Summer EBT, Legislative Day energy highlight busy, tough 2024 session in Alabama

You made a difference! Alabama Arise members played a decisive role this year in securing summer food assistance for more than 500,000 children starting in summer 2025. Summer EBT funding brought an uplifting conclusion to the Alabama Legislature’s 2024 regular session, which ended May 9.

The Summer EBT victory showed the power of Arise’s policy analysis, organizing and advocacy. After the House passed an education budget without Summer EBT funding, Arise ramped up pressure on the Senate. Our policy team and lobbyists educated lawmakers about the program’s benefits. Our communications team generated dozens of media stories to build public support. And our organizers rallied Alabamians to speak out.

Ultimately, folks like you got Summer EBT funding across the finish line. Arise advocates flooded lawmakers with more than 2,700 emails, calls and personal visits urging support. And it worked: Senators added Summer EBT to the budget, and Gov. Kay Ivey signed it into law.

Our members also displayed their passion for change during Arise’s annual Legislative Day on April 2. More than 230 people packed the State House in support of our Cover Alabama campaign to close Alabama’s health coverage gap.

Lawmakers dealt setbacks to several Arise legislative priorities this year but made important progress on others. Through it all, our members kept speaking out for policies to improve the lives of Alabamians marginalized by poverty.

An infographic showing more than 8,900 Arise members took action this legislative session. 2,713 contacts on Summer EBT; 1,633 contacts on closing the health coverage gap; 1,555 contacts on workers' rights; 930 contacts on the CHOOSE Act; 688 contacts on protecting voting rights; and 1,417 contacts on other legislation.

Setbacks on school funding, voting rights, racial equity

Early in the session, legislators enacted three harmful new laws, all of which Arise opposed. One was the CHOOSE Act (HB 129 by Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville). Over time, this law could divert hundreds of millions of dollars annually from public schools to private schools and homeschooling.

Another bad bill rushed into law was SB 1 by Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, which criminalizes several forms of assistance with absentee ballot applications. Arise and other advocates fear this law could have a chilling effect on good-faith efforts to assist people who need help exercising their voting rights.

A third shortsighted new law is SB 129 by Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Pike Road. The act forbids state agencies and public schools and universities from sponsoring numerous diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs. It also authorizes firings of employees found to violate the act knowingly. In late May, Jacksonville State University became the first university to close its DEI office in response to this law.

Later, legislators passed two new laws that undermine worker protections. SB 53 by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, removes the requirement for an eligibility to work form for 14- and 15-year-olds. And Orr’s SB 231 makes companies ineligible for state or local tax incentives if they voluntarily recognize a union.

Good new laws on child care, housing, criminal justice reform

One positive workers’ rights law this year was SB 119 by Sen. Robert Stewart, D-Selma, which increases penalties for child labor violations. The Legislature also created tax credits designed to increase access to child care (HB 358 by Rep. Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville) and workforce housing (HB 346 by Rep. Cynthia Almond, R-Tuscaloosa). And Orr’s SB 270 improved access to public records.

Lawmakers also enacted two good criminal justice and due process reforms. Almond’s HB 275 will increase pay for many lawyers representing indigent defendants. And HB 188 by Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, requires a uniform hearing process and hearing rights for students suspended or expelled from public K-12 schools.

The work continues

Several other Arise-backed bills made major progress but came up just short of passage. HB 29 by Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa (allowing resentencing hearings for some defendants convicted under the Habitual Felony Offender Act) won House committee approval. Orr’s SB 62 (removing state sales tax from many infant and maternity products) passed the Senate but never reached the House floor. And HB 309 by Rep. Ginny Shaver, R-Leesburg (providing paid parental leave for state employees) passed the House but died on the Senate calendar.

With your support, Arise will keep advocating for important policy changes like these in 2025 and beyond. We will keep working to expand Medicaid and eliminate the state grocery tax. And we will keep strengthening our movement for a better, more inclusive Alabama.

Arise legislative update: March 25, 2024

While the Alabama Legislature is on spring break this week, Arise’s Akiesha Anderson takes some time to update everyone on what’s happened recently and what’s on the horizon when lawmakers return next week. Akiesha also talks about our upcoming Legislative Day, scheduled for Tuesday, April 2.

Full video transcript

Hi there. Akiesha Anderson here, policy and advocacy director for Alabama Arise, and I am excited to to be here today to give you another legislative update.

So to start this week, the Legislature is on a spring break, so — yay — we get a bit of a reprieve from some of the things that we have been seeing this session that just have not been ideal for, you know, us and the people that we are working for, including you and yourself.

And so some of the things that happened last week that were a bit disappointing do include the fact that SB 1, which is the piece of legislation that would make it harder for people to help others voting absentee, that bill was signed into law by the governor, and so was SB 129, which is the piece of legislation that was designed to basically get rid of diversity, equity and inclusion departments on college campuses and in other state-funded entities. And so those pieces of legislation were signed into law.

Also disappointing last week was the fact that HB 32, which was the felony murder rule legislation introduced by Rep. Chris England, that piece of legislation did die in committee last week. So that means that that piece of legislation  would not move any further this legislative session. And so hopefully that’s something that we can come back to fight for again next legislative session, but it is done for this session.

Some other things that happened last week were a few pieces of bad legislation were introduced, and a lot of new pieces of legislation were introduced. So we’re still combing through a lot of the bills that were introduced last week. We’re still trying to get a grasp of what many of them do, which ones we want to bring to your attention, and we will definitely have more updates for you in the coming weeks.

But two bills that I do want to put on your radar are SB 231 and SB 232. These are two bills that we are extremely concerned about at Alabama Arise. And so SB 231, if passed, would make it harder for companies to unionize. So what this piece of legislation could do is it could penalize companies for voluntarily recognizing employers that decide to unionize. And so that is something that we are extremely concerned about. And SB 232, if passed, could provide people with access to a health insurance plan that we believe would be a “junk” insurance plan. And we refer to this as a junk insurance plan because we believe that people would be paying premiums in exchange for health insurance, only to find out when they get to the doctor or wherever medical entity that they end up at that their insurance does not cover much of what it is that they would expect to be covered in other insurance plans. And so those are two pieces of legislation that we are extremely concerned about that we did see come up last week.

Some other things that happened last week were that HB 309, which is a bill to give state employees parental leave, passed out the House. It also passed out of committee in the House, and so we are excited that that bill is moving. It hopefully will come up in the Senate as early as next week after they are back from their spring break. We also did have some really good conversations last week, and so did some of our partner organizations — Alabama Voices, SPLC and others — about Summer EBT, so we are hopeful that our budget chairs will appropriate about $15 million so that Alabama can participate in Summer EBT for summer 2025. And so those are some conversations that we have begun having that we are hopeful we can continue having and that will be fruitful.

But then also last week, we noticed that not much happened with gambling, and so that is something that we are monitoring. Although we do not have a position on gambling, we do know that a lot of legislators have put their faith in this legislation passing in in terms of whether or not they believe other budget requests can be fulfilled or can be appropriated as a result of gaming and what happens there. And so we are monitoring just to see what happens with gaming just to see if that impacts any of our legislative asks as well. And so that is pretty much in a nutshell what has happened over the last week.

Since the Legislature again is on spring break this week, there isn’t much happening this week. You all will receive some action alerts from us. We hope that you can reach out to your legislators if you receive one.

But other than that, the only other thing that I want to put on your radar is that today, March 25, is the last day to register for our upcoming advocacy day. And so our advocacy day is next Tuesday, April 2, from 10 a.m. until the early afternoon, and so we really hope that you can join us in Montgomery at the State House for this event.

We are excited about you joining us to talk to legislators about Medicaid expansion. Public transportation, Summer EBT and other workers’ rights issues are things that might be on the radar, and so we definitely hope that you can join us. Do know again that today is the deadline to register, so if you have not already, please visit our website alarise.org to go ahead and register for our advocacy day. We do need a head count so we know how many people we need to provide lunch for, etc. And there is a space limitation in the room, and so again if you’re coming, please register. But also if you have any questions about our advocacy day, please do not hesitate to reach out to our organizing director. That’s Pres Harris, and her email address is pres@alarise.org.

I look forward to hopefully seeing you next week, and I will be back to give you a legislative update in the coming weeks. Take care.

Arise legislative update: March 18, 2024

The Alabama Legislature is coming back into session after taking off last week. Arise’s Akiesha Anderson provides updates on what’s happened most recently — including unfortunate news on anti-DEI legislation — and gets you ready for another busy week ahead. Legislation we’re monitoring this week includes a bill to reform Alabama’s felony murder rule and a proposal to remove the sales tax from baby supplies and feminine hygiene products.

 

Full video text:

Hello, my name is Akiesha Anderson, and if you’re new to these videos, I’m the policy and advocacy director for Alabama Arise. After a much needed break from the State House last week, I am back to give you an update on what happened during the fifth week of the legislative session and what we’re expecting during this upcoming week.

As you likely know, legislators were not at the State House last week. Rather, they were in their districts for a constituent work week in which they were hopefully making time to talk to you and others that they represent. However, the week prior to that workweek, a whole lot happened.

Most notably, the House unfortunately passed both SB 29, which was the anti-diversity, equity and inclusion bill, and SB 1, the bill that restricts access to absentee voting. Both of these bills will be back in the Senate, where the Senate must approve of them before they will be sent off to the governor. There were some minor changes made to both in the House, and so I do not anticipate that the Senate will put up a fight, unfortunately. But most likely, these bills will get a vote this week in the Senate and then be sent off to the governor.

Also, by the time the Legislature left to take last week off, they had officially utilized half of their allocated legislative days. This means that at the time of this recording, we are officially halfway through the legislative session. While this pace feels a bit unprecedented, it is likely that the Legislature will continue its three-day workweek this week before going on a spring break next week, and then they will hopefully slow their pace somewhat in April. I’m being told that in April they will begin utilizing two-day work weeks instead of three. Two-day workweeks are definitely a bit a bit more typical, and this will allow them to buy time to pass the budgets.

Before sharing what’s happening this week, I do want to give you some status updates on bills that you’ve heard me talk about in prior weeks. So to begin, HB 29, which is the CHOOSE Act, and which could divert a minimum of $100 million in public education funds to private or home schools, was signed into law by the governor. SB 35 by Sen. Smitherman, which would require that history instruction be fact-based and inclusive, has passed out of a Senate committee and is waiting to be deliberated by the full Senate. HB 32 by Rep. England, which would reform and clarify Alabama’s felony murder rule, had a public hearing the week before last. Thus, we expect the House Judiciary Committee to vote on this bill this Wednesday, March 20.

HB 102 by Rep. Susan DuBose and SB 53 by Sen. Arthur Orr would both eliminate the eligibility to work form that children ages 14 and 15 are required to get signed by their schools before being employed. Both versions of this bill are expected to be considered by the full House sometime soon or at least to be in position to be considered by the full House sometime soon. The Senate version of this bill does still need to make it out of a House committee. However, it’s possible that that could happen as early as this week.

Other bills that we are watching this week include HB 188 by Rep. Terri Collins. This bill would create a uniform and improved process for the suspension or expulsion of public school students. The House Education Policy Committee has been assigned this bill, and they are expected to deliberate it this week. Also, HB 236 by Rep. Rafferty and SB 62 by Sen. Orr would both eliminate the sales tax for diapers, baby supplies, baby formula and feminine hygiene products. The Senate version of this bill is expected to be in House committee, whereas the House version of this bill is already positioned to be deliberated by the full House. That means that both or either of these bills will likely be in a position by this week to be deliberated by the full House.

And then lastly SB 31, which has been making a lot of news, will be in committee this week. And so SB 31 is a bill introduced by Sen. Waggoner. It has already made it out of the Senate and is in a House committee this week. But this is the bill that would be that is designed to get the state to give Birmingham-Southern a loan. It is also scheduled for a public hearing on Tuesday, March 19, at 11:30 a.m., and that public hearing will take place in the Ways and Means General Fund Committee.

Other things to keep an eye out for this week are new bills that legislators may introduce. So for example, the child tax credit bill that has been touted in the news as well by Lt. Gov. Ainsworth and others is expected to be introduced by Sen. Gudger and Rep. Daniels as early as this week. If legislators are hoping to get any legislation passed that has not been introduced yet, it is definitely to their benefit, especially for the sake of time, to try to have those bills filed as soon as possible. This week is ideal given the fact that they will be on the spring break next week.

Now the last thing to make sure you have on your radar is Arise’s upcoming advocacy day. So if you have not already marked your calendars to join us at the State House on Tuesday, April 2, please do. We hope to have as many people as possible to talk to legislators about our various issues, so register to join us. All you have to do is visit alarise.org and click on “Get Involved” and then click on “Upcoming Events.” That will take you directly to the page that you need to utilize to sign up. We definitely need you to let us know that you’re coming so that we can make sure we have an adequate head count, enough room for everyone, as well as meals for everyone. So I look forward to hopefully seeing you there, and in the meantime, take care.

Grocery tax, protecting voting rights among Arise priorities for 2024 session

The Alabama Legislature began its second regular session of the current quadrennium on Feb. 6. Lawmakers already have voted on numerous hot-button issues early in this session, and Alabama Arise anticipates that trend may continue. The upcoming presidential election, Alabama’s early primary date and other political factors may color what legislative leaders prioritize this year. The regular session will end no later than May 20.

Eliminate the state grocery tax

Arise was thrilled last year to help pass monumental legislation that reduced the state sales tax on groceries by 1 cent on Sept. 1, 2023. That law also authorized an additional 1-cent cut to the grocery tax in a future year. Combined, those reductions will cut the state grocery tax by half over time, from 4% to 2%.

Under the law, the second 1-cent reduction will occur in the first year when Education Trust Fund (ETF) revenues are projected to grow by 3.5% or more. Unfortunately, projections unveiled during this year’s budget hearings indicated ETF revenues will grow by only 2% in 2025. Thus, the additional 1-cent grocery tax reduction likely will occur in a future year rather than in September 2024.

This 3.5% growth provision, however, came as an amendment just before lawmakers passed the bill. The original version of the bill would have reduced the grocery tax by another 1 cent as long as annual ETF revenue growth was at least 2%. During a Feb. 12 meeting of Alabama’s Joint Study Commission on Grocery Taxation, Arise urged legislators to amend the law to reduce the growth threshold to 2%, as originally proposed. This change would allow Alabamians to receive the additional reduction sooner rather than later.

We will continue to push the Legislature to finish what it started with regard to cutting the grocery tax. We also will oppose budget legislation that we find alarming, such as the CHOOSE Act, which would divert at least $100 million of ETF money each year to non-public schools. At press time, the House had passed this proposal (HB 129, sponsored by Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville), and a Senate committee had held a public hearing.

Protect voting rights and preserve child labor safeguards

Lawmakers have advanced two other troubling bills so far this year. The Senate passed SB 1, sponsored by Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, which would criminalize many efforts to attempt to assist people with absentee voting. The Senate also passed SB 53, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, which would eliminate the eligibility to work form for 14- and 15-year-olds. This requirement is an important safeguard that helps protect children from exploitative child labor practices. Arise successfully advocated to amend SB 53 to require data collection about injuries and labor violations.

Arise has reason to be concerned about both of these measures. We have devoted the early weeks of this session to educating Arise members, legislators and communities about these bills’ harms.

Advance criminal justice reform 

It is an understatement to say that Alabama’s criminal justice system is in need of reform. A U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit accuses our state’s overcrowded prison system of violating the Constitution. And our state’s parole rates are abysmally low – just 8% in fiscal year 2023.

With those factors and others, Arise has a lot to keep us busy with regard to criminal justice reform. Thus, we will be devoting a significant portion of our time this year to legislation that would address issues like these. We also will support legislation to reform our death penalty laws. And we will support efforts to reform the felony murder rule, which allows a person to be convicted of first-degree murder even if they did not intend to or did not actually kill anyone.

Fund public transportation

Inadequate funding for public transportation keeps thousands of people across Alabama from meeting basic needs. Though lawmakers created the Alabama Public Transportation Trust Fund (PTTF) in 2018 to help fix our transit issues, the Legislature has never funded it. That is why Arise is urging lawmakers to include a General Fund appropriation for public transportation to rectify this oversight.

Ultimately, the return on transit investment makes allocating money to the PTTF a wise use of public funds. In fact, every $1 million invested in transit creates 49 full-time jobs, many of which are long-term jobs with good pay. An appropriation of up to $50 million from the General Fund to the PTTF also could empower Alabama to double its investment for operation expenses and to draw down up to $200 million of federal matching funds for capital improvements.

Arise will do all we can this year to educate lawmakers on the benefits of investing in public transportation. We also will highlight how a lack of adequate public transit limits workforce participation and shared prosperity across Alabama.

Arise legislative update: March 4, 2024

Arise’s Akiesha Anderson gives a rundown on a plethora of bills we are monitoring on voting rights, education funding and other issues as we begin the fifth week of the Alabama Legislature’s 2024 regular session. As a reminder, you can always visit alarise.org and click on “Take Action” to see a list of our action alerts and key legislation that we’re tracking.

Full video transcript

Hello, my name is Akiesha Anderson, and I am the policy and advocacy director for Alabama Arise.

I am excited to be here to give you yet another legislative update. Last week marked the fourth week of the 2024 legislative session. Thus, we are now entering into the fifth week of legislative session. By the end of this week, the Legislature will officially be halfway through their session, which means that they could — if they decide — be slated to end this year’s legislative session much earlier than the last day that they are constitutionally allowed to meet, which is May 20.

Last week, quite a bit happened. For starters, the CHOOSE Act, which threatens public education funding, passed out of the House. Two IVF bills designed to put a Band-Aid on the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision passed as well, one out of each chamber. The dangerous absentee ballot bill, SB 1, passed out of committee in the House. And last week also, the alarming child labor bill, which removes protections designed to ensure that 14- and 15-year-olds who work also perform well in school, was in committee in the House. This bill, however, was carried over and is expected to be heard in committee again this week.

Also in committee this week will be the anti-diversity, equity and inclusion bill, SB 129. Another IVF bill, SB 325, several voting rights bills — including one that allows people to easily update their address after voting, that’s HB 86 — one that prohibits political parties from disqualifying candidates from the ballot due to who they receive contributions from — that’s HB 186 — and also HB 218, which is a bill to allow improperly marked provisional and absentee ballots to be cured.

Also in committee this week is HB 238, which will remove the sales tax off of diapers, baby supplies, maternity clothing and women’s hygiene products. HB 227, which would reform our ethics laws, is also in committee this week. So is SB 4, which would prohibit most flags from being flown on public property. And lastly, HB 32 will be in committee this week. HB 32 is one of Arise’s priority bills, and this will amend our felony murder rule to make it less broad and more aligned with the way that most states apply this unique legal provision. HB 32 will also have a public hearing on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m., and I myself will be testifying in supporting the bill, alongside some of our friends from Arise.

Although not listed on the Legislature’s website at the time of this recording, I also anticipate that the Senate will take up both gaming and the CHOOSE Act in committees this week. In fact, I would actually be surprised if they don’t take up both or either of these issues.

I mentioned earlier that at the end of this week, the Legislature will have used half of their allocated meeting days for this session. Yet also worth noting is that next week the Legislature will be going on a one-week break for in-district legislative meetings with constituents. Thus, if there’s anything that you would like to meet with your legislators about, please take advantage of the fact that they will be in district rather than at the State House next week.

I anticipate that next week’s update will be relatively short, but I will be sure to keep you posted on what happens during this week at the Legislature. Take care.

Arise legislative update: Feb. 20, 2024

Arise’s Akiesha Anderson provides updates on all the bills that moved last week and previews what’s to come this week in the Alabama Legislature. Topics include a harmful bill that would create barriers to absentee voting, efforts to preserve child labor protections, the future of the state sales tax on groceries and the CHOOSE Act, which would redirect funding for public schools to private schools and homeschooling.

Full video transcript:

Hi there. Akiesha Anderson here, policy and advocacy director for Alabama Arise, and I am excited to be here today to give you your weekly legislative update and glimpse into what’s been happening in Montgomery.

On Tuesday, Feb. 20, the Legislature will gather in for this third week of the legislative session. Yet, what an eventful first two weeks they have had.

The second week of the legislative session, which ended last Friday, began with Arise staff showing up to the State House to testify against the CHOOSE Act, also known as SB 61. This is a piece of legislation that would divert a minimum of $100 million away from our public education system into private or home schools.

Last week, Arise also attended a grocery taxation commission meeting. This is a commission which I serve on, and at this meeting, I had the pleasure of presenting on Arise’s concern about the Legislature not taking steps to cut to cut the additional 1 cent off of the state-level grocery tax this year. This is alarming to us, especially considering that cutting this additional 1 cent would cost less than $100 million — or less than what the Legislature is trying to divert from the ETF via the CHOOSE Act.

Last week, we also saw an alarming piece of legislation, SB 53, that would remove some existing child labor protections and safeguards. This piece of legislation passed out of a Senate committee along with another piece of legislation, SB 62, which we are actually supportive of. SB 62 would remove the state-level tax from certain women’s hygiene and baby products.

Similarly, last week we saw that the House passed some significant legislation, specifically gaming legislation passed both out of committee and out of the full chamber of the House last week. And so if the Senate follows suit and passes this legislation similarly to what the House did, then everyday voters like you will likely see this issue on the ballot this upcoming November. This will be the first time if this passes out of the Senate that gaming has been voted on by the Alabama public in over a decade.

That’s a lot, right? Well, now that you’re up to date on what happened last week, I’ll go ahead and discuss what’s on the tap for this third week of the legislative session.

So this week, there are several pieces of legislation that will be in committee that Arise will be monitoring. Of concern to us include SB 89, which is an anti-loitering bill, SB 57, which is a anti-picketing bill, and HB 29, which is the House’s companion to the CHOOSE Act.

And so luckily, it is not all bleak and grim. There are also some good pieces of legislation slated to be heard in committee this week. And we will be monitoring those pieces of legislation as well. So for example, HB 64, which is a piece of legislation that makes curing and absentee ballot easier, will be up in committee this week.

And so will HB 63, which will authorize split sentences in certain instances. And so that’s a criminal justice piece of legislation that has come up in several past legislative sessions, and we are excited to see what happens with it this year.

Stay tuned. We will be sure to keep you posted. Definitely tune back in next week for another legislative update. I hope this helps. Later, y’all.

Arise legislative update: Feb. 12, 2024

Arise’s Akiesha Anderson catches everyone up on a busier-than-normal first week of the Alabama legislative session and previews an additional busy week ahead. Anderson discusses what’s been happening with a harmful bill that would create more barriers to absentee voting and provides an update on the future of the state sales tax on groceries.

Full video transcript:

Greetings! Akiesha Anderson here, policy and advocacy director for Alabama Arise, and I am thrilled to be here to provide you with your weekly legislative update.

We have ended the first week of the legislative session and are now entering into week two. During the first week of session, both chambers ate through three legislative meeting days rather than their normal two. That simply means that they are moving faster than usual.

Also during this first week, a very controversial bill — SB 1, sponsored by Sen. Garlan Gudger — was heard in a Senate committee and had a public hearing. This piece of legislation, if passed, could criminalize people who assist others with voting absentee. Thus, it was wonderful to see so many familiar faces, some Arise members and just fellow Alabamians, show up at the committee meeting in which this bill was being heard to testify against it.

There were way more people who testified in opposition to this bill than people who testified in support of it. Unfortunately, however, despite Sen. Gudger asking for this bill not to be voted on last week, leadership overruled that request, and senators unfortunately voted it out of committee directly along party lines. It is very likely now that this bill we will be heard and voted on by the full Senate chamber as early as Tuesday of this week.

Also on the slate for this week is a grocery tax commission meeting. I am grateful to have the honor of serving on this commission, and I look forward to gleaning more about where the state stands and its efforts to continue to reduce the grocery tax.

As you may know, budget hearings took place last Monday and Tuesday, and it was reported that fiscal projections for the upcoming fiscal year are not high enough in the ETF for the second cent to be reduced off the grocery tax this year. That is truly unfortunate and something that I really hope that the commission can attempt to address when we meet today. If you are able, I encourage you to tune in or to watch the replay of this commission meeting. It should be on the Alabama Channel, which is run by our friends from the League of Women Voters. And if you tune in, you might see a familiar face presenting at this meeting.

In addition to the grocery tax and voting rights being topics of discussion this week, so too will be gaming. Last week, HB 152, sponsored by by Rep. Blackshear, was introduced, and while Arise currently has no formal position on this legislation, seemingly, if passed, some of the money that comes in from gaming could possibly be used to fund a number of Arise priorities. Thus we will be closely monitoring and keeping you updated on this legislation throughout session.

Worth noting, this piece of legislation could be up in the House’s Economic Development and Tourism Committee as early as this Wednesday and on the floor of the House as early as the following day, which will be this Thursday.

Thank you for tuning in. I look forward to keeping you posted on what happens throughout the rest of the legislative session.

Arise legislative update: Feb. 6, 2024

Arise’s Akiesha Anderson welcomes everyone to the Alabama Legislature’s 2024 regular session. She talks about what we’ll be looking out for on our members’ legislative priorities and how you can stay engaged with us this year as we work to build a better, more inclusive Alabama.

Full video transcript:

Hi, everyone. My name is Akiesha Anderson, and I am the policy and advocacy director for Alabama Arise. I am here to give a brief update on the 2024 legislative session.

So if you are not aware, the 2024 legislative session will begin on Tuesday, Feb. 6. In the day prior to the beginning of the legislative session on Monday, Feb. 5, there will be budget hearings that will take place just about all day, and on Tuesday morning, those budget hearings will continue.

And then Tuesday afternoon, the legislative session will begin. This legislative session, we believe that there is a lot in store for Arise and our members and supporters, and we look forward to keeping you posted each week with the updates of what happened at the State House in the week prior.

And so for now, what we are anticipating before the start of the legislative session is that there will be a lot of hot topic issues that come up this session, some controversial issues that we may not be in support of. But we also are hopeful that our legislative priority issues — things related to maternal infant health criminal justice reform, death penalty reform, state budgets, tax reform, closing the health care coverage gap — all those things we hope will be up on the agenda of this session.

And so, again, we look forward to keeping you posted throughout legislative session about how things are progressing. And if you have any questions along the way, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our office.

But we especially look forward to making sure that you all stay engaged with the different action alerts that we send out, contacting your legislator and making sure that your voice is uplifted, to make sure that people at the State House understand and know what it is that you care about and what it is that you would like to see this session.

Take care.

Alabama Arise joins state commission on elimination of state grocery tax

The state sales tax on groceries is a cruel tax on survival, and Alabama Arise is committed to eliminating it. That is why I am grateful that Sen. Bobby Singleton nominated me to serve on the Joint Study Commission on Grocery Taxation on behalf of Arise. I am extremely excited about and honored for this opportunity, and I know that together, we will move Alabama closer to the goal of untaxing groceries once and for all.

How the commission came to be

After years of persistent advocacy by Arise members, policymakers took an important step toward tax justice this year by passing HB 479, a law that will cut the state grocery tax in half. The first decrease – from 4% to 3% – took effect in September 2023. The next decrease – from 3% to 2% – will occur in September 2024, or in the first year when Education Trust Fund (ETF) revenues grow by at least 3.5% annually.

Arise supports eliminating the state grocery tax sustainably and responsibly. That means ending the tax while also protecting vital funding for public schools. Lawmakers created the Grocery Tax Commission this year to figure out a pathway to do that.

This commission formed as the result of HJR 243 by Rep. Penni McClammy, D-Montgomery. The commission’s purpose is “to study a proposed elimination of the sales and use tax on food items,” according to the enabling legislation.

Arise’s testimony on untaxing groceries

I testified during the Grocery Tax Commission’s first meeting on Nov. 14 about the importance of untaxing groceries to help Alabama families make ends meet. And I suggested ways that Alabama could make it happen, including capping or eliminating the state deduction for federal income taxes.

Watch my testimony here, and download my presentation here.

I was one of three presenters at the first meeting. The others were representatives from the Alabama Grocers Association and the Fiscal Division of the Legislative Services Agency. During my presentation, I spoke about:

  • Arise’s 30-year history of advocating to reduce and ultimately eliminate the state’s grocery tax.
  • The harmful impact that taxing groceries has on families with low incomes.
  • Ways in which Alabama compares to other states regarding taxing groceries.
  • Innovative solutions and ways to eliminate the remainder of the state’s grocery tax while protecting the ETF.

What will happen next

In serving on the commission, Arise is charged with helping to evaluate the effects of eliminating the state sales and use tax on groceries. The factors we will help assess include:

(1) Household expenses of Alabamians with low and moderate incomes.
(2) Education Trust Fund revenues.
(3) County and municipal revenue collection.
(4) Community food banks and other nonprofit organizations that provide food.
(5) Hunger and malnutrition experienced by children and older adults.

Here is the full list of commission members:

  • Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre – co-chair of the Grocery Tax Commission 
  • Rep. Penni McClammy, D-Montgomery – co-chair of the Grocery Tax Commission 
  • Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville – House Ways and Means Education Committee chair and sponsor of HB 479
  • Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur – Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee chair
  • Rep. Troy Stubbs, R-Wetumpka – appointee of Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter
  • Akiesha Anderson (Alabama Arise) – appointee of Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro
  • Michael Coleman (Heart of Alabama Food Bank) – nonprofit representative appointed by Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper
  • Rosemary Elebash – representative of the National Federation of Independent Business
  • Catherine Gayle Fuller – staffer for and appointee of Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth
  • Allison King (Alabama Education Association) – designee of House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville
  • Wade Payne (Mitchell Grocery Co.) – representative of the Alabama Grocers Association

The Grocery Tax Commission will meet periodically between now and 2026, when it will release findings and recommendations. The next meeting will be in 2024. Arise will work closely with the commission in the coming years to lay the groundwork for eliminating the state grocery tax forever.

Three strategies to boost Alabama’s workforce

State of Working Alabama logo

Alabama leaders and policymakers are stressing about one big issue going into the 2024 legislative session: labor force participation.

Alabama’s labor force participation rate is among the nation’s lowest. Only 57% of working-age adults reported they were actively working or looking for jobs as of September 2023. We also have a severe worker shortage, with nearly 100,000 more job openings than workers available to fill them.

This situation gives Alabama workers increased power to negotiate better wages, benefits and working conditions. It also leaves state leaders and employers scratching their heads. Aren’t we supposed to be among the most “business-friendly” states in the country? How can we attract and retain industry if businesses can’t hire workers? And why aren’t more people applying for openings as the cost of living continues to increase?

Consistent barriers to workforce participation

If you want to know why people are leaving the workforce, you need to ask them. Thankfully, we have data to understand what is happening.

Workers who are underemployed or dropped out of the workforce cited three major, consistent concerns, according to multiple recent surveys from the Governor’s Office of Education and Workforce Transformation:

  1. No transportation.
  2. Inadequate pay or work schedule. (Workers are looking for full-time work or higher pay.)
  3. Illness or disability prevented them from working. (Indeed, disability is one of the main driving forces in Alabama’s extremely low workforce participation rates.)

One would hope we would see more of this data informing the conversation about the workforce. But unfortunately, it appears many lawmakers still haven’t seen the data.

Alabama Arise worker policy advocate Dev Wakeley participated in a recent discussion with lawmakers about barriers to workforce entry. He shared Arise’s policy prescription to address this issue, based on clear and direct feedback we’ve heard from workers.

1. Fund the Public Transportation Trust Fund to help workers get to jobs.

Alabama is one of only three states that has no state funding set aside to support public transportation. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021 made massive federal boosts in public transit money available across the country. But with no local or state resources to match, cities and counties across Alabama cannot harness those federal matching funds.

Multiple survey groups cited transit access as their top barrier. It’s time for Alabama to join the rest of our Southeastern neighbors by boosting public transportation investments.

2. Stop incentivizing employers who fail to deliver on promises to provide good-paying jobs.

Alabama lawmakers passed “The Game Plan” earlier this year to renew several key economic incentive packages for large employers. Legislators also strengthened some reporting requirements via the Enhancing Transparency Act. These enhancements were critical, as Alabama still ranks among the least transparent states when it comes to economic incentives and tax expenditures.

We applaud efforts to hold businesses accountable for the promises they make when applying for these major tax breaks. But lawmakers must do more to enforce accountability and ensure the investment is paying off. While our state defers millions of dollars in tax revenue for vague incentives with unclear deliverables, many workers are still struggling to access the promised jobs because we have failed to invest in the necessary state infrastructure. And too often, the jobs simply don’t measure up to the promised wages and hiring goals.

3. Expand Medicaid to keep working-age adults healthy and in the workforce.

Investing in Alabama’s health care infrastructure is not just an avenue to create more health care jobs. It’s also a way to keep workers healthy and in the workforce.

Nearly 300,000 working Alabamians fall into the health coverage gap. Many are employed in high-demand but low-paying industries including service, retail, personal care or construction jobs. Consistent health care for low-wage workers can help prevent or control chronic disabling conditions. It also can give workers a lifeline when they are struggling with addiction, substance use disorders or mental illness.

Workers ideally would find good-paying jobs that provide flexible and inclusive family benefits. But they also should retain access to health coverage if they have to take a break from work to handle caregiving duties, manage a health or family crisis, go back to school or start their own business.

Temporarily losing a job with health coverage should not spiral further into permanent, preventable disability or untreated illness. Medicaid expansion would ensure many Alabamians still can get the health care they need during difficult times.

A prescription for a stronger workforce

We applaud House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter and the House Commission on Labor Shortage for expressing an interest in looking more deeply into the data around labor force participation. We were also glad to hear multiple lawmakers cite issues including affordable housing, wages and child care. All of these are critical supports to empower people to obtain and maintain employment.

To us, the message is clear: Investing more in work supports like public transportation and health care while ensuring more transparency and accountability for workforce incentives is a key, data-supported strategy to keep more Alabamians working and thriving.