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Public Hearing on Bill to Double Amount of Payday Loan

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Wednesday, May 6, a public hearing was held in the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee on SB446.  SB446 was sponsored by State Senator Tom Whatley (R-Auburn).

Sen. Whatley said that SB446 was needed to level the playing field for Alabama Pay Day Loan lenders who face competition from the internet.  Whatley said that his bill takes the maximum limit for a payday loan from $500 to up to $1000.  I can go online and borrow $1500 from online lenders.  Our guys are limited to $500.  “What this bill does is protect the Alabama free market society.” Whatley’s bill takes the limit from $500 to $1000.

Sen, Whatley said that the objections to his bill do not come from payday lending customers.  The people with objections to his bill have a problem with aesthetics of brick and mortar payday lenders.

“That is just wrong”

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Roy Hutchison said that Sen. Whatley did a great job of explaining the need for this bill. Online lenders are not regulated by Alabama or the US The payday loans cap was set in 1993 at $500. $750 is what $500 was then. The industry is serving the needs of the community.

Shay Farley, the Alabama Appleseed legal director said “I disagree with why this bill is needed.  We already have the small loan act. Currently there are 1170 licensees under the small loan act.  The difference between a payday loan and a small loan is the interest rate.  456 percent versus 120 percent.”

State banking laws allow consumers to declare any internet debt null and void that exceeds the $500 limit is unenforceable.  She accused the bill of attempting to get around the database.

Sen. Whatley said we can take that out.

Lena Lester said, “I am here to speak for the poorer people this morning. I am on disability.  When I borrow money payday loans are there for me. I don’t like to go to my son and my family to borrow money. I don’t like to go online. Payday loans are there for me. I don’t understand why anybody would take that away from the poor people.  I prefer dealing with people from Alabama.”

Sen. Linda Coleman (D-Birmingham) said this does not do away with Payday Loans.

Lester: “I was very concerned about people in the payday loan office losing their jobs.”

Pete Session, a policy analyst for Alabama Arise, said that he opposed the bill.  Said that the 456 percent interest rate on loans they can not pay back is his objection. “People all over the state care about this issue…There is not a risk of payday loan regulations driving people online.” Our goal should not be to try to legalize those practices. The federal government will deal with the out of state out of country online lenders.  “We should have laws that reflect our values.”

Mack Wood said “I would like to say thank you for allowing me to speak on behalf of the industry and the consumers of Alabama.  I have been in this business for 1995.  Have a small store front.  We believe by raising the cap you will level the playing field.  There are big misconceptions about online lenders.  They makes up 50 percent of the business.  The number of storefronts have declined by 30 percent.  Internet lenders have taken the business.  Many people cannot get by on their $500, they need more money.”

Wood said that the argument that the state can declare loans null and void is inaccurate. They have had that option for 15 years and have done that twice.

Sen. Coleman asked Wood: “Are you willing to lower that to 30 percent, which is the rate on military loans.”

Wood: “I don’t know of a single payday lender that does military loans.  I can’t make money at that rate.”

Sen. Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison) said, “I have had conflicting reports on the interest rate and am seeking clarification.”

“Sen. Whatley suggested that the interest rates presented to us today are inaccurate.  The small loan and the payday loan have different qualifications.  They are not the same loan.”

Chairman Slade Blackwell (R-Mountain Brook) said, “I have a bill that I am working on as well.”

The bill was carried over.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with six and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook.

Governor

Lieutenant governor picks deputy chief of staff

Chip Brownlee

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The lieutenant governor has selected his deputy chief of staff.

Jess Skaggs, a former Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries administrator, will be Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth’s deputy chief of staff, his office said Thursday.

“As lieutenant governor, I plan for my office to be the most active and engaged in Alabama’s history, and Jess Skaggs has the experience, dedication, and energy necessary to help make that plan a reality,” Ainsworth said. “Jess has a deep desire to serve his fellow Alabamians and to make our state an even better place to live for all of its citizens. I’m happy to have him on my team as we work to provide Alabama with more jobs, better schools, and a higher standard of ethics among its elected officials.”

Skaggs previously served as the deputy commissioner for external affairs in the department.

He spearheaded economic development opportunities for the Department of Agriculture and Industries in that role. He also worked with the Alabama Legislature to promote the state’s agricultural industry and assisted the commissioner with public policy research.

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Ainsworth was sworn in as lieutenant governor on Monday. He’ll begin presiding over the Senate when the Legislature returns for the 2019 session in March. Ainsworth said Monday that he plans to focus on economic development, education, job training and government ethics during his term.

Aside from his experience in the ADAI, Skaggs has other experience in the Legislature that could come in handy for the lieutenant governor. Skaggs worked closely with two senators and five state representatives as the delegation director for the Baldwin County Legislative Office. In that role, he oversaw constituent services, drafted and researched legislation, and coordinated community service grants for the delegation members.

Skaggs worked on the bill that authorized improvements to Gulf State Park and the Lodge at Gulf State Park. That was at the behest of former State Sen. Tripp Pittman, for whom he worked as a legislative aide. Pittman who chaired the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee.

A graduate of Huntingdon College with a degree in political science and history, Skaggs has also worked on numerous political campaigns as a general consultant and fundraiser.

He and his wife, Charlanna, an attorney specializing in business law, have three daughters and one son.

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Economy

PCI investing heavily in out-of-state casinos using un-taxed dollars from Alabama

Bill Britt

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The Poarch Creek Indians are buying a billion-dollar casino in Pennsylvania using un-taxed dollars siphoned out of Alabama.

PCI is paying $1.3 billion for the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem in a bid to expand the tribe’s lucrative gaming syndicate beyond the borders of Alabama.

According to lehighvalleylive.com, once the purchase is approved, the tribe, “plans to immediately invest $190 million into a 300-room hotel expansion and development of the No. 2 Machine Shop, possibly into an indoor water park.”

PCI is seeking to shelter its vast fortune in out-of-state investments as congressional leaders are questioning PCI’s legal status as a tribe under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.

Questions about the tribe’s standing stem from 2009, U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Carcieri v. Salazar, which holds that only tribes that were federally recognized in 1934, could benefit from the federal land restoration efforts. It is this recognition that allows PCI to offer electronic gaming and enjoy other federal benefits and protections.

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However, PCI was not federally recognized until 1984, some 50 years after the cut-off date imposed by the Supreme Court.

In recent years, PCI has pushed Alabama’s congressional delegation for a “Carcieri fix,” to protect the tribe from any challenges to its status as a federally recognized tribe, but those efforts have been rebuffed by Alabama’s senior U.S. Senator Richard Shelby.

As PCI’s fortunes have grown so has its influence over Republican politicians eager for ready cash.

U.S. Congressman Bradley Byrne is leading efforts to gain a congressional solution to the tribe’s Carcieri problem but without Shelby’s support, it is a dead letter.

PCI has enjoyed a near monopoly over gaming in the state since Gov. Bob Riley closed the tribe’s competition during his bingo war.

According to several sources, Riley and former Business Council of Alabama CEO Billy Canary are in league with PCI to take control of the state’s two U.S. Senate seats. A move that would give the tribe nearly unlimited political power within the state.

Moving tax-free funds out of Alabama is just one of the latest moves the tribe is using to shelter its tax-free profits.

With the Sands acquisition, PCI is also looking at internet gaming and sports betting.

According to the lehighvalleylive.com report, Pennsylvania gaming regulators must approve the finalized plan.

It is uncertain if Pennsylvania’s gaming regulators are aware of PCI’s questionable status as a federally recognized tribe or rumors of an investigation by the Department of Interior into suspect acquisitions.

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Courts

Limestone County Sheriff’s investigator files federal lawsuit against the sheriff, county commission

Josh Moon

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A Limestone County investigator has filed a federal discrimination claim against the Limestone County Sheriff’s Office, alleging she was sexually assaulted by a senior officer and that her complaint was never investigated by Sheriff Mike Blakely or the Limestone County Commission.

Instead, Leslie Ramsey says she was routinely reprimanded for fabricated reasons, passed over promotions and ultimately demoted to third shift when she refused to quit.

Ramsey’s lawsuit, which also names Blakely, the county commission and senior deputy Fred Sloss, details a number of embarrassing mishaps committed by other Limestone County deputies and investigators — men who were either promoted before her or never reprimanded as she was.

On Monday, Blakely posted on his Facebook page a defense of his chief deputy Fred Sloss, who Ramsey accuses of sexually assaulting her.

“I want everyone to know that I’m proud to have Fred Sloss as my chief deputy,” Blakely wrote in a lengthy post that included recapping Sloss’s background in the military. “Fred comes from a wonderful family. And like his family he has an outstanding reputation. Fred’s honesty, integrity and character is second to none. As we go through life there will be bumps in the road but God is good and he is the judge that counts.”

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At a weekly press briefing on Wednesday, a sheriff’s department spokesman declined to answer any questions about the lawsuit.

In this particular case, a federal judge will be most important. And Ramsey’s complaint will be particularly troubling, considering her background as an investigator, her documentation of events and the fact that there is a witness with direct knowledge of both the alleged assault and Blakely’s knowledge of it.

In her complaint, Ramsey says she and her former boyfriend, Bobby Joe Ruf, attended a small gathering at Sloss’s home. At some point, Ramsey went outside alone to smoke a cigarette, and Sloss followed her outside.

While outside, the complaint states, Sloss repeatedly ran his hand over and between her legs, over her breasts and on her crotch. Ramsey said she attempted to push Sloss off of her, but he shoved her against a car and said he would make her a captain if she accepted his sexual advances.

Again, she says in the complaint, that she pushed Sloss off of her. At that point, she said Sloss asked her to “show me your tits.”

Ramsey said she told Ruf about the encounter when they left Sloss’s home that night.

Following the alleged assault, Ramsey said Sloss began treating her differently, including having her followed. A few days later, she said she was called into Blakely’s office with Sloss, and the sheriff told her she was “a bad apple” and threatened to demote her.

At that point, Ramsey said, she had not filed a complaint against Sloss. It was eventually reported to Blakely by Ramsey’s father several days later. And a few days after that, the complaint states, Blakely called Ruf into the sheriff’s office for a lengthy meeting about the alleged assault.

Ramsey eventually filed an official grievance over the alleged assault and over Blakely demoting her. An internal review found Blakely was within his rights.

Following that review, Ramsey was demoted from investigator to third-shift patrol.

She subsequently filed a complaint with the Limestone County Commission in June 2017 asking that she be reinstated as an investigator. A few weeks later, she was placed on leave, which turned into unpaid leave.

The Commission ultimately conducted a review of her grievance but never submitted an official finding. However, shortly after the review, Ramsey said she was awarded backpay and placed back on paid leave, where she remained until she filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint in Nov. 2017. Following that complaint, she was reinstated as an investigator in Feb. 2018.

In the meantime, Ramsey said she was passed over for promotion by male officers who committed a number of embarrassing mistakes, most of which went without reprimand. Those mistakes include losing a pistol that was used in a suicide, losing the cell phone of a murder victim, leaving the keys in a Special Response van that was then stolen and driven to another state, firing at the back of a fleeing suspect and having an investigator be reported for being drunk on the job.

 

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Legislature

Sen. Cam Ward will again chair the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee

Chip Brownlee

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The senator largely responsible for rewriting many of Alabama’s antiquated sentencing laws and who has led an effort to reform Alabama’s prisons will again chair the Alabama Senate’s Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, was selected to chair the powerful committee responsible for oversight of Alabama’s criminal justice system.

Ward, who has served in the State Senate since 2010 after two terms in the Alabama House of Representatives, sponsored historic legislation in 2015 that rewrote Alabama’s sentencing guidelines. The aim was to reduce Alabama’s prison population by moving non-violent offenders toward rehabilitation programs.

Since the legislation passed, in 2015, Alabama’s inmate population has decreased by at least 4,406 inmates or a little more than 14 percent. In October 2018, the population was 26,858. That’s down from a high of 32,523 in 2013.

Combined with sentencing reforms in 2013, the population has decreased by about 17.5 percent since that year. That has been welcome news to an Alabama corrections system that has experience historic overcrowding since the new millennium.

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About 20,195 of those prisoners are held in Alabama Department of Corrections facilities, which were designed to hold only 12,412. That occupancy rate of about 160 percent is down about 15 percent since 2013, when prisons were verging on 190 percent occupancy rate.

“We have made a lot of strides with criminal justice reform, but we still have a long ways to go. We have to continuously innovate and use smart, data-driven approaches to figure out ways to keep recidivism as low as possible,” Ward said. “Criminal justice reform is an area where Republicans and Democrats actually agree on a lot, as evidenced by the fact that Cory Booker and Ted Cruz both voted for President Trump’s First Step Act, which I think is a smart reform of the federal sentencing guidelines.”

Ward has also sponsored or been a main supporter of legislation that would have built new prison facilities to replace aging prisons that were built largely in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Judiciary Committee chairman said he isn’t done looking at the issue of sentencing reform, though. And he views it as a bipartisan issue that both sides can work on together.

He also hinted at his support for an increase in infrastructure investment. The Republican leadership in the Legislature is considering a plan to raise Alabama’s gas tax for the first time since 1992 in an effort to fund infrastructure investment.

“The Republican majority has accomplished some huge conservative reforms over the past few years. Thanks to a strong commitment to fiscal responsibility, proration hasn’t happened once to Alabama’s schools since 2011, and we have passed a historic pro-life constitutional amendment, to cite just two examples,” Ward said. “In this new legislative term, I look forward to working with other legislators and Governor Ivey to tackle some of the remaining big challenges facing our state, like infrastructure modernization and education reform.”

Ward hasn’t stopped with sentencing reform. He led an effort to reform court costs and fees charged to juveniles. Last year, he proposed 10 different bills that focused on some issue of Alabama’s justice system. Six of those dealt directly with court funding issues.

Though some of them failed, like the juvenile justice reform bill, others have passed. Last session, he sponsored a bill signed into law that increased penalties for trafficking and distributing fentanyl, an extremely powerful synthetic opioid that claimed the lives of 157 Alabamians in 2016, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

On top of his role in the Legislature, Ward is entering his ninth year as president of the Alabama Law Institute.

The ALI, housed in the Law Center Building at the University of Alabama, has the goal to “clarify and simplify the laws of Alabama, to revise laws that are out-of-date and to fill in gaps in the law where there exists legal confusion.”

The Legislature will reconvene in March for the 2019 legislative session.

 

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Public Hearing on Bill to Double Amount of Payday Loan

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 3 min
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