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VOICES for Alabama’s Children champions legislative wins, remains cautious on others

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Looking back on what was a momentous legislative session, the child advocacy group VOICES for Alabama’s Children championed what they considered to be two legislative victories, lamented that one bill fell short, and said they’ll closely monitor two bills they remain cautious about.

Apreill Hartsfield, policy and data analyst for VOICES, told Alabama Daily News that by far, the two biggest victories for the organization was the creation of a new child care tax credit program, and the funding of a summer feeding program for low-income children.

Signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey earlier this month, the child care tax credit program will offset tax liabilities for child care providers and employers who invest in expanding child care, and is projected to impact more than 7,000 families in its first year, and 58,000 families over a five-year period.

As it relates to tax credits for child care providers, providers with higher-rated facilities will be eligible to receive a greater amount of tax credits. It is this provision, Hartsfield said, along with the potential for parents to enter the workforce and spend less money on child care, that would especially help children.

“We’re maintaining that quality (of child care facilities), which means the health and safety of children are taken into consideration,” Hartsfield told ADN. 

“From a second perspective, once parents can get into the workforce and be able to provide better for their children, that helps the whole family. Getting parents back into the workforce means providing those families and the children with sustainability that they need.”

In a last minute addition to the budget, Alabama lawmakers also funded a summer feeding program in 2025 to the tune of $10 million, which Hartsfield estimated there would be more than 500,000 children eligible for the program. The state had already missed the deadline for this year’s federal feeding program and will not participate.

One bill that didn’t quite make it over the finish line was House Bill 265, a bill that would have brought the requirements for child passenger restraint systems more in line with national standards.

“This would have really increased the safety guidelines to be closer to what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has put out, and just further reduced the death and injury for our youngest vehicle passengers,” Hartsfield said. 

“That actually was really close to passing, it was on the Senate calendar for one of the last days, but it fell victim to some of the last-day filibustering.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ron Bolton, R-Northport, confirmed with ADN that he intends to refile the bill next year.

Two bills that Hartsfield said VOICES remains cautious about and will be monitoring closely are the CHOOSE Act and Senate Bill 53, a bill that removes barriers for 14 and 15 year olds to secure employment by removing a requirement that they receive approval from their school to work.

The CHOOSE Act, one of Ivey’s leading priorities heading into the 2024 legislative session, is the largest school choice bill in the state’s history, and would allow for families to use up to $7,000 a year of tax dollars earmarked for public education toward public school alternatives such as private or home schooling.

“As far as the CHOOSE Act, it’s going to take a few years to see how it’s implemented, how it’s rolled out, but some of the questions that we have are will this give all children the ability to choose where they go to school, and will the funding reach all children?” Hartsfield said.

“We’ll also be looking at public K-12 enrollment, looking if those numbers change in any way.”

She also said VOICES had concerns on how the CHOOSE Act could impact children living in Alabama’s rural communities where a private school might not exist. Children with special needs were also of concern given that not all private schools would be able to properly meet their educational needs.

As to the future, Hartsfield told ADN that VOICES biggest legislative priority for the next year was for lawmakers to close the health coverage gap, which refers to the close to 300,000 Alabamians without health insurance who make too much to be eligible for Medicaid, but too little to afford coverage in the private market.

Hartsfield noted that nearly all children in Alabama were covered through health insurance programs like ALL Kids or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. 

“In Alabama, I think we are at 97% coverage for children with health insurance, but the important thing of closing that health care coverage gap for the adults is that they are the caretakers for the children,” she said. 

“If parents aren’t able to stay healthy because they don’t have access to health care, they’re not going to be healthy to work, and they’re not going to be healthy to take care of their children. It really is a family issue.”

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