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Bill would allow businesses, places of worship remain open in emergencies

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

A north Alabama lawmaker says he wants to ensure in the future some businesses can’t be closed during states of emergency while their competitors remain open. 

House Bill 103 by Rep. Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville, would allow businesses and places of worship to remain open as long as they comply with any emergency order, rules or regulations issued by the governor and state or local agencies.

“I saw local clothing stores, local boutiques, local sporting goods stores that were forced to close while other stores remained open selling the same products that those forced to close were selling, and I just didn’t think that was right,” Kiel said about the springtime order meant to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

“If you’re gonna allow a business that sells T-shirts to stay open, then all businesses that sell T- shirts should be able to stay open,” Kiel said. “… If one business is allowed to open under certain conditions, then all businesses can be open under those same conditions.” 

Public health orders in March and April told Alabamians to stay home unless for specific reasons, closed many businesses and put occupancy limits on others, including retailers. While grocery stores, including big-box retailers, could remain open, some smaller stores had to close. Retail groups objected.

“The Alabama Retail Association and many of its members don’t understand a public policy that sends the same number of consumers to a smaller group of retailers creating denser crowds,” association President Rick Brown said in April. “This policy seems at odds with the Alabama Department of Public Health’s stated objective to avoid large gatherings.  

In May, businesses were allowed to reopen with modifications to ensure social distancing and limits on crowd sizes.

Kiel said he’s worried about long-term effects on businesses and said he’s seen many “closed permanently” signs as he travels the state.

Rosemary Elebash, state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said the state will know early next year how many businesses didn’t survive 2020 when they don’t renew their municipal business licenses.

“We are pleased with Rep. Kiel’s bill,” Elebash said. “He’s a small business owner and knows what they’ve been through. His bill creates a level playing field if they operate by the rules, which they are.

“… What he is proposing would be clear and understandable and would allow small businesses to operate.”

Asked about the bill, Gina Maiola, a spokeswoman for Ivey, said the governor looks forward to a productive regular session of the Legislature and will thoroughly review any piece of legislation that reaches her desk. 

“The governor has made very clear that she believes all businesses are essential and continues to remind Alabamians that she is fully committed to supporting the Alabama worker,” Maiola said.

Kiel’s is not the only bill in the upcoming session that would change how the state operates in emergencies. Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, told Alabama Daily News that he plans on bringing again the bill that would limit state emergency orders to 14 days and require legislative approval for extensions.

The legislative session begins Feb. 2.

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