Photo | Shane Rice
Two weeks after gaveling in for the start of the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers are in recess from the Alabama State House this week to return to their districts and assess COVID-19 effects before resuming. Last year’s session was cut short by the pandemic, and while legislators did have time in 2020 to approve the general fund budget, the education budget and a $1.25 billion bond issue to fund school construction, they were forced to abandon bills addressing Alabama’s prison crisis, gambling, mental health care and medical marijuana, among other things.
So now they are playing catch-up, though cautiously. According to most reports, the session has been conducted smoothly and efficiently with restrictions on who can attend. As a result, Gov. Kay Ivey had already signed four new pieces of legislation by Friday. Dubbed “priority bills” in her State of the State Address Feb. 2, the four newest laws in Alabama protect COVID-19 stimulus payments from state income tax, renew economic incentive programs designed to promote job creation, and protect businesses from liability lawsuits for spreading COVID-19.
Also, landlords and tenants who may be feeling the financial strain of the pandemic are now eligible for a share of $263 million in federal rental assistance provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, as Ivey signed a piece of priority legislation to authorize the Alabama Housing Finance Authority to implement the program.
“While the impact of COVID-19 has been felt across the country and around the world, we remain committed to helping Alabamians and Alabama businesses get back on their feet and our state moving forward,” Ivey said upon signing the bills. “These bills, without question, were necessary to address up front, and I am proud of the Alabama Legislature for taking care of the people’s business, despite the obvious challenges of this legislative session. Thanks to their work, the people of Alabama who received any type of CARES Act dollars will not pay one penny in state income taxes on that relief. Additionally, we are ensuring that our state will continue to grow our diverse economy, and we are protecting our existing businesses from any frivolous lawsuits due to COVID-19.”
Ivey called 2020 “a crazy year” in her annual address, but noted that with the help of CARES Act funding and an online sales tax implemented in 2017, the state was able to maintain all essential services and never prorated budgets. Her 2021 budgets, which were sent to the Legislature in week one of the session, request a 2 percent pay increase for teachers and state employees.
The education trust fund will swell more than $440 million to $7.65 billion in fiscal year 2022, while the general fund budget proposes expenditures of $2.45 billion, an increase of $31 million from the current year’s budget. Several programs have been targeted for funding increases at the Department of Early Childhood Education, the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Corrections.
In perhaps the most impactful piece of legislation to hit the floor this year, State Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston) unveiled his highly anticipated comprehensive gaming bill Thursday, just hours before the Legislature adjourned. Building on the work of Ivey’s Study Group on Gambling Policy, which issued a favorable report on expanded gaming in December, Marsh’s bill proposes to establish the Alabama Gaming Commission to regulate all gaming in the state.
The bill, which would ultimately be subject to a statewide vote if it passes the Legislature, establishes an education lottery to fund — after operational expenses and prizes are deducted — postsecondary scholarships and agricultural grants. In brief comments about the bill last week, Marsh acknowledged the agricultural grants were a concession to the Alabama Farmers Federation (ALFA), which has openly opposed legalized gambling in past attempts.
The lottery will be administered by the Alabama Education Lottery Corporation, which will be regulated by the state gaming commission. Expanded, “Class III” gaming is proposed for five sites around the state, including Mobile Greyhound Park, where “casino-style” games such as slot machines, electronic gaming, poker, roulette, blackjack, “all dice games” and “all table games” will be permitted.
The bill allows for expanded gaming and sports wagering at existing facilities operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI), but only “subject to a compact.” PCI has long been a stumbling block for expanded gaming in the state and as recently as 2019, proposed its own compact with the state that allowed it to control licenses, but promised to return as much as $1 billion in revenue in the first year.
If voters approve the constitutional amendment attached to the bill currently being considered by the Legislature, the governor would then enter into compact negotiations with PCI, allowing PCI to share gaming revenue with the state. The compact would ultimately have to be approved by the federal government.
“Sen. Marsh’s bill to address gaming in Alabama is a thoughtful approach, and the tribe appreciates all of the work put into this legislation,” said Robbie McGhee, chief governmental affairs officer for PCI. “We look forward to continuing conversations with legislators to ensure the best possible outcome for Alabamians.”
Marsh’s proposal builds upon the study group’s estimate of $700 million per year in revenue, and recommends 20 percent be divided into a newly created gaming trust fund for post secondary scholarships and agricultural grants, while 75 percent be submitted to the state general fund to pay for IT infrastructure and both rural and mental health care services. The county commissions where a licensed operator is located may benefit from 3 percent of the revenues while 2 percent will be reserved for the governing body of the municipality in which the licensed operator is located.
The seven-member gaming commission would comprise four appointees of the governor, one appointee of the speaker of the house, one appointee of the president pro tem of the senate and one appointee of the attorney general. Marsh said the commission would be transparent and subject to all provisions of the Open Meetings Act and Open Records Law.
“This needs to be a comprehensive bill and I intend to make sure there is full involvement in the process and the public has full knowledge of what we’re about to do here,” Marsh said last week. “I do believe it is time for us in Alabama to address the issue of gaming once and for all and my goal is to put something before the people of the state that reports daily the specific revenue being generated and how we spend it. But whatever document we pass, ultimately the people of this state will make the final decision.”
Locally, State Rep. Chip Brown (R-Hollinger’s Island), is three years into his first term and leads Mobile County’s delegation in the number of bills sponsored this session. Among the issues he’s hoping to address are increasing the amount of funding for the Strengthen Alabama Homes program and securing the Dauphin Island Sea Lab resources for funding opportunities. The Strengthen Alabama Homes program, which provides grants for homeowners to replace or fortify their roofs, has a backlog of 1,300 applicants, Brown said, many of which are near the coast.
“It’s financed by contributions from insurance companies twice a year and administered by the Department of Insurance,” he said. “My bill allows for more flexibility for the insurance commissioner to take money from the department’s budget and put it in the program.”
Brown also has bills to dissolve the Dauphin Island Park & Beach Board, create the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights and expand circumstances under which bail may be denied to suspects arrested for certain violent crimes.
“That’s part of Aniah’s Law, a comprehensive criminal law reform named after Aniah Blanchard, who was kidnapped and murdered by someone who was out on bond for other violent crimes,” he said. “This allows district attorneys to request a hearing to present evidence of why an individual should be held without bond if they are charged with a violent, Class A felony. Last year, it passed the House unanimously and Senate judiciary committee but COVID cut the session short, and we weren’t able to finish. It will have to be voted on as a constitutional amendment.”
In another holdover from last year, a bill sponsored by State Rep. Matt Simpson (R-Daphne) to increase penalties for anyone convicted of homebuilder fraud, passed the House Feb. 9 with a wide margin of bipartisan support. In a news release, Simpson said the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Sally is one of the reasons why he reintroduced his bill, which passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support then as well. The bill would strengthen penalties for home repair fraud by making it a Class C felony, where the charges were previously misdemeanors.
“We were on a good track to pass this bill early last year, but with the COVID pandemic, the bill did not make it through the Senate, unfortunately,” Simpson said. “With help from the governor’s office and the Home Builders Association [of Alabama] and my fellow legislators, this bill seems to be on a quick track for this session, and I think it certainly addresses a need that can be felt across our state.”
That same day, the House passed a Simpson bill that would help police officers and firefighters get treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Included in the bill are requirements that municipalities and counties reimburse firefighters and police officers for insurance co-payments for PTSD treatments and would provide a mechanism for disability payments to those unable to work due to PTSD.
“This isn’t a Republican thing or a Democratic thing — this is about getting proper mental health treatment and help to our police officers and our firefighters,” Simpson said. “These folks are out there putting their lives on the line for us each and every day, and this is our time to step up and try to help them when they need it.”
On Tuesday, State Sen. Chris Elliott held a news conference to defend his bill limiting the size and scope of police and planning jurisdictions outside of municipal corporate limits. The bill passed the Senate last week but still faces opposition in the House.
Altogether, 646 bills have been introduced by the Legislature this session, 84 of which have already passed their house of origin. Following is a list of bills sponsored by local legislators. All senators from Mobile and Baldwin counties have sponsored legislation this session, but House members Harry Shiver and Joe Faust from Baldwin County and Napoleon Bracy, Sam Jones and Margie Wilcox from Mobile County have yet to introduce a bill.
The Legislature will return to Montgomery Tuesday, Feb. 23 for day seven of the session with the House convening at 1 p.m. and the Senate convening at 2 p.m. The session is limited by law to 30 session days within a 105 calendar day period and must conclude by May 17.
State Sen. Greg Albritton
SB 35 – Relating to the Alabama Uniform Trust Decanting Act: Clarifies that failure to receive notice of the exercise of the decanting power by the authorized fiduciary does not extend the requirement to commence a challenge within six months if the authorized fiduciary acted with reasonable diligence to comply with the requirements of the act. Passed the Senate Feb. 11 and referred to the House Committee on Financial Services.
SB 36 – Regarding parole and parole violations: Revises limitations for confinement for parole or probation violations, revises the circumstances for which a person’s parole or probation is revoked, and would require the Department of Corrections (DOC) to reimburse counties for the health care expenses while parolees or probationers are in county custody, plus an additional 20 percent over the daily housing rate. The bill also requires DOC to find at least three county jails across the state to be designated housing for parolees or probationers. Passed the Senate Feb. 4, currently pending in the House Ways and Means Committee.
State Sen. Chris Elliott
SB 6 – Provides the expenditure of funds received by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, pursuant to the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006, for coastal conservation, restoration and protection. Currently pending in the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee.
SB 7 – Provides for an exclusion from Alabama taxation for any federal tax credits, advance refunds or loan forgiveness resulting from the CARES Act. Referred to the Senate Committee on Finance and Taxation Education.
SB 8 – Prohibits a homeowner’s association or condominium association from restricting or preventing members from displaying the state flag on residential property within the association.
SB 9 – Amends the Foundation Program Fund formula to include an allowance for school systems experiencing student growth based on the net year over year growth of average daily membership for the two preceding school years and eliminates existing funding for student growth via the Current Unit allocation. Received unanimous support in the Senate and has been referred to the House.
SB 62 – Relating to tourism, this bill would allow the city of Orange Beach to establish as many as three entertainment districts, so long as no fewer than four licensees exist in each district and the district does not exceed a one-half square mile area. Pending action in the Senate Committee on Tourism.
SB 107 – A bill to limit the police and planning jurisdictions of municipalities. Passed the Senate and referred to a House committee.
SB 135 – A bill to add two members to the Joint Legislative Committee on State Parks. Pending a third reading in the Senate Committee for Governmental Affairs.
SB 223 – A proposal to ban social media companies from deactivating, restricting, canceling or otherwise discontinuing a political candidate’s access to or use of its resources during an election season. Pending a Senate committee.
State Rep. Steve McMillan
HB 234 – This bill would prohibit a public works contract or subcontract for roads and bridges from containing a provision requiring a party to indemnify another entity for damages caused by the conduct of the other party. Pending committee action in the House.
HB 235 – Allows pet dogs in outdoor dining areas under certain conditions. Pending committee action in the House.
State Rep. Matt Simpson
HB 25 – Requires electronic monitoring of work release inmates in certain circumstances. Will cost the Department of Corrections an estimated $2.9 million annually. Pending in a House committee.
HB 26 – This bill would require an occupational licensing board, agency or commission to notify a newly appointed board member of the restriction against public employees who hold more than one public office, position or employment from receiving more than one salary. Pending in a House committee.
HB 27 – A bipartisan bill supported by members of the Mobile and Baldwin county delegations, it creates the felony crime of aggravated home repair fraud, allowing for related criminal penalties. Passed the House and referred to a Senate committee.
HB 50 – A bill to provide for the continuance of the Alabama Manufactured Housing Commission until Oct. 1, 2025. Pending in a House committee.
HB 51 – A bill to provide for the continuance of the State Board of Chiropractic Examiners until Oct. 1, 2025. Pending in a House committee.
HB 52 – A bill to provide for the continuance of the Board of Examiners of Nursing Home Administrators until Oct. 1, 2025. Pending in a House committee.
HB 53 – A bill to provide for the continuance of the Board of Dental Examiners of Alabama until Oct. 1, 2025. Pending in a House committee.
HB 166 – Provides for the assessment and collection of additional court costs in all civil and criminal cases in circuit and district courts for the creation, implementation and continued administration of a mental health diversionary program, and provides for the distribution of proceeds. Pending in a House committee.
HB 196 – Companion bill to Albritton’s SB 35 relating to the Alabama Uniform Trust Decanting Act. Pending in a House committee.
HB 212 – Provides that a law enforcement officer or firefighter employed by a municipality, county or fire district and diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) would be reimbursed for certain co-payments for treatment or would require a county or municipality to maintain sufficient coverage for the reimbursement of co-payments. The bill would also require counties, municipalities and fire districts to provide disability payments or coverage for law enforcement officers and firefighters who are unable to return to work as a result of PTSD. Passed the House Feb. 9 and has been referred to a Senate committee.
HB 232 – Requires all courts in the state to take judicial notice of all municipal ordinances of a Class II municipality (Mobile). Pending in a House committee.
HB 233 – Expands protections for victims or witnesses in the prosecution of child sexual offenses. Pending in a House committee.
HB 310 – Relating to the city of Satsuma in Mobile County, to provide for a warrant recall fee to allow a municipal magistrate or judge for the city of Satsuma to recall, under certain conditions, a failure to appear warrant. Pending in a House committee.
State Sen. Vivian Figures
SB 169 – Provides for an increase in the number of executive-level employees which the director of the Alabama State Port Authority is entitled to appoint; provides that the commercial terms of certain contracts entered into by the Port Authority are exempt from certain state laws limiting confidentiality, with exceptions; and to make nonsubstantive, technical revisions to update the existing code language to current style. Passed the Senate Feb. 11 and referred to a House committee.
SB 170 – This bill would create the Building Exceptional School Board Teams (BEST) Act, to provide further for boardsmanship standards, training and discipline of elected and appointed members of local boards of education. Pending second reading in the Senate.
SB 183 – This bill would authorize the Alabama Board of Nursing to adopt rules that allow licensed nurses to delegate certain nursing care tasks to unlicensed health care workers in residential community health settings. This bill would also prohibit any agency other than the Alabama Board of Nursing from requiring licensed nurses to receive additional certification or training in order to delegate nursing care tasks in residential community health settings. Passed the Senate Feb. 11 and referred to a House committee.
SB 196 – This bill would revise the focus of the content, course materials and instruction provided to public school students in any program or curriculum that includes sex education or the human reproductive process. Pending in a Senate committee.
State Sen. David Sessions
SB 37 – A bill to restore the jurisdiction of the Public Service Commission over certain customer complaints related to retail telecommunications services and certain telephone bundling packages. Pending in a Senate committee.
SB 65 – A companion bill to State Rep. Chip Brown’s HB 189, this bill would relate to any public park and recreation board organized in a county and would provide an alternative procedure for the dissolution of the board under certain conditions and for the transfer of the property of the board to the municipality where the public park is located upon approval of both the county and the municipality. Specifically, the bill seeks the dissolution of the Dauphin Island Park & Beach Board. Pending in a Senate committee.
State Sen. Jack Williams
SB 204 – This bill would provide further definitions and the qualifications of members appointed to the Alabama Professional Bail Bonding Board. Pending in a Senate committee.
State Rep. Adline Clarke
HB 179 – A companion bill to State Sen. Vivian Figures’ SB 169. Pending in a House committee.
HB 180 – This bill would provide a process for early voting in general and special elections, other than municipal elections. Pending in a House committee.
HB 181 – Amends portions of the law pertaining to the Mobile County Personnel Board. Pending in a House committee.
State Rep. Victor Gaston
HB 68 – Provides for the continuance of the Board of Hearing Instrument Dealers until Oct. 1, 2025. Pending in a House committee.
HB 69 – Provides for the continuance of the Alabama Board of Examiners for Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology until Oct. 1, 2025.
HB 275 – A bill to remove the requirement of the Legislative Services Agency (LSA) to publish the Administrative Code in loose-leaf form and authorize LSA to publish both the Administrative Code and the Administrative Monthly in print format, electronic format or both. Pending in a House committee.
HB 276 – A bill adopting and incorporating state and local laws passed in 2019 and 2020 into the Alabama Code. Pending in a House committee.
HB 281 – A bipartisan bill extending historic rehabilitation tax credits through 2029. Pending in a House committee.
HB 343 – Increases annual awards available under the Alabama Student Grant Program from $1,200 per academic year to $3,000 per academic year. Pending in a House committee.
State Rep. Chris Pringle
HB 124 – Requires previously exempted self-sustaining state professional licensing boards, agencies and commissions and certain interscholastic athletic organizations to publish their expenditure information on the public website of the board, agency or commission, or on the website of the comptroller for a reasonable fee. Pending in a House committee.
HB 125 – This bill would require a person to complete a written motorcycle test and complete a motorcycle rider’s course in order to obtain a Class M license to operate a motorcycle or motor-driven cycle. This bill would not apply to any person authorized to operate a motorcycle before Jan. 1, 2022. Pending in a House committee.
HB 126 – Regarding taxation, this bill would update sections of the code related to statutorily exempt entities to include only those that have obtained and are retaining a current certificate of exemption as required by law. This bill would also repeal sections of the code related to statutorily exempt entities that have not obtained or are not retaining a current certificate of exemption as required by law. Pending in a House committee.
HB 127 – To create the State Transportation Commission composed of five members appointed by the governor from each region of the Department of Transportation, and to provide for the appointment of the director of the Department of Transportation by the commission. Pending in a House Committee.
HB 128 – This bill would allow the Permanent Legislative Committee on Reapportionment to intervene in the legal action contesting the redistricting or reapportionment plan and would express the intent of the Legislature for the committee to seek intervention in actions in federal court as appropriate. Pending in a House committee.
HB 129 – Provides for the elimination of driver’s license suspensions in certain circumstances. Pending in a House committee.
HB 325 – Would allow the State Board of Registration for Foresters to sell nominal marketing or promotional items by the board and would provide for the deposit and use of the funds received by the board from the sale of the marketing and promotional items. Pending in a House committee.
HB 326 – Would allow the State Board of Registration for Foresters to call special meetings in accordance with its bylaws. Pending in a House committee.
HB 327 – Would allow the State Board of Registration for Foresters to grant discretion to the board to relax or suspend the continuing annual education requirement of its licensees on a case by case basis in the event of extenuating circumstances. Pending in a House committee.
State Rep. Shane Stringer
HB 319 – A partisan bill sponsored by 19 other Republican House members, it authorizes the Legislative Council to review executive orders issued by the president of the United States and submit them to the attorney general for review, and to provide that when certain executive orders are determined by the attorney general to be an unconstitutional restriction of rights, the state or a political subdivision or agency may not implement the executive order. Pending in a House committee.
HB 337 – A partisan bill to create the Alabama Firearms Protection Act to prohibit the state, its agencies and political subdivisions from participating in the enforcement of any federal act, law, order, rule or regulation relating to firearms, firearm accessories or ammunition, and would provide penalties for a violation. Pending in a House committee.
HB 403 – Creates the crime of “doxing” and establishes penalties for violations. Pending in a House committee.
State Rep. Barbara Drummond
HB 172 – Would establish the Office of the Chief Procurement Officer and require the secretary of state to collect data relating to minority- and women-owned businesses in the state and participation by those businesses in the state procurement process. Pending in a House committee.
HB 272 – Exempts the Blessing Angels Gifting Tree from any state, county and municipal sales and use taxes. Pending in a House committee.
HB 273 – Raises the age to buy, possess or use nicotine products to 21 and imposes restrictions on the marketing of certain nicotine products. Pending in a House committee.
HB 274 – Allowing the Board of Cosmetology and Barbering to license and regulate mobile salons. Pending in a House committee.
State Sen. Chip Brown
HB 130 – Provides for additional, violent offenses that would require mandatory denial of bail. Pending in a House committee.
HB 131 – A proposed constitutional amendment that would require reasonable bail in all cases, except for offenses enumerated by the Legislature by general law. Pending in a House committee.
HB 133 – Establishing the crimes of assault against a first responder, damaging a public monument, aggravated riot and harassment on or within 10 feet of a place of public accommodation; and to provide that a political subdivision of the state that defunds a local law enforcement agency may not receive any state grant or aid money, or any allocation of state revenues, and provide that members of the governing body may be held civilly liable for violent crimes that occur. Pending in a House committee.
HB 134 – This bill would provide that any person engaged in the exercise of religion is exempt from any order, rule, regulation or other requirement adopted or otherwise made during the existence of a state of emergency. Pending in a House committee.
HB 135 – Provides that the crime of possession of a slot machine does not apply if the device was manufactured prior to 1960 and is not accessible to the public. Passed the House Feb. 9 and referred to a Senate committee.
HB 136 – Designates the Dauphin Island Sea Lab as the official Aquarium of Alabama. Pending in a House committee.
HB 137 – Creates the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights and Sexual Assault Task Force. Provide for victim notification and certain rights to victims. Pending in a House committee.
HB 138 – Authorizes the secretary of state to provide digital copies of all bills, resolutions and memorials electronically to the Legislature, and eliminate binding requirements. Pending in a House committee.
HB 188 – Transfers certain funds from the Alabama Department of Insurance fund to the Strengthen Alabama Homes fund. Pending in a House committee.
HB 189 – To provide an alternative procedure for the dissolution of a public park and recreation beach board under certain conditions and for the transfer of the property of the board to the municipality where the public park is located upon approval of both the county and the municipality. Pending in a House committee.
HB 190 – Provides that the Public School and College Authority may use bond proceeds for construction, alterations, improvements and equipment for public educational purposes at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. Pending in a House committee.
HB 213 – Regarding tax incentives, this bill prohibits censorship of posts or comments on websites receiving state or local tax incentives, providing exceptions and remedies. Pending in a House committee.
HB 214 – Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, this bill would prohibit employers from taking adverse actions against an employee based on immunization status. Pending in a House committee.
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