After the second two-day week—during which the Legislature was only in session and voting on the floor on Tuesday and Thursday—in a row, the 2019 Regular Session has started to move at a much more familiar pace. The session has now also produced its two first general laws: Acts 2019–24, which added a new at-large member to the board of the University of North Alabama and 2019–52, discussed below.
While most of what the House and Senate voted on was largely uncontroversial, several high profile bills were up in committee this week. Wednesday morning saw a public hearing but no vote on SB4, sponsored by Senator Gerald Allen (R–Tuscaloosa) that would eliminate many restrictions on the concealed carry of firearms (including on the property of others, in wildlife management areas, and in cars). On Wednesday afternoon there was a public hearing on and a vote to report favorably HB314, sponsored by Representative Terri Collins (R–Decatur), which would make abortion a felony in nearly every circumstance except during a medical emergency. Both bills drew large crowds and long lists of members of the public who wanted to testify.
Sunset to Start in the Senate
Each year, the legislature must renew the enabling legislation that establishes various state agencies, boards, and commissions. On Tuesday, the Senate first took up a calendar made up of five such bills, left over from last week. Generally non-controversial, all five passed quickly. The bills, which all originated in the House, would continue the existence of the State Licensing Board for General Contractors, the Onsite Wastewater Board, the Athletic Commission, the Board of Polygraph Examiners, and the State Board of Pharmacy. They now await the signature of the Governor before becoming law.
Ethics Bill Receives Final Passage
Last year, in response to an apparent shift in the way that economic development professionals were to be treated under the state’s ethics laws, the Legislature passed a law clarifying that economic developers are not lobbyists. As a result, they are exempt from the requirement that they publicly disclose their employers. Last year’s bill came at the urging of Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield, who argued that such disclosures would require economic developers to breach confidentiality agreements to do business in Alabama, putting the state at a competitive disadvantage in recruiting investment. That law expired on April 1, 2019. At the end of the day on Tuesday, after having worked through two other calendars, the Senate adopted a one-bill calendar to pass a bill that would address this problem. HB289, sponsored by Representative Alan Baker (R–Brewton), revived last year’s bill, making the distinction between lobbyists and economic development professionals permanent, but clarifying the circumstances under which that designation applies. The Senate passed the bill unanimously, 31–0. The Governor signed the bill into law this morning, making it the second general law of this Session.
Franchise Law Clears Committee in the Senate
SB129, sponsored by Senator Chris Elliott (R–Fairhope), which would regulate franchisors, received a favorable report from the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs on Tuesday morning. The bill, which styles itself the Protect Alabama Small Businesses Act, is intended to protect the local affiliates of large chain businesses that operate using franchise agreements, such as fast food restaurants and hotels. The bill would impose significant new requirements for terminating a franchise agreement, require much more notice of termination be provided to franchisees, and require compensation from a franchisor to a franchisee for the fair market value of the business upon termination or nonrenewal of a franchise agreement.
Daily Fantasy Sports Public Hearing
On Wednesday, the House Committee on State Government held a public hearing on and favorably reported HB361, which would clarify that daily fantasy sports are legal under Alabama law. The bill, sponsored by Representative Kyle South (R–Fayette), would resolve a concern that Alabama’s gambling laws would apply to daily fantasy sports operators, such as DraftKings and FanDuel. Proponents of the legislation have long pointed to overwhelming empirical evidence that daily fantasy sports are predominately skill-based games that should be treated no differently than golf or bass fishing tournaments that pay out prizes. The bill would not only address the legality of the games but also establish consumer protections for players and provide for a fee and tax structure that would generate significant revenue for the state.
Two Bills to Rewrite Corporate Code Advance
On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary favorably reported HB250 and HB251, both sponsored by Representative Bill Poole (R–Tuscaloosa). The two bills are part of a gradual but profound plan to modernize and update the parts of Alabama’s Code that relate to business entities. Last year saw the passage of rewrites of the laws relating to partnerships. This year, HB250 would rewrite the Alabama Business Corporation Law to bring it more closely into line with model acts that have become the national standard.
Online Sales Tax Tweak Clears Committee
The Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs favorably reported SB153, sponsored by Senator Tim Melson (R–Florence), on Wednesday. The bill makes several changes to the Simplified Sellers Use Tax, or SSUT, which is the program that Alabama has phased in to collect taxes on purchases made online. Among other things, the bill would prevent customers from bringing a class action for being charged the incorrect amount of Alabama tax by online sellers. HB183, sponsored by Representative Rod Scott (D–Birmingham), which is the House companion to SB153, cleared a House committee last week.
Asbestos Litigation Bills Advance
The House Committee on Commerce and Small Business held a favorably reported HB100, sponsored by Representative Jim Carns (R–Mountain Brook) on Wednesday after adopting a substitute. The bill, known as the Asbestos Trust Claims Transparency Act, would require plaintiffs in asbestos actions to file with the court all available asbestos trust claims and produce all trust claims materials before trial. The purpose of the legislation is to prevent those plaintiffs from making duplicative or inconsistent claims in court and against asbestos trusts for the same injuries. The Senate Committee on the Judiciary also favorably reported the bill’s Senate companion, SB45, sponsored by Senator Dan Roberts (R–Birmingham) after adopting a substitute.
Joint Legislative Prison Committee Meets
The Joint Legislative Prison Committee met on Thursday morning before the House and Senate convened to address the content of a scathing report from the United States Department of Justice on the state of Alabama’s prisons. The Joint Committee expressed a clear consensus that the top priority for improving prison conditions is the hiring of more corrections officers, which will include a push to offer a higher wage. The state’s General Fund Budget, which passed the House early last week, contained a $40 million increase for the state’s Department of Corrections to hire 500 new officers. A federal court has ordered Alabama to hire an additional 2,000 officers by 2020.
House Adjourns Before Getting to Plastic Bag Ban
On Thursday, the House adjourned before taking up HB346, sponsored by Representative Nathaniel Ledbetter (R–Rainsville). The bill would prevent any level of government below the state from prohibiting, imposing a fee on, or otherwise limiting the use of any particular kind of food or beverage containers. The bill was introduced in response to a concern that Mobile and Baldwin Counties are considering banning the use of plastic bags. The bill would ensure that any such policy would be statewide, and would therefore not advantage or disadvantage businesses across county lines.
The Legislature has used 11 of its available 30 meeting days for the 2019 Regular Session. The House will reconvene on Tuesday, April 23rd at 1:00 p.m. The Senate will reconvene on the same day at 3:00 p.m.
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