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House passes bill to set minimum visitation standards during public health emergencies

The legislation sets minimum visitation requirements for a patient in a nursing home or hospital during public health emergencies.


The Alabama House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill that would allow family members of patients in a hospital or nursing home to visit their loved ones during a public health emergency. Thousands of Alabamians died in nursing homes and hospitals during the last year without their family at their side for lengthy periods of time due to COVID-19 rules.

House Bill 521 was sponsored by state Rep. Debbie Wood, R-Valley, and co-sponsored by Reps. Arnold Mooney, R-Indian Springs, and Tracy Estes, R-Winfield.

“When you are in a hospital, when you are in a nursing home you need an advocate,” said Wood, who lost her own mother during the past year. “So many people in Alabama lost their advocate. We could no longer visit our loved ones. This would set a minimum standard for visitation.”

Estes said: “Our healthcare workers were overworked and underpaid” during the pandemic and “did a heroic job.” Wood agreed.

Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, said that as of last week over 10,500 Alabamians have died in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The House voted to adopt a health committee amendment to the bill.

According to the synopsis:

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“This bill would set minimum standards for visitation when visitation may be limited due to a public health emergency, subject to reasonable restrictions. This bill would also provide civil immunity for health care facilities acting in accordance with its provisions.”

“The Legislature finds that it is in the best interests of the residents of Alabama to continue to have access to their loved ones receiving acute care or residing in long-term care facilities during a public health emergency and that companionship with one’s loved ones during that time can provide support and peace of mind that positively impacts the healing process.”

The visiting family member would have to comply with pandemic rules such as social distancing and the wearing of masks.

Wednesday, the House set an unusual ten-minute calendar that limited debate on each bill to just ten minutes. Ten-minute calendars are not that unusual; however, on Tuesday, Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, had vowed to kill every bill on Wednesday’s ten-minute calendar.

Under normal ten-minute calendars, if the bill did not pass after ten minutes and it was not carried over by the sponsor, the bill dies for the session. Under the rules proposed by House Rules Committee Chairman Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, for Wednesday’s special order calendar, after ten minutes the bill would be voted upon, thus thwarting any effort by the minority party to effectively stall or disrupt the legislative process.

Rep. Napoleon Bracy, D-Mobile, called this a “cloture calendar” and strongly objected to the rules in a discussion with Jones. HB521 passed the House 83 to 4 and now goes to the Senate for their consideration.

Thursday will be day 21 of the 2021 Legislative Session. There is a maximum of 30 legislative days in a regular session of the Alabama Legislature.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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