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In praise of doing what’s right

Larry Lee

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By Larry Lee
Education Matters

Ain’t no way 11 months ago I would ever write what I am now writing. That’s because I had just watched state school board member Stephanie Bell raise her hand on Aug. 11 as one of five votes to hire Mike Sentance as State Superintendent.

I thought then–and still do—it was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen a group of adults do.  Given his lack of qualifications and lack of support from educators, how do you justify selecting him?

Now we know what a trainwreck Sentance is.  He is mis-managing an intervention in Montgomery and saddling us with enormous debt, he oversees a department that is in chaos as a work place, and he refuses to communicate with his board.  That’s just for starters.

But thank goodness, Stephanie Bell has the courage admit she made a mistake voting for him.

This contrasts starkly with board members Mary Scott Hunter and Betty Peters who are blind to the fact the emperor has no clothes.  They both voted for Sentance and, like Tammy Wynette, are standing by their man.

(The other two votes for Sentance came from the greatest governor in Alabama history by his own proclamation Robert Bentley and Bentley’s unqualified appointee to the state board, Matt Brown. So, of the original five votes for Sentance, only two remain.)

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Let’s not forget who Hunter and Peters are.  Hunter is the only board member facing a civil law suit for her role in trying to discredit and defame applicant Craig Pouncey during the search process.  She is the only board member named in an internal investigation by ALSDE as colluding with four others to eliminate Pouncey from consideration. She is the only board member who showed up last year at a meeting of the Business Council of Alabama telling legislators that Pouncey was out of the running because of his Ethics Commission problems, which was a total fabrication.

And Peters is the member who told numerous people the day before the vote she was supporting Craig Pouncey–and then flipped.  She is the board member who steadfastly believes that Sentance is opposed to Common Core when he is on record as saying he thinks Common Core is good for southern states.
Hunter and Peters seem hell-bent on making 730,000 public school students pay for their mistake.

Bell, who is the longest-serving member of the board and has a ton of institutional knowledge, was elected vice-president of the board on July 11.  She then began to try to sort out the mess we are in and come up with a plan to move beyond it.

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She has been castigated, largely by those on the extreme right, for doing so.  And though the feeble arguments they put forth are not supported by fact, this does not stop them from spreading their “fake news.”

Bell led the effort to evaluate Sentance that was discussed at the July 25 meeting.  She faced a difficult job of trying to keep Hunter from bullying her repeatedly that day.  And she has faced a barrage of vindictive comments since from Peters, who once was her best friend on the board.

Hunter and Peters are acting like spoiled children who say they will take their ball and go home.  Hunter refused to fill out an evaluation form and refused to participate in an executive session July 25.  In other words, she abandoned the people of Limestone, Madison, Jackson, DeKalb and Etowah counties who elected her simply to score political points.  How’s that for good government?

And instead of making a sincere effort to evaluate Sentance, Peters just blithely gave him the highest score for all 37 measures being evaluated.  How’s that for diligence and honesty?  What a great role model for school kids.

Stephanie Bell and I have not always seen eye to eye.  But she is smart, can disagree agreeably, and is courageous enough to see the error of her ways.  She has watched Sentance make blunder after blunder and come to realize he is NOT the person to lead our state school system.

At this point in time, on this very critical issue, I commend her.

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

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Opinion | Historic opportunity – Alabama’s chance to change abortion history

Amie Beth Shaver

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Alabama’s Constitution states that the sole purpose of Alabama’s government is to protect the life, liberty, and property, of its people. The State’s Constitution does not mince words—any variance from this mandate is nothing short of “usurpation and oppression.” Alabama’s statutes, courts and Constitution have made it clear that unborn children are people, no different under the law than those that are born. Because, in Alabama, the unborn are persons, they possess an inalienable right to life and are entitled to the protection of it.

Yet, abortion on demand continues without abatement in the state of Alabama. Every day, unborn babies—who have the same rights of all born people under the Alabama Constitution —are deprived of their right to life. In Alabama alone, over 6,000 abortions are performed each year. The horrific nature of these killings happens so often that it has become commonplace. We have been forced to live with the death of the innocent for so long that we have become numb and indifferent to the great and inexcusable injustice which stains the soul of our state. We must wake up and remember that the rights recognized by Alabama’s Constitution pertain to all of its people.

There is a new hope! There is a novel and strong 10th Amendment argument which does not conflict with or fall within the contemplation of the Roe decision—but it will likely rebalance or displace Roe’s power significantly. Roe declared the U.S. Constitution was silent regarding the rights of the unborn. The 10th Amendment, therefore, empowers the states to act where the Constitution is silent. Through this empowerment, a state can recognize and define the rights of the unborn within its borders. With both mother and child finally on an equal footing of rights, both mother and child can be justly protected.

This argument, at this very moment, is in front of the Supreme Court of Alabama.

On January 22, Helen Light—quietly and without fanfare—filed an emergency petition with our highest court. In it she asks the Court to acknowledge that the U.S. Constitution permits, and Alabama’s Constitution requires the protection of unborn children within our state. Further, she asks the Court to clarify the power and legal obligation of Governor Ivey and other officials named as Respondents, to uphold their duty and take immediate action.

The Alabama Supreme Court has discretion to hear petitions like Ms. Light’s. Normally, it would issue its decision to accept or decline a case within a few days. In this case, over four weeks have passed without an utterance from the Court. We believe that the Court is concerned with upholding the separation of powers, and struggles with the propriety of requiring Governor Ivey to take such a significant action to assert Alabama’s right to enforce its Constitution. Ms. Light’s petition asks the Court to walk the razor’s edge of upholding the purpose of our Constitution without fracturing the framework of it. There can be no more difficult a task asked of our judges.

We come here today to ask Governor Ivey to bring relief to the Court so it may act. By voluntarily stepping forward and asking the Court to hear the case, she can remove their conflict. Through this action, the separation of powers will be preserved, and the Court can freely hear Ms. Light’s case. And our Court should hear this case!

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If this argument is ultimately successful, it will not only change the face of abortion on demand in Alabama, but throughout the nation as well. Each state can follow the 10th Amendment path laid by Alabama to speak where Roe has declared the Constitution to be silent. Each state can elevate the legal status of its unborn citizens to protect their lives.
State by state, a change can be made until abortion on demand is a dark memory in
America’s past. All of this can be accomplished if our brave Governor steps forward to seize her moment in history. Certainly, there is a formidable cost each time America has protected the dignity of its forgotten people—yet we do it without regret because we are Americans. We will do what is right, regardless of the sacrifice, because that is who we are as a people. There is no doubt that our brave governor understands this well. No one that has achieved what she has done without pain and blood.

Governor Ivey is good, but she is also human. What we are asking her to do requires great courage and bravery on her part. However, it is a noble thing that we ask of her, and never in the history of our nation, can so many lives be saved with so little ink.

Governor Ivey, we love you. We will support you. We will stand by you. Please push back against the encroaching darkness, stand up for the lives of the innocent and ask the Court to hear this case!

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Amie Beth Dickinson Shaver, a resident of Birmingham, is an author, speaker and former Miss Alabama (’94)

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Opinion | Understanding the role of medical marijuana in the opioid crisis

Benjamin McMichael

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Last week, the Alabama Legislature took some of the first steps on SB165—a bill that would ultimately legalize medical cannabis in Alabama. This bill would move Alabama from the minority of states that continue to prohibit the prescribing of medical marijuana to the majority of states that do. While advocates and proponents of this bill have offered a number of arguments for and against the legalization of medical cannabis, a common thread has come to dominate much of the public debate over this bill. And that thread concerns the impact legalization of medical cannabis would have on the opioid crisis.

As the defining public health crisis of this generation, the opioid crisis has rightly been placed at the forefront of the medical cannabis conversation. In 2017, one American died of an opioid overdose every 11 minutes, and some estimates place the cost of the opioid crisis at over $500 billion. Alabama has not been immune from this crisis, and Blue Cross Blue Shield estimates that its Alabama members were more likely than others across the country to be on a long-duration opioid regime. Given the high stakes involved, the question of how medical cannabis legalization will affect the opioid crisis is obviously an important one.

In a study recently published in the Journal of Health Economics, two co-authors and I investigated the impact of medical cannabis access laws on opioid prescriptions across the country. In that study, we found strong and consistent evidence that enacting medical cannabis access laws reduces opioid prescriptions. In general, these laws decrease opioid prescriptions by 4.2 percent. While this may not, by itself, be enough to reverse the opioid crisis, reducing opioid prescriptions is an important step in addressing this crisis.

Our study was not the first to examine the impact of medical cannabis access laws on opioid prescriptions. However, the strength of our study lies not in its novelty, but in the data it analyzes. Instead of examining counts of opioid prescriptions among Medicare or Medicaid beneficiaries, we analyzed a dataset of over 1.5 billion individual opioid prescriptions across the country. This dataset included approximately 90 percent of all opioid prescriptions written in the United States between 2011 and 2018. And our data came from prescriptions paid for by commercial insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, other government assistance, and even cash.

With such rich data available in our study, we were able to obtain a clearer picture of the effect of medical cannabis access laws than has previously been possible. While we found that these laws reduced opioid prescriptions in general by 4.2 percent, they had larger impacts on certain groups. For example, medical cannabis access laws reduced opioid prescriptions to those with commercial insurance by 4.4 percent and to those with Medicaid by 5.2 percent.

These laws may reduce opioid prescriptions in various ways, and our study found suggestive evidence that one important way may be facilitating the substitution of cannabis for opioids in the treatment of pain. In addition to reducing the use of prescription opioids, our study revealed evidence that medical cannabis access laws also reduce NSAID prescriptions. NSAIDS are often found in common, over-the-counter pain medications. This reduction in another type of medication used in the treatment of pain suggests that the reduction in prescription opioids may be driven by a decreased need for pain treatment once individuals can access medical cannabis. And our results are consistent with the conclusion of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine which found “conclusive. . . evidence that cannabis. . . [is] effective. . . [f]or the treatment of chronic pain in adults.”

As the Alabama Legislature completes its task of debating whether to join the majority of states that allow access to medical cannabis, understanding the role of this law in the opioid crisis will be critically important.

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Opinion | Vote “yes” for better education

Jimmy Parnell

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Did you know Alabama’s schools are ranked 52nd in math and 49th in reading? This is unacceptable. Yes on Amendment 1 takes the first step toward improving our schools.

Gov. Kay Ivey has made it abundantly clear. Alabama’s failures in education are not the fault of students or our hardworking teachers, principals and superintendents. The problem is lack of stable, visionary leadership.

Our current system is not working. In Alabama, we’re used to winning. But in education, the state is consistently dead last. We wouldn’t tolerate this kind of performance from our coaches or business leaders, and we must not settle for mediocrity when it comes to our children’s future.

Alabama is one of only six states that still has an elected state school board, and this board has had five superintendents in the last four years.

Amendment 1 gets politicians off the board and replaces them with nine commission members who will bring focus, innovation and accountability to Alabama’s K-12 education system. Our community college system transitioned to this model and has lifted itself out of the mire of scandal by refocusing on student achievement and preparedness.

Commission members will serve no more than two consecutive six-year terms and will be accountable to our elected state senators. They also are required to reflect the diversity of Alabama’s public school students.

Amendment 1 clearly outlines responsibilities for the commission: teacher certification, professional development, student assessment and accountability. In addition, it requires adoption of education standards to replace common core.  

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Amendment 1 does not take control away from local school boards, and it does not diminish the value of our teachers. To the contrary, Amendment 1 will help teachers, students and local schools by bringing strategic, productive leadership to education policy at the state level. 

Gov. Ivey said it best. “For us to prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s opportunities, it is time we get serious: It’s time for creativity. It’s time for accountability. It’s time for stability.

“It’s time to vote YES for Amendment 1 on March 3rd!”

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Opinion | Alabama’s economic boom should be heard and felt across the state

Congressman Robert Aderholt

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When I was growing up in Haleyville, I can remember people in July and August saying, “it’s hotter’n blue blazes outside.”  Well, you could certainly describe America and Alabama’s current economic boom as being “hotter’n blue blazes.”  Alabama’s economy is scorching hot, with the lowest unemployment numbers in our state’s history.  One county economic development director told me that “if you want a job, you can find one right now.”

​I don’t doubt that’s true, but unfortunately it also depends on what part of the state you live in.   If you are willing and able to drive a couple of hours to and from work, then you certainly have many more options.  Our Defense and Space industries are experiencing tremendous growth. Agriculture is booming. Alabama is the nation’s second largest producer of poultry – and that’s a good thing.

But we can do even better. A lot of people can’t commute long distances every day to reach good jobs, so we’ve got bring the jobs to them. I believe we can bring high paying, quality jobs to every corner of the 4th District and Alabama and rural America as a whole.  We need to rebuild our essential manufacturing base – and that’s something that President Trump has focused on.

And to build upon that, we must prioritize building up our infrastructure. We must expand high speed internet to every square mile of the 4th District and North Alabama.  We must protect rural hospitals and clinics to make sure people everywhere have access to high quality healthcare. And we must ensure we have a highly trained work force with the skills employers are looking for.

During a recent visit to a locally owned business in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, I was told they have jobs available, but they can’t find candidates who can pass a drug test.  This is why I worked in Congress to allocate more than a billion dollars to fight the opioid epidemic.  A highly skilled workforce is essential, but we also need a workforce that isn’t dependent on illegal substances to get though the day.  Lack of employment and dependency on drugs is an evil and all-consuming cycle.  We can break that cycle.

We also need to make sure our trade policies are based on common sense.  We want to increase trade by eliminating unfair foreign trade policies.  President Trump did that in the U.S.- Mexico- Canadian (USMCA) trade deal, which opens more markets for American products and helps make America more competitive.  That makes a big difference for our farmers, manufacturers, businesses and for consumers.  We’ll have more opportunities for common-sense trade deals in the coming years.

​It’s also time for us to stop associating social status and class on whether someone has a four-year college degree.  Trust me, I know many people who have bachelors and master’s degrees that aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.  And at the same time, I’ve heard of people who have two-year welding degrees from colleges like Wallace State who are making money we normally associate with a doctor.

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Two-year associate degrees and high school vocational classes are just as valuable to our economic wellbeing than an economics degree from Harvard.  If someone aspires to achieve a four-year degree, that’s great, but they should never be celebrated more than the person who decides to open his own plumbing business.  This is why I’m so supportive of our state’s two-year college system and our vocational schools.

​Alabama has so much economic potential.  I hope you will join me in making sure we see this economic expansion continues in places like Huntsville, but also expands into places like Lamar, DeKalb and Fayette counties.  There’s no reason we shouldn’t all be able to take part in how hot the Alabama economy is right now.   As we also used to say in Haleyville, it’s 100 degrees in the shade!

 

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