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A Democratic lawmaker is already trying to repeal Alabama’s abortion ban

Chip Brownlee

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Alabama Democratic state Sen. Vivian Figures has filed a long-shot bill in the State Legislature that would reverse the near-total abortion ban approved and signed by Gov. Kay Ivey last week.

The repeal is unlikely to pass in either of the legislative chambers where Republicans hold supermajorities and passed the abortion ban along partisan lines. Every Republican present in the Senate last week voted for the ban.

Despite the low odds that the repeal would ever happen, Figures is hoping to send a message that Democrats are not happy with the ban, which would criminalize nearly all abortions even in cases of rape and incest.

“There are consequences for every decision we make as legislators, and for every vote we cast, there are ramifications,” Figures said. “However, some of these effects are unintended, and I truly believe this has been the case for SB314. I do not believe my Republican colleagues had any idea what the consequences for passing this bill would be.”

The only exceptions in the law are for the life of the woman seeking an abortion and if the fetus has a fetal anomaly, which would lead to the fetus’s death.

Figures cited criticism from televangelist Pat Robertson, Sen. Mitt Romney and RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel as reasons for reconsidering the law. National Republican leaders — including President Donald Trump — have distanced themselves from the law, which they said goes too far without exceptions for rape and incest.

“I felt that the least I could do was to offer a bill to repeal HB314 with the hopes that it would help to heal some of the wounds that my Republican brothers and sisters have inflicted on the great state of Alabama,” Figures said. “Unfortunately, this bill is serving as a detriment to the entire state of Alabama in terms of revenues and in terms of healthcare, particularly for women.”

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The bill’s sponsors said they wrote the bill with the intent of challenging Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that officially recognized a woman’s right to an abortion, before a more conservative Supreme Court that appears primed to reconsider the precedent.

Alabama’s law defines the fetus as a person, and the sponsors hope the court would agree if they ever take up the case. It’s possible — if not likely — that the law will never go into effect. Lower federal courts are likely to enjoin the law. It would go into effect in six months without an injunction.

Figures said national and international concern about the measure could hurt Alabama’s business environment and tourism industry.

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“I have heard from people all over the country saying they planned a vacation to Alabama’s beautiful beaches, but when this extreme abortion ban was signed into law, they immediately canceled those plans,” Figures. “If we care about the future and well-being of our state, this law must be repealed.”

It’s unlikely that Figures’ repeal measure would make it before a committee before the Legislature adjourns sine die to end this year’s legislative session. Though there are several legislative days left, lawmakers hope to be done by the end of May, further limiting the window for Figures’ legislation to be considered.

 

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Crime

House passes bill to make it a hate crime to attack law enforcement

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama House of Representatives passed legislation Thursday that would add law enforcement officers to Alabama’s hate crimes statute. It now moves to the Senate.

The House passed HB59 by a margin of 92 to 0.

Under current law a crime become a hate crime if a person is victimized because of their race, creed, or disability. Murder to make money, in a crime of passion, or in the commission of a crime is murder. If a racist targets a person because of their race, then it become a hate crime and additional sentencing enhancements kick in under Alabama sentencing guidelines. House Bill 59 would make targeting a member of law enforcement because they are a member of law enforcement also a hate crime.

House Bill 59 is sponsored by State Representative Rex Reynolds (R-Huntsville).

Reynolds said that Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall supports the legislation.

“An attack on law enforcement in Alabama is an attack on all of her citizens—an attack on all Alabamians.…” Marshall said on social media. “If you take the life the life of a law enforcement officer, you will likely have forfeited your life as well.”

Marshall stated, “To the brave men and women who wear that badge, my heroes: Don’t give up. Don’t lose heart. Keep fighting the good fight, because your cause is righteous. Know that you have our support and our eternal gratitude.”

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Reynolds said that attacks on law enforcement, whether it is throwing water on them, assaults, or assassinations are up across the country. “We are not going to stand for it anymore.”

State Representative Mary Moore (D-Birmingham) said, “I support the bill, but there are too many guns on the street.”

Moore proposed banning high powered rifles and AR-15s. “We need to level the playing field for them.” :We stand ready to come up with a bipartisan bill to curb the number of guns on the street. We need men and women who are not afraid of the National Rifle Association.”

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“We have got to change how police officers are treated,” said Rep. Allen Treadaway (R-Morris). “I have been to too many police funerals.”

Treadaway is a police captain with Birmingham Police Department.

“The disrespect for police officers is unprecedented,” Treadaway said. “I have been a law enforcement officer for 30 years and I have not seen anything like it. We can’t hire police. We can’t retain police.”

Rep. Artis “A. J.” McCampbell (D-Livingston) said, “We have had eight police officers killed in the last 13 months.”

“How do we enhance the crimes when we already have a capital case for the murder of a police officer?” McCampbell asked.

Reynolds said that the sentence enhancements would apply when the police were targeted; but it is not a capital crime. 6,500 police officers were assaulted last year.

Reynolds said that harming an officer while attempting to escape or resisting arrest would not qualify as a hate crime. Attacking police because the motive is hate of the police would be a hate crime and then sentencing enhancements would apply.

Reynolds said that under current law if they are convicted of a capital crime of killing the police they get the death penalty.

Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham) said, “Is there a way to just give them the death penalty without going through all the appeals?”

Reynolds said, “I sure wish we could.”

Rogers said, “The death penalty should be automatic.”

Rogers daughter Mary Smith mas murdered.

“It has to be adjudicated in the court system before these enhancements would not come into play,” Reynolds said. “I hope there will come a day when a bill like this is not needed because people respect law enforcement.”

Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) said that the police, sheriffs, and other law enforcement and first responders at the thin blue line protecting us and our families.

Mooney is a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.

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House

House committee fails to advance “gender is real” legislation

Brandon Moseley

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A House committee failed to advance legislation that would have required high school athletes to compete under the gender assigned at their birth. It was opposed by LGBTQ groups who said that it discriminates against transgender people.

HB35 was sponsored by Congressional candidate State Representative Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) who chairs the State Government Committee.

The legislation would require public K-12 school students to use their biological gender, as it appears on their birth certificate, to determine the sporting events in which they may participate. Additionally, the bill would ban teams from using public facilities if children are competing in single-gender sporting events that don’t align with their gender identified at birth.

Rep. Pringle said that the GIRL Act is aimed at ensuring fair competition among student athletes in the state.

“Gender is real. There are biological differences between boys and girls that influence athletic performance,” Pringle said in a statement. “The GIRL Bill seeks to support female student athletes, so that they may compete against each other and not have to compete against male students with an unfair advantage.”

Pringle called the bill a common sense measure based on science saying, “Liberal Democrats are always trying to accuse us of refusing science, but gender is a real biological truth. It truly defies logic that anyone would deny science and want male students to compete in female sports.”

Pringle said that two boys in Connecticut competing as girls have dominated athletic competition there. Pringle said that it is not fair to the girls to have to compete against trans girls.

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Six LGBTQ advocates spoke in opposition to the legislation.

Cassandra Williamson said that she was a former Marine and U.S. Naval Academy graduate with four children and eleven grandchildren and is a trans woman. She said that the American Medical Association, the psychiatric association and the nurses all oppose this.

A motion by Democrats to carry over the bill was defeated; but no one made a motion to give the bill a favorable report.

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The Yellowhammer Fund, an abortion fund and reproductive justice organization in Alabama, commends the Alabama House Committee for its decision to shelve HB 35 the “Gender is Real Legislative (GIRL) Act which they claimed was a direct attack on transgender students in the state.

“We could not be happier to see the committee recognize that HB 35 was a divisive ‘solution’ to a non-existent problem, and one that would only further marginalize and discriminate against the trans community,” said Mia Raven, Policy Director for the Yellowhammer Fund. “All students should have the right to participate in sports with their teammates, regardless of gender identity.”

Since the committee did not actually vote down the bill, as chair, Pringle could bring back the bill at a future committee meeting.

Pringle told reporters that he was “optimistic” about the bill’s chances.

“There are always a lot of questions in our society on gender issues,” Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) said. We had expected to hear from some groups in support of the bill out of a sense of fairness.

Reporters asked the Speaker if HB35 would pass the house.

McCutcheon replied that it, “Was too early for me to be making those types of predictions.”

Chairman Pringle is a candidate for Alabama’s First Congressional District. Incumbent Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Doug Jones (D).

The Republican primary is March 3.

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House

Bill to help save “man’s best friend” advances to House

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The Alabama Senate passed a bill to help save animals in hot cars. Sponsored by Sen. Jimmy Holley, SB67 aims to prevent animal abuse. This bill passed the Senate in a vote of 33-0 and now heads to the House.

If enacted, this bill would prevent owners from leaving domestic animals in a motor vehicle unattended in a manner that creates an unreasonable risk of injury or harm to the animal.

Currently, there is no legislation that forbids owners from leaving animals in vehicles where there is possible harm or injury concerned.

This bill would also provide criminal immunity to civilians aiding animals stuck in a dangerous situation inside a vehicle.

In addition, the bill would grant civil and criminal immunity to any public safety official who rescues an animal.

Bill sponsor Senator Jimmy Holley noted that this bill was intended to mirror the law passed in a previous session that was created to prevent parents from leaving small children in cars during extreme temperatures. 

“I’m blessed to have a district with so many people who love their pets, especially their dogs. I was asked to create a bill that paralleled the bill we previously passed that protected people who rescued children from dangerous situations in vehicles,” Senator Holley said.

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This bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senator Jimmy Holley represents District 31 in the Alabama State Senate, which includes all or parts of Coffee, Dale and Pike counties.

 

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Legislature

Senate Health Committee bill advances despite clash between ophthalmologists, optometrists

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama Senate Health Committee last week narrowly voted to give a favorable report to a bill that would allow Alabama optometrists to expand their scope of practice to include seven procedures that are currently performed exclusively by ophthalmologists.

Senate Bill 66 is sponsored by State Senator Tom Whatley (R-Auburn).

Whatley said that he has eye issues and has been treated by both ophthalmologists and optometrists over the years. This bill would improve access to care for people in rural Alabama.

Ophthalmologists are doctors who have been to medical school and have chosen to specialize in eyes. Optometrists are doctors who have to optometry school to study treating conditions of the eye.

The Chairman of the Senate Health Committee is Senator Jim McClendon, R-Springville. McClendon is an optometrist and is a cosponsor of the legislation.

The bill would expand the scope of practice of optometrists to perform: injections, excluding injections into the posterior chamber of the eye to treat any macular or retinal disease; incision and removal of a chalazion; removal and biopsy of skin lesions involving the lid and adnexa; laser capsulotomy; laser trabeculoplasty; laser peripheral iridotomy; and corneal crosslinking.

Ophthalmologists like Dr. Chris Girkin Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Alabama oppose the bill.

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Optometrists support expanding their scope of practice to include these procedures, which currently are only performed by the ophthalmologists. The ophthalmologists and the Alabama Medical Association oppose expanding the scope of practice of the optometrists. These medical doctors say their objection are relayed to patient safety not a turf war between professions.

A similar bill was defeated in the legislature last year. That bill, also sponsored by Sen. Whatley, would have expanded the scope of practice for the optometrists to make those seven procedures. That bill also would have allowed optometrists to perform LASIK surgeries and make injections into the posterior chamber of the eye to treat conditions, such as diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration. LASIK “laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis” is the most commonly performed laser eye surgery to treat myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness) and astigmatism.

Chairman McClendon said that the optometrists have dropped the LASIK surgeries and the injections into the posterior chamber of the eye. McClendon said that the optometrists have offered to compromise and the ophthalmologists have refused to accept any expansion of the current scope of practice for optometrists.

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Whatley said that SB66 would expand healthcare options for Alabamians particularly rural Alabamians. There are ophthalmologists in just 24 Alabama counties while 57 counties are served by optometrists.

Dr. Brendan Wyatt said, “I am a board-certified ophthalmologist and Vice president of the Association of Ophthalmologists. I practice in Dallas County.”

Dr. Wyatt said that SB66 would be, “Giving non-surgeons the ability to perform surgery on our poorest most vulnerable citizens.”

Wyatt disputed that there was an “Access to care problem. That is not true.”

Wyatt said that the optometrists said that the information provided by the optometrists, “Shows Autauga County as not having an ophthalmologist. I pay $2000 a month for a satellite office there.”

Wyatt said that another ophthalmologist has a satellite office in Marengo County. “You guys have been fed false information. We did our own research using Medicare billing data. Over 91 percent of our population is within a 30 minute drive to an ophthalmologist and 98 percent are within an hour drive to an ophthalmologist.

Wyatt took, “Issue with this being safe and no harm will be done. These lasers cause controlled explosions in your eyeball.” “I implore you to do the right thing and kill this bill.”

McClendon said that optometrists are being trained how to do all of these procedures in optometrist school and that Alaska, Kentucky, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma all already allow optometrists to perform these procedures.

Senator Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said, “I want to make sure that we don’t do something that ham string us going forward.”

Dr. Josh Driver is an optometrist and the immediate past president of the Alabama Optometric Association.

Dr. Driver said that passing SB66, “Would improve access to care for thousands of Alabamians.”

“This bill would address some of the open ended questions in the bill last year,” Driver said. “These are seven in office procedures that do not require anesthesia.” All of them are being taught in optometry school. UAB is graduating optometrists and they are leaving our state for states where they can better practice their profession. This is about improving access to optometry care for all of Alabamians not just those who live in a major city.

Dr. Chris Girkin is the Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Alabama.

Girkin said that he is currently researching model of providing access to care for rural Alabama more effectively through other models including telehealth that can be done without increasing the scope of practice of optometrists.

Dr. Girkin warned that if this bill passes then every optometrist will add a laser to their practice and up to 20 percent of their patients could be negatively impacted.

Dr. Rob Pate, an optometrist, told the Alabama Political Reporter that medical doctors spend time learning to birth babies and do all of the things that they do before deciding what they want to specialize in. We spend all of our education studying the eye and conditions of the eye.

McClendon said that there are quite a few scope of practice bill that are ready to come forward soon. All of these bills were killed last year by the Alabama Medical Association who doesn’t want to compromise on anything.

The legislature limits the scope of practice of optometrists, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, chiropractors, nurse midwives, lay mid-wives , etc. Many of these professions want expanded scopes of practice.

Whatley made a motion to give a favorable report to the bill. There were several ayes. McClendon did not ask for nays and said the ayes have it. This meeting is adjourned.

Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, said that he wanted it on the record that he is opposed to this.

Sen. Larry Stutts, R-Sheffield, said that Robert’s rules of Order were violated in the vote.

SB66 now can be considered by the full Alabama Senate.

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