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Ban on curbside voting passes, special session bill dies

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama Legislature continued its 2021 Regular Session Wednesday, when most of the work was in committee. Here’s the latest notable legislative activity from the State House. 

Paying voters

A bill that would prohibit people from being paid for voting after an election passed a House committee vote on Wednesday.

House Bill 70 is sponsored by Rep. Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville, who told committee members that paying someone to vote was already illegal in Alabama, but his bill fixes a loophole in state law.

“This does away with the appearance that we’re paying someone to vote,” Kiel said.

The bill specifies that individuals and groups can’t make payments “on a per voter basis” to other individuals or groups, including churches.

In October, the Associated Press reported that the “New South Souls to the Polls Initiative” was paying churches a $6 contribution “for each documented early vote” to cover the expenses for outreach and transportation to help people vote early by absentee ballot.

Kiel said his bill would not prevent organizations from conducting get-out-the-vote operations or reimbursing entities for transportation costs but does ban paying entities on a “per voter” basis that requires proof of voter participation.

Rep. Adline Clarke, D-Mobile, was the only member of the committee to vote against the bill.

The bill now goes to the full House of Representatives. 

Curbside voting

A bill that would ban so-called curbside voting in Alabama passed a House committee on Wednesday.

House Bill 285 is sponsored by Rep. Wes Allen, R-Troy, who said the bill was meant to protect election integrity.

“It’s about protecting the chain of custody for these ballots and making sure we have strong elections,” Allen said. He is the former probate judge of Pike County.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill last year that the state could ban curbside voting for the 2020 general election.

Allen said his bill makes sure that ruling is permanent in state law.

Rep. Adline Clarke, D-Mobile, brought up concerns that this could potentially hurt disabled voters access the polls.

“I’m all about making voting more convenient for all voters, whether it’s about taking a ballot to them curbside because they have a disability or to allow no-excuse absentee voting, just whatever it takes to get more people involved in the voting process, I’m for that,” Clarke said.

The bill now goes to the full House of Representatives. 

Special Session

A bill that would allow the Legislature to call itself into a special session failed to pass out of a House committee on Wednesday.

House Bill 21 from Rep. Becky Nordgren, R-Gadsden, would allow the House Speaker and the Senate President Pro Tem to call the Legislature into a special session with a joint proclamation and then require a two-thirds vote from both chambers.

A similar bill from Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Pike Road, already passed a Senate committee vote on Tuesday.

Currently, Alabama’s constitution only allows the governor to call special sessions of the Legislature. The House and Senate meet for one regular session each year and those sessions are limited to 30 legislative days within 105 calendar days. 

Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, voted against the bill saying that he’s worried legislatures would be called into a special session for non-emergency reasons.

“If we pass this, the pressure for us to come back constantly is going to be there and we’re basically going to be full time legislators,” Pringle said. “If you pave that bridge, people are going to pass it.”

Nordgren argued that a special session couldn’t be called for any reason but only when there is a threat of an insurrection or other lawless outbreak, or any infectious or contagious disease.

“I think it’s needed in an acute situation, like when the situation becomes an internal illness, I think legislators should be included,” Nordgren said.

Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, voted against the bill and said it is an inappropriate reach of the legislature’s power.

“I think it’s unduly burdensome to us legislators and I think it’s giving a power to the Speaker and Pro Tem that they didn’t already have,” Givan said.

Rep. Adline Clarke and Rep. Howard Sanderford, R-Huntsville, also voted against the bill.

The bill requires a constitutional amendment voted on by Alabamians. The legislation does not impact the governor’s current ability to call a special. Because it’s a constitutional amendment, the bill would not have to be signed by Gov. Kay Ivey.

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