The 2018 Alabama Regular Session began on January 9 and concluded on March 29. Below is a summary of key human rights legislation considered during the 2018 session.
Fair Schools, Safe Communities Campaign Legislation
Our communities are safer and our schools fairer when laws and policies are grounded in evidence. It’s time for Alabama’s laws to reflect this common-sense approach.
End Civil Asset Forfeiture
Bill Number(s): SB 213 (Sen. Orr) and HB 287 (Rep. Mooney)
Bill Summary: SB 213 and HB 287 would have ended civil asset forfeiture (replacing it with the criminal forfeiture process in all instances), required transparency in the criminal asset forfeiture process, and prohibited Alabama law enforcement from receiving proceeds from the federal civil asset forfeiture programs.
Why we Supported: Civil asset forfeiture:
- Disproportionately harms Alabama’s most vulnerable;
- Incentivizes the pursuit of profit over the fair administration of justice;
- Turns the presumption of innocence on its head by forcing property owners to defend their property’s “innocence.”
Bill Outcome: SB 213 passed the Senate, but the House failed to take action on the bill. HB 287 did not receive a committee hearing in the House.
Reclassify Marijuana Possession
Bill Number(s): SB 251 (Sen. Brewbaker) & HB 272 (Rep. Todd)
Bill Summary: SB 251 and HB 272 would have reclassified possession of one ounce or less of marijuana as a fine-only offense.
Why we Supported: Alabama’s current marijuana laws:
- Turn otherwise law-abiding people into felons for merely possessing small quantities of marijuana;
- Waste taxpayer money and misdirect law enforcement resources;
- Disproportionately harm African Americans;
- Needlessly ensnare Alabamians in the criminal justice system.
Bill Outcome: SB 251 received a favorable report from the Senate Judiciary Committee, but the full Senate failed to take action. HB 272 failed in the House Judiciary Committee.
Ban the Box
Bill Number(s): SB 198 (Sen. Singleton) & HB 257 (Rep. Givan)
Bill Summary: SB 198 (Sen. Singleton) & HB 257 would have prohibited a state or local government employer from asking an applicant about their criminal history until a conditional offer of employment is made. Under this law, the government employer would be permitted to withdraw the job offer if the applicant’s criminal conviction was directly related to the job.
Why we Supported: Banning the box would:
- Help make our communities safer;
- Better ensure a second chance for Alabamians who have already paid their debt to society;
- Protect Alabama from having to hire individuals whose criminal convictions are directly related to the job;
- Help protect state employers from claims of discrimination.
Bill Outcome: SB 198 passed the Senate, but the House failed to take action on the bill. HB 257 did not receive a committee hearing in the House.
Establish Infectious Disease Elimination Pilot Programs
Bill Number(s): SB 169 (Sen. Singleton) & HB 37 (Rep. JD Williams)
Bill Summary: SB 169 and HB 37 would have allowed for syringe services programs in counties where there is a high risk of an outbreak of blood-borne diseases or where an outbreak or epidemic already exists.
Why we Supported: Syringe services programs would:
- Create a data-driven approach to reducing the harms associated with drug use;
- Improve public safety by reducing the number of contaminated needles on streets, on playgrounds, and in trash receptacles, thereby protecting children, law enforcement personnel, and other emergency responders, sanitation workers, and others from needle sticks;
- Decrease rates of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C transmission by reducing syringe sharing among injection drug users.
Bill Outcome: SB 169 received a favorable report from the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, but the full Senate failed to take action. HB 37 received a favorable report from the House Committee, but the full House failed to take action.
Bill Number(s): None filed
Bill Summary: Legislation to authorize the construction of new prisons was not filed in 2018.
Why we Opposed: This approach fails to address the underlying problems that fuel Alabama’s high incarceration rate. Any solution to Alabama’s prison overcrowding must focus on the root issues:
- Ending the war on drugs;
- Prioritizing substance and mental health treatment programs;
- Removing hurdles to reentry;
- Expanding alternatives to incarceration.
Bill Outcome: No legislation filed
Access to Justice Campaign Legislation
Equal justice under law requires a justice system that provides a level playing field for all Alabamians, regardless of one’s ability to pay. In order to achieve this, the state must ensure access to civil legal services, and protect the the fundamental right to counsel in criminal court.
Remove obstacles facing low-income Alabamians seeking access to the courts
Bill Numbers: SB 36 (Ward)
Bill Summary: SB 36 would have improved indigent parties’ opportunity to have filing fees waived in civil cases due to financial hardship. The legislation specified that the pleading accompanying the statement of substantial hardship would be considered filed on the date the statement of substantial hardship was filed with the court, and that if the court were to find that no hardship exists, the party would have 30 days to submit payment.
Why we Supported: Waiving filing fees in civil cases due to financial hardship would:
- Protects the rights of Alabamians;
- Ensures greater access to the courts;
- Create more clarity and uniformity throughout the civil justice system.
Bill Outcome: SB 36 received a favorable report from the Senate Judiciary Committee, but the full Senate failed to take action.
Protecting the Constitutional Rights of Indigent Defendants
Bill Numbers: HB 379 (England)
Bill Summary: HB 379 would have created a waiver process for the fee caps on how much appointed lawyers can be paid by the State for their representation of indigent defendants. This legislation would have allowed the trial court judge and the Office of Indigent Defense Services—which oversees and administers funding and payments for indigent defense services—to grant a waiver when the lawyer has shown “good cause” based on objective criteria that demonstrates they have provided the defendant with a level of representation that merits more compensation than the cap allows. The waiver would have allowed for no more than double the amount of the current caps.
Why we Supported: A waiver process for the fee caps would:
- Helps protect the constitutional rights of Alabamians;
- Expands access to effective legal representation;
- Increases access to fair justice.
Bill Outcome: HB 379 passed the House, but the full Senate failed to take action.
Additional Priority Legislation
Reform Predatory Lending
Bill Number(s): SB 138 (Sen. Orr)
Bill Summary: SB 138 would have required that payday loans be issued on 30 day repayment schedules, amending current law allowing them to be issued on repayment schedules between 10 to 31 days.
Why we Supported: 30 days to pay would:
- Effectively cut APR’s in half for many of Alabama’s payday borrowers, which currently runs as high as 456% APR;
- Reduce the likelihood of borrowers falling into debt traps that lead them to even more dire financial straits (30 percent of payday loan borrowers took out 12 payday loans or more according to the most recent annual data);
- Reduce the amount of fees low-income borrowers would be required to pay (payday borrowers paid payday lenders more than $107 million in fees in the most recent year alone).
Bill Outcome: SB 138 passed the Senate, but the House failed to take action on the bill.
Challenge Expansion of Alabama’s Broken Death Penalty System
Bill Numbers: HB 161 (Sells)
Bill Summary: HB 161 would have expanded the list of death penalty-eligible crimes to make the murder of a first responder a capital offense, and added to the list of aggravating circumstances four types of victims: law enforcement officers, prison or jail guards, first responders, and children under 14.
Why we Opposed: Alabama Appleseed recognizes that Alabama’s capital punishment system is broken beyond repair, and thus legislation to expand its use cannot be justified. We should all agree that if we have a death penalty then the process should be fair and accurate. Yet, over 10 years ago the American Bar Association found problems throughout Alabama’s death penalty process – from interactions with law enforcement at the beginning to the post-conviction process at the end. In fact, the concerns were so serious that the ABA assessment team recommended a temporary moratorium on executions until the recommendations were implemented. The vast majority of those recommendations have still not been implemented. Alabama legislators should be focused on ensuring Alabama has a fair and accurate death penalty process, not expanding the class of people who can be executed under this broken system.
Bill Outcome: HB 161 passed the House, but failed on the Senate floor.