The Alabama House of Representatives will consider legislation Thursday that would give businesses and other entities limited civil liability protection from COVID-related lawsuits. The bill was given a favorable report on Wednesday by the House Judiciary Committee.
The legislation would give businesses, churches, schools, healthcare providers, cultural entities, governments, and individual employees or officers in a company limited immunity from civil liability resulting from the COVID-19 crisis. The bill, Senate Bill 30, is sponsored by state Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, and is being carried in the House by state Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook.
The protections would cover entities even if the entity was “grossly negligent.” State Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, objected to including immunity from lawsuits where the business, church, school or other entity was determined to be acting with gross negligence. Faulkner defended the legislation and explained that this bill would not give immunity for acts that were “wanton, reckless, willful or intentional misconduct.”
Under this bill, a health care provider ”is not liable for any damages, injury, or death alleged to have been caused by an act or omission of the health care provider during the performance or provision of health care services or treatment that resulted from, was negatively affected by, was negatively impacted by a lack of resources caused by, or was done in response to the Coronavirus pandemic or the state’s response to the pandemic.”
Faulkner said that this legislation is urgently needed. Proponents of the bill argue that SB30 is necessary to avoid a mountain of lawsuits against businesses, churches, schools, doctor’s offices and others alleging that people were infected by the coronavirus there. SB30 passed the Alabama Senate by a vote of 25 to 1 last week.
Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, told reporters last week that this bill was one of three priority pieces of legislation for the first two weeks of the legislative session. McCutcheon said that he expected that SB30 will be on the floor of the House by Thursday, Feb. 11. McCutcheon identified two other priority pieces of legislation for the first two weeks of the 2021 Legislative Session.
The other two were passed by the House last week. The first of these was an economic incentives bill, sponsored by Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, and state Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, which passed the Senate unanimously on Friday. It reauthorizes the Jobs Act and the Growing Alabama Act, two of Alabama’s primary statewide economic development programs that expired in 2020.
The third priority bill is House bill 170, the Alabama Taxpayer Stimulus Freedom Act of 2021, sponsored by state Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, which frees Alabamians from any state income tax liability from any federal COVID-19 relief payments under the CARES Act or subsequent coronavirus relief legislation. HB170 also passed the Senate on Wednesday in a 27 to 0 vote.