Alabama Appleseed is a non-profit, non-partisan 501(c)(3) organization founded in 1999 whose mission is to achieve justice and equity for all Alabamians. Alabama Appleseed is a member of the national Appleseed Network, which includes 17 Appleseed Centers across the U.S. and in Mexico City.

Below is a summary of the priority issues we worked on during the 2017 session:

Bills we supported that became law

Judicial Override of Death Sentences
SB16 (Sen. Brewbaker) & HB32 (Rep. England)
SB16 & HB32 prohibit a judge from overriding a jury’s recommendation and imposing a death sentence in cases where the jury voted for life without parole in a capital case. Prior to this legislation, a judge was not required to accept a jury’s vote in the sentencing phase. Alabama Appleseed supported this legislation because it will help protect against arbitrary and unreliable death sentences.

Bills we supported that failed to pass this year

Predatory Lending Reform
SB 284 (Sen. Orr)
SB 284 would have extended the loan period to 30 days for payday loans at the existing fee, limited borrowers to four loans in a 12-month period, mandated a seven-day “cooling-off” period between payday loans, automatically converted unpaid loans to a three-month installment loan with equal payments, capped interest rates for all loans of more than $2,000 at 60 percent APR, and removed auto title loans from the Alabama Pawnshop Act. Alabama Appleseed supported this bill because it would have begun the process of reining in predatory lenders.
Outcome: Indefinitely postponed in Senate

Predatory Lending Reform
HB 321 (Rep. Fincher)
HB 321 would have proposed an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama capping the maximum interest rate a lender may charge an individual on a consumer loan, line of credit, or other financial product at 36 percent per year. Alabama Appleseed supported this bill because it would have brought Alabama in line with 15 other states and the District of Columbia that have either capped their interest rate at 36 percent or outlawed payday loans altogether.
Outcome: Left pending committee action in House

Marijuana Decriminalization
HB 269 (Rep. Todd)     

HB 269 would have made possession of one ounce or less of marijuana a fine only offense ($250/first offense & $500/subsequent offenses). A conviction for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana would not have appeared on the individual’s criminal record. Alabama Appleseed supported this legislation because it would have reduced the likelihood that Alabamians possessing small amounts of marijuana would be funneled into our criminal justice system and reduced the disproportionate harm that the war on marijuana has on communities of color.
Outcome: Left pending committee action in House

Ban the Box
SB 200 (Sen. Ross)
SB 200 would have prohibited a state or local government employer from asking an applicant about their criminal history until a conditional offer of employment was made. The government employer would have been permitted to withdraw the job offer if the applicant’s criminal conviction was directly related to the job. The bill would also have established clear criteria for state agencies to consider during the screening process. Alabama Appleseed supported this legislation because it would have enhanced public safety, begun to remedy the long-term consequences of a criminal justice system that has disproportionately harmed African Americans, and given many Alabamians a second chance.
Outcome: Passed Senate, left pending committee action in House

Civil Asset Forfeiture
SB 299 (Sen. Orr)

SB 299 would have mandated any agency that takes property or receives proceeds under Alabama’s civil asset forfeiture program to annually report this information to the Attorney General, who would then make this information available to the public. Alabama Appleseed supported this legislation because it would have brought needed sunlight to a program that incentivises policing for profit and disproportionately harms individuals who cannot afford an attorney.
Outcome: Indefinitely postponed in Senate

Bills we opposed that became law

Predatory Lending
HB 314 (Rep. Johnson)
HB 314 amends the Alabama Small Loan Act to authorize licensed lenders to make loans up to $1500 (previously $1,000), increases non-refundable fees, and extends the loan term to 18 months. Alabama Appleseed opposed this legislation because it will increase the cost of loans for borrowers by as much as 174 percent.

Death Penalty
SB 187 (Sen. Ward)

SB 187 sets a 365‐day time limit to file a Rule 32 petition challenging an individual’s capital conviction and requires this time to run concurrently with the direct appeal. It also requires the appointment of counsel for indigent individuals for purposes of the post-conviction appeal and sets a $7,500 cap for total fees. Alabama Appleseed opposed this bill because it will further undermine the fairness and accuracy of Alabama’s death penalty process.

Bills we opposed that were defeated

Predatory Lending
HB 535 (Rep. Garrett)
HB 535 would have converted the loan of a borrower who was unable to repay the loan to a 60-day loan at no additional fee, but would have limited this to one 60-day extension per year. The bill would also have created a cap of 22 payday loans per year and would have created a 48 hour cooling off period after a loan was paid in full. Alabama Appleseed opposed this bill because it would have failed to address any of the core problems plaguing the payday loan industry, including a permissible 456 percent interest rate.
Outcome: Passed House, carried over in Senate

Prison Construction
SB 59 & SB 302 (Sen. Ward)
SB 59 & SB 302 would have authorized the construction of up to four new prisons at a cost, funded via bonds, of nearly one billion dollars. Alabama Appleseed opposed these bills because they failed 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 drug war, prioritizing substance & mental health treatment, removing hurdles to reentry, and expanding alternatives to incarceration.
Outcomes: SB 59 – Indefinitely postponed in Senate & SB 302 – Passed Senate, read second time in House

Montgomery, AL – On May 23, Alabama Appleseed, joined by the National Appleseed and seven additional state Appleseed Centers, submitted a letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) in response to an opportunity for public comment on 12 CFR 1005 Subpart B, the “Remittance Rule.” A derivative of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protections Act of 2010, the Remittance Rule specifically and importantly deals with consumer remittance disclosures and related consumer protections.

Appleseed has been studying the impact of these protections on consumers for some time. In Appleseed’s 2016 reports “Sending Money: The Path Forward,” and “Sending Money: In Their Own Voices,” Appleseed shared its findings on international remittance customers’ preferences and behavior since the adoption of the “Remittance Rule.”

In the letter, accessible here, Appleseed strongly recommends retention of the Remittance Rule with specific recommendations to further study the impact of these regulations so that consumers have access to critical information, that disclosures are clear, and that protections are meaningful.

Eight times since 1976 the state of Alabama has sent a person to death row and gotten it wrong. One of those exonerees, Anthony Ray Hinton, spent almost 30 years on Alabama’s death row before his volunteer lawyers were able to show that the government relied on flawed evidence – that he was innocent. Mr. Hinton’s case shows that it can take years to uncover evidence of innocence. Despite this knowledge, last week the Alabama legislature voted to “streamline” Alabama’s death penalty process. As Mr. Hinton wrote last month, had SB 187 been in place while he sat on death row, he would likely have been executed despite his innocence.

Regardless of where each of us stand on the death penalty, opposition to this legislation should be universal. In the United States, the importance of ensuring a fair and accurate death penalty process should be non-negotiable. Unfortunately, Alabama legislators disagreed.

Proponents of this legislation, including Alabama’s new Attorney General, are using one of the oldest tricks in the book to gain support . . . fear. In  a recent op ed by Attorney General Marshall, he began by retelling the gruesome facts surrounding a 37 year-old murder. In General Marshall’s death penalty narrative, the government always convicts the right person. It’s a perfect justice system (found in the fiction aisle). According to the Attorney General’s logic, if the facts are gruesome then justice must be swift, regardless of those pesky innocence issue.

In reality, SB 187 – the so-called “Fair Justice Act” – would:

  1. Undermine the ability of post-conviction counsel to fully defend their client by limiting their ability to conduct a thorough investigation, thus increasing the likelihood that Alabama would execute an innocent person (e.g. under this bill the direct and post-conviction appeals must occur at the same time, making it impossible for the post conviction counsel to properly investigate whether the direct appeal counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel); and;
  2. Fail to ensure the appointment of qualified counsel at the post-conviction stage, thus compounding the issues surrounding ineffective assistance of counsel that already plague the trial and direct appeal stages.

While the facts surrounding a murder may be gruesome, they are reiterated to distract us – to make us forget what the legislation before us would actually do, which is to prioritize rushing to an execution over ensuring the accuracy of the conviction. The impact of SB 187 is clear – it would make it more difficult for an innocent person to prove their innocence. And, as Jennifer Thompson from Healing Justice pointed out, when an innocent person sits in prison, the actual guilty person remains free to commit additional crimes.

We’re not the only one to raise a red flag around this legislation – here’s a snippet of the widespread opposition to SB 187:

  • Linda Klein, President, American Bar Association – “The American Bar Association takes no position for or against the death penalty itself, but our members – who include prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges – have long been committed to ensuring that capital punishment is fair, unbiased, and accurate. Our expertise provides us with a unique perspective regarding the likely pitfalls and unintended consequences of this legislation.”
  • Anthony Ray Hinton, Death Row Survivor – “I spent 30 years on Alabama’s death row for a crime I did not commit. If proposed changes to Alabama’s postconviction procedures under consideration by the state legislature had been enacted, I would have been executed despite my innocence.”
  • Jennifer Thompson, Founder, Healing Justice – “By prioritizing speed of the death penalty process over accuracy, SB 187 will not only place unnecessary pain on victims and survivors but also undermine the safety of others. Every day an innocent person sits in prison, the guilty person is free to commit additional crimes.”
  • Montgomery Advertiser Editorial Board – “Alabama legislators this past week wrongly approved a bill that shortens the appeal process for people convicted of a capital crime and facing an execution. Too much is at stake to take decisions of execution lightly. Mainly, it’s someone’s life and when the state makes the choice to kill a person, we are all responsible for that death.”
  • Ronald Sullivan Jr., Professor, Harvard Law School  – “The deceitfully named bill (it is neither fair nor just) would shorten the time for appeals and reduce already inadequate resources that death row prisoners have when appealing their convictions. Alabama has clearly put its head in the sand and is ignoring its own disgraceful experience with wrongful convictions and the death penalty, as well as current recommendations from other states.”
  • Lisa Borden, Attorney in Birmingham – “While this may sound like a good plan to those unfamiliar with the process, the proposal is neither fair nor just, and will only increase the already substantial likelihood that Alabama will execute a wrongfully convicted person.”
  • Stephen Cooper, Former Assistant Public Defender in Alabama – “Conscientious Alabamians concerned that, like Ray Hinton, freed after a hellacious 30 years on Alabama’s death row proclaiming his innocence, additional innocents might be unjustly thrust towards terrible and inhumane deaths – without an adequate chance to prove their innocence and/or that their constitutional rights were violated – you need to speak up. You need to speak up now!”

The awesome power of the government to kill in our name must be based on a fair and accurate process. SB 187 would do the opposite. We urge Governor Ivey to veto this legislation.

Montgomery, AL – The following statement is by Frank Knaack, executive director of Alabama Appleseed, regarding SB 187.

Eight times since 1976 Alabama has sent a person to death row and gotten it wrong. Yet, instead of focusing on ways to keep Alabama from making another potentially deadly mistake, the Alabama legislature voted to make Alabama’s death penalty process even less reliable.”

“Opposition to this legislation should have been universal. In the United States, the importance of ensuring a fair and accurate death penalty process should be non-negotiable. The Alabama legislature disagreed.”

“We urge Governor Ivey to veto this bill. This is not about where you stand on the death penalty, it’s about where you stand on the need to ensure a fair and accurate death penalty process.”

SB 187 will now go to Governor Kay Ivey. For additional information regarding SB 187, please read Alabama Appleseed’s fact sheet.

Montgomery, AL – The following statement is by Frank Knaack, executive director of Alabama Appleseed regarding SB 187, which the Alabama House of Representatives passed today:

Eight times since 1976 Alabama has sent a person to death row and gotten it wrong. Yet, instead of focusing on ways to keep Alabama from making another potentially deadly mistake, the Alabama House voted today to make Alabama’s death penalty process even less reliable.”

“Opposition to this legislation should be universal. In the United States, the importance of ensuring a fair and accurate death penalty process should be non-negotiable. Today, the Alabama House disagreed.”

For additional information regarding SB 187, please read Alabama Appleseed’s fact sheet.

Montgomery, AL – Alabama Appleseed today applauded the Alabama Senate’s vote to “ban the box” (SB 200) on state employment applications.

“Banning the box better ensures that Alabamians seeking state employment are judged on their merit, not their mistakes,” said Frank Knaack, executive director of Alabama Appleseed. “Denying a person’s application without considering their qualifications or rehabilitation prevents people who’ve completed their sentence from getting a fair chance at a fresh start.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), more than 650,000 individuals are released from prison every year. The DOJ has identified three key elements to successful re-entry into our communities, one of which is finding and keeping a job.

“This legislation would help make our communities safer,” said Knaack. “Recidivism rates are reduced when individuals are able to successfully reenter their communities. By removing the criminal background box from state employment applications, individuals seeking state employment have an honest shot at securing a job. It’s a win-win – it provides people with a second chance to make an honest living and helps make our communities safer.”

SB 200 now moves to the House.

For additional information regarding SB 200, please read Alabama Appleseed’s fact sheet.

Montgomery, AL – The following statement is by Frank Knaack, executive director of Alabama Appleseed regarding SB 187, which the Alabama House of Representatives Judiciary Committee favorably reported today:

“Eight times in the modern death penalty era Alabama has sent a person to death row and gotten it wrong. Yet, instead of focusing on ways to keep Alabama from making another potentially deadly mistake, the House Judiciary Committee voted today to make Alabama’s death penalty process even less reliable. Regardless of where each of us stand on the death penalty, we should all agree that Alabama must do everything in its power to not execute an innocent person. SB 187 goes in the opposite direction – it would increase the likelihood that Alabama could make a fatal mistake.”

For additional information regarding SB 187, please read Alabama Appleseed’s fact sheet.

SB 187 would set a 365‐day time limit to file a Rule 32 petition challenging an individual’s capital conviction and require this time to run concurrently with the direct appeal. It would also set other deadlines, requiring judges to rule within a specific time periods.

It misses the underlying problem – Alabama’s capital punishment system doesn’t ensure fairness or accuracy. An estimated 1 in every 25 people on death row in the U.S. is innocent, and Alabama is not immune from the potential to execute an innocent person. In fact, in the modern death penalty era, Alabama has convicted and sentenced to death eight people who were later exonerated and freed from death row. Despite Alabama’s high number of exonerations, SB 187 would make it more difficult for a person to prove their innocence. Regardless of where each of us stand on the death penalty, we should all oppose legislation, like SB 187, that increases Alabama’s risk of executing an innocent person.

It will move Alabama further away from American Bar Association recommendations. In 2006 the American Bar Association published a report that 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 report recommended a temporary moratorium on executions until the recommendations were implemented. Over ten years later, the vast majority of those recommendations have still not been implemented, including the need to ensure that “all poor defendants receive competent counsel at every stage of the capital process.” Despite the ABA’s report documenting concerns around ineffective assistance of counsel for people on death row, SB 187 would eliminate the ability for state court judges to hear some of these claims. SB 187 would move Alabama in the wrong direction.

It does not ensure effective assistance of counsel. While SB 187 includes a provision that would finally provide appointed counsel for indigent individuals during the post-conviction review stage, the bill fails to ensure that appointed counsel would have the qualifications necessary to provide effective representation. Instead, it makes vague suggestions that the Alabama Supreme Court and the Alabama Bar should consider when creating a list of “qualified counsel.” Capital litigation involves unique and complex issues, and thus requires counsel who have this specialized training and experience. By failing to ensure access to qualified counsel at the post-conviction stage, SB 187 would merely compound issues caused by ineffective assistance of counsel during the trial and appeal stages. In the end, indigent individuals would continue to face execution without qualified counsel.

SB 187 increases the likelihood that Alabama will execute an innocent person.

SB 200 ensures that the State of Alabama, its agencies, and its political subdivisions cannot ask a prospective employee if they have ever been arrested for or convicted of any crime, with certain exceptions. A state employer may ask a prospective employee about their criminal background, but only after a conditional offer of employment is made. A state employer may withdraw the offer of employment after learning of the prospective employee’s criminal conviction background if the prospective employee has a conviction that is directly related to the job. SB 200 also establishes clear criteria for state agencies to consider during the screening process when evaluating a person’s prior criminal history.

Helps make our communities safer. Alabama has approximately 24,000 people in its prisons and another 13,000 in its jails. The vast majority of those individuals will be released and return to their communities. To reduce the recidivism rate, the U.S. Department of Justice has identified three key elements to successful re-entry into our communities. One of these key elements is helping these individuals find and keep a job. This legislation is a first step toward realizing a key element to reducing recidivism and making our communities safer.

Better ensures a second chance for Alabamians who have already paid their debt to society. Under current law, an otherwise fully qualified applicant can be denied employment long after they have completed their sentence. This practice erects counterproductive hurdles in front of individuals seeking to rebuild their lives and provide for their families. Denying a person’s application without considering their qualifications or rehabilitation prevents people who’ve completed their sentence from getting a fair chance at a fresh start.

African Americans are disproportionately harmed by the criminal history background box on employment applications. Because African Americans are disproportionately caught up in our criminal justice system, they are disproportionately harmed when seeking employment. For example, even though African Americans and whites use marijuana at roughly the same rate, African Americans are more than four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Alabama. Thus, those individuals will be disproportionately impacted when filling out a job application that includes a criminal history box. This bill offers an opportunity to begin to address the long-term consequences of a criminal justice system that disproportionately harms African Americans.

Protects Alabama from having to hire an individual whose criminal conviction is directly related to the job. Under this legislation a state employer would be permitted to withdraw the offer of employment after learning of the prospective employee’s criminal conviction background if the prospective employee has a conviction that “is directly related to the position of employment sought.” For example, this provision protects a state employer from being forced to hire a convicted embezzler to keep its books.

Helps protect state employers from claims of discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a guidance document for entities covered by Title VII, including state and local governments, to help eliminate unlawful discrimination in the employment hiring process. As outlined in the guidance document, an employer must show that the selection criteria use or selection procedures are “job related and consistent with business necessity.” Specifically related to an applicant’s criminal record, the guidance says that the individualized screening process should consider “at least the nature of the crime, the time elapsed, and the nature of the job” or otherwise comply with the EEOC Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures. SB 200 establishes clear criteria for state agencies to consider during the screening process when evaluating a person’s prior criminal record, which will better protect state agencies from claims of discrimination under Title VII.

SB 200 is a win-win! It better ensures that Alabamians are judged on their merit, not their mistakes and protects state employers.

Montgomery, AL – The following statement is by Frank Knaack, executive director of Alabama Appleseed regarding SB 16, which was signed by Governor Kay Ivey today:

We should all agree that if we have a death penalty then the process should be fair and accurate. SB 16 will help minimize unreliable and arbitrary death sentences and move Alabama one step closer to ending its outlier status. We commend Senator Brewbaker, Senator Sanders, and Representative England for their leadership in this effort. And, we thank Governor Ivey for her quick action to finally put an end to judicial override in Alabama. But, as the American Bar Association pointed out over ten years ago, much work remains before Alabama can consider its death penalty process to be fair and accurate.

​SB 16 became effective immediately. For additional information regarding SB 16, please read Alabama Appleseed’s fact sheet.