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Arise Daily News Digest 5-28-2015
AL.COM - Last call for Sen. Del Marsh's Alabama lottery/casino bill.
AL.COM - Alabama's new 2-year college board holds first meeting.
AL.COM - Former Monroe paper mill owner sentenced to prison for hiding funds in Swiss account.
AL.COM - New Alabama discrimination bill does not mention gays, lesbians.
AL.COM - Sen. Arthur Orr says grim Alabama budget outlook could improve.
AL.COM - What's up with Alabama Republicans? Taxes? Gambling?
AL.COM – Columnist Charles Dean: Forming commission to study budget mess is like Titanic captain wanting study on avoiding icebergs.
AL.COM – Columnist Leada Gore: Birth control pills, no prescription needed: Is GOP bill a good idea?
AL.COM - FHLBank of Atlanta Announces 2015 AHP Competitive Offering: "$19.6 Million Available for Affordable Housing Development ".
AL.COM – Contributor Pat Dye: Support Sen. Del Marsh's lottery and gaming plan.
AL.COM – Contributor Clete Wetli: What's your choice, Alabama: prosperity or austerity?
AL.COM – Contributor Scott Paul: Alabama workers need better trade rules.
WSFA - Columnist Ken Hare In Depth: Alabama House punts budget to Senate.
ALABAMA POLITICAL REPORTER - Hubbard’s Attorneys Sue DOJ for Hart’s Records
ALABAMA POLITICAL REPORTER - Columnist Steve Flowers’ Inside the Statehouse: Prediction: Same sex marriage will be the law of the land.
YELLOWHAMMER NEWS - Roy Moore: Justices who perform same-sex marriages should be impeached.
DECATUR DAILY - Alabama senators look for ways to patch General Fund budget.
ANNISTON STAR - Lawmakers appear headed for last-minute decisions on state budget.
ANNISTON STAR - The Anniston Star: The chaos of opposing Obamacare.
ANNISTON STAR - The Anniston Star: Putting it off 'til next year in the Alabama Legislature.
MONTGOMERY ADVERTISER - Hyundai: Not enough workers here.
MONTGOMERY ADVERTISER - Contributor John McMillan: More needs to be done to assist our Alabama wine producers.
WASHINGTON POST - Fewer immigrants are entering the U.S. illegally, and that’s changed the border security debate.
WASHINGTON POST - Nebraska’s abolishing the death penalty means a lot more for politics than it does for prisoners.
WASHINGTON POST - Columnist Harold Meyerson: The forces driving the United States apart.
WASHINGTON POST - Columnist Robert Samuelson: Are we playing minimum-wage roulette?
NEW YORK TIMES – The New York Times: The Death Penalty Ends in Nebraska
NEW YORK TIMES – Columnist Mark Bittman: Can We Finally Treat Food Workers Fairly?
2015 legislative update: A quiet win: SNAP, TANF eligibility bans end under new Alabama prison reform law
Tucked away in the new prison reform law that Gov. Robert Bentley signed Thursday is a big win for second chances in Alabama: an end to the state’s lifetime eligibility bans for SNAP and TANF assistance for people with a past felony drug conviction. It’s a win on an issue that has been an Arise priority since 2013, and it means a fresh start for people who have served their time and are seeking to rebuild their lives.
For ACPP, it all started in 2013 when Jacquelyn Hardy of Birmingham made a passionate case for ending the bans at our annual meeting, where members vote each year on our issue priorities. Before Hardy’s presentation, few of us knew that Alabama bars anyone with a felony drug offense from ever receiving food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or cash assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Afterward, no one who heard her could forget.
Advocates found an ally in Sen. Linda Coleman, D-Birmingham, who agreed to sponsor a bill to end Alabama’s lifetime SNAP and TANF bans for people who have completed their sentence or are successfully serving probation or parole. Coleman’s bill passed the Senate easily in 2014 but died in the House after losing a procedural vote.
Supporters didn’t give up, and their persistence worked. This year’s big breakthrough came during Senate floor debate on SB 67, the prison reform bill sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster. Coleman offered language ending the SNAP and TANF bans as an amendment to Ward’s bill, and Ward agreed to support it. The Senate passed the prison reform bill, including the amendment, 32-2 in early April.
When the bill reached the House, Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, helped ensure that the language ending the SNAP and TANF bans remained in the bill. The House passed the measure 100-5 on May 7, and the Senate signed off on the House version the same day.
The prison reform law is set to take effect Jan. 30, 2016, but one big hurdle remains: Alabama still has to pay for it. None of the bill’s provisions, including the end to the SNAP and TANF bans, can go into effect until the Legislature appropriates $26 million to fund the bill’s other reform measures.
Even though the SNAP and TANF provision is almost entirely a question of federal costs, it will go into effect only if the prison reform funding is approved. Ward insists leaders have assured him the needed money will be included in the General Fund (GF) budget – one of the few glimmers of hope in the protracted battle over a GF budget that desperately needs new revenue to avoid deep cuts to vital services like corrections and health care.
For thousands of people leaving prison, the restoration of SNAP and TANF benefits will mean a huge improvement in their ability to make a fresh start and support their families. Thanks to the support of lawmakers like Coleman and Ward and the determination of advocates like Jacquelyn Hardy, Alabama has achieved a policy change that will help families for decades to come.
By Kimble Forrister, executive director. Posted May 21, 2015.
2015 legislative update: Medicaid long-term care options would expand under bill that clears Alabama House committee
More Alabamians with Medicaid coverage would have more options for long-term home and community care under a bill that the House Health Committee approved unanimously Thursday. The bill, which the Senate passed 30-0 Tuesday, now goes to the full House for consideration.
SB 431, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed, R-Jasper, would deliver comprehensive Medicaid long-term care services, including in-home and other community-based services and nursing home care, through one or more integrated care networks (ICNs). A House version of the plan – HB 585, sponsored by Rep. April Weaver, R-Brierfield – won committee approval earlier this month.
The legislation would set up a cost-effective, managed-care health delivery system for seniors and for people with disabilities who have Medicaid coverage and meet the criteria for admission to a nursing home. The bill would remove caps on the number of Alabamians eligible to receive less costly at-home and community-based Medicaid services. The plan would give patients more options in care while retaining the more costly nursing home option if needed.
The ICN plan would be similar in structure to the regional care organizations (RCOs) into which other Medicaid patients will move. The state’s new RCO model is designed to keep patients healthier while cutting costs.
The ICN plan was developed with input from the nursing home industry, health experts and advocates on the Medicaid Long-Term Care Workgroup, of which Arise is a member. The bill calls for each ICN to have a Citizens’ Advisory Committee that includes members nominated by Alabama Arise and a number of advocacy partners.
By M.J. Ellington, health policy analyst. Posted May 21, 2015.
2015 legislative update: Alabama Legislature passes bill to require annual report on state tax breaks
Alabamians could learn far more about the cost and effectiveness of state tax breaks under a bill that the Legislature passed without a single “no” vote. SB 119, sponsored by Sen. Bill Hightower, R-Mobile, passed 92-0 in the House on Tuesday and 30-0 in the Senate in March. The Senate agreed with the House’s changes Thursday, and the bill awaits Gov. Robert Bentley’s signature.
SB 119 would require the Legislative Fiscal Office to provide an annual “tax expenditure” report to legislative budget committees. This report would list all tax exclusions, exemptions, deductions, credits and special rates and estimate the amount of revenue that the state forgoes as a result of these tax breaks. Alabama was one of only seven states with no such report as of 2011, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. SB 119 also requires biannual public hearings on tax breaks.
ACPP executive director Kimble Forrister praised lawmakers’ approval of the bill. “For years, ACPP has called for greater transparency and accountability when tax breaks are given by the Legislature,” Forrister said. “SB 119 will ensure that legislators and the public know how much revenue is diverted by these tax breaks. We appreciate Sen. Hightower’s leadership in bringing this bill and urge the governor to sign it.”
Tax expenditures are provisions in state or federal tax codes that reduce the amount of tax owed by households or corporations. These tax breaks are sometimes called “spending through the tax code” because, like spending, they are intended to achieve policy goals. But tax expenditures often get far less scrutiny than spending does.
States commonly give tax breaks to individuals by exempting certain income from being taxed, by allowing some expenses to be deducted from income, or by charging different tax rates on different types and levels of income. Examples of individual tax breaks include the personal exemption and the mortgage interest deduction.
Corporate tax breaks often are billed as a way to help recruit industry into a state or keep businesses from relocating to another state. These breaks can include reduced sales, income, property or employer taxes.
Tax breaks can become hotly debated public issues, like when Alabama is in a bidding war with other states for big projects like the Boeing or Mercedes plants. But often, tax breaks are issued automatically and receive little public, or even legislative, attention. Many of these tax breaks are tilted toward higher-income taxpayers, because they are more likely to owe taxes and to invest in deduction-eligible projects.
The Legislature has created hundreds of tax breaks in recent decades, and 2015 has been no different. Lawmakers this year have approved several new tax incentives to reduce taxes for businesses that hire military veterans, locate in rural or high-poverty communities, create new jobs, or reinvest in existing industries.
Some of Alabama’s tax breaks may create new jobs and help reduce poverty, while others may not. An annual tax expenditure report would help shed light on these breaks and allow the public and lawmakers to decide whether the investment has been worth the cost.
Studies have found that tax breaks have little influence on individual or corporate decisions and that the breaks often are not a better public investment than the schools, health care, public safety or other vital services that the money could have paid for instead. SB 119 would help Alabamians evaluate how much revenue the state forgoes through its tax code and whether these breaks are good for our state.
By Carol Gundlach, policy analyst. Posted May 21, 2015.
2015 legislative update: Title loan reform bill gets hearing, but Alabama House committee doesn't vote on it
An auto title loan reform bill finally got a public hearing before the Alabama House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday, nearly two months after its introduction. But as is customary, the committee did not vote on the bill on the same day as the hearing. A vote could come next week.
HB 400, sponsored by Rep. Rod Scott, D-Fairfield, would cap interest rates on title loans in Alabama at 36 percent a year. State law now allows title lenders to charge rates of up to 300 percent a year.
Several people testified about the bill, including a spokeswoman for TitleMax, one of the nation’s largest title lenders. She claimed a 36 percent rate cap would put title lenders out of business.
Supporters testifying in favor of the bill included Arise’s Stephen Stetson, Joe Godfrey of the Alabama Citizens’ Action Program (ALCAP) and Alabama Appleseed legal director Shay Farley. Farley explained the dollar cost of high-cost auto title transactions to committee members. “Anybody can look at the numbers and see that this isn’t right,” she said.
HB 400, this year’s only title loan reform bill, was introduced in early April and has 67 bipartisan co-sponsors, nearly two-thirds of the House’s membership. With just seven meeting days left in the 2015 regular session, time is running short for the bill to clear both the House and Senate. Check out the Montgomery Advertiser’s coverage to learn more.
By Stephen Stetson, policy analyst. Posted May 20, 2015.