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 18 Appleseed Centers across the U.S. and in Mexico City.
The 2018 Alabama Regular Session will begin on January 9, 2018. The session is limited to 30 meeting days within a period of 105 calendar days. Because of upcoming elections, we expect the session to conclude early – possibly around March 27, 2018.
Below is a summary of key human rights issues we anticipate will be under active, serious deliberation by the legislature in 2018.
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.
To make our communities safer, reduce the burden on taxpayers, and begin to address the staggering racial disparities in Alabama’s criminal justice system, the Alabama legislature should:
End Civil Asset Forfeiture
We expect legislation to be introduced that would end civil asset forfeiture (replacing it with the criminal forfeiture process in all instances), require transparency in the criminal asset forfeiture process, and prohibit Alabama law enforcement from receiving proceeds from the federal civil asset forfeiture programs. Alabama Appleseed supports this legislation because 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.”
Reclassify Marijuana Possession
We expect legislation to be introduced that would reclassify possession of one ounce or less of marijuana as a fine-only offense. We also expect legislation to be introduced that would create more appropriate weight thresholds for all marijuana offenses. Alabama Appleseed supports this legislation because 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.
Ban the Box
We expect legislation to be introduced that would prohibit 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. Alabama Appleseed supports this legislation because it 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.
Stop Sending Children into the Adult Justice System
We expect legislation to be introduced that would reduce the number of children sent into the adult justice system. Alabama Appleseed believes that no child should be referred to the adult justice system because children:
- Are different than adults – they cannot vote, buy alcohol or tobacco, or gamble;
- Have an increased aptitude for rehabilitation;
- Are 36 times more likely to commit suicide when incarcerated in adult facilities when compared with children placed in juvenile facilities;
- Are 34% more likely to be arrested again when compared with youth convicted of similar offenses in juvenile court.
Establish Infectious Disease Elimination Pilot Programs
Legislation has been pre-filed that would allow 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. Alabama Appleseed supports this legislation because it:
- Creates a data-driven approach to reducing the harms associated with drug use;
- Increases public safety by helping to reduce 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;
- Decreases rates of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C transmission by reducing syringe sharing among injection drug users.
Ensure a Holistic Approach to Criminal Justice Reform
Legislation may be introduced that would authorize the construction of new prisons. Alabama Appleseed opposes this approach because it does not 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.
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.
To ensure more equal access to the courts, the Alabama legislature should:
Remove hurdle to low-income Alabamians seeking access to the courts
Legislation has been pre-filed that would further provide for waiving the filing fee in a civil case due to the individual’s financial hardship. The legislation would specify that the pleading accompanying the statement of substantial hardship shall be considered filed on the date the statement of substantial hardship is filed with the court. The legislation would also specify that if the court finds that no hardship exists, the party shall have 30 days to submit payment. Alabama Appleseed supports this legislation because it:
- Protects the rights of Alabamians;
- Ensures greater access to the courts;
- Create more clarity and uniformity throughout the civil justice system.
Additional Priority Legislation
Reform Predatory Lending
We expect legislation to be introduced that would extend the loan period to 30 days for payday loans. Alabama Appleseed supports this legislation because:
- Low-income borrowers face interest rates as high as 456% APR;
- 30 percent of payday loan borrowers took out 12 payday loans or more according to the most recent annual data;
- Payday borrowers paid payday lenders more than $107 million in fees in the most recent year alone.
Challenge Expansion of Alabama’s Broken Death Penalty System
We expect legislation to be introduced that would expand the list of death penalty-eligible crimes. Alabama Appleseed opposes any such legislation until Alabama’s capital punishment regime is reformed. 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 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. 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 flawed system.