Alabama editorial roundup

Posted May 11

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:


May 4

The Tuscaloosa News on the state's new adoption law:

As is often the case when divisive social issues are involved, there's been a great deal of distortion aided by enflamed emotions surrounding a new law allowing some adoption agencies to turn away same-sex couples.

Many on the left who support gay rights denounced the new Alabama law, while many on the right who are opposed to same-sex unions praised the measure. And many on both sides do not understand, or even care to understand, the issue at hand.

Wednesday, with a stroke of her pen, new Gov. Kay Ivey made Alabama the latest state to allow faith-based adoption groups to refuse to place children in households that are in contradiction of their religious teaching. Critics of the bill were quick to say it was nothing more than state-sanctioned discrimination.

"We are deeply disappointed that the Legislature and the governor took on this unnecessary, discriminatory bill instead of focusing on how to improve the lives of all Alabamians, no matter who they are or whom they love," said Eva Kendrick, state director of the Human Rights Campaign Alabama.

It was a popular refrain. The Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center said it was disappointed that one of the first bills Ivey signed as governor was "to target LGBT kids and stigmatize LGBT families."

Whenever there's a chance to bash Alabama government as discriminatory, there's no shortage of folks willing to join in and further tarnish the state. Oftentimes, that's for good reason. The state has a sad and sordid history of discrimination. But this time, they're dead wrong. This time, the real story is that Alabama government stood up for religious freedom.

The new law actually allows religious-based adoption organizations to live out their faith by refusing to place children in their systems with households on religious grounds. It protects those agencies by prohibiting the state government from withholding a license because of their religious beliefs. And even if you disagree with those beliefs, you should celebrate their freedom to practice their religion without interference by the government.

South Dakota, Michigan, North Dakota and Virginia have passed similar laws.

Rich Wingo, R-Tuscaloosa, sponsored the bill. He rightly pointed out that most placements are done through secular groups and they will not be affected. If a same-sex couple wants to adopt, they still have plenty of options. The law does nothing to stop them from adopting through one of those agencies.

Church organizations and other religious groups in recent years have faced heavy-handed efforts by federal officials to force them to abide by changing societal norms. For example, Catholic organizations were told to provide birth control coverage for employees, though church teaching forbids its use, or lose all federal funding. Church teaching should not be subjugated to political whims.

The law Ivey signed does not allow for discrimination. It protects religious organizations from discrimination. Agencies that receive state and federal funds to place children in homes are neither impacted nor protected by the new law.



May 5

The Times Daily of Florence on the Alabama Accountability Act:

State legislators are being asked once again to make some changes in the Alabama Accountability Act, and the proposed bill has generated the usual pros and cons analysis that surrounds this controversial act.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, has sponsored Senate Bill 123, which would expand the tax credits currently allowed by the accountability act so that more corporations can take advantage of those credits.

The bill's proposed amendments would:

1) Raise the limits on the amount of tax credits that could be claimed for donating to student scholarships to 100 percent of the income tax owed by individuals (not to exceed $100,000); and to 75 percent of the income tax owed by corporations.

2) Expand the pool of donations by adding a new tax credit applicable to utility gross-receipts tax.

3) Expand the pool of donors by allowing trusts and estates to participate.

4) Keep the cumulative cap on donations the same at $30 million, but reserve half — $15 million — for individual donors.

Marsh sponsored the bill because donations by taxpayers to the scholarship fund dropped 22 percent last year, falling from $25.8 million to $19.9 million. Reduced funding could mean students who now have scholarships might not get continued funding, forcing them to return to the schools they left.

Opponents of the accountability act quickly produced calculations showing how much money they believe local school systems have lost since the act was created in 2013. Statewide, they estimate school systems have lost nearly $87 million.

In Colbert and Lauderdale counties, the estimated revenue loss is nearly $2.5 million with Lauderdale County's $972,255 loss topping the list. Other estimated losses were: Florence City, $523,154; Muscle Shoals City, $336,181; Colbert County, $303,298; Tuscumbia City, $178,608; and Sheffield City, $124,416.

Those loss numbers were in direct contrast to study results released earlier this year by the Alabama Federation for Children (AFC). The study, which was conducted by an independent research organization affiliated with Auburn Montgomery, estimated the tax credit program had saved the state $29.9 million in 2014 and 2015.

Those contradictory arguments don't change a universal fact: The Alabama Accountability Act is here to stay. Like it or not, the emphasis on personal choice trumps the complaints that public money should not be used to pay for private school education.

"The accountability act has passed and the $30 million . we're not changing that," Marsh said.

Tired of all the wrangling over the issue in recent years, the House may not take up the Senate's proposals this session. Delaying action could be the best approach. Waiting a year would offer a more concise review of the trend for scholarship donations, giving lawmakers a clearer picture of what action, if any, should be taken to improve the act.



May 6

The Dothan Eagle on House Bill 24:

Last week, Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law House Bill 24, which prevents state officials from withholding a license from faith-based adoption groups that refuse placements based on their religious beliefs.

LGBTQ advocates interpret the move as "legalized discrimination" targeting gay couples seeking to adopt. State officials disagree: "I ultimately signed House Bill 24 because it ensures hundreds of children can continue to find forever homes through religiously affiliated adoption agencies. This bill is not about discrimination, but instead protects the ability of religious agencies to place vulnerable children in a permanent home," Ivey said in a statement.

It comes down to a matter of perspective, and from our perspective, this measure is more about window-dressing than addressing a problem. There's been no pressure upon faith-based adoption groups to place children in homes that don't square with their values. Supporters of the measure argue that it would prevent discrimination against faith-based adoption groups. "Same-sex couples would make it all about them," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Rich Wingo. "It's not."

The law doesn't leave gay couples seeking adoption without options; it only applies to private organizations that don't receive any public funding. Secular agencies that receive public funds consider single and married couples based on the law's definition of marriage, which now includes same-sex unions.

What should rankle Alabamians is that legislators would spend their time on a measure like this when there are very real, pressing issues that lawmakers refuse, year after year, to address adequately. Alabama faces a budgeting crisis that sends lawmakers scrambling hither and yon to prop up the General Fund for another fiscal year. This year, state agencies are facing cuts to shift money to a highway program, and veterans are getting short shrift, which is fueling debate in the Senate over the House budget.

There's no doubt that most Alabamians would applaud the approval of House Bill 24, and the majority of lawmakers lined up to do what they believe their constituents want.

We believe that the people of Alabama want a government that provides adequate support of the basic services a government is expected to provide. Most of them also want measures like House Bill 24. Lawmakers must be able to recognize that the most important isn't always the most politically rewarding.



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