The 2021 Alabama legislative regular session begins in four days and already more than 140 bills have been pre-filed. State Rep. Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville, has introduced legislation limiting the power of public officials to close businesses and churches in a public health emergency if the business or church is complying with conditions under which other businesses are allowed to remain open.
If passed by the Legislature, House Bill 103 would avoid the scenario of some businesses being declared “essential” and allowed to operate, while churches and other businesses were declared “non-essential” and forced to close. We saw this during the early months of the coronavirus crisis.
At one point, state-owned ABC liquor stores were operating legally, while churches could not hold services even at a greatly reduced capacity. Furniture and clothing stores were forced to close down, while Wal-Mart and Target, who sell furniture and clothing along with groceries, were allowed to operate.
According to the HB103 synopsis: “Under existing law, the Governor and Legislature are each authorized to declare a state of emergency. During a state of emergency, the Governor, state departments and agencies, and local governing bodies are authorized to issue emergency orders, rules, or regulations, including orders, rules, or regulations that require businesses and other entities to implement certain safety precautions in order to operate.”
HB103 “would provide that, during a state of emergency involving a pandemic, epidemic, bioterrorism event, or the appearance of a novel or previously controlled or eradicated infectious disease or biological toxin, any business or a church, mosque, synagogue, or other bona fide religious institution may continue or resume those business or religious operations if the business or religious entity complies with any applicable emergency order, rule, or regulation issued by the Governor, a state department or agency, or a local governing body which authorizes other business entities to operate under certain safety precautions.”
HB103 would limit the current powers wielded by the governor and other public officials under the Alabama Emergency Management Act of 1955.
At some points in even mayors, county commissions and county public health officers were claiming the power to close schools, churches and businesses of all sorts and were using law enforcement to carry out mandates. The lockdowns were short-lived. Since March, more than 450,000 Alabamians became infected and 7,340 Alabamians have died from COVID-19, including 168 more added to the death toll on Thursday.
Public health authorities argue that the governor and state health officer need this sort of emergency authority and that it should not be further limited by the state Legislature.
HB103 has been assigned to the House State Government Committee.
Kiel is serving in his first term in the Alabama House of Representatives. He is a graduate of Russellville High School and has a degree in management and marketing from the University of North Alabama. He is the owner of Kiel Equipment. Kiel serves on the House Education Ways and Means Committee, Insurance Committee and State Government Committees.
He is a founding member of the Franklin County Broadband Taskforce and has served on the SACS Accreditation and the Federal Monitoring Committees for the Franklin County school system. Kiel also serves as a Youth league basketball coach. Jamie and his wife Melissa have three daughters.
Alabama has been under Gov. Kay Ivey’s “safer-at-home” order since March. In July, she added a mask mandate to that order.