By Danny Garrett
It’s hard to believe that we are already one-third of the way through with the 2015 legislative session. The Republican majority House of Representatives has accomplished much in the fast-paced session, including: the historic passage of charter school legislation offering parents additional educational choices for their children; economic incentives aimed at businesses that locate in rural counties (including St. Clair County); economic incentives for businesses that hire veterans; legislation protecting religious expression in public schools; legislation affirming current law that ministers and judges are not required to perform marriage ceremonies against their will; legislation addressing issues that impede enforcement of capital punishment orders; and the repeal of more than 300 archaic and obsolete laws.
In the remaining weeks of the session, the House will take up legislation involving milestone prison reform, which is necessary in order to avoid a federal takeover of our state prisons. The Senate has passed a comprehensive prison reform bill that will be on the House agenda soon. In addition, there will be significant analysis, discussion and debate concerning adoption of the General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets. As you’re aware, Gov. Robert Bentley has proposed tax hikes of approximately $541 million to address short falls in the General Fund. There doesn’t appear to be much of an appetite in the House or Senate for raising taxes and the governor has recently threatened to call the legislature back into special session if tax increases are not approved.
The overwhelming message that I’m hearing from constituents in District 44 is a resounding “NO!” to tax increases. In previous columns, I have shared my view that there are many things we need to do to rein in spending and reduce the size and cost of state government. I look forward to working with my colleagues to find solutions to our state’s long-term financial needs.
So far this session, I have introduced three bills: HB97, which would provide tax credits to teachers to reimburse them for of out-of-pocket expenses they incur to purchase classroom materials; HB289, which would add rescue squads to a list of organizations who are exempt from excise, sales and lodging taxes in certain situations; and HB380, which would clarify that paid response action contractors have civil immunity (non-paid contractors already have this protection).
In addition, I’m working on legislation to modify laws relating to predatory lenders. The payday lending industry was introduced to Alabama around 20 years ago by then-State Sen. Lowell Barron. Presently, these payday lenders are able to charge as much as 456 percent annual percentage rate on these loans. Some states have banned payday lenders altogether, while other states have passed legislation to minimize the impact these businesses have on financially desperate individuals. My goal is not to eliminate the industry or the access to short-term loans for people who can’t borrow from a bank. However, I believe we need to limit the ability of predatory lenders to exploit financially vulnerable individuals by capping the interest rate on such loans at 36 percent. I wrote an opinion piece about this, which ran on AL.com on April 1.
It has been a special privilege and blessing during Holy Week to meet daily with a group of fellow legislators to read scripture and pray. We have committed to continue meeting for the remainder of the session and to pray for wisdom for our leaders, our colleagues and each other. Please join us and pray that we have wisdom and that we hold each other accountable for our actions as public servants.
Danny Garrett represents District 44 in the Alabama House of Representatives, which includes Trussville, Clay and portions of Pinson. He can be reached by phone at 205-410-4637 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also follow his Facebook page, “Representative Danny Garrett.”