Before the Alabama Legislature returns this week, Arise’s Akiesha Anderson welcomes everyone with an update on an upcoming special session on federal American Rescue Plan Act funds and an overview of Arise’s member-chosen policy priorities for 2023.
Issue: Criminal Justice
Fresh opportunities to push for a better Alabama
The Alabama Legislature will welcome 37 new lawmakers to its halls when its 2023 regular session begins March 7. Alabama Arise sees this as an opportunity to educate new legislators and identify new allies on issues of importance to our members. We urge folks to join us in calling for change, including at Arise Legislative Day on April 11.
Eliminate the state grocery tax
In early February, 11% of Alabama households said they sometimes or often didn’t have enough food to eat. And those hunger challenges are even more severe in communities of color. More than 23% of Black Alabamians and 13.6% of Hispanic Alabamians said they sometimes or often didn’t have enough food.
Untaxing groceries would help families across Alabama keep food on the table. As we have for more than two decades, Arise once again will support bills this year to remove the state’s 4% sales tax on groceries. We also will support replacing the grocery tax revenue by limiting or ending a tax loophole for the wealthiest households. This legislation by Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre, and Rep. Penni McClammy, D-Montgomery, would empower Alabama to untax groceries while protecting funding for public schools.
Expand Medicaid to close the health coverage gap
For nearly a decade, Alabama has been outside looking in on a good deal. While hundreds of thousands of Alabamians continue to struggle without health insurance, state leaders have failed to expand Medicaid. Alabama is one of just 11 states that has yet to expand Medicaid. And that inaction has left more than 220,000 Alabamians in a health coverage gap.
Fifteen rural hospitals in Alabama are at imminent risk of closing this year if state leaders don’t act soon to protect health care access. Gov. Kay Ivey should act swiftly to expand Medicaid herself, but the Legislature’s support also will be vital. Arise will keep working to educate lawmakers and the public on the economic, budgetary and humanitarian benefits of Medicaid expansion.
Take bold steps to reform our criminal justice system
Legislators have an opportunity and an obligation to make strides in solving the many problems within Alabama’s criminal justice system. This issue has added urgency as Alabama faces a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit alleging unconstitutional prison conditions.
Many avenues for progress exist. Arise will urge lawmakers to end the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for debt-based reasons. We will advocate for reform of the state “three-strikes” law, known as the Habitual Felony Offender Act. And we will support a bill to require the jury to be unanimous before imposing the death penalty.
Address housing and transportation needs
State House insiders expect the Legislature to go into a special session this spring to decide how to use remaining federal funds under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). From the start, Arise has taken the position that Alabama should use some of its ARPA funds to jump-start public transportation and help thousands find an affordable place to call home.
During the probable special session, we will continue to uplift the need for these investments in the people of Alabama. Learn more at alarise.org/arpatoolkit.
Budget priorities for the people
Two weeks before the Alabama Legislature’s 2023 regular session, lawmakers, lobbyists and advocates packed into the State House in late February for the annual joint legislative budget hearings. One might call it the Super Bowl for budget nerds.
After years of scarcity, both Alabama budgets are starting out with a revenue surplus. There’s $351 million in “excess” revenue for the General Fund, and $2.7 billion for the Education Trust Fund. That’s not even counting the remaining $1.1 billion in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds still awaiting allocation.
What we heard at this year’s budget hearings was not surprising. Public services like education, health care, mental health and supportive services need more resources after years of underinvestment. State agencies are struggling with worker shortages and the consequences of underfunding – and understaffing – critical programs. It’s no surprise that lawmakers heard a long, detailed list of opportunities to meet these needs. Most agency heads were clear that new funding can’t fix all of the problems – but it’s a start.
Some lawmakers have floated the idea that this one-time surplus is a sign we need a tax rebate. If that proposal materializes, Arise will be front and center advocating for funds to go directly to low- and moderate-income households bearing the brunt of higher costs. But Arise’s proposal, which comes directly from listening to our members, is a longer-term solution to our upside-down tax code. Our bill to untax groceries would help families keep food on the table while also protecting funding for public schools. It’s a solution that goes beyond just one year to create more foundational and sustainable change.
One concern you may have heard is that nobody has enough workers. Too many Alabamians are still disconnected from the workforce due to missing critical infrastructure investments in child care, public transportation, health care and affordable housing. This year, we’ll be pushing for investments in these supports to help people get and keep work, and to build the healthy and educated workforce Alabama needs.
Our 2023 policy proposals provide that roadmap for change. Expand Medicaid to ensure nobody has to die for lack of preventive care or live in poverty because they have a chronic health condition. Invest in infrastructure to support workers, including child care, housing, public transportation and education. Stop funding public services with punitive fines and fees, and start ensuring the wealthiest Alabamians pay their fair share.
We look forward to seeing you all at our Legislative Day this April. If we continue to stand and work together, we will make significant progress for Alabama.
Alabama’s death penalty system still in need of reforms to end injustices
Alabama Arise executive director Robyn Hyden released the following statement Friday in response to Gov. Kay Ivey’s announcement that an internal review of executions in Alabama has ended:
“All Alabamians deserve equal justice under the law. Unfortunately, the Department of Corrections’ internal review of the state’s execution process did not resolve many of the injustices that remain throughout our capital punishment system.
“The department still needs to pull back the curtains and provide greater public transparency on execution procedures. Legislators must do their part as well to reduce the unfairness of Alabama’s death penalty. An important first step would be retroactively applying the state’s 2017 ban on judicial override, a practice that allowed judges to impose death sentences despite a jury’s recommendation otherwise.
“Lawmakers also should require unanimous agreement from jurors to sentence someone to death. And Alabama should provide state funding for appeals of death sentences, as other states with capital punishment do.
“Our state’s death penalty is broken and should be abolished. Short of that, these policy changes would be important steps to reduce the inequities that pervade capital punishment in Alabama.”
Death penalty moratorium is a chance to end injustices in Alabama’s capital punishment system
Alabama Arise executive director Robyn Hyden released the following statement Monday in response to Gov. Kay Ivey’s request for a pause on executions in Alabama:
“All Alabamians deserve equal justice under the law. Gov. Kay Ivey’s call for a temporary halt to executions is a welcome and necessary move toward ending many of the injustices plaguing Alabama’s capital punishment system.
“The attorney general should agree to the governor’s request. The Department of Corrections should complete the thorough review of the state’s death penalty procedures that Ivey demanded. And the department should pull back the curtains and provide greater public transparency on those procedures.
“Legislators must do their part to reduce the unfairness of Alabama’s death penalty system, too. They should retroactively apply the state’s 2017 ban on judicial override, a practice that allowed judges to impose death sentences despite a jury’s recommendation otherwise. Lawmakers also should require unanimous agreement from jurors to sentence someone to death. And they should provide state funding for appeals of death sentences, as other states with capital punishment do.
“Our state’s death penalty is broken and should be abolished. Short of that, these policy changes would be important steps to reduce the inequities that pervade capital punishment in Alabama.”
Alabama Arise unveils 2023 roadmap for change in Alabama
Expanding Medicaid and ending the state sales tax on groceries will remain top goals on Alabama Arise’s 2023 legislative agenda. More than 400 members voted on Arise’s issue priorities in recent days after the organization’s annual meeting Saturday. The seven issues chosen were:
- Adequate budgets for human services like education, health care and child care, including Medicaid expansion to make health coverage affordable for all Alabamians.
- Tax reform, including untaxing groceries and capping the state’s upside-down deduction for federal income taxes, which overwhelmingly benefits rich households.
- Voting rights, including automatic universal voter registration, removal of barriers to voting rights restoration for disenfranchised Alabamians, and other policies to expand and protect multiracial democracy in the state.
- Criminal justice reform, including retroactive application of state sentencing guidelines and repeal of the Habitual Felony Offender Act.
- Death penalty reform, including a law to require juries to be unanimous in any decision to impose a death sentence.
- Public transportation to empower Alabamians with low incomes to stay connected to work, school, health care and their communities.
- Payday and title lending reform to protect consumers from getting trapped in debt.
“Arise believes in dignity, equity and justice for everyone,” Alabama Arise executive director Robyn Hyden said. “Our 2023 issue priorities reflect the need to work together to break down policy barriers that keep people in poverty, and that disproportionately harm Black and Hispanic Alabamians. We must build a healthier, more just and more inclusive future for our state.”
The time is right to expand Medicaid in Alabama
One essential step toward a healthier future for Alabama is to ensure everyone can afford the health care they need. Arise members believe Medicaid expansion is a policy path to that destination, and research provides strong support for that position.
Expanding Medicaid would reduce racial health disparities and remove financial barriers to health care for more than 340,000 Alabamians. It would support thousands of new jobs across the state. And most importantly, it would save hundreds of lives every year.
Medicaid expansion would ensure health coverage for more than 220,000 Alabamians caught in the coverage gap. These residents earn too much to qualify for the state’s bare-bones Medicaid program but too little to afford private plans. Expansion also would benefit another 120,000 Alabamians who are stretching to pay for coverage they cannot readily afford.
Alabama is one of only 12 states that have not yet expanded Medicaid to cover adults with low incomes. But an Alabama Arise poll earlier this year found that more than seven in 10 Alabamians (71.5%) support Medicaid expansion. That figure included 65.8% of Republican voters.
“Medicaid expansion would boost our economy and improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of Alabamians,” Hyden said. “It’s time for Gov. Kay Ivey and lawmakers to say yes to the generous federal incentives for Medicaid expansion. Making this crucial investment in Alabamians’ well-being now will make our state better for decades to come.”
Why and how Alabama should untax groceries
Alabama’s state grocery tax makes it harder for people with low incomes to make ends meet. The tax adds hundreds of dollars a year to the cost of a basic necessity for families. And most states have abandoned it: Alabama is one of only three states with no sales tax break on groceries.
The state sales tax on groceries brings in roughly 6% of the Education Trust Fund’s annual revenue. But lawmakers have a path available to end the state grocery tax while protecting funding for public schools. Arise will continue to support legislation to untax groceries and replace the revenue by capping the state income tax deduction for federal income taxes (FIT).
The FIT deduction is a skewed tax break that overwhelmingly benefits the richest households. It is also exceedingly rare: Alabama is one of only two states to allow this deduction in full. The FIT deduction and grocery tax are two policies that contribute heavily to Alabama’s upside-down tax system. On average, Alabamians with low and moderate incomes must pay twice as much of what they make in state and local taxes as the richest households do.
“By untaxing groceries and capping the FIT deduction, lawmakers can make Alabama’s tax system more just and equitable,” Hyden said. “This plan would empower more families to keep food on the table while also protecting funding for our public schools. The Legislature should seize this opportunity to make life better for every Alabamian.”
Here’s what Alabama Arise heard from you in summer 2022!
We deeply value the input we get from Alabama Arise members, our allies and most importantly, those directly affected by the work we do together. We depend on what we hear to help guide our issue work and our strategies.
Despite the ongoing challenges of connecting in person, we kept working at finding ways to listen. We did another series of three statewide online Town Hall Tuesdays. And we held seven additional listening sessions around the state, engaging about 200 people.
The town halls happened every two weeks, starting July 12 and ending Aug. 9. Other meetings took place throughout the summer. Below are summaries of what we heard in those meetings.
Town Hall Tuesdays
Food and health
Most participants deeply cared about Medicaid expansion. They discussed how it would help many people, including rural communities struggling with access to care. Many were frustrated that Gov. Kay Ivey has not yet expanded Medicaid in Alabama. Others discussed the connection between health and access to healthy food and nutrition. Some participants noted that other barriers like transportation also directly impact health, nutrition and employment.
Related issues raised were the needs to address the racial wealth gap and increase wages for front-line workers. Many people expressed appreciation for food banks and pantries but acknowledged that they cannot meet all food security needs. Participants encouraged Arise to remain vigilant about the threat to impose stringent work requirements for Medicaid and SNAP food assistance. Many participants also mentioned untaxing groceries as a way to improve food security.
Democracy and justice
Many participants expressed concerns about legislative attempts to suppress voting rights and said Election Day should be a state holiday. Others also expressed concerns about ballot access for people with disabilities, limited numbers of voting precincts and gerrymandering. Bottom line: We should make it easier to vote, as ballot access is key to a strong democracy.
Several participants expressed concerns about the need for more services for people leaving incarceration. We need to expand community corrections programs, enact real prison reform and get rid of unjust fines and fees.
Some participants identified language accessibility as a potential barrier to receiving many services and participating fully in our democracy. Others were concerned about allocation of American Rescue Plan Act funds and wanted more funding for the Housing Trust Fund.
The path forward
This town hall was an opportunity to talk about any issues of concern people wanted to highlight. Participants raised the following needs and concerns:
- Expand Medicaid in Alabama now and address health disparities, including women’s health issues.
- Untax groceries and improve our regressive tax system.
- Improve voting access, including restoration of voting rights for people who were formerly incarcerated.
- Address environmental issues, including working to improve air quality in schools.
- Improve affordable housing access and language access, fully fund the child home visitation program and address gun violence.
Group and regional listening sessions
Session participants around the state strongly affirmed Arise’s work on the current 2022 issue priorities. They also emphasized the ongoing work to be done in those areas. Current issues highlighted were Medicaid expansion, criminal justice reform (particularly in the area of unjust fines and fees), more funding for child care and first class pre-K, public transportation and death penalty reform.
Session participants also discussed issues that aren’t on the Arise agenda but are of concern to them and their communities. Some of those issues include:
- Affordable housing, with a focus on increased funding and availability. One example was discussion of whether to limit the number of vacation rental properties one person could own in an area, as this can contribute to the shortage of affordable housing. Many renters also discussed the soaring prices of rent.
- Automatic organ donor registration linked to getting and renewing driver’s licenses.
- Broadband internet extension to reach more rural households and Alabamians with low incomes.
- Constitutional reform.
- Government intrusion on private medical decisions. One example shared was concern over lawmakers interfering with rights of transgender teens to seek medical care. Another concern raised was doctors being able to provide medical care during pregnancy and decide the right time to intervene on a pregnancy that threatens the life of the mother.
- Gun violence prevention.
- Marijuana sentencing reform.
Join us for Town Hall Tuesdays!
Listening is key to shaping and advancing public policies that matter most to those marginalized by bad policies. Alabama Arise depends on what we hear to help guide our work toward our vision of a better Alabama for all.
Our online Town Hall Tuesdays will return once again this year. These events are a chance to hear issue updates and share your vision for our 2023 priorities.
Please join us this summer to help identify emerging issues and inform our actions. Registration is required for any or all of the sessions. You can register at the link in each session below.
July 12th, 6 p.m. – Making the vision a reality: Food & health
Everyone should have access to food and the health care they need to live a long and healthy life. Join this session to discuss issue and advocacy opportunities in areas of access to food and health care. Click here to register for this session.
July 26th, 6 p.m. – Making the vision a reality: Democracy & justice
We envision a state where all government leaders are responsive, inclusive and justice-serving. Voting rights barriers and an unjust justice system have hindered our vision. But together, we can move forward. Join us to discuss how to improve voting access and advance criminal justice reforms. Click here to register for this session.
August 9th, 6 p.m. – Making the vision a reality: The path forward
Arise’s vision for Alabama can be realized because of our commitment and perseverance. We are committed to issues that matter to those marginalized by poverty, and we persevere in raising our voices together for change. Join this session to discuss issues already identified and to raise others. Click here to register for this session.
Highs and lows: Alabama Arise’s look back at the 2022 regular session
The Alabama Legislature’s 2022 regular session adjourned sine die late on Thursday, April 7. Lawmakers capped off the session’s last week with intense debates and late nights, with the final gavel dropping just before midnight.
Alabama Arise is grateful for the many positive outcomes that came out of the State House this year. We also were glad to play a role in stopping several misguided pieces of legislation from becoming law. These wins wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Arise’s determined members and various coalition partners.
We were not able to get every good bill across the finish line or stop every harmful legislative effort from happening. But Arise saw real progress on several important issue priorities this year. Keep reading below for recaps on some of the key bills we supported or opposed in 2022. Then visit our Bills of Interest page for updates on all of the legislation we tracked.
Adequate state budgets
Alabama’s fiscal year 2023 General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets are both the largest in state history. The General Fund budget of $2.7 billion includes a provision to extend Medicaid postpartum coverage from 60 days to 12 months, which will help reduce maternal mortality and improve health outcomes for more than 30,000 women. Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, has been a longtime legislative champion for postpartum Medicaid extension.
The Education Trust Fund budget of $8.2 billion will provide a major boost in teacher pay. The increases will range from 4% all the way to 21% depending on seniority.
SB 140, sponsored by Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, did not pass this session. The bill would have allowed the diversion of hundreds of millions of dollars from public schools to private schools. Arise opposed this effort.
SB 261, sponsored by Sen. Dan Roberts, R-Mountain Brook, passed out of both chambers. This bill will increase the income tax credit filers can claim for contributions to scholarship granting organizations for private schools. Arise opposed this effort.
HB 163 and SB 19, sponsored by Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, and Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, passed out of both chambers. This legislation will increase the standard deduction and dependent exemption. That change will provide a small but significant income tax cut for low- and moderate-income Alabamians. Arise supported this effort.
SB 43, sponsored by Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre, did not pass this session. The bill would have repealed the state’s 4% grocery tax and capped the state deduction for federal income taxes. Despite strong bipartisan leadership from Jones and Rep. Penni McClammy, D-Montgomery, the bill did not come up for committee consideration. Arise supported this effort.
HB 53 and SB 6, sponsored by Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, and Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, passed the Senate but did not advance to the House floor. This bill would have eliminated application requirements for voting rights restoration. It also would have restored the right to vote for many indigent individuals. Arise supported this effort.
HB 63, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Wood, R-Valley, did not pass this session. The bill would have criminalized the prefilling of any voter application or absentee ballot application. Arise opposed this effort.
Hall’s HB 167 failed to pass this session. This legislation would allow inmate identification cards to be used as valid ID for voting. Arise supported this effort.
HB 194, introduced by Rep. Wes Allen, R-Troy, passed out of both chambers. The bill will prohibit state and local election officials from soliciting, accepting or using donations for election-related expenses. Arise opposed this effort.
Criminal justice reform
HB 52, sponsored by Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, passed out of both chambers. This bill will allow judges to use discretion in the length of someone’s sentence if their probation is revoked. Arise supported this effort.
HB 95, sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Gray, D-Opelika, passed out of both chambers. The bill will create a 180-day grace period for people to repay court-imposed fines and fees following release from incarceration. Arise supported this effort.
SB 203, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, passed out of both chambers. This bill will require the Administrative Office of Courts to establish a database of municipal fines and fees. Arise supported this effort.
HB 230, sponsored by Rep. Rolanda Hollis, D-Birmingham, passed out of both chambers. This bill will ban the routine shackling of incarcerated individuals during pregnancy, delivery and immediate postpartum time. Arise supported this effort.
HB 200 and SB 117, sponsored by Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, and Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Montgomery, failed to pass this session. The bill would have ended driver’s license suspensions for failure to pay fines and fees. Arise supported this effort.
SB 220, sponsored by Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, failed to pass this session. The bill would have required that time served awaiting a hearing for parole violation be applied retroactively. Arise supported this effort.
HB 2, sponsored by Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris, did not pass this session. This anti-protest bill would have created minimum holding periods for people accused of the crimes of rioting or interfering with traffic. It also would have penalized certain local jurisdictions that reduce funding for law enforcement. Arise opposed this effort.
Hill’s HB 55 failed to pass this session. The bill would have required every judicial circuit to establish a community corrections program. Arise supported this effort.
Unemployment insurance benefits
SB 224, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, passed out of both chambers. This bill will impose additional job search requirements as a condition of eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits. Specifically, individuals will have to show a “reasonable and active effort” to find work by providing proof every week that they have contacted at least three prospective employers. Unless a new job notice has been posted, a job seeker cannot apply for or seek work at an employer where they already made contact. Arise opposed this effort.
SB 156, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, did not pass this session. The bill would have required both custodial and non-custodial parents to cooperate with child support enforcement to qualify for SNAP food assistance. Arise opposed this effort.
HB 312 and SB 292, sponsored by Rep. Ed Oliver, R-Dadeville, and Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Montgomery, did not pass this session. The bill would have prohibited the teaching of “divisive concepts” related to race, religion and sex in public K-12 schools, colleges, universities and certain state training programs. Arise opposed this effort.
Arise legislative update: April 12, 2022
Arise’s Robyn Hyden breaks down successes and missed opportunities from the Alabama Legislature’s 2022 regular session, which ended Thursday night. She highlights breakthroughs on federal ARPA funds, postpartum Medicaid extension and criminal justice reform, among other issues.