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Legislative briefs – Thursday, Feb. 25

By CAROLINE BECK and MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama Legislature met for the ninth legislative day of its 30-day regular session Thursday. Here’s a rundown of notable action from the State House.

School board bill approved in Senate

A bill that would create more enforcement mechanisms for local school board members to ensure state requirements are being followed passed the Senate on Thursday.

The Senate approved several amendments to Sen. Vivian Figures’ Senate Bill 170, including a change from Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, to give more weight to recommendations of penalties by a peer review panel created in the bill and removes the State Superintendent from the disciplinary decision process.

“I am all about due process and making sure everyone is treated fairly at every level,” Figures, D-Mobile, said about the amendment.

The approved amendment from Figures removes the new board member qualifications such as attending at least two school board meetings and completing a two-hour training before qualifying.

Sen. Sam Givhan, R-Huntsville, thanked Figures for sponsoring the bill and encouraged his colleagues to support it.

“It’s something that is very important to the Huntsville Board of Education,” he said.

Bill gives businesses a break on tax credit hiring requirements

A bill filed Thursday in the Senate would give new and expanding industries in the state a break on workforce requirements if COVID-19 caused hiring delays.

The state’s capital credit program allows an annual tax credit based on a percentage of businesses capital costs. To qualify, the businesses must meet hiring and wage requirements.

Senate Bill 274 from Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, creates the COVID-19 Recovery Capital Credit Protection Act of 2021, providing an extension to the employment and wage requirements for a qualifying project placed into service during 2019, 2020, and 2021. 

Initial wage and employment requirements will be extended up to two years for projects “that have been directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the bill says.

The bill has 29 co-sponsors, nearly the entire Senate. It has been assigned to the Senate education budget committee, which handles legislation that would impact receipts to the Education Trust Fund.

License plate scanner bill passes Senate

The Senate approved Senate Bill 2, which would allow law enforcement agencies to use automated license plate recognition systems on public highways, but specifies that collected information can only be used for law enforcement purposes. 

“We do want to know if we have drug mules on the highways,” Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said. His bill would prevent tech companies from tracking individuals or gathering any information on their movements.

The bill says “law enforcement agencies may not sell license plate recognition data for any purpose and may not make the data available to any agency, corporation, or association that is not a law enforcement agency nor to any individual who is not a law enforcement officer.”

The bill now goes to the House.

Distracted Driving bill stalls

A bill that would prohibit the use of hand-held cell phones and other electronic devices while driving stalled in the House on Thursday as members voiced concern that the bill was too far-reaching.

House Bill 90 is sponsored by Rep. K. L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, who told reporters the bill was aimed at saving lives from distracted drivers.

“Every state this has passed in has saved lives,” Brown said. “Its cut down on automobile crashes, and a lot of families in our state have lost loved ones, several in particular I have talked to have been from distracted driving.”

The bill prohibits a person from ever holding a cellphone while driving but other parts of the bill would also prohibit drivers from using voice-commands on their phone. Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, noticed this language and said he would work with Brown on an amendment to take that language out.

The bill does allow for a person to contact emergency services if needed, and exempts law enforcement and utility workers who may need to use their devices for work.

Rep. Charlotte Meadows, R-Montgomery, said she was concerned that it would almost be impossible to prove someone was breaking this law.

“We can’t legislate common sense and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Meadows said. “Reasonable people don’t drive distracted. It happens all the time but not always because of a cellphone.”

The bill was carried over at the request from Brown, meaning it can come back up at a later time.

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