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Weekly Legislative Session Report: Week Three

Beth Lyons

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The Alabama Legislature met in session for Day 5 of the annual Regular Session on Tuesday, February 18. Twenty-eight committee meetings were held during the week to consider legislation. Both Houses met in session on Thursday, February 20 for Day 6.

535 bills have been introduced so far this Session.

The Legislature will return to Montgomery on Mardi Gras for Day 7 of the Session with the House convening at 1:00 p.m. and the Senate convening at 2:00 p.m..

DURING THE WEEK

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on SB165 by Senator Tim Melson. The bill, named the “Compassion Act,” creates an appointed nine member medical cannabis commission to oversee regulations and licensing for medical cannabis cultivators, processors, and dispensaries, and requires a statewide seed-to-sale tracking system for all medical cannabis in the state. The bill does not allow for the smoking or vaping of marijuana or edible forms of the drug. However, treatment in the form of pills, gelatinous cubes, gels, orals or creams, transdermal patches, and nebulizers will be allowed.

Patients would receive a state issued Medical Cannabis Card and a patient registry would be established. Medical conditions are enumerated in the bill, including Crohn’s Disease, HIV/Aids Related nausea, cancer-related chronic pain, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Proponents and opponents spoke on the bill. After several amendments were adopted by the Committee, the bill was given a favorable report.

The House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee held a public hearing, but did not vote, on HB79 by Representative Tim Wadsworth that would authorize a judge of probate, district judge, or circuit judge to carry a pistol openly or concealed in a courtroom, courthouse, courthouse property, and within his or her office.

Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) Director Lance LeFleur and staff briefed the Mobile and Baldwin delegations on the structure and timeline of the containment, clean up, and monitoring of the Barry Steam Plant Coal Ash Deposit in Mobile County.

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The Senate confirmed nine of the Governor’s board and commission appointments this week including Leslie D. Sanders to the Board of Human Resources, Representative Rod Scott to the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, and Wendall Wilkie Gunn to the University of North Alabama Board of Trustees.

BILLS PASSED BY HOUSE:

HB46 by Rep. Hollis HB66 by Rep. McClammy
HB84 by Rep. Hill HB140 by Rep. Baker

BILLS PASSED BY SENATE:

SB53 by Sen. Burkette
SB106 by Sen. Barfoot

To prohibit the smoking of tobacco products or vaping in a motor vehicle when a child aged 14 or under is in the vehicle.

To authorize a municipality or county to establish a local redevelopment authority for property that is contiguous to an active US Air Force military installation.

To limit mayoral pardons in relation to convictions for domestic violence.

To provide that landfills covered by substances other than earth are included within the definition of a landfill.

To authorize a municipality or county to establish a local redevelopment authority for property that is contiguous to an active US Air Force military installation.

To authorize the formation of charter schools near military installations with a focus on serving military dependents.

HOUSE:

HB35 by Rep. Pringle
HB69 by Rep. Rich
HB74 by Rep. K. Brown

To prohibit public K-12 schools from participating in, sponsoring, or provide coaching staff for interscholastic athletic events at which athletes are allowed to participate in competition against athletes who are of a different biological gender (House State Government Committee).

To increase the fees for issuing permits in the regulation of of the manufacturing, sale, display of fireworks, and for the use of pyrotechnics before an audience with 5% of the total fee going to the Alabama Firefighters Annuity and Benefit Fund (House Insurance Committee).

To prohibit the operator of a motor vehicle from using a wireless communication device in any manner that would require the operator to physically hold the device (Amended in House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee).

SIGNIFICANT FLOOR ACTION THIS WEEK

NOTEWORTHY BILLS REPORTED FROM COMMITTEE THIS WEEK

HB81 by Rep. C. Brown
HB110 by Rep. C. Brown
HB113 by Rep. C. Brown HB209 by Rep. McMillan
HB233 by Rep. Reynolds
HB272 by Rep. Weaver

SENATE:
HB147 by Rep. Sells
SB59 by Sen. Ward
SB60 by Sen. Ward SB177 by Sen. Gudger
SB183 by Senator Sessions

A proposed Constitutional Amendment to provide that a person charged with a Class A felony, when the proof is evident or the presumption is great, and if no conditions of release can reasonably protect the community from risk of physical harm, be denied bail before conviction (Amended in House Judiciary Committee).

To designate the Dauphin Island Sea Lab’s Alabama Aquarium as the official Aquarium of Alabama (House State Government Committee).

To provide for additional offenses that would require mandatory denial of bail (Amended in House Judiciary Committee).

To permit a pet dog in an outdoor dining area of a food service establishment under certain conditions (House County and Municipal Government).

To allow a municipality to use electronic records and signatures in the conduct of its affairs (House County and Municipal Government Committee).

To revise deadlines for candidates to qualify for the November 3, 2020 general election to accommodate the dates of the 2020 Republican National Convention (House Constitution, Campaigns and Elections Committee).

To prohibit a municipality that does not already have an occupational tax from imposing an occupational tax unless authorized by local law (Senate Governmental Affairs).

A proposed Constitutional Amendment to provide that all individuals are entitled to reasonable bail prior to conviction, except for offenses enumerated by the Legislature by general law (Substituted by Senate Judiciary Committee).

To provide for additional offenses that would require mandatory denial of bail (Substituted by Senate Judiciary).

To provide that former public employees may resume employment with their former employer or with another public employer during the 2 year prohibition against lobbying or otherwise representing clients before the government body for which he or she had worked (Amended in Senate Fiscal Responsibility ond Economic Development Committee).

To authorize any county to issue bonds to refund certain bonds previously issued by the county, and to ratify and confirm the validity of any refunding bonds originally issued prior to January 1, 2011 (Amended in Senate Banking and Insurance Committee).

SB196 by Sen. Williams

To provide the Department of Agriculture and Industries with exclusive jurisdiction over the regulation of working animals; to provide a reporting and investigation process for alleged violations of animal cruelty (Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee).

SIGNIFICANT INTRODUCTIONS THIS WEEK

A proposed Constitutional Amendment that would authorize municipalities to levy and collect ad valorem tax for the purpose of paying debt service on bonds, and the costs of public capital improvements (House County and Municipal Government Committee).
To specify that the definition of gross receipts, for the purposes of municipal business license taxes, does not include any excise tax imposed by the federal, state, and local governments (House County and Municipal Government Committee).

To exempt slot machines manufactured prior to 1960 from the crime of possession of a gambling device under certain circumstances (House Judiciary Committee).

To create the Alabama Church Protection Act to provide for the justification for a person to use deadly phycial force in self-defense or in the defense of another on the premises of a church in certain circumstances (House Judiciary Committee).

To require each public school senior to legibly print and sign his or her name in cursive writing as a requirement for graduation from high school (House Education Policy Committee).

To provide that if a person is convicted of boating under the influence, the person’s boating license and driver’s license will be suspended (House Judiciary Committee).
To authorize the adoption of local legislation authorizing wagering on professional, collegiate, and amateur sports contests and athletic events (House Judiciary Committee).
To prohibit a medical procedure on or medication to a minor child that is intended to alter the minor child’s gender or delay puberty (House Health Committee).

HOUSE:

HB253 by Rep. Ball
HB258 by Rep. Crawford
HB260 by Rep. C. Brown
HB263 by Rep. Greer
HB270 by Rep. Sells
HB284 by Rep. Shaver
HB301 by Rep. Rogers
HB303 by Rep. Allen
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SENATE:

MSB194 by Senator Waggoner
SB217 by Sen. Whatley
SB219 by Sen. Shelnutt
SB110 by Sen. Figures

To revise deadlines for candidates to qualify for the November 3, 2020 general election to accommodate the dates of the 2020 Republican National Convention (Senate Governmental Affairs Committee).

To require a municipality or county that levies a motor fuel tax to use the proceeds for road and bridge construction and maintenance with certain exceptions (Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee).

To prohibit a medical procedure on or medication to a minor child that is intended to alter the minor child’s gender or delay puberty (Senate Healthcare Committee).

To repeal Act 2019-189 making abortion or attempted abortion a felony (Senate Judiciary Committee).

 

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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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Governor

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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House

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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House

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.”

Benefield wasn’t alone in those feelings. 

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“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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