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Opinion | Weekly 2019 legislative report

Beth Lyons

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The Alabama Legislature met for Day 12 of its annual Regular Session on Tuesday, April 23. Thirty-three committee meetings were held throughout the week to consider legislation. Both Houses met on Thursday, April 25 for Day 13. 849 bills have been introduced to date.

The Legislature will return to Montgomery on Tuesday, April 30 for Day 14 of the Session with the House convening at 1 p.m. and the Senate at 3:30 p.m.

DURING THE WEEK:

Following a public hearing last week, the Senate Tourism Committee voted 6-5 against a bill that would have allowed the carrying of a firearm without a concealed carry permit [SB4 by Senator Gerald Allen].

On Tuesday, the Senate Tourism committee voted 6-5 for a proposed Constitutional Amendment that would establish a lottery, provide for the sale of paper lottery tickets including instant tickets and multi-state lottery games, and provide for the distribution of proceeds, first to repayment to the Alabama Trust Fund for transfers made to the General Fund, then one-half to the Alabama Trust Fund and one-half to the General Fund. The full Senate on Thursday approved the bill on a vote of 21-12, the minimum number of votes needed (3/5) to pass a Constitutional Amendment. The bill now goes to the House [SB220 by Senator Greg Albritton].

The Senate Governmental Affairs committee held a public hearing, but did not vote, on a bill that would establish a process for governmental agencies to provide public records including setting a standardized fee for copies and a time frame for responding to requests. It is expected that a substitute bill will be adopted addressing some of the concerns voiced at the public hearing when the committee again meets on the bill [SB237 by Senator
Cam Ward].

The House gave final passage to a Senate bill to allow hunters to buy licenses to hunt whitetail deer and hogs over bait under certain circumstances. The bill is now pending the Governor’s signature [SB66 by Senator Jack Williams].

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SIGNIFICANT INTRODUCTIONS THIS WEEK:

A bill was introduced in the House that would establish the Safe Freight Act to prohibit the operation of a train unless the train has a crew consisting of at least two individuals. The bill is pending in the House Transportation, Utilities and Infrastructure Committee [HB484 by Representative Napoleon Bracy].

A bill was introduced in the House that would require a physician to exercise reasonable care to preserve the life of a child born alive after an abortion or attempted abortion. The bill is pending in the House Health Committee [HB491 by Representative Ginny Shaver].

A bill was introduced in the House that would provide additional penalties for criminal littering and may include enhanced penalties for littering of certain items including cigarettes, cigars, containers of urine, and restaurant food containers. The bill is pending in the House State Government Committee [HB500 by
Representative Margie Wilcox].

A bill was introduced in the House that would provide for a delivery service permit that would allow the permittee to contract with certain licensed retail establishments to deliver sealed alcoholic beverages directly to Alabama residents who are at least 21 years of age for their personal use. The bill is pending in the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee [HB519 by Representative Gil Isbell].

A proposed Constitutional Amendment was introduced in the Senate that would allow in Macon County the game of bingo to be played on any electronic machine authorized by the National Indian Gaming Commission pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act which is operated by any Native American tribe in Alabama. The bill is pending in the Senate Local Legislation Committee [SB322 by Senator Billy Beasley].

SIGNIFICANT COMMITTEE ACTION THIS WEEK:

The Senate Tourism Committee gave a favorable report to a bill that would authorize licensed manufacturers of alcoholic beverages within an entertainment district that conduct tastings and samplings to sell beverages for consumption outside the premises. The bill now goes to the full Senate [SB276 by Senator Rodger Smitherman].

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a public hearing, substituted, and gave a favorable report to a bill that would allow the use of medical marijuana if a person has a qualifying condition and a valid medical cannabis card. The bill now goes to the full Senate [SB236 by Senator Tim Melson].

The Senate Education Policy Committee gave a favorable report to a House bill that would require that the pledge of alliance to the US flag be conducted at the beginning of each school day in public K-12 schools. The bills now go to the full Senate [HB339 by Representative Nathaniel Ledbetter].

The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee gave a favorable report to a House bill that would update the amnesty and class action provisions of the Simplified Sellers Use Tax (SSUT), and clarify transactions for which the tax cannot be collected and remitted. The bill now goes to the full Senate [HB183 by Representative Rod Scott].

The House Agriculture and Forestry Committee held a public hearing, but did not vote, on a bill that would require dispensing veterinarians to notify pet owners of the option to purchase veterinary drugs from a pharmacy rather than the veterinarian’s office [HB293 by Representative Margie Wilcox].

The House Urban and Rural Development Committee substituted and gave a favorable report to a bill that would authorize the placement, construction, installation, operation and use of broadband and other advanced communication capabilities and related facilities within electric easements by electric providers. The bill now goes to the full House [HB400 by Representative Randall Shedd].

The Senate Tourism Committee amended and gave a favorable report to a bill that would allow a licensed wine manufacturer to obtain a wine direct shipper permit from the ABC Board to allow it to ship limited quantities of wine directly to Alabama residents for personal use. The bill now goes to the full Senate [SB274 by Senator Bobby Singleton].

The Senate Transportation and Energy Committee amended and gave a favorable report to a bill that would provide for the operation of shared micromobility device systems and would require the consent of a county or municipality prior to the use of the system in the county or municipality. The bill now goes to the full Senate [SB312 by Senator Rodger Smitherman].

The Senate Tourism Committee amended and gave a favorable report to a bill that would provide that in Green County the game of bingo authorized by a previous amendment may be played on any electronic machine or devise that is authorized pursuant to specified federal law. The bill now goes to the full Senate [SB321 by Senator Bobby Singleton].

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee gave a favorable report to a House bill that would require the Strengthen Alabama Homes Program to maintain as confidential all documents and information submitted in support of grant applications. The bill now goes to the full Senate [HB363 by Representative Chip Brown].

The Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee gave a favorable report to a bill that would require the Department of Agriculture and Industries to develop a plan for monitoring and regulating the production of hemp. The bill now goes to the full Senate [SB225 by Senator Tim Melson].

The House Ways and Means Education Committee amended and gave a favorable report to a bill that would phase in the requirement that each public K-12 school offer courses in computer science. The bill now goes to the full House [HB216 by Representative David Faulkner].

The Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee amended and gave a favorable report to a bill that would allow certain licensed small farm wineries to sell directly to consumers. The bill now goes to the full Senate [SB234 by Senator Tom Whatley].

SIGNIFICANT FLOOR ACTION THIS WEEK:

The House substituted and passed a bill that would require the Alabama Historical Commission to commission monuments for Rosa Parks and Helen Keller to be located on the Capitol grounds. The bill is now pending in the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee [HB287 by Representative Laura Hall].

The House amended and passed a bill that would require insurance companies writing homeowners insurance policies to offer an endorsement that upgrades a home to a fortified standard adopted when the insured incurs roof damage covered by the policy that will require a roof to be replaced. The bill is now pending in the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee [HB283 by Representative Chip Brown].

The Senate amended and passed a bill that would authorize an organization, winery or brewery to obtain a license from the ABC Board to hold a wine or beer festival where wineries or breweries may provide tastings and sell their products for on-premises or off-premises consumption. The bill is now pending in the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee [SB269 by Senator Andrew Jones].

The House passed a bill that would provide that the surviving spouse and dependents of a law enforcement officer or firefighter killed in the line of duty on or after January 1, 2018 will continue to receive worker’s compensation benefits. The bill is now pending in the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee [HB187 by Representative Matt Fridy].

The House passed a bill that would authorize the Legislature to recompile the Alabama Constitution during the 2022 Regular Session, and provide for its ratification. The bill is now pending in the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee [HB328 by Representative Merika Coleman].

The House passed a bill that would authorize the Secretary of State to establish procedures to allow a voter to be placed on a permanent absentee voter list upon proof of having a permanent disability. The bill is now pending in the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee [HB174 by Representative Victor Gaston].

The Senate substituted and passed a bill updating the Rolling Reserve legislation known as the “General Fund Budget Reform Act” that would provide for the maximum amount that may be appropriated annually from the State General Fund, create the General Fund Budget Reserve Fund and General Fund Capital Fund, and cap the amount of certain taxes and revenues. The bill is now pending in the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee [SB126 by Senator Clyde Chambliss].

The Senate amended and passed a House bill that would make certain technical corrections to the Limited Liability Law regarding the ability of a partnership to continue as an entity for a brief period of time, and the duty of a partner to not compete with the partnership before the partnership is dissolved. The bill now returns to the House for action on the Senate amendment [HB251 by Representative Bill Poole].

The Senate substituted, amended, and passed a bill that would provide for the rights and responsibilities of an individual with a disability who uses a service animal and would prohibit discrimination against the person for using a service animal in a public accommodation or a housing accommodation. The bill is now pending in the House Judiciary Committee [SB10 by Senator Linda Coleman-Madison].

The Senate amended and passed a bill that would establish the Alabama Board of Genetic Counseling, provide that the practice of genetic counseling without a license is a criminal offense, exempt physicians and other medical professionals from licensure, and provide that genetic counselors are not authorized to practice medicine. The bill is now pending in the House Health Committee [SB213 by Senator Jabo Waggoner].

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Senate pro tem requests general fund committee begin hearings in July

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Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, announced today that he has asked Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee Chairman Greg Albritton, R-Range, to begin holding General Fund Committee meetings in preparation for the next session.

In an effort to be better prepared because of uncertainty in state revenue as a result of COVID-19 pandemic Senator Albritton has agreed with Senator Marsh and has invited Legislative Services, the Department of Finance, Pardons and Paroles, Corrections and the Personnel Department to provide updates to the committee.

“Typically, we begin this process closer to sessions however because of uncertainty about state income and possibility of special sessions, we felt like it was important to get started much earlier than usual in this process,” Senator Albritton said. “The Legislature has done an excellent job managing our budgets over the past few years. So much so that Alabama was able to weather the storm of the COVID-19 shutdown this year with little impact to our vital state services. We understand that we will not have final revenue projections until after July 15th, but we must continue to do our due diligence and ensure that we use taxpayer money sensibly.”

“We want to make sure that all public money is being used wisely, now and in the future,” Senator Marsh said. “We have many pressing issues facing the state such as a potential $2 billion-dollar prison reform proposal and a stunning lack of rural broadband investment which need to be addressed whenever the Legislature is back in session and it is our duty to make sure we are prepared and kept up to speed on these matters. Furthermore, the taxpayers deserve a clear and transparent view of how their money is being used.”

The hearings are scheduled to begin July 9 in the Alabama State House.

 

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Part-time employee in lieutenant governor’s office tests positive for COVID-19

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A part-time employee in Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth’s office, who the office said works only a handful of hours each week, tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, according to a press statement.

The employee, whose work area is separated from the rest of the staff, last worked in the office on the morning of Thursday, June 18.

All members of the office staff have been tested or are in the process of being tested for COVID-19 in response, and, thus far, no additional positive results have been reported.

In addition, the State House suite has been thoroughly cleaned and will remain closed until all employees’ test results have been returned.

Employees are working remotely from home, and phones are being answered in order to continue providing services to the citizens who need them.

 

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Three workers at ADOC headquarters among latest to test positive for COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter

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Sixteen more Alabama Department of Corrections employees, including three at the department’s headquarters in Montgomery, have tested positive for COVID-19. 

The department’s latest update, released Monday evening, puts the total of confirmed cases among employees at 99, with 73 cases still active. 

Five more inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 as well, including inmates at the Donaldson Correctional Facility, the Easterling Correctional Facility, the Kilby Correctional Facility, the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women and the St. Clair Correctional Facility.

18 of 27 confirmed cases among inmates remained active as of Monday, according to ADOC. 

Of the department’s 28 facilities, there have been confirmed COVID-19 cases among staff or inmates in 21. Of the state’s approximately 22,000 inmates, 214 had been tested as of Friday. 

Areas inside numerous state prisons are under quarantine, with ADOC staff either limiting inmate movements to those areas or checking for symptoms regularly and conducting twice daily temperature checks, according to the department.

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Still work to be done on an Alabama gambling deal

Josh Moon

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A grand deal on gambling is possible in Alabama, but there’s still a long way to go. 

That was essentially the message that representatives from the Poarch Creek Indians and owners of non-Indian casinos around the state gave Friday to Gov. Kay Ivey’s Study Group on Gambling Policy. The 12-member group heard presentations, via Zoom, from representatives from all the tracks and casinos in the state, as it continues in its quest to put together a proposal that Ivey and state lawmakers can use to hopefully craft future gambling legislation. 

To move forward with almost any legislation will require an agreement of some sort between PCI, Lewis Benefield, who operates VictoryLand and the Birmingham Race Course, and Nat Winn, the CEO of GreeneTrack. The owners of smaller electronic bingo halls in Greene and Lowndes Counties will also have some input. 

The tug of war between these various entities has, over the last several years, prevented an expansion of gambling. It also has left the state in a weird situation in which casinos are operating on a daily basis but there are numerous legal questions and the state is making very little in the way of tax dollars from any of them. 

But with public support for lotteries, sportsbooks and even full casino gambling at all-time highs (even a majority of Republican voters surveyed said they support full casinos in the state), and with neighboring states rapidly expanding offerings, state lawmakers seem ready to push through legislation to make it happen. 

And now, it seems, the two sides in this fight — PCI and the track owners — are ready to make a deal. 

“I feel like there’s a plan out there that would benefit all of us,” said Benefield, who is the son-in-law of Milton McGregor, who passed away in 2018. “I’d like to see us put together something that gets these customers back from surrounding states. I just really feel like we can work together.”

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Benefield wasn’t alone in those feelings. 

“We stand ready to sit down and talk (about a grand deal) with anyone,” said Arthur Mothershed, who, as vice president of business development for PCI, handled the tribe’s presentation on Friday. 

Mothershed and Benefield have each said previously, and APR has reported, that the tribe and the non-Indian entities have held several discussions over the last few months in a quest to work out a deal. 

There is a new, old player involved, however. 

Former Gov. Jim Folsom, now a lobbyist, represented several Greene County electronic bingo entities, including GreeneTrack, during the conference. Folsom and others representing the bingo casinos told the group that bingo is essentially the financial lifeblood for their county, and that without it multiple county services could go unfunded. 

Ivey’s study group has met four times with the goal of providing state lawmakers with clear answers on questions of revenue, risks and options for gaming types. Any legislation approved by lawmakers would have to be approved by voters.

 

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