2016 legislative update: Plan to help restore voting rights to thousands in Alabama wins Senate committee approval
Thousands of Alabamians could see their voting rights restored under a bill that won a state Senate committee’s approval Wednesday. SB 231, sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, would clarify the types of crimes classified as “crimes of moral turpitude,” a longstanding murky category of crimes permanently disqualifying offenders from voting in Alabama.
Ward’s bill, which Arise supports, now moves to the Senate. It could reach the Senate floor for a vote as soon as Thursday.
The Senate Judiciary Committee quickly approved the bill after adopting two technical amendments that tweaked the bill’s wording without changing the substance of the proposed reforms. Lawmakers had no other debate about the issue Wednesday.
Secretary of State John Merrill has endorsed SB 231, which fits with the state’s Prison Reform Task Force recommendations regarding ex-felons’ ability to re-enter society successfully as participating and productive citizens. The bill is one of more than a dozen proposals this year to expand or protect voting rights in Alabama. Other legislation seeks to allow early voting and streamline voter registration.
By Stephen Stetson, policy analyst. Posted March 16, 2016.
2016 legislative update: Payday lending reform gains momentum as second bill clears committee in Alabama Legislature
Payday lending reform continued to pick up steam Wednesday as an Alabama House committee approved a proposal to reduce interest rates and limit the amount that payday borrowers can borrow each year. HB 297, sponsored by Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, now moves to the House.
The House Financial Services Committee weakened Garrett’s bill by adopting an amendment offered by Rep. Reed Ingram, R-Montgomery. Still, HB 297 may remain the best hope for payday lending reform in the House this year. (AL.com has more details on Wednesday’s committee debate on HB 297.)
HB 297, as amended, would cap annual interest rates on payday loans at 180 percent in Alabama. Current state law allows interest rates of up to 456 percent a year. Arise testified on Garrett’s original bill last week.
Garrett’s bill originally proposed lowering payday loan fees to $12.50 per $100 borrowed, a reduction from the $17.50 now permitted in Alabama. But Ingram’s amendment would set the fee at $15. Garrett’s bill also would have limited borrowers to six loans per year, or $2,500. The amendment would eliminate the limit on the number of loans per year, and raise the cap on annual borrowing to $4,000.
Those changes allowed the bill to earn the endorsement of state Banking Superintendent John Harrison, who spoke to the committee at length. Harrison’s support could prove important as the bill now awaits debate on the House floor.
“When you don’t have anybody happy, then you’re getting pretty close to getting something that is workable and that will absolutely protect those consumers, and that’s what we want to do,” Harrison told lawmakers.
The committee approved Ingram’s amendment after rejecting an amendment offered by Rep. Oliver Robinson, D-Birmingham. That amendment would have converted payday loans into longer-term debt instruments. Robinson’s amendment was supported by Reps. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia; Mike Hill, R-Columbiana; and Thad McClammy, D-Montgomery.
Advocates were thankful to Rep. Merika Coleman-Evans, D-Birmingham, for calling for a roll call vote on each of the recorded votes on HB 297.
Senate expected to consider payday lending reform again next week
Payday loan reform is likely to be a topic again in the Alabama Senate once again next week. SB 91, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, is expected to return to the Senate floor for debate. The bill cleared an important procedural hurdle last week, but the Senate delayed further debate on it.
SB 91 would reduce interest rates on payday loans and mirror many of Colorado’s 2010 reforms. Orr’s bill, which Arise supports, also would give borrowers at least six months to repay their payday loans, increasing affordability and reducing default risk. In addition, SB 91 would allow payday borrowers to pay down the principal in installments instead of the all-or-nothing, lump-sum payment now required.
By Stephen Stetson, policy analyst. Posted March 16, 2016.
ACPP executive director Kimble Forrister issued the following statement Tuesday, March 15, 2016, after the Alabama House passed a General Fund budget that would force deep Medicaid cuts:
“These Medicaid cuts would be devastating for Alabamians, our economy and our entire health care system. They could force many rural hospitals to close and prompt many pediatricians to leave the state. They would end coverage of essential services like outpatient dialysis and adult eyeglasses. And they would end promising new Medicaid reforms that would save money and keep people healthier.
“We simply can’t afford these Medicaid cuts. It’s wrong to put health care at risk for children, seniors, and people with disabilities in Alabama. It’s time to get serious about raising the revenue needed to invest in a healthier Alabama for all.”
SB 285: Adding red tape that would deny food and cash assistance to thousands of low-income Alabamians
SB 285 is a solution in search of a problem. The bill would add huge amounts of red tape that would deny food assistance and cash welfare to thousands of low-income Alabamians – many of them seniors or people with disabilities – who are doing nothing wrong. SB 285 also could cost Alabama tens of millions of dollars to implement during a difficult budget year, and it would not save the state money.
SB 285 would reduce Alabama’s flexibility in the administration of SNAP and TANF, make it more difficult for otherwise eligible households to apply for and receive assistance, and impose expensive and unnecessary verification and data collection procedures on the Department of Human Resources (DHR) and Medicaid. Policy analyst Carol Gundlach’s analysis of SB 285 details 13 things to know about how and why the bill would hurt low-income Alabamians and cost the state money.
Payday lending reform got a debate but not a vote Thursday in the Alabama Senate. SB 91, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, cleared a procedural hurdle and received brief debate on the Senate floor, but lawmakers ultimately took no action on the measure. Still, the bill, which is supported by Arise and models Colorado’s payday loan laws, could return to the Senate floor next week.
Payday loans are short-term loans that carry annual interest rates of up to 456 percent a year in Alabama, often trapping borrowers in cycles of debt that can be hard to escape. SB 91 would reduce the interest rates and give borrowers at least six months to repay their loans, increasing affordability and reducing the default risk. The bill also would allow payday borrowers to pay down the principal in installments instead of the all-or-nothing, lump-sum payment now required.
The bill immediately came under heavy fire from several senators. Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, urged Orr simply to wait for the federal government to issue payday loan regulations. Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, also began to express concerns about the bill, but the Senate postponed further discussion of the bill after rejecting a proposed amendment by Orr.
Perhaps the most significant news from Thursday is that the Senate adopted a budget isolation resolution (BIR) on the bill. The BIR is a procedural vote required to debate any non-budgetary bill before the Legislature passes state budgets. That vote removed an obstacle from SB 91’s path and puts it in position for an up-or-down vote if the bill does return to the Senate floor.
Arise testifies in favor of House lending reform bills
House members may consider other lending proposals next week, representing alternative paths to reform. The House Financial Services Committee heard testimony this week on an auto title lending reform bill and two payday lending reform bills, though no votes were taken. Arise testified in favor of all three bills Wednesday, and the committee could vote on them next week.
Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, sponsors two of those bills. HB 342 is the House version of SB 91’s payday lending reforms, and HB 326 would cap interest rates at 36 percent a year on almost all title loans in Alabama.
The committee also could consider another plausible path to payday lending reform: HB 297, sponsored by Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville. The bill would reduce payday loan interest rates and extend repayment periods, though it would not allow installment payments.
By Stephen Stetson, policy analyst. Posted March 10, 2016.
Payday loans in Alabama carry astonishingly high interest rates: up to 456 percent a year. These loans pose as a helpful source of credit, but far too often they act as financial quicksand, trapping borrowers in cycles of debt that can be hard to escape. SB 91 would give Alabama’s payday borrowers a less expensive path out of debt. (Click here for a PDF version of this bill overview.)
What would SB 91 do?
SB 91 would help Alabama borrowers get out of debt.
SB 91 would not put the payday loan industry out of business.
What’s the bottom line?
By Stephen Stetson, policy analyst. Posted March 7, 2016. Last updated May 3, 2016.