With the passing of the fourth week of the 2020 Regular Session came the final passage of the first bills of the session. The Legislature has now sent three bills to the Governor for her signature—two local bills and one highly controversial bill relating to occupational taxes. As of this writing, Governor Ivey has not signed the bills into law, but it is very likely that we will have the first acts of the year by early next week.
With only two weeks to go until the Legislature’s anticipated spring break, the overall tone of the session remains largely congenial, despite the first few contentious pieces of legislation having started their journeys through the process.
On Thursday, the Senate passed a bill that would prohibit municipalities in the state from imposing occupational taxes without authorization from the Legislature. As substituted in House committee, HB147, sponsored by Representative Chris Sells (R–Greenville), would be prospective from February 1, 2020, and so would not affect any occupational taxes levied by municipalities before that date. The bill is widely perceived to be a maneuver to stop a recently imposed—and very controversial—occupational tax in Montgomery. The Senate debated the bill extensively, with Senator Bobby Singleton (D–Greensboro) proposing a series of amendments and a substitute. Nevertheless, after several hours the Senate passed the bill unaltered along party lines by a vote of 27–7. The bill now goes to the Governor for her signature.
Transgender Bills Clear Committees
On Wednesday, the House and Senate Committees on Health each favorably reported a pair of companion bills that would prohibit the performance of medical procedures or the prescription of medication to minors if the procedures or prescriptions are intended to alter the minor’s gender or delay puberty. SB219, sponsored by Senator Shelnutt (R–Trussville), and its companion bill HB303, sponsored by Representative Wes Allen (R–Troy), both faced lengthy public hearings. These bills, also known as the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Acts, are among the most controversial introduced this session so far, with opponents claiming that the bills would criminalize widely accepted medical procedures, forcing doctors to face prison time. Both bills now go to the full House and Senate respectively for their consideration.
Senate Committee Favorably Reports Monuments Bill
On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs substituted, debated, and then favorably reported a bill that would enhance penalties under the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act. The existing Act, which passed in 2017 over significant opposition, imposes a fine of $25,000 for removing, altering, renaming, or otherwise disturbing memorial buildings, streets, schools, or monuments. As substituted, SB127, sponsored by Senator Gerald Allen (R–Tuscaloosa), would increase that fine to $5,000 for every day that the monument remains disturbed. The substitute eliminates a provision in the original bill that would have created a presumption against the granting of any waiver of the law to permit alterations or removal of buildings or monuments. The substitute also provides that a protected building may be torn down and replaced as long as its name remains the same. The enforcement of the existing law has been the source of a legal dispute between Alabama’s Attorney General and the City of Birmingham, which has erected a black plywood structure to conceal a Confederate monument in its downtown.
Bill to Update Alabama Business and Nonprofit Entities Code Nears Final Passage
HB202, sponsored by Representative Bill Poole (R–Tuscaloosa), passed the House of Representatives on Tuesday. The bill, which is part of an ongoing effort by the Alabama Law Institute to modernize Alabama’s business laws, would update the Alabama Business and Nonprofit Entities Code. The bill makes many technical changes, but, most significantly, would provide for a centralized, online process to form business entities in the state. This process would replace the current practice of filing with judges of probate. The bill awaits consideration in the Senate Committee on Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development on Wednesday, and could pass the full Senate as early as the beginning of the following week.
Governor Introduces Criminal Justice Package
On Thursday, Governor Ivey announced her support for six pieces of legislation which address some of the dire and immediate issues plaguing Alabama’s criminal justice system. Many of the pieces of legislation evolved from Governor Ivey’s Criminal Justice Reform Study Group, which met over the course of several months in 2019 and was led by former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Champ Lyons.
The package includes:
SJR25, sponsored by Senator Bobby Singleton (D–Greensboro), which would establish a study group composed of district attorneys, judges, legislators and sentencing commissioners to examine pre-trial diversion programs.
SB226, sponsored by Senator Clyde Chambliss (R–Prattville), which would establish a new position of Deputy Commissioner of Rehabilitation in both the Department of Corrections and the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles.
SB244, sponsored by Senator Cam Ward (R–Alabaster), which aims to help inmates ease the burden of re-entering society by establishing mandatory supervision near the completion of their sentences.
HB329, sponsored by Representative Jim Hill (R–Moody), which would allow non-violent inmates sentenced prior to October 1, 2013 who have demonstrated good behavior while incarcerated to be eligible for resentencing. The local district attorney would have the right to be heard on any motion filed.
HB323, sponsored by Representative Chris England (D–Tuscaloosa), which would require the DOC to provide additional information to the Joint Legislative Prison Oversight Committee and require correctional officers to take an oath of office before beginning employment.
HB342, sponsored by Representative Connie Rowe (R–Jasper), which would address the difficulty of obtaining photo identification upon release. The Department of Corrections and Alabama Law Enforcement Agency would be required to work together to assist inmates with obtaining documents allowing employment and re-entry into society.
Open Records Act Update Stalls in Committee
SB57, sponsored by Senator Cam Ward (R–Alabaster), would repeal and replace existing public records access laws. The bill requires governmental bodies to adopt rules allowing citizens to inspect and take copies of non-exempt public records; require the designation of a custodian of public records for each governmental body; establish special access to documents of historical value as determined by State Records Commission and establish charges to be assessed for public records. The bill would also create the position of Public Access Counselor within the Department of Examiner of Public Accounts to help ensure compliance with the provisions of the bill. Additionally, the bill would establish administrative procedures for appeals from denials of access to public records and create judicial enforcement for public access rights and penalties. The Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs carried over the bill when it became clear that there would be sufficient time to conduct a public hearing.
The Legislature has used eight of its allotted 30 legislative working days and has 80 calendar days in which to use the remaining 22. 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, March 3rd at 3:00 p.m. and the Senate will reconvene on the same day at 2:30 p.m.