Push to block Alabama tax break for private school tuition succeeds; Ivey signs bill to create hardship driver’s licenses

Arise members had two big reasons to celebrate Thursday, as Gov. Kay Ivey signed a pair of bills that finalize policy wins related to our organization’s 2018 issue priorities. One law will halt (at least for now) an effort to create a new state tax break for private school tuition in Alabama, while the other will help ease the transportation burden that can result from unpaid court fines and fees.

Arise members win push to stop state tax break for private school tuition

Ivey’s signing of HB 251 on Thursday marked the final step in Arise members’ sucdcessful push to save millions of dollars per year for public schools across Alabama. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton – originally would have allowed people to use education savings accounts known as 529 plans to receive a state income tax break on money used for K-12 private school tuition. But by the time the bill reached Ivey’s desk, those provisions were nowhere to be seen.

Arise members deserve an enormous share of the credit for blocking that tax break. That proposal would have turned 529 plans – originally designed to encourage long-term college savings – into vehicles to subsidize private schools at the expense of public education. The change would have cost the Education Trust Fund millions of dollars a year.

The tax break easily passed the House and appeared to be sailing toward legislative passage – until hundreds of Arise members and other advocates sounded the alarm, flooding the Senate with emails and phone calls in opposition to the plan. That pressure worked: Last week, the Senate amended HB 251 to remove the language that would have created the tax break for private school tuition. The House quickly agreed and sent the revised legislation to Ivey for her signature.

Hardship driver’s licenses could ease transportation burden for thousands

Another new law enacted Thursday stands to lift employment barriers and expand transportation access for thousands of Alabamians. SB 55, sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, will allow the state to issue hardship driver’s licenses to thousands of people, including many who have had their licenses suspended or revoked for convictions unrelated to driving.

Under SB 55, those Alabamians could receive hardship driver’s licenses – allowing them to drive on a limited basis – if they can demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency that they are not a risk to public safety and cannot obtain other reasonable transportation. People convicted of drunken driving or reckless driving would be ineligible for hardship licenses.

The new law could give thousands of Alabamians a legal way to drive to work, go to doctor’s appointments and fulfill other essential tasks of everyday life. And it represents an important breakthrough in Arise’s work to ease the burden of criminal justice debt on low-income families.

By Chris Sanders, communications director. Posted March 22, 2018.