By Chris Sanders
Advocacy barriers for Alabama Arise members were extraordinarily high during the Legislature’s 2021 regular session. The COVID-19 pandemic limited physical access to the State House and made a difficult policy landscape even rockier.
But Arise members were undeterred. They spoke out forcefully and repeatedly for justice and opportunity. And the result was real, meaningful progress on multiple issue priorities.
This year brought advances on criminal justice reform and internet access. It delivered stronger investment in early education and preserved funding for Medicaid and mental health care. And it saw efforts to chill free speech and erode the Department of Public Health’s effectiveness defeated.
Wins on expanding broadband, reforming civil asset forfeiture
Arise members made their presence known throughout the session. They gathered monthly for online Membership Monday events to stay engaged and connect with advocates across Alabama. On May 18, nearly 100 people attended a virtual recap event to debrief the session and prepare for next steps. And throughout the year, our supporters flooded email inboxes and rang phones off the hook, contacting legislators and Gov. Kay Ivey more than 14,000 times.
Arise action alerts by the numbers This year, Arise’s dedicated members and supporters consistently reached out to lawmakers when we asked. It’s impossible to overstate just how critical it is for our legislators to know what their constituents want. We’re so grateful to everyone who sent messages from our action alerts during this session. Here are a few examples of just how many messages you sent to legislators and the governor in response to Arise and Cover Alabama action alerts during the 2021 regular session: Medicaid expansion: 12,442 Voting rights and protecting free speech: 597 Protecting public health: 406 Civil asset forfeiture reform: 266 Other criminal justice reforms: 389
That advocacy worked. Lawmakers passed SB 215 by Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, to promote broadband expansion to rural communities and other underserved areas. And legislators finally began to rein in civil asset forfeiture, a practice that allows law enforcement to seize property without a criminal conviction.
SB 210 by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, doesn’t end civil asset forfeiture, but it makes some important initial improvements. Those changes include exempting some property from forfeiture and strengthening protections for innocent owners.
Successful defense against public health threats, anti-protest bill
Arise advocacy helped stop harmful proposals as well. Our members played a key role in blocking a plan to limit the governor and public health officials’ ability to respond to emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic. After our members sounded the alarm, SB 97 by Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, lost a House procedural vote in the session’s final hours.
Arise members also helped halt a threat to free speech. HB 445 by Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris, would have expanded law enforcement’s powers to arrest protesters for “rioting” and imposed harsh mandatory minimum sentences on people convicted under the law. The bill passed in the House but died in the Senate.
The Legislature likely isn’t done this year. Lawmakers expect one or more special sessions to address unfinished business like redistricting, prison overcrowding and allocating federal relief funds. Whenever the next session may be, Arise members will be ready, advocating as always for a better, more inclusive Alabama.
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