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House and Senate take it slow in resuming legislative session

By CAROLINE BECK and MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – On their first day back in session after spring break, lawmakers in the House and Senate slowed down legislative action to draw out debate and call attention to lack of movement on other bills.

In the Senate, Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, spent much of Tuesday afternoon in a quasi filibuster, asking questions and taking up time on other bills.

Chambliss’ Senate Bill 261, filed in February, would put more regulations on design professionals, including architects. It was approved in the Senate Judiciary Committee the same month, but hasn’t gotten a Senate vote. Chambliss said someone is blocking his bill.

“If they would just come tell me what the objection is, maybe we could work that out,” Chambliss said on the Senate floor.

Sen. Tom Butler, R-Huntsville, similarly said his Senate Bill 227 regulating pharmacy benefit managers hasn’t gotten a fair debate or vote in the Banking and Insurance Committee.

In the House, action was similarly slow, but bills were moving.

House Bill 94 from Rep. Reed Ingram, R-Mathews, passed the House unanimously on Tuesday. It aims to include “wildland” firefighters to be eligible for disability or death benefits.

The bill also specifies that volunteer firefighters who die of cardiac arrest, cerebrovascular accident or pulmonary edema within 24 hours of performing their duties as firefighters shall be presumed to have died in the performance of their duties.

The bill would apply to those who have died after Jan. 1, 2019.

Ingram said the need to make the bill apply retroactively was because the bill was originally introduced in 2019 and then in 2020 but died when the COVID-19 pandemic ended the session. Ingram said since 2019, two firefighters have died whose families would be covered under the bill.

The bill passed unanimously with a final vote of 96-0.

Raising vaping age to 21

The House passed a bill that would raise the age of when someone can purchase a vaping product from 19 to 21.

Bill sponsor Rep. Barbara Drummond, D-Mobile, said the bill does not change the age of purchasing other tobacco products in the state.

“It’s not to penalize those 21 or younger who want to vape, but it has been proved scientifically that these vape products are not good for our young people,” Drummond said. “This is a health bill.”

The bill would also prohibit certain advertisements or promotions of vaping products within certain areas and requires state vaping manufacturers to comply with the federal directory listing of manufacturers that will go into effect in September 2021.

Rep. James Hanes, R-Bryant, brought an amendment that would allow those in the military who are 21 and younger to purchase vape products.

“If people are able to be old enough to fight for this country, then when they come home I think they aught to be able to vape if they want to,” Hanes said.

The amendment eventually failed with a vote of 34-50.

The federal government already passed a law in 2019 that requires a person to be 21 to buy any tobacco products.

The bill passed with a final vote of 74-18.

Absentee application time shortened

A bill that would shorten the time allowed to return absentee ballot applications passed the Alabama House on Tuesday.

House Bill 538 from Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton, would require that absentee ballot applications be mailed to the election manager’s office 10 days before an election, or hand-delivered five days before an election.

Baker said the bill is meant to help those who want to vote absentee not be hindered by slow postal delivery times, like what was seen during the 2020 election.

“The postal service has recently had multiple problems in their delivery in a timely manner and that is something that is expected to continue in the foreseeable future,” Baker said.

Current state law says no matter if you are mailing or hand-delivering an absentee application, it must be submitted to the absentee election manager’s office no later than five days before an election.

The bill would also allow absentee ballots to start being counting at 7 a.m. on election day rather than noon.

The bill does not change when a completed absentee ballot must be returned, which by mail must be received by the absentee election manager no later than noon on election day, and if hand-delivered the ballot must be in the manager’s office by the close of business, or no later than 5 p.m., the day before election day.

Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, said she did not have any major problems with the bill but wished that it included no-excuse absentee voting.

The final vote on the bill was 79-16 with most voting against the bill being Democratic members.

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