Bills to follow during the 2015 Alabama Legislative Session

The 2015 Alabama Legislative Session kicks off it’s marathon session tomorrow in Montgomery. Tackling issues such as charter schools to consumer debt, Alabama legislators will have plenty to deal with.

Here are a few issues to keep an eye on as session prepares to start.

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Death by electric chair – Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? Not so much according to this bill. SB11 would bring back use of the state’s dormant electric chair. Under current state law, if one is sentenced to the death penalty, they may choose between lethal injection or the electric chair.

According to AL.com, an inmate sentenced to death row hasn’t been executed since 2013 because the state does not have the drugs available.

SB11 would alter that provision. Inmates may still choose their way of death, but if lethal injection is unavailable, the state would put them to death with the electric chair.

Priorities for Republicans, I guess.

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The State of the Union and a Year of Action

Barack Obama

Photo courtesy of http://www.forbes.com / President Barack Obama

The talk on the importance of closing the gap on income inequality becomes more vexing as the days get longer. During President Obama’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday night, he talked about raising the minimum wage and providing people with ladders into the middle class.

Since the economy has started to rebound, Wall Street is doing well, home prices are rising, the stock market is vibrant, and corporate profits continue to escalate.

Even with so much financial success being talked about, what about the men and women of the working and middle class?

According to “high ranking administration officials,” the president has declared 2014 as “the year of action.” The White House released a fact sheet of 12 executive actions that President Obama plans to issue this year.

As of yesterday, Obama raised the minimum wage “through executive order to $10.10 for federal contract workers.” While I applaud the president for his action, it seems that this order may be more superficial than hefty.

The increase will only impact about 10 percent of the almost 2.5 million contracted workers, will not start until 2015 and will only cover new contracts, not old ones.

Another action, or order, includes galvanizing “America’s leading CEO’s to help the long-term unemployed” and conducting a “government-wide receive of federal job training programs.”

Again—I applaud the action—but frankly, we just need more.

Another note from the president’s speech on Tuesday night is with education. Obama stated that he’s “going to pull together a coalition of elected officials, business leaders, and philanthropists willing to help more kids access the high-quality pre-K they need.”

In addition to his talk about changing how our kids are educated, Obama wants to include the nation’s youngest children in his “Race to the Top” education fund. That detail about increasing access to pre-K could mean additional testing for kids that parents may not be ready to tackle.

So many of our educational standards are based upon standardized testing that this type of move is sure to divide.

By dissecting the State of the Union, we’re merely picking a part a speech steeped in pomp and circumstance. The president hears his name announced, shakes hands, makes a speech, shakes hands and then goes home.

The speech is a night for political junkies to indulge; to practice gluttony without the food.

Still—judging by polls and opinion, the American people want details and action. Not just a speech.

-JH

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Are For-Profit Colleges Harmful to African-Americans?

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Photo courtesy of http://www.bellcurves.com

From the woman walking on a bridge touting how great her for-profit college degree has been to her to a man urging you to get off of your couch, are for-profit educational institutions really that great?

We may have found the answer. A report via the Huffington Post exposes how some for-profit higher educational institutions operate.

According to the piece, Everest College will pay different companies a certain amount to hire one of its recent graduates. The amount paid from the college to the company is only good for 30 days, and once that period expires, the company is free to let the employee go.

But the dire warning of this story regarding Everest is that the school used the faux job placement strategy as a way to gain access to federal student aid funds. Without this money, companies like Corinthian, the parent company of Everest College, would have a tough time operating as they have received almost $10 billion in federal funds.

So, are these types of schools harmful to African-Americans?

According to the Atlantic, 13 percent of students who began to pay back their student loans in 2009 have already defaulted. Taking that further, 96 percent of all enrolled in for-profit educational institutions take out student loans and are saddled with over $12,000 more in debt compared to students who in enroll at a public colleges or universities.

Lastly, African-American enrollment in for-profit institutions shot-up a staggering 264 percent between 2004 and 2010. Couple that number with the percentage of students who leave school with student loan debt and we have our answer.

While education is a pathway to a greater life and success, nothing that comes with such a high price tag and so little pay-off is worth the financial hardship down the road.

-JH

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Student Loan Giant Sallie Mae in Hot Water

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Photo courtesy of Huffington Post/Sallie Mae

If not for student loans and Pell Grants, I’m really not sure how I would have attained my college degree. The monetary aid I received was genuine to me; it provided an avenue so that I may earn a higher education.

Yet the other side of that is this: 13 percent of students who began to pay back their student loans in 2009 defaulted within three years. There is either a money management problem going on in America or a lot of these students aren’t being properly educated on the services available to them.

Well, that and that dog on Sallie Mae. Through the fantastic electronic mail service Yahoo, I still receive e-mail updates from Ms. Mae about “lowering my payments” or simply “viewing my account.” I’m sure that when I open one of those e-mails one day there will be a message with letters cut-out from a magazine asking for the money that’s owed to them.

At any rate, disposing of my student loan horror stories, there is some news that everyone should know about.

According to the Huffington Post, Sallie Mae is being investigated for “violating borrowers’ rights.” In one of the accusations, the debt giant may have violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. This law protects active-duty military from way to aggressive debt collectors from garnishing checks or collecting funds in an un-fair manner.

In addition to its practices against military members, Sallie Mae’s discrimination extended unto civilians as Sallie Mae “incorrectly calculated borrowers’ incomes” and did not properly adjust accounts.

While Sallie Mae hasn’t been officially charged with any wrong doing, the findings against the company are disturbing. As of this moment, the federal government will not punish Sallie Mae and has chosen to renew its contract with the debt organization.

-JH

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