Alabama editorial roundup


Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

Dec. 18

The Dothan (Ala.) Eagle on mental health issue in connection with Sandy Hook tragedy:

The unfathomable murder of 20 children and six adults in an unstable young man's high-powered attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last week has energized the debate over gun control with unbridled urgency.

Among the weapons used by Adam Lanza to commit mass murder was a semiautomatic assault rifle; he was also armed with handguns - all legally purchased and registered to the killer's mother, Nancy Lanza, a gun enthusiast who was found shot to death in the home where she lived with her son.

Connecticut's laws regulating firearms are among the nation's most restrictive, yet this disturbed young man was able to procure the weapons and ammunition to kill as many innocent people as he could before responders arrived on the scene.

The need for renewed debate on weapons is obvious. However, there must also be a vigorous discussion about mental health.

Earlier this year, the New York Times reported that Alabama had shuttered 10 mental health treatment facilities since the 1990s. This year alone, officials with the Alabama Department of Mental Health have closed three of the state's four largest mental health hospitals and laid off almost 1,000 workers in an effort to save $30 million each year. A fourth hospital is scheduled for closure in the spring, after which the state will operate two mental health hospitals.

At the root of the issue in our state is declining funding for mental health; Alabama's mental health appropriation has been slashed by more than a third since 2009. ADMH officials hope to shift treatment to smaller settings to offset costs. However, such drastic moves bode ill for both society and those patients who need mental health services.

The impetus for mass shootings such as the Sandy Hook tragedy is far too complex to be reduced to an argument over a single controversial political point. The psychological and emotional pathology that drives one to turn firearms against innocent people are as vital to the debate as the weapons themselves.




Dec. 17

The Anniston (Ala.) Star on a good year for row crops:

Rural America may be losing its relevance, at least according to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, but it is not losing money — at least not this year in Alabama, if you planted row crops.

This has been a very good year for Alabama row-crop farmers. State agricultural officials say Alabama has brought in record yields in cotton, soybean and peanuts, so much so that they say this has been one of the best years ever.

Add to that the fact that bumper crops in corn and soybeans also are bringing in higher-than-average prices and it looks like a merry Christmas down on the farm.

Nevertheless, this should remind us of how risky farming can be. Prices for Alabama crops are up because drought conditions in the Midwest have meant yields out there are down. What is bad for those farmers is good for ours.

How this will translate into prices in the grocery store will be determined later, but it is safe to say the cost of food and clothing will not go down.

That should remind us that farm happenings have a ripple effect. By the time those often-praised and often-damned "market forces" have done their good and their bad, all will have felt the impact.

Farms feed and clothe us, but by the time crops reach the table and the closet, they have passed through many hands. There are few producers who are more essential to the high standard of living we enjoy than farmers. And there are few producers who get a smaller piece of the final price of their product than farmers.

Say what you will about the subsidies, tax breaks and other government programs that keep the farm economy afloat during the years when the rains don't come, or when they do and the prices drop. It is a twisted web of regulations and benefits that, in the end, help us all.

Maybe because of careful planning, maybe because of dumb luck, the government and the market and — most of all — the farmers have worked out a system to feed America.

That is what matters.



Dec. 13

The Gadsden (Ala.) Times on state law enforcement:

Alabama has more than 20 separate agencies with law enforcement powers. Some (the Alabama Department of Public Safety and its assorted divisions) are obvious; others (the Alabama Securities Commission) less so.

Gov. Robert Bentley in June established two task forces — Integrated State Law Enforcement and Law Enforcement Stakeholder Advisory.

The first task force, made up of officials from the agencies being scrutinized, was asked to find ways to make Alabama's law enforcement efforts more efficient without lessening their effectiveness.

That report is due soon and Bentley said he's anxious to see it, and is expecting a blueprint for budgetary savings approaching 10 percent through the consolidation of functions.

We're also anxious to see the report, because while we've noted that wielding a budgetary broad axe isn't the solution to every government ill, this push seems merited and on the right track.

Those involved with these task forces say Alabama has between two to three times as many state law enforcement and investigative agencies as neighboring states.

Alabama's a special place in many ways, but we fail to see where its law enforcement needs are so special and unique that such a discrepancy is justified. One's first thought is a cartoonist's speech bubble containing the word "duplication" in bold type.

The other task force, which includes legislative leaders and representatives of law enforcement, commissioned a study by Auburn University Montgomery that revealed 125 duplicate functions in 200 state agencies. Many were in law enforcement agencies.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, who has pushed the law enforcement consolidation idea, is a member of the stakeholder advisory tax force and thinks consolidation could produce savings of $260 million over a decade.

That certainly is worth pursuing, as long as there's a commitment — and Bentley reiterated it recently — that protecting Alabamians will remain the No. 1 priority of state law enforcement however it's configured. That bottom line should always transcend the monetary one.


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