Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:
The Gadsden Times on payday loans:
The numbers are astonishing. In the first 10 weeks that payday lenders had to record their transactions on a statewide database, Alabamians took out 462,209 payday loans.
Based on those numbers, Alabamians are on course to take out just over 2.4 million payday loans on an annual basis.
An industry representative tried to defend payday loans, saying there's little alternative for the 300,000 or so people who use the service in Alabama.
Max Wood, who owns Check Spot stores in a couple of cities, says the database, which is designed to keep people from amassing more than $500 in payday loans at one time, has caused many Alabama payday lenders to shut down already.
Wood says more than 200 licensed payday lenders have gone out of business in the last year alone.
He says other states that have enacted databases have seen the number of lenders shrink by 50 percent.
While it's obvious Wood thinks the closures are a bad thing, others disagree. Shay Farley, legal director for Alabama Appleseed, says the state is "above the curve" in payday loan use.
Her organization has lobbied for stricter regulation of the industry, saying the loans create a debt trap when borrowers have to roll over the loans because they can't repay the original amount borrowed. Payday lenders charge up to $17.50 per $100 for 10- to 14-day loans.
A borrowing limit was in place before the database was authorized, but lenders could simply say they didn't know borrowers had more than $500 in loans and there was no way to check.
The payday lenders challenged the creation of the database in court but lost. Banking Department Superintendent John D. Harrison said the database is working. It's blocked several loans because they were over the cumulative limit.
Repeat borrowers weren't included in the numbers provided by the banking department, and Farley says that's a key piece of the picture.
She says national data shows borrowers often have to come back eight times to clear their original loan.
We sympathize with folks who need an emergency loan. Many payday borrowers don't have the ability to go to banks and borrow small amounts of money to carry them past a crisis.
We also know, however, the debt trap catches many, many people — often those who have the least comprehension of the obligation they're incurring when they take out a payday loan.
We've often bemoaned the encroachment of nanny-state status, but sometimes people need protection from themselves. We believe payday borrowing is one such case.
The Tuscaloosa News on the Alabama Education Association not accepting a deduction ban:
The Alabama Education Association is persistent, if nothing else.
A state ban on payroll deductions for political organizations has been in court virtually since its passage in 2010. AEA filed a lawsuit challenging the ban in 2011, claiming the law violated constitutional rights to due process, equal protection, freedom of speech and freedom of association.
That legal challenge failed and the law took effect last year. When it was enacted, contributions to the lobbying organization dropped dramatically; and in political circles, at least in Alabama, when the money goes, so does the influence. It almost goes without saying that AEA is no longer the political powerhouse it was for years and years.
AEA lost a yet another court battle Wednesday, when the 11th Circuit Court ruled that the teacher lobbying organization can't subpoena documents from Gov. Robert Bentley, former Gov. Bob Riley, House Speaker Mike Hubbard and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh. AEA wanted the documents to bolster its contention that lawmakers passed the ban on payroll deductions because AEA often took political stances that were contrary to Republican beliefs. The politicians contended that the materials were privileged communications and the court agreed, writing that "AEA has no valid federal claim to justify intruding upon the lawmakers' legislative privileges."
Cecil Gardner, an attorney representing AEA, said the organization would consider asking the appeals court to reconsider its ruling.
"The decision almost completely insulates anybody from asking political decision makers the basis of their decisions. We don't think that's healthy in a democracy," he said.
AEA still has a claim pending that the law violates its members' First Amendment rights, but we don't buy it. AEA used part of the dues it collected using state resources for political purposes. Lawmakers merely banned that practice. They didn't stop AEA from collecting dues or taking stances on political issues. We believe the appeals court will see it that way as well and refuse to reconsider its ruling.
The Montgomery Advertiser on poverty in the state:
Poverty is not a crime. Too often in Alabama, however, the poor are thrown in jail or financially exploited for not being able to pay small fines for minor violations like traffic tickets.
The shameful practice has rightly been called the modern-day equivalent of debtor's prison and is clearly illegal. In 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that cities can't jail people simply because they are unable to pay fines, but the dictate has been broadly ignored.
The abuse mostly occurs when cash-strapped municipal courts farm out probation oversight duties to private companies that can tack on exorbitant fees for their services. Judicial Correction Services, the private probation company used by many Alabama cities, has charged as much as $40 in monthly fees to keep as profit, even if probationers can't afford to pay their regular monthly payment.
The net result of the racket is spiraling debt, jobs lost, families needlessly separated by jail sentences and already hardscrabble lives ruined, all to make profit off the impoverished.
Case in point, Harriet Cleveland, a 50-year-old Montgomery resident who was babysitting her grandchild in 2013 when she was arrested and sentenced to 31 days in jail because she couldn't pay fines for old tickets or the additional fees piled on by JCS. That case spotlighted efforts by two nonprofit groups — the Southern Poverty Law Center and Equal Justice Under Law — to end the extortionary practice through lawsuits and awareness campaigns.
The good news is they appear to be winning the fight.
In August 2014, the city of Montgomery agreed to drop the private probation company in order to end lawsuits over the jailing of indigent defendants for failure to pay fines.
Now the SPLC reports more than 50 Alabama municipalities have ended their contracts with JCS and many more are considering doing so. But some 80 other cities and towns continue to use JCS or other private probation companies to collect payments, leaving the door wide open for more potential abuse.
Yes, people who violate the law should pay what they owe in ticket fines and court costs.
But the restitution process must be reasonable, such as the standards Montgomery set in 2014 after the Cleveland lawsuit. They include requiring judges to determine if plaintiffs are indigent and, if so, letting them choose between paying $25 a month toward their debt or performing community service.
More Alabama cities should adopt similar humanitarian policies for poor probationers and drop private companies that have proved to be untrustworthy.
And not because of fear of lawsuits, but because it's the right thing to do.