Your time is important, and your voice for a better Alabama is essential. That's why we've prepared these quick overviews to keep you up-to-date on what's happening at the Alabama Legislature on Arise's 2016 issue priorities. We'll update this post as needed.
"Ban the box" legislation: 'Ban the box' law would help rebuild lives in Alabama -- The "criminal history checkbox" on many standardized job application forms often keeps otherwise qualified employees from making it to the next stage of the hiring process, where they could explain their past face-to-face. This creates discouraging barriers to employment for people who are looking to rebuild their lives after serving their time and paying their debt to society. A growing national "ban the box" movement to remove those checkboxes from job applications is helping former inmates become productive members of society and provide for their families. It could do the same for thousands in Alabama. (The Senate Judiciary Committee on April 7 approved SB 327, which would "ban the box" on state job and license applications, but the Senate never voted on it.)
Death penalty reform: Death is different: Reforming Alabama's capital punishment system -- People accused of capital crimes deserve every possible safeguard to ensure the integrity of a conviction. This overview examines several bills that could lower the risks of errors and injustice and could bring Alabama law into compliance with U.S. Supreme Court rulings.
Health care: Medicaid RCOs: Better care, better health, lower costs -- Medicaid's promising new regional care organization (RCO) reforms are designed to keep patients healthier while cutting health care costs. Investing in preventive care now should pay off in fewer costly emergency room visits later. (The Legislature on April 5 overrode the governor's veto to pass a General Fund budget that would force deep Medicaid cuts. Lawmakers may return later this year for a special session to address Medicaid's funding shortfall.)
Housing: Home at last: The Alabama Housing Trust Fund -- Alabama has a shortage of almost 90,000 affordable and available homes for residents with extremely low incomes. State funding for the Alabama Housing Trust Fund (HTF), created in 2012, could reduce this shortfall and make dreams of home a reality for tens of thousands of families, seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities.
Payday lending reform: SB 91: A step in the right direction for Alabama borrowers -- Payday loans in Alabama carry astonishingly high interest rates: up to 456 percent a year. A Senate proposal would give payday borrowers a less expensive path out of debt by reducing the maximum interest rate and allowing borrowers to pay off their loan in installments over time. (The Senate passed the bill 28-1 on April 5. A House committee approved a different version of SB 91 on April 27, but the regular session ended without a House vote on either version.)
State budgets: Alabama's education budget begins to rebuild, but General Fund struggles put Medicaid at risk -- The usual contrast between Alabama’s starving General Fund budget and its slightly healthier but still inadequate Education Trust Fund budget is exceptionally stark this year. As education finally climbs back toward its 2008 funding level after years of enormous cuts, the latest General Fund shortfall threatens devastating Medicaid cuts with effects that could ripple through the state's entire health care system. (The Legislature on April 5 overrode the governor's veto to pass a General Fund budget that would force deep Medicaid cuts. Lawmakers may return later this year for a special session to address Medicaid's funding shortfall.)
Tax reform: Cigarette tax for Medicaid: A win-win to improve health and fill Alabama's revenue gap -- The future of Alabama Medicaid is on the line as lawmakers confront yet another threadbare General Fund budget. Without significant new long-term revenue, Medicaid will continue to be at risk of cuts to vital services and doctor payments that could place the entire program -- and Alabama's entire health care system -- at risk. A cigarette tax of 75 cents per pack could provide long-term revenue needed to avoid those cuts, while also reducing health care costs and saving lives in Alabama.
Voting rights: A menu of options to improve voting rights in Alabama -- Our entire democratic system depends on how elections are structured and who can participate. When barriers exclude people from voting, they often lose faith in a system that doesn't seem to value their voice in our society's decision-making process. This overview examines several bills that would protect and expand voting rights, including proposals related to early voting, streamlined voter registration and voting rights restoration. (SB 186, which would expedite the state's voting rights restoration process, has gone to Gov. Robert Bentley after passing the Senate on April 19 and the House on May 4. Different versions of HB 268, a bill to clarify which crimes are "crimes of moral turpitude" that permanently disqualify offenders from voting in Alabama, passed the House on April 19 and the Senate on May 3, but the plan died May 4 when the regular session ended before the House could vote on a proposed conference committee version.)
Posted March 7, 2016. Last updated May 5, 2016.
ACPP executive director Kimble Forrister issued the following statement Tuesday, May 3, 2016, after a proposal to use BP settlement money to avoid deep Medicaid cuts failed to win an Alabama Senate committee’s approval:
“Putting health care at risk for children, seniors, and people with disabilities is no way to build a stronger Alabama. Neither is lurching from one budget crisis to another because of our state’s failure to solve the General Fund’s long-term funding shortfall.
“Alabama’s looming Medicaid cuts would be devastating for our most vulnerable neighbors. The cuts could prompt many pediatricians to leave the state and could end coverage of essential services like outpatient dialysis and adult eyeglasses.
“The governor and the Legislature need to act quickly to prevent these Medicaid cuts from becoming a reality later this year. And our state needs to get serious about raising the long-term, sustainable new revenue needed to invest in a healthier, stronger Alabama for all.”
Alabama’s looming Medicaid cuts would harm hundreds of thousands of people across the state – mostly children, seniors, and people with disabilities. The new #IamMedicaid campaign is a grassroots effort to remind lawmakers and the public of the real people with real lives affected by the state’s ongoing Medicaid funding debate. (Click here for a PDF version of this news release.)
“Alabama’s Medicaid debate is about more than numbers on a spreadsheet. It’s about people,” Alabama Arise state coordinator Kimble Forrister said. “Medicaid cuts would reduce health care access and make life harder for many of the most vulnerable Alabamians: children, seniors, and people with disabilities. Their voices must be heard in this debate, and we’re excited about this new effort to change the conversation around Medicaid.”
The 2017 General Fund budget leaves Medicaid $85 million short of the funding that the agency says is needed to avoid cuts to services like outpatient dialysis and adult eyeglasses. Without new revenue to maintain current service levels, Medicaid also will make deep cuts in its payments to doctors and other providers. Those cuts could result in the closures of many hospitals and clinics, reducing health care access for families across the state.
“Medicaid coverage is essential to protect the health and well-being of hundreds of thousands of children in Alabama,” Alabama Children First executive director Christy Cain said. “So many times, we get caught up in the numbers, and we forget those numbers represent real people with real lives and that they deal with real challenges.”
Posted April 20, 2016.
2016 legislative update: Time running short for payday reform as Alabama House committee holds hearing but doesn't vote
The fate of payday lending reform in Alabama this year could hinge on whether the House Financial Services Committee chooses to meet again before next week, and whether its members approve SB 91, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur.
The committee chose not to vote on the bill after hearing nearly two hours of testimony Wednesday morning, including support from Arise and other advocates for payday lending reform. Payday loans are short-term loans for $500 or less, and carry annual interest rates of up to 456 percent in Alabama.
Because committee members didn’t vote after the hearing, they will need to reconvene to determine the fate of the bill, which the Senate passed 28-1 earlier this month. If the committee waits until next week to meet, it will reduce the chance that the bill can reach the House floor in time to pass before the 2016 regular session ends. Just five meeting days will remain in the session after this week.
Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, presented Orr’s SB 91 to the committee and emphasized the urgent need to act swiftly. “This is the last chance for reform in this session,” Garrett said.
Orr’s bill would reform Alabama’s payday lending laws to be similar to those in Colorado, where prices for borrowers are substantially lower than Alabama’s. SB 91 would reduce interest rates on payday loans and give borrowers at least six months to repay their loans. It also would allow borrowers to pay down the principal in installments, helping them escape debt more quickly.
In addition to Arise, other supporters testifying in favor of SB 91 included representatives of Alabama Appleseed and the YWCA of Central Alabama, as well as Dr. Neal Berte, a former Birmingham-Southern College president who has been a tireless and persuasive advocate for reform.
The committee also heard opposition from payday lending industry representatives, who said Colorado-style reform would prevent them from making loans in Alabama. Colorado has many payday lenders that remain profitable while charging prices roughly one-third of that typically charged in Alabama.
Title loan bill also receives hearing but not a committee vote
The SB 91 hearing Wednesday followed a separate hearing on HB 526, an auto title loan bill sponsored by Rep. Rod Scott, D-Fairfield. That bill would create a special statute for title loans, removing them from the Alabama Pawnshop Act, which caps the maximum interest rate on title loans at 300 percent a year.
Under HB 526, interest rates on title loans in Alabama would be capped at 120 percent a year, in addition to numerous other provisions regulating the issuance of such loans. In an unusual twist, title lenders and consumer advocates (including Arise) both testified in opposition to the bill.
The committee heard testimony but did not vote in February on a reform bill – HB 326, sponsored by Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham – supported by Arise and other members of the Alliance for Responsible Lending in Alabama (ARLA). The bill would cap title loan interest rates at 36 percent a year.
By Stephen Stetson, policy analyst. Posted April 20, 2016.
ACPP executive director Kimble Forrister issued the following statement Tuesday, April 5, 2016, after the Alabama Senate voted 28-1 to pass SB 91, a payday lending reform bill sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur:
“The Senate’s vote for meaningful payday lending reform today was a big win for Alabama consumers. SB 91 would give payday borrowers a more realistic path out of debt by allowing them to make installment payments over time. The bill also would slash interest rates and place other overdue, common-sense limits on payday loans in Alabama.
“Today’s vote was a historic breakthrough for the growing bipartisan movement to rein in high-cost lending in our state. Now it’s the House’s turn to keep that momentum going and make life better for thousands of Alabama families.
“Thanks to all the folks who contacted their senators, especially the dozens of advocates who went to the State House. Thanks to Sen. Arthur Orr, the bill sponsor, and to Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison for her help in the floor debate.”
ACPP executive director Kimble Forrister issued the following statement Tuesday, April 5, 2016, after the Alabama Legislature overrode the governor’s veto to pass a General Fund budget that would force deep Medicaid cuts:
“We can’t build a stronger Alabama by taking a sledgehammer to the foundation of our state’s health care system. But that’s just what this inadequate General Fund budget would do.
“This budget would force devastating Medicaid cuts that could force many hospitals to close and lead many pediatricians to leave the state. These cuts could put health care at risk for hundreds of thousands of our state’s most vulnerable residents: children, seniors, and people with disabilities. And new Medicaid reforms to save money and keep people healthier would grind to a halt.
“Alabama’s children deserve a better future than this. Our state needs new revenue to prevent these Medicaid cuts and continue building a stronger, healthier Alabama for all.”