Join the Discussion
Montgomery council vote a bold step to protect consumers from spread of high-cost lending
Arise Citizens’ Policy Project executive director Kimble Forrister issued the following statement Wednesday, May 21, 2014, on the Montgomery City Council’s vote May 20, 2014, to limit the locations where new payday lenders and title pawn companies can open:
“Montgomery has lived up to its role as Alabama’s capital city by taking a bold move to protect its citizens from high-cost lending. Montgomery residents should applaud their local leaders for the new ordinance limiting payday and title lenders’ ability to keep spreading across the city. Clusters of these storefronts create blight, and high interest rates leave too many desperate borrowers trapped in deep cycles of debt.
“People deserve fair credit terms, but triple-digit annual interest rates on payday and title loans are nothing of the sort. Statewide reform is only possible at the Legislature, but the City of Montgomery deserves praise for acting boldly to help protect citizens from legalized usury.
“Many other cities across the state also have passed moratoriums or restrictions on such lenders, including Birmingham, Decatur, Eufaula, Jasper, Northport and Tuscaloosa. Support for lending reform is growing across Alabama, and we’re excited that momentum for change keeps building.”
'Community eligibility' could help Alabama schools fight child hunger
More than 900 schools across two-thirds of Alabama's school districts could use "community eligibility" to provide free school meals to all of their students starting this fall, the state Department of Education said May 1, 2014. Districts have until June 30, 2014, to decide if some or all of their schools will participate. Community eligibility helps ensure that low-income children, many of whom live in families struggling to put food on the table, have access to healthy meals at school.
"Schools in Alabama should seize this opportunity," ACPP executive director Kimble Forrister said. "Adopting community eligibility could make a real difference in the lives of thousands of children who otherwise might struggle to get enough food to eat each day."
Alabama Marketplace numbers a big win for our state
Arise Citizens’ Policy Project executive director Kimble Forrister issued the following statement Thursday, May 1, 2014, on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ release of Alabama figures for the initial open enrollment period in the Health Insurance Marketplace:
“Alabamians are eager for the chance to access quality, affordable health coverage, and today’s enrollment report for the Health Insurance Marketplace proves it. Nearly 98,000 Alabamians signed up for Marketplace plans during the first open enrollment period. That number tops the federal sign-up goal for Alabama, and it means tens of thousands of hard-working Alabamians can rest easier every night knowing they have the protection of health insurance.
“Alabama’s strong performance shows the power of word of mouth and strategic partnerships. Interest grew throughout the open enrollment period as more people told their friends and families how easy it is to enroll and how good it feels to have coverage. As the technical challenges subsided, enrollment organizations across the state had more time to build partnerships, identify gaps and work together on outreach.
“One number we’re especially proud of in Alabama is the 31 percent of our enrollees who are in the 18 to 34 age group, the healthiest segment of the population. The Bama Covered initiative played a big role by encouraging young people to enroll themselves and also to spread the word in their communities. That youthful energy helped Alabama pass our sign-up goal, and it created momentum for continuing efforts to extend quality health coverage to even more Alabamians in the future.”
Alabama's higher education cuts are nation's fifth worst, report finds
Alabama has cut state funding for public colleges and universities more than all but four other states since the Great Recession, according to a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a nonprofit research organization in Washington, D.C. As a result, soaring tuition costs have forced many young workers to start their careers with high debt loads and have made college increasingly unaffordable for many low- and middle-income Alabamians.
"Too many students are taking on oppressive levels of debt, and high tuition costs are scaring many would-be students away from college altogether," ACPP executive director Kimble Forrister said. "Alabama needs to invest in education and look for ways to make college more affordable."
2014 legislative update: General Fund budget, changes to Alabama's landlord-tenant law enacted
Next year’s General Fund (GF) budget became law Thursday night when the Alabama House ended the 2014 regular session without considering Gov. Robert Bentley’s proposed amendment to it. Bentley’s changes to the $1.8 billion GF budget were enacted automatically when the House adjourned. Check out AL.com’s report to learn more about Thursday’s action.
Bentley still must decide whether to sign the Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget or veto it and order the Legislature to return for a special session. Bentley urged lawmakers to approve a 2 percent pay raise for K-12 teachers next year, but the ETF budget sent to him did not include a teacher raise or bonus. Click here to learn more about the ETF budget.
GF support for the Department of Corrections would fall by about $2 million, or 0.5 percent, next year under the budget, even though Alabama’s prison system is operating at nearly twice its designed capacity. The budget includes $3.5 million for an overflow facility to help house some inmates from the overcrowded Julia Tutwiler women’s prison in Wetumpka. The spending plan also includes $250,000 for a new ombudsman program for Tutwiler prisoners who report mistreatment.
State employees would receive a one-time $400 bonus next year under lawmakers’ GF budget. Bentley’s amendment changed the funding source for those bonuses but did not eliminate them. Medicaid funding would increase by 11.4 percent next year, though the amount would fall short of what State Health Officer Don Williamson said the agency needs from the GF. Williamson said earlier this year that Medicaid could endure at the proposed funding level by cutting costs in the prescription drug program and other areas. Click here to learn more about the GF budget.
Landlord-tenant law revisions, AHIP bill among other enacted legislation
Alabama landlords will have more time to refund a security deposit or give notice of why they are keeping some or all of it under a new law enacted last month. SB 291, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, will increase that window from 35 days to 60 days. The law also will allow landlords to treat a property as abandoned if electrical service is cut off for at least a week.
In addition, landlords will have to provide only a seven-day written notice if they plan to terminate the lease for a violation that does not involve failure to pay rent. That’s down from the previous 14-day timetable. SB 291 gives renters four chances every 12 months to correct problems cited as a lease violation without getting the landlord’s written consent. The measure passed 28-0 in the Senate and 98-0 in the House.
The Alabama Health Insurance Program (AHIP) will come to an end under another law enacted last month. SB 123, sponsored by Sen. Slade Blackwell, R-Mountain Brook, will transfer any remaining unused and unobligated program funds to the GF. Supporters said AHIP, which offers “guaranteed-issue” health coverage, is no longer needed because the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires insurers to offer coverage regardless of a person’s health history. Blackwell’s bill passed 21-0 in the Senate and 90-0 in the House.
Before the ACA, applicants with pre-existing conditions like cancer often struggled to find coverage. Alabama created AHIP as a high-risk pool to cover certain residents who were turned down by other insurers after Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in 1996.
By Chris Sanders, communications director, and M.J. Ellington, health policy analyst. Posted April 4, 2014.
2014 legislative update: Alabama Legislature passes ETF budget, goes home without approving bills on payday lending, execution drug secrecy
Alabama lawmakers passed a $5.9 billion Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget without a pay raise for K-12 teachers just before the 2014 regular session ended Thursday night. The House voted 54-45 to agree to the compromise budget that the Senate approved Tuesday. That leaves Gov. Robert Bentley, who urged the Legislature to approve a 2 percent raise for teachers next year, to decide whether to sign the ETF budget or veto it and order lawmakers to return for a special session. Check out AL.com’s report to learn more.
Many other proposals cleared one chamber but did not win final legislative approval before the regular session ended Thursday. Among the subjects of bills that lawmakers did not send to Bentley were:
Much discussion, no Senate passage of payday loan database, execution drug secrecy bills
The payday loan database bill reached the Senate floor twice Thursday afternoon. Senators initially delayed action on HB 145 after Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, expressed concern about the security of borrowers’ information in the database. About an hour later, the Senate returned to the measure and added three amendments to it.
One amendment, offered by Sen. Shadrack McGill, R-Woodville, would have doubled the bill’s payday loan cap from $500 to $1,000. Two other amendments came from Sens. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, and Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville. Immediately after adopting the amendments, senators agreed to postpone action on HB 145, and the chamber did not take it up again before adjournment.
Senators debated the death penalty drug secrecy bill three separate times Thursday afternoon but ultimately did not vote on it. Ward tried to amend HB 379 to allow people injured while handling such drugs to sue, but the Senate did not accept that proposal. “No one in the state of Alabama should ever be granted absolute immunity for negligence or gross negligence they commit against somebody else,” Ward said while arguing for his amendment.
The failure to pass HB 379 could bring lethal injections to a halt in Alabama by making it impossible for the state to buy the drugs used in the process, Ward said. “By opposing this bill and killing this bill, what we’re doing is ensuring is this state will go back to the system of the electric chair,” he said. Alabama began using lethal injection in executions after the state retired “Yellow Mama,” the electric chair used from 1927 to 2002.
The three other bills listed above did not reach the House or Senate floor Thursday. The HIV drug redistribution bill, HB 138, passed 99-0 in the House last month and was on the Senate’s final special-order calendar Thursday, but senators adjourned with several measures still lined up ahead of it. Arise and other consumer advocates last year urged Bentley to support this policy change as his Medicaid Pharmacy Study Commission met to consider ways to reduce costs in the state’s Medicaid drug assistance programs.
By Chris Sanders, communications director. Posted April 3, 2014.