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Alabama House vote on payday loan bill a good first step
Arise Citizens’ Policy Project executive director Kimble Forrister issued the following statement Thursday, March 13, 2014, on the Alabama House’s 93-1 vote for HB 145, which would create a statewide common database of payday loans:
“The House voted today to help protect working Alabamians from falling into crippling debt. We’re pleased to see the House’s overwhelming support for a statewide common database for payday loans. This reform will make it possible to enforce current law and help keep borrowers from racking up thousands of dollars in high-interest debt.
“Alabama still needs to limit interest rates on payday loans to something far more reasonable than the current 456 percent APR. But today’s House vote is a good first step toward protecting borrowers and communities from the high costs of high-interest loans.”
2014 legislative update: Alabama House passes payday loan database bill
The Alabama House voted 93-1 Thursday for a bill to create a statewide common database of payday loans. HB 145, sponsored by Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, now goes to the Senate.
Todd’s bill would make it easier to enforce a current state law that prohibits borrowers from taking out more than $500 in payday loans at any one time. Without a common database, many borrowers can hop from storefront to storefront and take out multiple $500 payday loans, racking up thousands of dollars of debt.
HB 145 would not reduce the annual interest rate that payday lenders can charge in Alabama from the current 456 percent APR. But a common database would alert lenders when a borrower already had reached the $500 cap and prevent them from extending additional loans to that borrower.
The state Banking Department last year proposed regulations to create a common database, but lenders sued to block the plan, claiming the department lacked the authority to do so. Todd’s bill would require lenders to submit information annually to the department, which many advocates say would greatly improve available data about the industry.
Lawmakers will return Tuesday for the 25th of 30 allowable meeting days during the 2014 regular session, which is expected to last until early April.
By Chris Sanders, communications director. Policy analyst Stephen Stetson contributed to this report. Posted March 13, 2014.
2014 legislative update: Alabama House committee votes to lift individuals' scholarship credit cap under Accountability Act
An Alabama House committee Wednesday approved a bill to erase a size limit on the state income tax credit that an individual can claim for contributions to groups that grant scholarships under the Alabama Accountability Act. HB 558, sponsored by Rep. Chad Fincher, R-Semmes, moves to the House.
The Accountability Act, enacted last year, provides state income tax credits to help parents of children in “failing” schools pay for private school tuition or a transfer to a non-failing public school. The law also provides tax credits for contributions to scholarship programs to help those students’ parents cover remaining costs.
Fincher’s bill would remove the Accountability Act’s current $7,500 annual cap on the tax credit that individuals or married couples can claim for contributions to organizations that grant scholarships under the act. Alabama still could provide a total of no more than $25 million of scholarship credits annually. Individuals and corporations also still could claim credits only for contributions up to 50 percent of their state income tax liability.
Susan Kennedy of the Alabama Education Association questioned Wednesday whether the state should pass a bill whose tax benefits would flow largely to Alabamians with extremely high incomes. Among those speaking in favor of the bill were Toby Roth, who represents an online education corporation, and Sharon Lewis, principal of the Oakwood Adventist Academy in Huntsville. Lewis said the Accountability Act has given children educational opportunities they otherwise would not have had.
Another portion of HB 558 would allow owners of S corporations and Subchapter K entities to claim tax credits for their share of the companies’ scholarship contributions. The bill also would revise the Accountability Act's definition of “failing” schools. Click here to read the Montgomery Advertiser’s report on the committee’s action for more details.
Lawmakers will return Thursday for the 24th of 30 allowable meeting days during the 2014 regular session, which is expected to last until early April.
By M.J. Ellington, health policy analyst. Posted March 12, 2014.
2014 legislative update: Alabama House could vote next week on bill to end lifetime SNAP, TANF bans for people with felony drug conviction
The Alabama House could vote as soon as Tuesday on a bill that would allow people convicted of a drug-related felony to regain eligibility for food assistance or cash welfare benefits. A House committee Wednesday approved the bill, which the Senate passed last month. SB 303, sponsored by Sen. Linda Coleman, D-Birmingham, awaits consideration by the full House.
SB 303 would allow people convicted of a drug-related felony to regain eligibility for benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program if they successfully comply with their conditions of probation or parole and are otherwise eligible for assistance. The bill’s provisions would expire in three years unless lawmakers renew them.
Alabama is one of 10 states where people convicted of a drug felony face a lifetime SNAP eligibility ban. Alabama is also one of 12 states to apply a similar ban to TANF benefits. The bans apply even to people with a decades-old offense.
Other legislation affecting SNAP, TANF recipients also wins House committee approval
The House State Government Committee also approved a bill Wednesday to require drug testing for TANF applicants who had a drug conviction in the last five years. The Department of Human Resources (DHR) would pay for initial drug tests under SB 63, sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, as well as any later required tests that the applicant passes. The bill would allow someone else to receive benefits on behalf of other family members if an applicant fails two or more drug tests. As with SB 303, SB 63’s provisions would expire in three years unless reauthorized.
People would have to apply for at least three jobs before applying for TANF in Alabama under another bill that won committee approval Wednesday. SB 115, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, was amended in the Senate at Alabama Arise’s suggestion to ensure that a TANF’s applicant’s cohabiting partner must have a legal obligation to support the applicant’s children before that partner’s income would count in determining TANF eligibility. SB 115 also would order recipients to comply with DHR’s requirements for job search preparation, education and other employment activities.
TANF recipients could not use EBT cards in bars, liquor stores, casinos, tattoo parlors and adult entertainment establishments under SB 116, which the committee endorsed Wednesday. SB 116, sponsored by Orr, also prohibits using TANF benefits to buy alcohol or tobacco.
The House committee Wednesday also approved a new version of SB 87, sponsored by Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville. The substitute bill would prohibit DHR from seeking a statewide waiver to provide extended SNAP benefits to able-bodied, childless adults. However, the bill would allow DHR to continue to seek local waivers in counties with extremely high unemployment rates.
The new SB 87 would authorize DHR to seek a federal waiver to participate in a pilot program to develop and test employment and training programs for SNAP participants. It also would require the department to implement a work and training program for SNAP recipients.
SB 303 and the other proposals will be among the bills awaiting House consideration as the session winds to a close. Lawmakers will return Thursday for the 24th of 30 allowable meeting days during the 2014 regular session, which is expected to last until early April.
By Carol Gundlach, policy analyst. Posted March 12, 2014.
2014 legislative update: Bill to increase homestead exemption for debtors clears Alabama Senate committee
Alabamians could shield more of their home’s value from creditors under a bill that the Senate’s General Fund budget committee approved 7-0 Wednesday. SB 427, sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, awaits consideration by the full Senate.
Ward's bill would allow individuals to protect up to $30,000 of their home's value from creditors. The exemption for married couples would be up to $60,000. Current Alabama law sets that homestead exemption at just $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for couples. Those amounts are among the weakest debtor protections in the nation and are so low as to prove virtually useless in shielding most homes from foreclosure in a debt collection case.
Most states have far higher exemptions. Some, including Florida and Texas, do not limit how much of a home's value can be protected from creditors. Ward's bill would update Alabama's exemptions for the first time in more than 30 years and give debtors a better chance to rebuild after a financial judgment is entered against them.
SB 427 also would allow debtors in bankruptcy cases to choose to exempt homesteads and personal property in accordance with federal bankruptcy law. The bill originally would have increased debtors' state exemptions for personal property as well, but the committee removed those provisions.
The new version also does not include a cost-of-living adjustment. That means the Legislature would have to raise the limit again in the future to prevent inflation from eroding the homestead protection's value. "I think it's something that this body should vote on, instead of some sort of artificial index number," Ward said.
Time is getting shorter for the bill to win Senate approval. Lawmakers will return Thursday for the 24th of 30 allowable meeting days during the 2014 regular session, which is expected to last until early April.
By Stephen Stetson, policy analyst. Posted March 12, 2014.
Marketplace sign-up numbers good news for tens of thousands of Alabamians
Arise Citizens’ Policy Project executive director Kimble Forrister issued the following statement Tuesday, March 11, 2014, on the latest Health Insurance Marketplace sign-up numbers released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
“Alabama stands out in today’s release of Marketplace sign-up numbers under the Affordable Care Act. More than 55,000 Alabamians have seen their lives change for the better by gaining the peace of mind that comes with access to affordable health care.
“Even more people stand to benefit in the final weeks of initial open enrollment. More than 134,000 Alabamians who have completed applications for Marketplace coverage have been found eligible to enroll in a plan, but most have not chosen a plan yet. The number of people who apply and sign up for plans will continue to grow in the weeks to come.
“Alabama is making a strong showing among the states despite considerable obstacles. That’s a testament to creative, energetic outreach work by Navigator groups and other enrollment assisters. It’s also a testament to the hard work of groups like Bama Covered, a student-driven enrollment initiative on college campuses across the state. These groups and many others are improving lives by connecting Alabamians with affordable health coverage.”