail Forever chapters retain 100 percent decision-making control over the funds they raise locally. The group represents 140,000 bird-hunting conservationists who have been responsible for 15 million acres of habitat accomplishments while also earning Charity Navigator’s top rating for six consecutive years. Lovers of quail in the entire state have already been partners with ALBBAA through the Alabama Quail Trail, which can only be enhanced by more Quail Forever chapters.

The newly created Quail Forever chapter will work with the local community and landowners to improve the area’s habitat for quail. Ultimately, these habitat efforts will benefit all wildlife in the Black Belt, water quality, and the area’s recreational-based economy. We were proud to witness the many ways ALBBAA is already promoting quail hunting adventures in the region through media channels of Quail Forever, the country’s largest collection of bird-hunting conservationists. This an exciting new direction for Alabama, its Black Belt region and its people.

Howard K. Vincent is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Pheasants Forever, Inc., & Quail Forever

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Superintendents say A-F report cards “basically worthless”

Larry Lee



My jaw dropped recently when I heard someone from the Alabama State Department of Education say that local school systems are using  the A-F school report cards to identify strengths and weaknesses.

Wow.  I have just surveyed dozens of school system superintendents from one end of the state to the other–and THAT is not what they told me.

Among the questions I asked was: At  the end of the day, have these report cards been of benefit to your system in any way?

Here is a sampling of what they told me:  “I see no benefit to our school system.”   “Not in the least.”  “Zero.”   “No benefit.”   “Not even slightly.”  “I can’t see much benefit.”  “No benefit at all.”  “The report card has further tainted our public perception and has not been helpful.”  “Little to none.”  “Absolutely none at all.”  “Considering the demoralizing effect on individuals who have done a yeoman’s job in the past, this report card is not good for our system or the state.”


I also wanted to know, What was reaction in your community?  Or  did anyone pay any attention?

The consensus was that hardly anyone noticed.  Here are some responses: “Had no reaction.”  “Parents and those who support  public education were concerned that report cards did not truly depict their schools and their achievements. However, those who oppose public schools used these scores in a negative way.”  “Very little attention.”  “I had two people ask me about a school grade.  One lady at church and one phone call from a local business owner.”  “Outside of principals and central office staff, not one single person mentioned the report cards.”

What was reaction from principals and staff in schools that got C, D or F?

“School staffs were dismayed because all work extremely hard.  Students were also deeply concerned about lower grades. Even though all recognize that this is an extremely flawed process, everyone wants their school represented with a good grade.  The reality is there is no test, no sound measure of progress or anyone at the state department of education who can substantiate this process.”  “Our elementary school had a 79 and the principal and staff were heartbroken.  Growth and attendance were great, but when you have 200 students who don’t speak English fluently, achievement is nearly achieve at the same level of schools without this situation.”

“Most principals and staff were very upset with a C because most of what happens at school is not even considered when the report card grade is issued.”  “Principals and staff felt very overwhelmed and disappointed.”   “Frustration because of the way the score was calculated and because they see every day what is taking place in their school and what kids are dealing with”  “The principal whose school got a D was very disappointed.  Her school is in a community with very high poverty, but it is a good school and a negative grade like this does nothing but drive people away”

“Many principals feel they are being portrayed as incompetent.  They know they are doing the best they can with the resources they have.  One said that if he had 25 years of service, he would retire and leave education.”

I also asked, Should this law be repealed?

As you can imagine, this got a resounding “YES.”  Only one superintendent suggested that the process be amended to be more comprehensive.

Some samples:  “This law is intended to privatize public education and further segregate our society.”   “ABSOLUTELY, it should have never been passed.”  “This report card is a very shortsighted attempt to label schools, not improve them.”

A-F was terrible legislation when passed in 2012.  Everyone in education knew it.  But as is too often the case, no one listened to people who actually understand what is taking places in our schools.

Now we have proof it was terrible.

So do we do what is best for our students and all who work diligently to guide them each day, admit our mistake, and correct it?  Or do we cling desperately to false assumptions simply because some politicians put their own pride above the welfare of our children?

That choice is so clear there is no need for debate.

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National Guard Armory Closings Reveal Priorities

by Darrio Melton Read Time: 2 min