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Friday, March 6th, 2020
2020 LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: WEEK 5

The 2020 Regular Session of the Alabama Legislature is now at least a third behind us, as yesterday was the 10th of a constitutionally permitted 30 session days. Next week is the last before the Legislature takes a spring break, which may arrive just in time—this week saw the first serious slowdowns and flare-ups over controversial legislation. This week also the first substantive 2020 bills signed into law by the Governor and seven more bills sent to her for her signature.

Bill Simplifying 5G “Small Cell” Facility Rollout Passes Senate

SB172, sponsored by Senator Arthur Orr (R–Decatur), passed the Senate on Thursday by a vote of 30–0. The bill is intended to simplify the process for wireless companies to build out the next generation of wireless technology, known as 5G wireless. In essence, the bill would standardize the permitting process for installing new 5G facilities in existing public rights of way and cap the fees that cities and counties could charge for the use of those rights of way. The bill, which is very similar to one that failed last year, has met considerable opposition from local governments that that object to the loss of direct authority. The bill only passed after a series of amendments were added, most significantly one that would preserve any existing agreements between cities and wireless providers. The bill now moves to the House for its consideration.

Bill to Create Stem Council Passes House

The House unanimously passed HB293, sponsored by Representative Terri Collins (R–Decatur), on Thursday. The bill would create the Alabama STEM Council (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) to study the ways in which the state could improve Stem-related education, career awareness, and workforce development. The council, which would include the State Superintendent of Education, the Secretary of Commerce, The Secretary of the Alabama Department of Labor, representatives of the community college and university systems, and others, would report the Governor and Legislature as well as actively engage in the evaluation and promotion of Alabama’s existing STEM-related initiatives. Proponents note that STEM fields are widely recognized as among the fastest growing nationwide and globally, and competitiveness in attracting outside investment to the state relies in large part in investment in STEM education. The bill now moves to the Senate for its consideration.

Bill to Protect Elderly from Financial Abuse Passes House

The House voted unanimously on Tuesday to pass a bill that would give banks the ability to combat financial exploitation of the elderly. HB207, sponsored by Representative Chris Blackshear, (R–Phenix City), would give banks increased authority to investigate and intervene in financial transaction if their employees reasonably believe that activity is the result of some sort of abuse. The bill would also allow a customer to provide a list of trusted persons for the bank to contact in the event that abuse was suspected. The bill is widely supported by the banking community, which has recognized a significant increase in the instances of financial exploitation. The bill now moves the Senate, where it has been assigned to the Committee on Banking and Insurance, for its consideration.

Bill relating to Non-Disparagement Agreements Carried Over in Committee

SB170, sponsored by Senator Rodger Smitherman (D–Birmingham) was carried over in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. The bill, which has a House companion, HB206, sponsored by Representative Chris England (D–Tuscaloosa), has met with concern from the business community that fears that the bill would too severely limit Alabama employers’ ability to enforce non-disparagement agreements with employees. The Alabama Law Institute, which was very involved with the drafting of the bill, requested that it be carried over so that it could continue to work with stakeholders to address their concerns. 

Senate Passes Transgender Bill

On Thursday, the Senate passed a bill 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), faced considerable opposition and was carried over for much of the afternoon to allow other, less controversial legislation to pass. Ultimately, however, the sponsor brought the bill back up and passed it by a vote of 22-3. The bill, also known as the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Acts, is among the most controversial introduced this session so far. Opponents argue that most of the procedures supposedly banned by the bill are not actually performed in Alabama, but that the bill would criminalize other widely accepted medical procedures, forcing doctors to face prison time. The bill now goes to the House for its consideration.

Senate Committee Favorably Reports Update to Alabama Business and Nonprofit Entities Code

HB202, sponsored by Representative Bill Poole (R–Tuscaloosa), was favorably reported unanimously from the Senate Committee on Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development on Wednesday. The bill, which is part of an ongoing effort by the Alabama Law Institute to modernize each of Alabama’s business laws, would thoroughly 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 in each county. The bill now moves to the full Senate for its consideration.

Senate Passes Bill to Alter Nurse Practitioner to Doctor Ratios

On Thursday, the Senate voted unanimously to give final passage to SB114, sponsored by Senator Jim McClendon (R–Springville). Current law limits the number of nurse practitioners with whom a doctor may collaborate to four. SB114 would increase that number to nine. 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 House, where it has been assigned to the Committee on Health, for its consideration.

Conclusion

The Legislature has used 10 of its allotted 30 legislative working days and has 72 calendar days in which to use the remaining 20. 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 10th at 1:00 p.m. and the Senate will reconvene on the same day at 2:00 p.m.

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