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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.

 

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Opinion | Americans are better off now

Bradley Byrne

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Two years ago, I joined other Republican House members in unveiling our “Better Way” agenda. The agenda covered everything from national security to tax reform to the economy. It was a bold vision about a different path for America that wasn’t driven by a larger, more powerful federal government. Instead, we advocated for a better way where we got government out of the way and allowed the American people to flourish.

 Working with President Trump, we have held true to our promises to the American people. Two years later and with many parts of the agenda in place, we can safely say that Americans are better off now. Our communities are safer. The economy is booming. Our military is being rebuilt. Our “Better Way” is paying off.

 Our communities are safer because we have made supporting law enforcement a top priority. We have passed historic legislation to address the opioid crisis, which is having a horrible impact on communities in Alabama and throughout the country. In addition to better policy, we have invested $4 billion in grants and programs to help combat the opioid crisis.

 We passed legislation to devote more resources to school safety, and we have made real progress in the fight against human trafficking. In fact, we have seen a 60 percent decline in online advertising for sex trafficking.

Also, important to keeping our communities safe, we set aside $1.5 billion for physical barriers and technology along the southern border and provided for over 90 miles of a border wall system. Border security is national security.

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No one can deny that the American economy is booming. Just consider these numbers: 90 percent of Americans are seeing larger paychecks under our tax reform bill. 3.7 million jobs have been created since November 2016. There are 6.6 million job openings in the United States as of May 2018, meaning more jobs than job seekers. And, $4.1 billion has been saved in agency regulatory costs by rolling back burdensome government regulations.

 One of my biggest concerns during the Obama Administration was the hollowing out of our military. We had planes that couldn’t fly and ships that couldn’t sail. We were not making the continuous critical investment in our military necessary to keep up with our adversaries. Thankfully, those days are over.

 We have made the largest investment in our military in 15 years. This means 20,000 new troops, the largest pay increase for our service members since 2010, more training time, better equipment, new ships, and much more.

 On the world stage, countries know that the United States means what we say. ISIS is on the run in the Middle East, North Korea has come to the negotiating table, and China is being held accountable for their dangerous trade practices.

 Now, I want to make clear that much work remains. For example, we have to keep working to fix our broken immigration system and ensure that our borders are finally secure. We also cannot give up on our efforts to improve health care in our country. Costs remain too high and rural communities right here in Alabama are facing dangerous hospital closures.

 But, despite what some on the other side of the aisle and the national news media want you to believe, the American people are better off now than they were two years ago. That’s a testament to our pro-growth agenda, but, more importantly, it is a testament to the spirit and drive of the American people.

Want to know more? I encourage you to visit Better.gop to learn more about the various ways the American people are better off now.

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Pro-Life Movement momentum is strong

Martha Roby

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As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I have the privilege each year to advocate for the priorities most important to the people who live and work in Alabama’s Second District.  Among many other key issues, I have been proud to stand up and fight for a strong military and smart agriculture policy on this committee. On the reverse, I am also in a strong position fight against funding from being steered towards programs or organizations that I adamantly oppose. Recently when the Appropriations Committee approved our Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) Fiscal Year 2019 funding bill, I had the opportunity to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves: the unborn.

As a member of the Labor-HHS Subcommittee, I am extremely proud to report that our bill passed by the full Committee includes the strong pro-life language I have fought for year after year and implements additional policy riders to defend life. Every single one of these measures is critically important and further ensures that no taxpayer dollars can be used for abortions.

Among the key pro-life provisions included in the Labor-HHS FY19 funding bill are the Hyde Amendment, which directs that no taxpayer dollars be used to fund abortions, and the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which bans Labor-HHS funding from being used on research that harms human embryos.

In addition to these longstanding pro-life measures, our bill also includes several other important pro-life provisions that continue our efforts to assign greater protections for life under the law. These measures include the Conscience Science Protection Act, which protects the rights of health care providers that do not participate in abortion.

In addition, the bill includes language that prohibits funding for fetal tissue research obtained from abortion. This measure might sound familiar because it is a direct response to the 2015 scandal that revealed how Planned Parenthood officials were systematically altering abortion procedures to preserve babies’ organs in order to sell them to researchers for profit. Planned Parenthood’s action was sick, callous, and completely inhuman.

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Finally, the bill includes language to prohibit abortion providers like Planned Parenthood from receiving any available funding, including through Title X family grants. This measure works hand-in-hand with the Trump Administration’s “Protect Life” rule, which also directs that Planned Parenthood is not eligible to receive Title X grant money. As I have said many, many times: Abortion is not family planning. Abortion is not health care. Organizations that offer these services should not receive taxpayer dollars that are intended for family planning.

Throughout my time in Congress, I have remained unapologetically pro-life. I believe life begins at conception, and our laws and policies should reflect a strong commitment to defending life at every stage. I have considered it a great privilege to have a platform with which I can serve as a voice for the voiceless.

After eight long years of coming up short pro-life victories, I am encouraged that we now have a President who supports our efforts and is willing to sign important measures into law. The pro-life movement’s momentum is strong, and I look forward to seeing it grow as we continue to impact meaningful change on behalf of the unborn. I am eager to support our Labor-HHS funding bill when it comes before the full House for a vote.

 Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama with her husband Riley and their two children.

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Opinion | Gerald Dial is a steady hand for Alabama

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Alabama’s economy is growing…but it can do so much more. The key is having the right leadership in all elected positions, people who have vision.

So far, Governor Kay Ivey has shown she has what it takes to make important changes and place our state in a position to win.

Did you know agriculture and forestry together are the biggest industry in Alabama? They contribute $70 billion each year toward the economy. Nearly 9 million acres and 600,000 Alabamians are involved in this huge business that benefits us all.

I would know; I was Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries several years back. During that time, we put Alabama’s top asset at the forefront of economic development.

John McMillian, our current commissioner who is term-limited and running for Treasurer, has done a good job, and now Alabama is at another crossroads. We need the next Ag Commissioner to find new and more ways to grow our state.

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Gerald Dial is just that person. He and I served together in the State Senate, and his Christian values and new ideas are exactly what Alabama needs right now. The key to making government work for the people is to have someone who can’t be bought but also knows how government works. Gerald Dial fits the bill, and I trust him explicitly.

Just recently Gerald Dial created a solution to a massive problem in our state – the opioid crisis. This pandemic is killing thousands of our citizens each year. Instead of sitting back and think it isn’t his problem, Gerald Dial petitioned the drug manufacturer, Kaleo, of naoxolene, an injection that can save someone experiencing an opioid overdose. The delivery device is called EVZIO.

The result is 1,744 FREE doses of an overdose-reversing drug to Alabama’s volunteer rescue squads to combat the opioid crisis. That $4 million donation to our rural first responders equates to nearly 2,000 lives that will be saved.

I could go on and on about Gerald Dial because he’s such a wonderful friend and effective public servant, but what I want to ask you is to support Gerald Dial in the July 17th Republican Primary Runoff for Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries.

The powerful special interest groups in Montgomery don’t want Gerald elected, because they are scared he won’t take marching order like their preferred candidate. I don’t know about you, but that’s all I need to know about Gerald Dial – the powerbrokers don’t want him, so I do!

Charles Bishop was a Republican member of the Alabama Senate. He represented District 5 from 2006 to 2010. The district covers portions of Winston, Walker, Tuscaloosa and Jefferson Counties. He was elected as Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries for the term 1999 to 2003. 

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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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