Legislative Update — Week 3
With more than 500 bills introduced in total, and with several bills poised for final passage, the 2020 Regular Session feels well underway. A collegial atmosphere has persisted—with relatively few flareups on the floor of either chamber—which has allowed for fairly predictable schedules. So far, the House has worked from the Regular Order Calendar, meaning it has taken up bills in the order in which they have been reported from committees. Starting on Tuesday, it is expected that the House will begin to pick Special Order Calendars, meaning that the real horse trading of the session is about to begin.
Senate Committee Favorably Reports Nurse Practitioner Ratios
On Wednesday, the Senate Health Committee voted unanimously to favorably report SB114, sponsored by Senator Jim McClendon (R–Springville). Current law states that physicians may only collaborate with four full time advanced practitioners. A substitute was offered, which would change the collaborating physician ratio for certified nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives from four nurse practitioners per physician to nine nurse practitioners per physician. Patients would also have the ability to select a designate a nurse practitioner, certified nurse midwife, or physician’s assistant as a primary healthcare provider when the care provided is within the scope of their practice. Proponents of the legislation believe that expanding collaborating physician ratios will encourage providers to expand healthcare accessibility to rural parts of the state where access to proper care is not always readily available. The bill now moves to the full Senate for its consideration.
Constitutional Amendment to Eliminate Alabama State Auditor
On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs carried over SB83, sponsored by Senator Andrew Jones (R–Centre), which would propose a constitutional amendment to eliminate the office of State Auditor in January 2023 and transfer the duties and responsibilities to the Alabama Department of Examiners and Public Accounts. SB83 would also transfer the Auditor’s duty to appoint members of local boards of registrar to the Lieutenant Governor’s office. If the bill passes in the state legislature, it would not go to the Governor, but would be decided upon by Alabama voters as a constitutional amendment. The State Auditor’s budget is approximately $920,000 annually. Proponents argue that money could be better used to carry out the duties of the Department of Examiners and Public Accounts, and the bill would also apply an extra $100,000 to the Governor’s proclamation expenses.
Definition of Beer Revised
The Senate Tourism Committee voted to favorably report SB184, sponsored by Senator David Sessions (R-Mobile). The bill proposes to revise the definition of beer to include alcoholic seltzers, such as Truly and White Claw. Additionally, the bill would require all such beverages sold by a manufacturer or supplier to a wholesaler to be subject to the laws governing suppliers and wholesalers of beer, including the protections and obligations of the franchise laws that govern beer distributors. The bill now moves to the full Senate for its consideration.
Wine Sold at Wine Festivals
The Senate Tourism Committee voted to favorably report SB87, sponsored by Senator Andrew Jones (R–Cherokee). Under existing law, wineries must sell wine through a distributor in order for it to be sold at special events. This bill would authorize a winery to obtain a license from the Alabama Beverage Control Board to hold wine festivals where they may provide tastings and sell their wine for both on-premises and off-premises consumption. The wineries would be responsible for collecting and remitting all state and local taxes on wine sold at festivals and would be limited to selling no more than one case of product to any consumer. The bill now moves to the full Senate for its consideration.
On Wednesday, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee voted 8-1 to favorably report HB147, sponsored by Representative Chris Sells (R–Butler). The bill would prohibit a municipality that does not already have an occupational tax from imposing an occupational tax unless the tax is authorized by local law through the Alabama Legislature. The bill is widely recognized as a response to Montgomery’s recent contemplation of (and finally passage of) an occupational tax on all workers in the city. The bill previously passed in the House of Representatives and now moves to the full Senate for consideration for final passage.
Medical Cannabis – The Compassion Act
On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee voted 8-1-1 to favorably report SB165. This bill would authorize certain residents of the state diagnosed with qualifying medical conditions and designated caregivers to be registered and obtain a medical cannabis card authorizing the patient to use cannabis for medical use. The legalized form of cannabis would be edible. The bill further established the Medical Cannabis Commission and provided for the rules and regulations for the issuance of licenses, cultivating, procession, dispensing, transporting, and testing medical cannabis. Additionally, the bill provides for rules and restrictions to generally regulate and enforce a medical cannabis program in the state. The bill now moves to the Full Senate for its consideration.
Sunset Bills in the Senate
On Tuesday, the Senate worked through a calendar largely made up of so-called “sunset” bills. Many agencies and commissions must be reauthorized every few years, or they will cease to exist. This mechanism, known as “sunsetting,” is intended to provoke regular legislative review of state programs. Typically, such bills enjoy broad bipartisan support. As is usually the case, the vast majority of the bills passed easily, including bills to reauthorize the Real Estate Commission, Securities Commission, General Contractors State Licensing Board, the Board of Psychology, and many others.
On Wednesday, the House Committee on Governmental Affairs favorably reported HB35, sponsored by Representative Chris Pringle (R–Mobile), which would prohibit high school students from playing for a school athletic team for a gender other than the one on the student’s birth certificate. Last week, the committee—after a lengthy public hearing at which six opponents and no proponents spoke—voted down a motion to table the legislation but did not advance the bill for lack of a motion for a favorable report. But this week, the committee reconsidered the bill, and—after two proponents and one opponent of the bill spoke—the committee voted for a favorable report, 8–4. The bill will now be sent to the full House for its consideration.
On Thursday of this week, shortly before the House and Senate adjourned, SB219, sponsored by Senator Shelnutt (R–Trussville), and its companion bill HB303, sponsored by Representative Wes Allen (R-Troy), were filed. This legislation, also known as the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act, would prohibit the performance of a medical procedure or the prescription of medication to a minor if the procedure or prescription is intended to alter the minor’s gender or delay puberty. Both bills will be sent to the Health committees in their respective Chamber and will be raised in committee next Wednesday.
The Legislature has used six of its allotted 30 legislative working days and has 87 calendar days in which to use the remaining 24. Next week is expected to be a “two-day” week, meaning that the Legislature will be in session for two days—on Tuesday and Thursday—and not in session but working in committees on Wednesday. The House will reconvene on Tuesday, February 25th at 1:00 p.m. and the Senate will reconvene on the same day at 2:00 p.m.