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Opinion | Let’s keep our promise to those who need us most

Anthony Daniels

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By House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels

Fifteen years ago, Alabama made a promise. Upon ending Wyatt vs. Stickney, the landmark legal decision that led to improved standards for mental health care here and across the nation, we promised to never again neglect support for mental health services.

However, in the years since, we have not only fallen far short of that promise, we have shown a brazen willingness to head down the same path – a path characterized as inadequate, inaccessible, and sometimes downright inhumane treatment for those suffering from mental illness.

In many ways, we are already well on our way.

Several Alabama state agencies, including our Department of Corrections, have recently been or are currently embroiled in lawsuits regarding their statutory failures to support or maintain sufficient mental health services.

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So, how did we end up back on this path – one that originally led to more than three decades of federal oversight of our mental health system? And what can we do to get on the right track?

First, as leaders and lawmakers, we must understand that mental health is multifaceted and interwoven with a number of other issues including correctional mental health, substance abuse and addiction, services for residents with intellectual disabilities, and treatment for those recovering from trauma, including our veterans. Mental health significantly impacts our budget and touches nearly every corner of our communities from schools to hospitals to local law enforcement and the courts.

We have both a moral and a legal responsibility to provide quality mental health treatment options for Alabamians suffering from mental illness. Failure to meet that commitment with adequate funding levels and effective programs has only led to increased costs in emergency care and incarceration, not to mention the human cost in countless lives devastated.

To settle the Wyatt casebeginning in the mid-1980s, Alabama made significant investments in mental health programs and, like many states at that time, began moving from an institutional model to one centered on community-based services. We closed nearly all our state hospitals and drastically downsized the remaining three in favor of operating smaller, regional facilities. Advancements in modern medicine coupled with the reduction of state hospital beds resulted in saving hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars a year. However, these funds have not been reinvested in community-based mental health services and centers.

Instead, practically from the beginning, the shift to community-based services was not funded for long-term sustainability and success. Furthermore, since Wyatt was settled, the Alabama Department of Mental Health (ADMH) has been level-funded or cut every single year, including a $35 million reduction in 2009.

Even this year, while we pat ourselves on the back for a $13 million increase in the mental health budget, we do not tell you that those funds will likely be eaten up by two federal lawsuit settlements.

As a result, we have hospitals and centers that are at or over capacity, waiting lists of a month or more for those in need of critical services, programs that are severely understaffed by properly trained therapists, probate judges who have nowhere to place committed patients, and dangerous gaps in care for some of our most vulnerable Alabamians. Meanwhile, ADMH struggles to cope with more and more unfunded mandates as its staff is forced to make Band-Aid fixes to keep programs marginally intact. In turn, our jails and prisons have become part of a de-facto mental health system – one that is bankrupting our state and it doesn’t it even work.

Our mental health system is stretched to the breaking point. And while it may suffer from some pre-existing conditions, the underlying cause is an ongoing unwillingness or inability to act by the state leaders and the legislature. Simply put, we cannot continue to let our mental health policy be dictated by litigation, judicial action, and federal intervention. We must be spurred to action by our constitutional, ethical, and fiscal duty to all Alabamians, not by a federal court order. The fact that we’d rather budget millions of dollars inevitable legal settlements, then put that money into underfunded programs, is not only irresponsible, it’s insanity.

No, our budget is not awash with discretionary funds. But there are steps we can take.  First, let’s thoroughly review state-funded mental health services to ensure that such appropriations are spent wisely, effectively, and efficiently. Let’s look to shift our mental health care delivery system to one based on evidence- and outcome-based practices, not long-term incarceration. Let’s examine creative and innovative solutions and economies to leverage additional state and federal dollars. And let’s start a public dialogue that includes patients, caregivers, healthcare providers, social workers, and law enforcement professionals. Let’s start talking about how we can ensure affordable and accessible first-rate mental health care to all Alabamians and let’s do it now.

After all, we made a promise.

 

Guest Columnists

Opinion | While hospitals help second trimester babies thrive, courts allow them to be butchered

J. Pepper Bryars

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A premature baby born at just 22-weeks was discharged a few months ago from the University of South Alabama Children’s and Women’s Hospital in Mobile.

In a touching video posted on AL.com, little Cullen Porter can be seen wearing a tiny black cap and gown on the way home, having “graduated” in August from the neonatal intensive care unit with “no major issues.”

Three months later two other extremely premature babies were successfully discharged from Huntsville Hospital for Women & Children. One was born at just 23 weeks and another at 25, according to hospital spokesperson Jennifer Malone.

This is wonderful.

Advances in medical science allowed these three babies, and many others born prematurely in the second trimester of pregnancy (roughly 14-27 weeks), to survive, thrive, and enjoy life with the rest of us.

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Yet stagnation in law allows many other healthy babies in the second trimester to be killed through what’s called a “dismemberment abortion.” They’re too developed for simpler procedures, so they’re torn apart and removed from their mother’s womb in bloody, broken pieces.

This is horrific.

Thankfully, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall just asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case concerning our state’s ban on dismemberment abortion that was ruled unconstitutional by lower federal courts.

“Federal courts … are already hearing challenges to dismemberment abortion bans in at least five states, including Alabama,” said Mike Lewis, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office. “There is a high likelihood that if not Alabama, then another state could see its dismemberment abortion law challenge reviewed by the Supreme Court in the near future.”

Lewis added that Congress outlawed a similar procedure called partial-birth abortion in 2003 and it was upheld by the Supreme Court a few years later.

That bodes well for our ban.

As described in Marshall’s petition, the only meaningful difference is that during a partial birth abortion a still-living baby is almost completely delivered before a doctor uses a suction device to “vacuum out the child’s brains.”

In a dismemberment abortion, a still-living baby is mutilated entirely within the womb by using “clamps, grasping forceps, tongs, scissors, or similar instruments that … slice, crush, or grasp … a portion of the unborn child’s body to cut or rip it off.”

“The fetus,” the petition continues, “dies just as a human adult or child would: It bleeds to death as it is torn limb from limb.”

If the Supreme Court upheld the partial birth abortion ban, then it’s reasonable to hope they’ll uphold a dismemberment ban, as well.

And such a ruling couldn’t come too soon.

State data show the gruesome procedure, called dilation and evacuation within the medical community, was performed on 89 unborn children in Alabama during 2016 alone.

That was the same year the Alabama Legislature banned the gruesome technique while providing for a health exception to save the life of the mother.

“It was the most bi-partisan prolife legislation that I saw during my eight-years in the legislature,” said Phil Williams, a former state senator who co-sponsored the law and who is now with the Alabama Policy Institute. “One pro-choice state senator told me he supported the bill because dismemberment abortion is such a horrible procedure.”

Most people feel the same way.

During the last election 59-percent of Alabamians voted in favor of an amendment to the constitution declaring that it’s the state’s policy to recognize the rights of the unborn. And national polls have shown that more than 60-percent favor banning second and third trimester abortions.

The Alabama Policy Institute will file a brief in support of the state’s position should the justices decide to hear the case. Other organizations and individuals across the state and nation are sure to do the same.

Meanwhile, while our state officials appeal to a higher court, our state’s citizens should appeal to a higher power and pray that Alabama, and our nation, forever ends the scourge of dismemberment abortions.

J. Pepper Bryars is a senior fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute. Follow him on Twitter at @jpepperbryars.

 

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Survey says time for Accountability Act to go

Larry Lee

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More than 600 people have responded so far to a recent online survey about the Alabama Accountability Act.  They are loud and clear as to how they feel.  Seventy-six percent say it should be repealed.  Another 17 percent say it should be modified and only one percent say it should be left as is.

This is not surprising since 78 percent of respondents are either currently working in public education, or are retired educators.  They also have a vested interested as 58 percent either have children or grandchildren now in a public school.

More than 51 percent are in the age range of 46 to 65.  Sixty-eight percent of all respondents are female. And 46 percent identify themselves as Republicans, 32 percent are Independents and 23 percent are Democrats.

Editor’s note: SurveyMonkey was the instrument used to get responses.  This methodology is used by more than 4,000 companies worldwide In market research.  Unlike traditional political polling, SurveyMonkey does not control responses according to demographics.  However, the number of responses is so large that info is very valid in measuring attitudes and trend lines.

The survey probed a number of issues regarding AAA.

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For instance, while those supporting the accountability act imply that public schools should not miss the $100 million now diverted from the Education Trust Fund by this legislation, 95.5 percent of survey takers do not believe Alabama schools are adequately funded.

Only four percent say they know someone who has contributed to a Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO) and seven percent say they know a student who has received a scholarship with this program.

This law creates a double standard for charitable contributions.  While the state allows an income tax DEDUCTION for traditional contributions based on the contributor’s income tax bracket; donors to an SGO get a dollar for dollar TAX CREDIT on their taxes.  Say you are in the 35 percent tax bracket and give $1,000 to the Boy Scouts, you get a $350 (35 percent X $1,000) tax deduction.  However, if you give $1,000 to a SGO, the state allows you to take this amount off your tax liability owed the state.  In other words, you are reimbursed $1,000.

Some 56 percent of those who answered the survey say both regular charitable contributions and SGO contributions should be treated equally.

There is concern these scholarships are sometimes used to recruit athletes to private schools and 77 percent think a school getting AAA scholarships should not be allowed to compete in athletics with public schools.

They also have strong feelings about scholarships being given to non-accredited private schools as is presently allowed.  Eighty-three percent oppose this.

The survey shows intense feelings about the State Board of Education and their unwillingness to take a stand on AAA.  Some 88 percent say the board should take a public position on AAA and 90 percent say the board should be actively involved in making legislative changes to the law.

While this law requires that the state identify the bottom six percent of all public schools and label them as “failing,” 78 percent say the same bottom six percent standard should be applied to private schools.

AAA does not stipulate that any resources or help be given to “failing” schools to help them improve.  Eighty-three percent of responses say this is wrong.

So far, school boards in Baldwin, Mobile, Montgomery, Randolph and Tallapoosa counties have passed resolutions calling for the repeal of AAA.  Some 87 percent agree with school boards taking such action.

Respondents were asked how they feel about the overall state of public education in Alabama.  Unfortunately, 45 percent believe it will be worse in the future than it now is
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Might it be that after six years of the accountability act and little to show for it, plus the fact that the state school board is apparently content to give up $100 million in funding without saying a word, there is ample reason for pessimism?

I don’t know that answer.  But I do know the folks who took this survey have spoken loudly that they do not believe the accountably act works and are calling for action.

Larry Lee is a public-school advocate and co-author of the study, Lessons Learned From Rural Schools.  He is a former member of the Montgomery County school board. [email protected]

 

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Alabama is O-KAY

John W. Giles

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At high noon today, Monday, January 14,  2019, Alabama will swear in the Honorable Kay Ellen Ivey as our 54th Governor. Governor Ivey has selflessly dedicated her entire life to public service. In this guest editorial, we will travel down memory lane of her resume; however it is my goal to talk about the Kay Ivey I have known for 30 years. For those looking under every rock for motivations of an article like this; you can relax; I am not looking for a job, a political appointment or running for any office. This is a good will piece for a very deserving lady.

After being appointed by Governor Guy Hunt in 1989 as Alabama’s Small Business Advocate for the State of Alabama; and being new to state government, I was making the rounds getting familiar with all functions of government. I was seeking resources and how we might work with other agencies to benefit small businesses. I was scheduled early one morning to meet with Dr. Sutton, Executive Director of the Alabama Commission of Higher Education. The moment I introduced myself to the receptionist; popping out in the hall from one of the back offices was this lady with a bright smile, a glowing personality and a strong southern Alabama accent. She reached out to shake my hand and said, “Hello John Giles, I am Kay Ivey, we have been looking forward to your visit, could I get you a cup of coffee?” As one can imagine; a first impression like this last for decades.

Kay Ellen Ivey was raised on a farm in Camden Alabama. After graduating from Auburn University, she began serving the public as a school teacher and then a local banker. She was Reading Clerk in the Alabama House of Representatives serving under the infamous Speaker of the House, Joe McCorquodale. She then learned to recruit industry as Assistant Director of the Alabama Development Office.

Her first election was in 2002 statewide as Alabama’s first Republican State Treasurer since reconstruction. She served there until 2010, when elected as Lieutenant Governor. On April 10, 2017, with a notice of three hours, she ascended as Governor of the state after Governor Bentley resigned. I recall her statement as if was yesterday, “We are going to steady the ship of state.” Her new public service assignment was on the heels of a turbulent ride with Bentley and steady the ship of state she did.

Working for two governors, I realized the inherent characteristics of the state’s Chief Executive Officer is to be a consistent coalition and consensus builder, have clear communicated priorities, maintain a high ethical and moral ground, stern, gracious, humble yet tough. Also, you are Alabama’s number one Ambassador and under her leadership we have had banner industrial investments and job creation. Like most, I am on the sidelines now observing the news on the internet, but I can tell you, Kay Ivey, even though she is 74 has all the right stuff for the job. She has more titanium steel in places I only wish some male public officials had in place; know what I mean Vern. Her leadership is admired by Alabamians because she was recently ranked the 3rd most popular governor in America.

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My dad always taught us; there is your side, their side, find what is right and don’t budge. Here are three recent examples when she was under tremendous pressure and did not budge. The Republic establishment in DC wanted her to abandoned the state GOP party nominee for U.S. Senate in the 2017 special election for U.S. Senate, Chief Justice Roy Moore, she did not waiver one click. She held fast to the notion that the Trump tariffs would hurt some Alabama industries; even though she loves Trump but did not budge. Then the Pardons and Parole Board got on a path of insanity and she wasted no time reeling them in and put them in checkmate.

I would be remiss in not mentioning three key men who are also my friends that have helped her immeasurably over the years. Will Sellers, who is now an Associate Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court has been with her from the get-go when running for State Treasurer. Steve Pelham has been with her since she was elected Lieutenant Governor and serves as her Chief of Staff. And last, but foremost is her long time pastor, Jay Wolf at First Baptist Church in Montgomery, who has been her spiritual pillar for years.

On a lighter note, she is always authentically friendly, easy going and fun. I love her signature Wilcox County Strong Alabama Southern accent. I have always loved hearing her talk. Listen next time when she says State Treasurer; you will count at least four of five syllables in Treasurer. I trust you are smiling with me on this one.

In conclusion, Alabama is O-KAY with Kay.

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Opinion | Get the show on the road

Bradley Byrne

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It is time for the Democrat leaders in Washington to stop posturing when it comes to border security and end the government shutdown.

The old expression “get the show on the road” is very apt in this situation. But, truth be told, the show is already on. There is no better way to describe the Democrat strategy right now than as a show, playing to their audience.

The Democrats have lost touch with what matters to Americans outside of their bubble. They continue to play to the far-left base of their party in order to placate the loudest voices. But the loudest voices don’t always have the best interests of the American people at heart.

President Trump has made many efforts to work with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on a deal, but those efforts have fallen on deaf ears.

Last Wednesday, the President asked Speaker Pelosi if she would be willing to negotiate for a deal to open the government quickly and provide funding for border security at a later date. Speaker Pelosi answered “no.” If Democrats aren’t willing to negotiate, then what is President Trump to do? He can’t negotiate with himself.

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I have heard from many folks in Alabama expressing their disbelief that Congress has not yet provided the necessary funds to secure our border, build a wall, and reopen the remaining 25 percent of the federal government.

I cannot help but echo the sentiment of my fellow Alabamians: why would a Member of Congress not support something as commonsense as border security to end the partial shutdown?

In the past, Democrats have supported these commonsense national security priorities such as fencing, barriers, and increased border funding, but there is something different going on here.

It appears that it is not enough for the Democrats to earn a win. Instead, it must be that President Trump gets a loss. And the sad part is, the people that lose the most in this situation are the hardworking American taxpayers contributing their time, efforts, and skills to the betterment of our communities.

Roughly 800,000 federal employees are currently on furlough, some continuing to work without pay. Last Friday, many of those people missed a paycheck. That is simply unacceptable, especially when the solution is one that both puts these people back to work and improves our national security.

More than this, Americans have been greatly affected already by illegal immigration and the crisis taking place on our southern border.

A big issue is the flow of illegal drugs. Hundreds of thousands of men and women in the United States have fallen victim to the evils and unbelievable effects of drug addiction and overdose. Many of those illegal drugs have their origins in Central and South America.

All throughout the country, we have heard horror stories of illegal immigrants committing horrendous crimes. We had an illegal immigrant in Shelby County, Alabama rape a young girl, and everyone has heard the story of the police officer in California who was murdered by an illegal immigrant. In many of these crimes, the illegal immigrant had even been deported before and managed to reenter the country illegally a second time.

Crimes happen every day, but these crimes were preventable.

We must act, we must enforce border security, and we must provide the funds necessary to get the job done. I call on Democrats to stop with the show, come to the table, negotiate with President Trump, and let’s get the government back open.

 

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Opinion | Let’s keep our promise to those who need us most

by Anthony Daniels Read Time: 4 min
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