ACPP executive director Kimble Forrister issued the following statement Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, after the Alabama Senate passed a General Fund budget that could force deep cuts to Medicaid:
“Medicaid is the foundation of Alabama’s entire health care system, and it’s essential to protect it. Our state has gotten federal approval for promising new Medicaid reforms to save money and keep Alabamians healthier. Now we need to invest in these reforms to make them work.
“Medicaid insures many of the most vulnerable Alabamians: children, seniors, and people with disabilities. As the budget debate goes forward, we hope lawmakers will be careful not to send patients a message that their basic health care could be at risk. Considering how important Medicaid is to the health of our neighbors and our economy, we need to approach this debate with the urgency and gravity it deserves.”
2016 legislative update: Bill to pause executions, create innocence commission clears Alabama Senate committee
Executions would stop in Alabama until at least June 2017 under a bill that the state Senate Judiciary Committee approved 10-0 Wednesday. The measure also would create a special commission to evaluate innocence claims in death penalty cases. (Read The Anniston Star’s coverage for more details.)
SB 237, sponsored by Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery, would set up the Innocence Inquiry Commission under the state Administrative Office of Courts, and would place a moratorium on all executions until June 1, 2017, while the commission is established.
Arise policy analyst Stephen Stetson testified in favor of a commission, calling it a “recognition of human frailty” in the justice system. The Attorney General’s Office testified against the bill Wednesday, as did a member of Victims of Crime and Leniency (VOCAL), a victims’ rights group.
The bill has bipartisan co-sponsorship from Sens. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile; Bill Hightower, R-Mobile; Del Marsh, R-Anniston; Greg Reed, R-Jasper; Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham; Larry Stutts, R-Sheffield; Ward, R-Alabaster; and Tom Whatley, R-Auburn.
Petitioners seeking relief from Alabama’s innocence commission would face an uphill battle, but the concept has gained traction in other Southern death penalty states. Texas created an innocence commission in 2015, while North Carolina’s was created in 2006. A commission would be particularly useful in Alabama, the only state in the nation without a state-funded program to provide legal assistance to death row prisoners.
By Stephen Stetson, policy analyst. Posted Feb. 24, 2016.
ACPP executive director Kimble Forrister issued the following statement Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, after an Alabama Senate committee approved a 2017 General Fund budget:
“We’re disturbed to see Medicaid on the chopping block again, but it was encouraging today to hear senators acknowledge Medicaid’s fundamental role in Alabama’s health care system. There is no way to cut Medicaid without devastating consequences, and ultimately it needs new revenue. As the General Fund debate goes on, we hope lawmakers will take to heart the crucial role that Medicaid plays in the health of Alabamians and our economy.”
A bill that its sponsor describes as “a compromise” on payday loan reform emerged from an Alabama Senate committee Wednesday. SB 91, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, is called “Colorado-style reform,” because it models changes to consumer lending laws approved by that state in 2010.
The bill now awaits a Senate vote. No other payday or auto title lending reform legislation has been introduced so far during the 2016 regular session.
SB 91 would cap payday loan interest rates in Alabama at about 180 percent a year. The payday loan industry has continued to exist in Colorado after that state’s reforms, but it was reduced in size. The number of defaults and bounced checks also have declined.
The bill cleared the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, with at least three senators voting against approval. Committee members opposing SB 91 were Sens. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison; Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville; and Tom Whatley, R-Auburn. Whatley moved to carry the bill over, which would have delayed a vote on it, but the committee rejected that motion. No public hearing was held on SB 91, but the measure sparked considerable discussion among committee members.
Orr repeatedly described his bill as “a middle ground” between consumer advocates and the payday loan industry. Arise, Alabama Appleseed and other consumer groups long have pushed for interest rates on payday loans to be capped at 36 percent a year in Alabama. (Current state law allows rates of up to 456 percent a year.) Payday lenders oppose any such change.
By Stephen Stetson, policy analyst. Posted Feb. 17, 2016.
2016 legislative update: Same old song: Alabama faces another shortfall for vital services, but lawmakers aren't eager to raise revenue to prevent cuts
Groundhog Day, the first day of the Alabama Legislature’s 2016 regular session, left advocates for human services feeling a powerful sense of déjà vu. A mere five months ago, the Legislature managed, with small tax increases and large transfers from the Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget, to pass a 2016 General Fund (GF) budget that barely maintained Medicaid, mental health care, corrections and other essential services.
It took lawmakers three tries to pass this year’s GF budget, and many advocates hoped the grueling experience would lead legislators to sober consideration of Alabama’s very real need for sustainable new revenue for the perenially cash-strapped GF. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case for many of them.
The Legislature began consideration of the 2017 budgets this week with no indication that it will seriously consider significant new revenue measures like closing income tax loopholes or raising the cigarette tax. Instead, key legislators told the media that they saw “no appetite” for tax increases, and said any further ETF transfers were “off the table.”
Those stances are in sharp contrast to the shortfalls and unmet needs for health care, public safety and other vital services in Alabama. In pre-session budget hearings, agency leaders asked the GF budget committees for an additional $235 million just to maintain current services. The GF has a structural deficit, with normal cost growth regularly outpacing the sluggish growth of its revenue sources.
Medicaid alone needs an additional $157 million to avoid cuts and complete the shift to a new regional care organization (RCO) model designed to save money and keep patients healthier, Commissioner Stephanie Azar told lawmakers last month. Medicaid provides health coverage for one in five Alabamians – mostly low-income children, seniors, and people with disabilities.
Bentley’s plan: Move money from education to General Fund
Gov. Robert Bentley sent his proposed budgets to the Legislature on Feb. 3, as required by the state constitution. But unlike last year, he offered no recommendations for new revenue. Instead, Bentley proposed to move $181 million of use tax revenue from the education budget to the GF and to replace that money with a one-time transfer of money from the ETF Budget Stabilization Fund and the ETF Advancement and Technology Fund.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, told AL.com this week that he would be “very surprised” to see lawmakers move ETF money to the GF again this year.
The Budget Stabilization Fund originally was created as a savings account to help the ETF avoid proration in years when revenues were low. The Advancement and Technology Fund was created just last year so schools would have money available for one-time expenses like buildings, buses and textbooks. Without a transfer, about $195 million will be available in these two accounts at the end of 2016, according to Legislative Fiscal Office estimates.
While use taxes would continue to bolster the GF in future years, the ETF revenue loss would only be replaced in 2017 if lawmakers pass a bill sponsored by Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville. SB 129 would spend 90 percent of the money in these two accounts in one year and leave the ETF without a source to replace lost revenues from the use tax (essentially a sales tax on out-of-state purchases) in future years.
Medicaid, public health would come up short in governor’s budget
Bentley’s budget is a starting point for the GF debate, but if history is any guide, it will not be the final product. With the help of the ETF transfer, Bentley’s proposed budget includes:
Bentley’s total proposed GF budget is only 5 percent larger than last year’s, even with the transfer from the ETF. This anemic growth would do little to make up for a 15 percent cut to the GF since 2008, and a nearly 20 percent ETF cut in that time. Alabama’s state K-12 cuts have been the nation’s second worst since the Great Recession, while its higher education cuts have been the fourth worst.
By Carol Gundlach, policy analyst. Posted Feb. 4, 2016.
It’s a quiet win for thousands of Alabamians seeking to rebuild their lives and provide for their families: Alabama is joining the majority of U.S. states by allowing people with a past felony drug conviction to receive SNAP food assistance and TANF financial assistance, as long as they are otherwise eligible. The effective starting date for this change is Jan. 30, 2016.
The end of Alabama’s SNAP and TANF bans is good news for state budgets and for families. This policy change will help cut corrections costs in the cash-strapped General Fund budget by making it easier for released prisoners to reintegrate into the community, which will help reduce recidivism. Importantly, restoring SNAP and TANF benefits also will help prevent hunger and homelessness among some of Alabama’s most vulnerable families.