Summary of recent Alabama newspaper editorials

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Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

June 8

Anniston (Alabama) Star on voter fraud:

In the latter half of the past century, Alabama, like most states, struck a workable balance between encouraging participation at the polls and fighting against voter fraud.

Voters were asked to provide a form of identity, which might include a utility bill, a student ID or a simple voter registration card. It was a measure of accountability against in-person voter fraud yet not too much for something that is extremely rare and grossly ineffective in swaying most elections.

About five years ago, things started to change in states dominated by Republicans. Despite no more than a few convictions for in-person voter fraud nationwide, these states erected fresh barriers to the ballot box. Alabama joined many others in requiring a picture ID before a registered voter could cast a ballot.

Others, including this editorial board, wondered why stricter rules were necessary when evidence of fraud that would require tightened rules was absent.

Unless, of course, the point was about something else. Namely, making voting more difficult for voters unlikely to cast a ballot for Republicans.

Count Hillary Clinton among those who hold that view. "Republicans are systematically and deliberately trying to stop millions of Americans from voting," the Democratic presidential candidate said late last week.

Her remarks are smart politics by Clinton, who also called for automatic voter registration for every American when they turn 18.

More importantly, we can hope shining a light on what we might call the fraud of voter fraud can steer the discourse back to a rational level. Justin Levitt, a constitutional law professor at Loyola University, examined voting records from 2000 through 2014. Over that time, he found 31 "credible" instances of voter fraud. Keep in mind these are mere allegations, not actual convictions.

Allow us to underscore that stat: 31 instances of voter fraud out of more than 1 billion votes cast over 14 years.

Now, we can compare it with another one: In the 2014 general election, only 36.4 of eligible voters cast a ballot, the lowest turnout since World War II.

States should focus on getting more Americans to the polls, not chasing phantoms of voter fraud.


June 9

The Gadsden (Alabama) Times on child support:

It's tempting to call the 2015 regular session of Alabama's Legislature a failure.

The General Fund budget crisis didn't get resolved, and we're not optimistic that's going to happen to anyone's satisfaction in the looming special session. As usual, a few bills were passed that, we concede, are popular because they are in line with the state's prevailing political and moral attitudes, but realistically are just more noisy razzberries to the federal government.

However, some significant things got done, including the passage of a bill by Gadsden's Rep. Becky Nordgren to help custodial parents get child support that's supposed to be coming to their families.

Nordgren said constituents have described to her situations when their children visit non-custodial parents and see plenty of money flowing around, even when those people have pleaded poverty and a lack of a steady paycheck in court when confronted about child support payments.

There apparently are situations where employers are paying employees in cash to help them duck their obligations to their children and to protect them against wage garnishment.

Nordgren tried unsuccessfully to address the issue in 2013 and 2014, but this year got HB222 passed without a dissenting vote in the House and Senate (there was one abstention in the latter).

Employers already can be held personally liable for child support in arrears under Alabama law, if they deliberately fail to withhold it as ordered. Nordgren's bill expands that liability to situations where employers are involved in under-the-table shenanigans, if there is clear and convincing evidence they are aware child support obligations are being evaded.

The bill was delivered to Gov. Robert Bentley last week, and we trust given the overwhelming support it received in the Legislature, he'll sign it.

The latest available numbers from the Office of Child Support Enforcement, from November 2013, show $113 billion in back child support owed to U.S. families. There's no breakdown by states, but we're sure Alabama families are due their share of that money.

Close to a third of all custodial parents already live below the poverty line. That's not going to change when non-custodial parents don't meet their obligations to their children, which do not end with divorce.

We understand there can be factors — job losses and the like — that can make it difficult for those who are willing to pay child support to do so.

Taking cash under the table is a different story, however, because it inherently connotes concealment and evasion for all involved.

We imagine employers, moving forward, will be less likely to offer such "helping hands," now that their own hides are vulnerable.


June 10

Decatur (Alabama) Daily on Open Meetings Act bill:

One piece of legislation that made it through before last week's final gavel in Montgomery won't get as much attention as the difficult state budget or prison reform. In fact, you probably won't think about it long at all.

But it could create a meaningful change in the way elected bodies handle business, and if citizens make use of it, it could provide new and significant ways for those who feel powerless to access and participate in their own government.

A vote strengthening the Open Meetings Act, intended all along to require government boards to conduct their business in public, closed a loophole that allowed them to meet in private before the scheduled meeting.

How do you know if your board, council or commission has been doing that? One good way to tell is if important proposals or bills are passed with little or no debate. If your local government meetings regularly move from start to adjournment in 30 minutes, you have cause to be suspicious.

This is a common occurrence in city halls and county commission chambers around Alabama, and if you've attended such a meeting, you can probably confirm that for yourself.

Chances are, you have not been to these meetings, however, which in most cities are poorly attended. And part of the reason might be your suspicion that decisions are already made before you walk into the room.

While there are times, especially in smaller communities, that there isn't a lengthy agenda and business is routine, public meetings to make public decisions were designed in America to house public debate and thought, not rubber stamp drive-bys.

The city hall, the county courtroom, are places where the public should congregate and have time to voice opinions that are truly weighed and considered. And most important, to hear the officials they elect play out possible scenarios by debating among themselves.

We understand the temptations for them not to do this. If they are ill-prepared, which some unfortunately are, they would rather reveal that to their peers in private.

They also find re-election comes easier if they have worked out their differences before making a public appearance, where no one has to come off as the bad guy.

The change to the Open Meetings Act bans "serial meetings," where members of a board or committee meet in small groups to decide matters that will be voted on later.

But public meetings were created for public participation, not as an interruption to a politician's workday. It's a hectic world out there these days. People don't bring a picnic basket and sit on the lawn before meetings.

We applaud our state officials for passing this bill, and we hope our citizenry will take advantage of it.

Will some continue the practice of meeting behind closed doors? No doubt.

But there will be one difference: Now they will be breaking the law.


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