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Opinion | Ducking and dodging death penalty accountability in Alabama

Stephen Cooper

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Continuing its odious tradition of ducking and dodging transparency and accountability in how the state puts its prisoners to death – (purportedly) in the name of the people – the beleaguered Alabama Office of the Attorney General has asserted in a new convoluted, churlish, and utterly cockamamie federal court filing: “[W]hile this Court found that there exists a public interest in understanding how Alabama carries out its lethal-injection procedure, there is a greater public interest at stake here: The State’s ability to carry out its lawful functions.”

What these public servants are circularly and asininely asserting is: although they appreciate – in the wake of Alabama’srecent history of botched executions – that it’s critically important for citizens to know exactly how the killing of death row inmates occurs (again, in their name and with their tacit approval), that “there is a [still] greater public interest” in the state being able to carry on the killing, period; yes, as mind-boggling as it sounds it also is: state officials are arguing that even if their so far secret (and as they concede “zealously guarded”) lethal injection protocol may be responsible for torturous executions, it’s nevertheless still more important that state executioners be allowed to continue with business as usual – which here, means killing and likely torturing other human beings to death – while releasing only the most minimal information about how it’s done. You don’t need me to tell you, but as it is sometimes said, particularly down South: that makes as much sense as teats on a bull.

In a column titled “Is Alabama hiding that it tortured its citizens?,” published in the Montgomery Advertiser in May of last year, I urged Alabamians – while also “inviting all conscientious, justice-loving Americans and citizens of the world to join, too” – to “[d]emand that authorities in Alabama be honest and transparent about executions.” Today I’m sounding the horn for reason, for humanity, and for accountability again; I’m arguing for the need of the electorate to be able to ensure that their will, their vote, their system of justice, is not complicit in despicable torture.

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously opined that “[p]ublicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases,” as “[s]unlight is said to be the best of disinfectants”; likewise, complete and unfettered public disclosure of Alabama’s lethal injection protocol to the press and public is the best medicine for the state’s chronic dissembling-and-disinformation disease afflicting its increasingly disturbing, and dysfunctional administration of the death penalty.

Lecturing on capital punishment in February of 2000, the late Jacques Derrida, often recognized as one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century, argued that to have a discourse on the death penalty in “good conscience” that “one must do at least everything one can to come as close as possible, in one’s body” – and I would add here, in one’s mind and soul, too – “to those for whom the death penalty is the death penalty, effectively, [and] in an effective way, concretely[.]”

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Only then, Derrida argued, will people who “will never be or believe they will never be executioners carrying out the sentence, or sentenced to death, or even the defense attorneys or prosecutors of those sentenced to death, or the governors…who wield the right of pardon,” be able to truly understand, appreciate, and have a fair and honest debate about capital punishment.

Aren’t Alabamians entitled to that? And if not, isn’t it high time for a change? I’m asking you.

About the Author: Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. Follow him on Twitter @SteveCooperEsq.

 

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Opinion | More fake news from Alabama Policy Institute

Larry Lee

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The Montgomery County board of education passed a resolution in October calling for the repeal of the Alabama Accountability Act.

I was on the board that did this, I wrote much of the resolution and I voted for it.

So, I was more than a little surprised when I read a recent article by Rachel Bryars of the Alabama Policy Institute telling me why I did what I did and how I was intent on hurting needy children.

The article was titled: School boards are choosing systems over students by calling for scholarship repeal.

This title is totally inaccurate, as is most of her following article.

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To be correct, it should have said something like: Schools boards are looking out for students in their system instead those in private schools.

Every school board member takes an oath that they will do all they can to help their system and its students. But apparently Ms. Bryars thinks oaths are to be forgotten.

API is a huge supporter of the accountability act. The one that diverts money from the state Education Trust Fund to give scholarships so students can attend private schools.

Montgomery is one of four systems to pass such a resolution. The others are Mobile, Baldwin and Tallapoosa counties.

Ms. Bryars would have you believe that these four systems have all the funding they need and are being cold-hearted by calling for money to stop being diverted.

That is laughable.

So immediately after reading her article I sent Ms. Bryars an email inviting her to come visit some public schools in Montgomery and see for herself. Told her I would be glad to arrange her visit.

Got no response.

I would take her to visit some science teachers who can’t remember the last time they got new textbooks, would take her to the present home of our magnet performing arts high school that is crammed into an abandoned elementary school because their school burned down a few months ago.

Would take her to another magnet school that is housed in a building constructed in 1910, and would take her to see Curtis Black, the principal at Goodwyn Middle School who got 300 new students back in August and has them crammed into every nook and cranny he can find.

Would also suggest she take a look at the national website, DonorsChoose, where teachers around the country show projects they need funding for. There are presently 38 projects listed by Montgomery teachers. Guess they don’t know their system has more money than it can use.

As to the contention that this system is not looking out for children, figures from the state department of education show there are now 16,202 students in this system on free or reduced lunches.

Anyone who knows anything about education know these are our most at-risk students.
Ms. Bryars must think we have zero obligation to these children. That we should say it is OK to take money that might be used to boost their education and give it to private schools instead?

And how did API determine MPS is flush with cash? Because we have had an increase in funding since 2008. However, they fail to point out that 2008 was the high-water mark for education funding in Alabama and funding today is less than it was ten years ago.

Schools in Alabama need all the help they can get. We certainly don’t need the kind of falsehoods and half-truths the Alabama Policy Institute insists on peddling.

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Opinion | Progressives push to limit your steaks and burgers in ‘War on Beef’

Jim Zeigler

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I am naming the newest attempt to control your life the “War on Beef.”

To me, this newest meddling in other people’s lives is proof positive that the international environmental agenda is more about controlling people than about avoiding environmental damage.

It is almost unbelievable. Progressives have decided that cows damage the environment. Ten years ago, they complained about cow flatulence – cows passing gas, thereby damaging the ozone layer. Now, it is a broader condemnation of cows. They have decided that cows are “greenhouse-gas-intensive.” Consumption of beef must drop drastically to avoid an environmental catastrophe.

So-called progressives want you to stop enjoying your steaks and hamburgers. Instead, they want you to:

  • Eat ”bleeding burgers” with no meat. Why they name it this is as mysterious as their agenda. “Bleeding”?
  • Eat blended burgers with only about 1/3 meat.
  • Switch to pork and chicken. I suppose pigs and chickens do not have as much flatulence and other effects on the atmosphere as cows, but I wonder who personally tested for this.
  • Eat veggie burgers. How that is different from their “bleeding burgers” remains a mystery.
  • Eat bug burgers. No, this is not a joke.
  • Eat mealworm burgers.
  • Eat in vitro meat burgers from cows artificially grown in labs. (I guess cows do not pass gas indoors.) With artificial insemination of cows, they also eliminate the need for bulls, further protecting the environment.

Be on the lookout for attempts to put an environmental charge or tax on beef. Be on the lookout for international agreements similar to the Paris Accords requiring signatory nations to limit their consumption of beef.

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I have no problem with individuals who want to alter their own diets for environmental reasons – or whatever reasons. That is each individual’s choice. But the activists do not stop with their own behaviors. They want the government to enforce their dietary restrictions on us all.

When they started a War on Beef, they “went to meddling.”

God put cows on earth for a reason – for the use and enjoyment of mankind, including beef and milk. When you say this using the God word, progressives’ heads explode. So let me restate in a way that progressives can better understand: Mother Nature put cows on earth for a reason – for the use and enjoyment of mankind, including beef and milk. (With some progressives, you cannot talk in terms of God doing anything. But saying “Mother Nature” did it is apparently okay.)

Think this is a false alarm? Think that a cow tax and beef credits cannot advance like carbon taxes and credits? Read this article in which CNN (naturally) explains the War on Beef in all positive terms — as if it is reasonable, thoughtful, and is here, now. Not later.

How far will you go to reduce your beef intake?

https://www-m.cnn.com/2018/12/09/health/beef-burger-alternatives/index.html?r=https%3A%2F%2Famp.cnn.com%2Fcnn%2F2018%2F12%2F09%2Fhealth%2Fbeef-burger-alternatives%2Findex.html%3F__twitter_impression%3Dtrue

Scientists say that beef consumption must fall drastically to avert a climate catastrophe, but changing diet can…

I am not buying it. I am buying my steaks and burgers. And milk. CNN and the progressives did not talk as much about limiting milk. If you are going after cows, you are also fighting the major source of milk.
I refuse to cooperate with the War on Beef.

I have coined a slogan, maybe even a song, for the people’s battle to save beef:

When they’re runnin’ down ol’ Bessie,
They’re walkin’ on the fightin’ side of me.

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Opinion | Now, a Medicaid program built around families and communities

Greg Reed

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The elections of November 6th are over, and now, in Washington and in Montgomery legislators again take up the task of governing. As the leader of Alabama’s twenty-seven Republican state senators, my focus is on working with other lawmakers and Governor Kay Ivey to make state government more efficient and to keep job growth strong.

Reforming the state’s Medicaid program is one of the toughest challenges we face in the coming year. Medicaid, the federally-mandated health insurance program for pregnant women, children, low-income adults, the elderly, and the disabled, is by far the largest line item in the state’s General Fund — Medicaid by itself accounts for 37% of all non-education state spending and its budget for the current year is $755 million. For context, state prisons consume 23% and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (state troopers) uses 2.5% of non-education spending.

The aging of America’s population as the Baby Boomers retire puts enormous stress on government-run health insurance programs like Medicaid. About 10,000 Boomers retire every day, and the U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2035, the number of adults aged 65 and older in America will outstrip the number of children under the age of 18. In Alabama, the population of folks aged 65 and older is expected to grow by 25% between now and 2025. This coming demographic tidal wave threatens to swamp a number of government programs, including Medicaid.

For the past five years, I have worked with Medicaid Commissioner Stephanie Azar to craft a new health care model that better serves the growing number of senior citizens in Alabama who are in Medicaid’s long-term care. Thankfully, this year Alabama received approval from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Washington to move ahead with the Integrated Care Network (ICN). This reform will offer senior citizens on Medicaid additional health care choices and is projected to save, over the long run, tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.

Here is how the ICN will work: in October of this year, the state Medicaid agency partnered with an Alabama health care provider that will now serve the medical needs of the 23,000 senior citizens who are receiving Medicaid’s long-term care services, 70% of whom are in nursing homes. By partnering with an expert health care provider based in Alabama, Medicaid can offer its long-term patients better care — and thus allow more Medicaid recipients to stay longer in the comfort of their own home.

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Medicaid recipients can still opt for a nursing home, and no benefits are changed under this new system. But by partnering with a health care provider that is an expert in managed care, Medicaid can bend the cost curve down, offer improved health care, and give more of Alabama’s senior citizens an opportunity to stay a little longer in their homes and communities.

For my wife and me, one of the greatest privileges in life is spending time with our parents — and as the years have passed, we, like so many Alabama families, have discussed the future and begun to plan for the day when our parents will need additional help. As a legislator, I think often about how the policies that I vote on will affect the lives of my friends and neighbors. The Integrated Care Network is just getting started, but I am optimistic that this reform will improve the quality of life for many families in Alabama and put Medicaid on a sounder financial footing.

Greg Reed, R-Jasper, is the Alabama Senate Majority Leader and represents Senate District 5, which is comprised of all or parts of Winston, Walker, Tuscaloosa, Jefferson, and Fayette counties.

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Opinion | Alabama’s infrastructure: A municipal perspective

Mayor Marty Handlon

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Alabamians use municipal infrastructure throughout the state to access jobs, schools, grocery stores, hospitals, parks, entertainment venues and church services – making infrastructure a significant and urgent quality of life issue. The state’s infrastructure needs are at a critical point, especially relative to their impact on our cities.

Alabaster, a medium sized municipality, is struggling to provide the road infrastructure to adequately move a population of approximately 34,000 (and growing) in and around our city, as well as accommodate the traffic associated with our economic footprint of over 100,000. Alabaster is not alone in this struggle. Infrastructure challenges will continue to escalate through the trickle-down effect as metro/urban areas understandably remain in the posture of revitalization and attracting additional growth in the surrounding suburb communities. Like many suburbs, Alabaster is appealing to families for the quality of life provided through excellent public safety, great schools, plenty of parks with children’s programs and safe roads to travel.

Motor Fuel Tax Increase – Why this is imperative!

The Legislature is considering adopting an additional motor fuel tax to address the rapidly escalating statewide demands of infrastructure maintenance and enhancement. Therefore, it is important for the citizens of Alabaster and our surrounding communities to be knowledgeable about road funding and how it is distributed so they can boldly and confidently express to legislators the need for adequate and equitable funding for all local governments.

Alabama’s demographics have shifted significantly in the last 50 years. Across the state, greater than 64 percent now live in cities or towns. In Shelby County, 148,641 of the total 213,605 population – almost 70 percent of citizens – live in cities and towns, according to the statistical data for 2017. As the largest city in Shelby County, Alabaster encompasses 25.46 square miles, almost 10 percent of the County’s incorporated land area, which includes a combination of state, county and city roadways.

The city currently faces more need in minimum maintenance projects on city streets than the current gas tax allocation supports. For educational purposes, the current annual gasoline tax allocation of approximately $260,000 provides for the resurfacing of three to five residential neighborhood streets each year, depending on distance and the degree of repair necessary. However, when the base of the roadway is severely impaired due to earth movement or sink-hole conditions, repairs must be completed in phases pending availability of funds.

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Our city has experienced this multi-phase type project with Alabaster Blvd – approximately one mile of city street repairs (not resurface) with a low bid of more than $600,000 in 2014 to complete all at one time. The total cost of the project increases dramatically when done in phases, due to mobilization and other economic factors. This multi-year project, in progress for the last four years, is still not complete. We are consistently addressing roads in priority order as it relates to safety – and we’re more often reactive instead of preventative.

The major arteries for traffic to move through and around our city belong to either the state or county.  In order to address a major congestion issue, the city has to become a willing partner contributing funds in a collaborative effort towards improvements. One example is the widening of State Highway 119, which moves traffic from one end of our city to another into the city of Montevallo. In 2013, Alabaster was awarded a Federal grant of up to $10 million for approximately two miles of roadway widening, with the city participating in a 20 percent match to the 80 percent of federal dollars. Currently, no state funds are allocated to this project. The project was put on hold earlier this year because the estimated cost of $20+ million exceeded the grant funding and ALDOT had no available resources to assist in the completion of the project. After two months of conversations with representatives of the Federal Highway Administration, we were granted permission to break the project into two phases and move forward utilizing our existing grant funds.

Many times, collaboration between government agencies allows for projects a local government cannot afford to do on its own. However, as it relates to roads, excessive time and additional requirements, as well as other inefficiencies, are the downsides when collaborating with the Federal Highway Administration and the State due to so many other ongoing projects. It is not quite as bad when a municipality partners with a local county government, but the efficiency inhibitors are still present.

Alabama counties and municipalities, as well as the taxpayers statewide, benefit from savings in eliminating red tape and inefficiencies. Future economic and community development projects in the Shelby/Jefferson County areas will be defined by the infrastructure it can offer. The same is true with every region of the state.

Current Motor Fuel Tax Distribution Is Inadequate

The current motor fuel tax distribution formula, which provides 50 percent of funds to the State and 50 percent to local governments with counties receiving 80 percent and municipalities receiving 20 percent, was developed in the 1960s and is no longer equitable to citizens living in municipal jurisdictions to address the growing demands on our municipal infrastructure. Therefore, municipal officials are advocating that the Legislature adopt a 21st Century distribution formula that would provide 50 percent of the funds to the State, 25 percent to counties and 25 percent to municipalities.

Alabaster’s community is actively engaged with its legislative delegation on this critical issue as they experienced the dangerous bottle neck contributing to more accidents and lengthy delays on the Shelby County portion of Interstate 65, and even more so after the delay in widening Highway 119 where emergency vehicles can’t get to the scene of an accident due to the congestion. Our delegation listened.

The voices of voters make the difference!

We are proud of the State’s history of fiscally conscientious leaders making Alabama a great and affordable place to live. No one is to blame for the rising cost of goods and services over periods of time; it just costs more to maintain the same in every industry, including government. That being said, Alabama is not the same as it once was – we have grown and developed, shifting from rural areas to bustling suburbs.

I can’t stress enough how important it is for our legislators hear from their constituents about the public safety issues and escalating need in their communities. It would be wonderful if the voice of local government and public safety professionals were enough; however, it is always going to take the voices of the voters to make the difference between crumbling congested roads and safe highways.

State and local leaders cannot afford to sacrifice the public’s safety and quality of life by adhering to inadequate funding formulas of the past. As we have implored people and businesses to invest in our communities and our state for the benefit of our citizens, we owe them the return on their investment of providing the infrastructure needed for safe success in their mobility.

Please contact your legislators and let them know that infrastructure is a priority issue for you as a citizen and for us as a state!

Marty Handlon is a Certified Public Accountant with a Master’s in Business Administration and more than 20 years’ experience in accounting and financial management. She was elected Mayor of Alabaster in October 2012.

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Opinion | Ducking and dodging death penalty accountability in Alabama

by Stephen Cooper Read Time: 3 min
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