By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama House on Tuesday passed a bill that would ensure 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.
“This bill does away with the connotation of essential and non-essential businesses existing in the state,” Kiel said on the House floor.
Kiel previously told Alabama Daily News that last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, he saw local clothing stores and boutiques and sporting goods stores forced to close while other larger stores remained open selling the same products.
“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 previously said. “… If one business is allowed to open under certain conditions, then all businesses can be open under those same conditions.”
Rep. Scott Stadthagen, R-Hartselle, voted for the bill because it could help keep small businesses remain competitive.
“We all experienced something we’ve never experienced before,” Stadthagen said. “This is fair, it’s going to help our small business and possibly help them from going out of business.”
The final vote on the bill was 72-22 with most Democrats voting no and speaking against it in a debate that lasted several hours. In the exchanges, Kiel said small stores that sold mattresses were closed, but big box stores remained opened, selling the same products.
Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, voted against the bill and said after having lost multiple family members to COVID-19, she believes elected officials should be more concerned about saving lives than they are about the economy.
“The general welfare is one of the government’s responsibilities,” Coleman said. “It doesn’t say in the constitution for the people to have the ability to go purchase a mattress. As an elected official, we have a higher responsibility to make the hard decision even when a business person comes to us upset. To have the courage and say that my responsibility is to the general welfare.”
Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, supports the bill and thinks that all businesses need to be treated the same.
“If you make certain grocery stores close, you should make them all close, but then you have to stop and think if you are going to close everything then we would all go hungry, and couldn’t buy anything,” Wood said.
Rep. Andy Whitt, R-Harvest, supports the bill because it treats all businesses fairly.
“I don’t think we should be picking winners and losers when it comes to our businesses,” Whitt said.
The National Federation for Independent Businesses is advocating for the bill’s passage.
“This is common sense legislation that would help small businesses get through another economic crisis and keep people working,” NFIB State Director Rosemary Elebash said in a written statement. “Whether you’re a grocery store or a dress shop, you should be allowed to open as long as you follow the government’s guidelines for keeping customers and employees safe.”