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Legislative briefs: Anti-DEI bill moves, committees approve protest ban, gun safety law and more

Anti-DEI bill moves to Senate floor

The bill limiting public school and colleges’ “diversity, equity and inclusion” efforts is expected on the Senate floor today. Introduced Tuesday, the bill co-sponsored by almost every GOP senator, was approved in a committee Wednesday.

The bill defines diversity, equity and inclusion programs as any “where participation is based on an individual’s race, sex, gender identity, ethnicity, national origin, or sexual orientation.” State agencies, schools and colleges can’t sponsor any such programs or require students or employees “to attend or participate in any diversity, equity, and inclusion program or any training, orientation, or course work that advocates for or requires assent to a divisive concept.”

The bill also prohibits teachings of “divisive concepts,” including that “slavery and racism are aligned with the founding principles of the United States.”


Kindergarten bill passes House, Senate committees 

Identical bills that would mandate a first-grade readiness test for children attempting to skip kindergarten were approved in the House and Senate education policy committees on Wednesday. Currently, Alabama has no requirement that a child attend kindergarten or any other early learning prior to first grade.

Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, the bill’s sponsor, has proposed similar bills for years without success, despite support of Gov. Kay Ivey in 2023.

“(Now) I have bipartisan support in the Senate and this is what I’ve needed for some time,” Warren said.

“I was approached and they said look we have got to do this. These kids need this beginning. We have to wait to let a kid get to the third grade to tell him he can’t read a book, that’s not right.”

Sen. Donnie Chesteen, R-Geneva, is sponsoring the Senate version of the legislation.


‘Carlee Russell law’ targeting false reporting passes committees

The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill Wednesday that would increase criminal penalties for those who make false police reports in instances when the report alleges imminent danger to a person or the public.

Sponsored by Rep. Mike Shaw, R-Hoover, the bill was drafted in response to an incident last summer in which Alabama resident Carlee Russell fabricated a story that she was kidnapped, kicking off a massive search effort and a national frenzy. Russell was ultimately charged with two misdemeanors. 

Shaw, along with the sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, Sen. April Weaver, R-Breirfield, say similar incidents in the future should carry more serious criminal charges, something they hope to accomplish with their bills. The Senate version was also approved in a committee Wednesday.

Under existing law, filing a false police report is a Class A misdemeanor; under Shaw’s bill, that charge would be elevated to a Class C felony, punishable by up to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.


House committee passes trigger activator ban

A proposal to outlaw weapon modifications that increase a firearm’s rate of fire saw unanimous approval Wednesday in the House Judiciary Committee.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Philip Ensler, D-Montgomery, would specifically ban devices known as trigger activators, weapon modifications that, like bump stocks, are capable of increasing a semi-automatic firearm’s rate of fire similar to that of an automatic weapon.

Ensler had sponsored a similar bill last year in the wake of the deadly shooting in Dadeville, though it ultimately never became law. This year, Ensler pre-filed the bill early in December, this time with bi-partisan support from some of his Republican colleagues, including Rep. Ron Bolton, R-Northport.

One key difference in the latest version of the bill when compared to its first iteration was that first time offenders would be required to perform community service rather than receive prison time. 

The reason for the change, Ensler said, was that in his discussions with law enforcement, he learned that a significant number of firearms confiscated by police that had such modifications were owned by younger Alabamians.

The bill saw unanimous approval, and is now slated to be considered on the House floor.


Bills defining man, woman advance

Alabama Senate and House committees have approved bills to strictly define who is considered female and male based on their reproductive systems.

Opponents said the move could erode the rights of transgender and intersex people in the state, The Associated Press reported this week.

“There are only two sexes, and every individual is either male or female,” declares the Senate bill approved in committee on Tuesday.

It defines sex based on reproductive anatomy and says schools and local governments can establish single-sex spaces, such as bathrooms, based on those definitions. A House committee held a public hearing on that chamber’s version of the bill on Wednesday.

Sponsor Rep. Susan DuBose, R-Hoover, told Alabama Daily News the bill is about definitions.

“It’s not expanding any laws, it’s not creating any spaces, this is only definition based,” she said.


Effort to criminalize protests in front of homes passes committee after vocal opposition

A bill that would criminalize the act of protesting outside of someone’s home passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday morning after receiving vocal opposition from some lawmakers and citizens.

Sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, Senate Bill 57 would make it a Class C misdemeanor to protest or picket “near a residence occupied or used by an individual” with the intent to disturb the occupant. A subsequent violation would elevate the charge to a Class B misdemeanor, though law enforcement would be required to give protestors an opportunity to disperse before making an arrest.

The bill, which was introduced last year but never approved by the Alabama Legislature, was inspired, Orr said, by the 2022 protests outside the home of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanugh in response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Those protests, Orr argued, are a safety concern for the targets.

“Imagine if you are in your home and you’ve got 50, 100 people that are mad at you outside of your residence,” Orr said. 

“You don’t know them, you don’t know if they’re going to shoot through the house, throw a Molotov cocktail, you’ve got children, you want to leave. What if somebody has to go to the doctor? They’re all crowded around your driveway.”

Two Alabamians had signed up to speak against the bill, the first being Ky Ransom with the nonprofit organization Project Say Something. Ransom said that the bill’s vagueness in defining what constitutes protesting “at or near” a person’s residence created confusion as to exactly where protests would become illegal under the proposal.

Another speaker against the bill was Travis Jackson, an advocate and member of several Black Lives Matter organizations.

“I am in opposition of SB57 because I believe it is a destructive bill toward Black, indigenous and people of color exercising their First Amendment rights,” Jackson said. 

“Many nonviolent protesters have been and still are targeted criminally by law enforcement. The majority of the people who are targeted by these erroneous acts are Black, indigenous and people of color.”

Following the public comments, Orr introduced an amendment to his bill that would permit local municipalities to adopt “more stringent regulations” related to prohibiting protests outside of people’s homes, something committee member Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, took issue with.

“I don’t agree with that, because you will have some locals who would I think abuse it, and I think state law should be where it ends,” Figures said.

Despite the opposition, the amendment was approved, as was the bill itself, with two no votes from Figures and Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro. Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, abstained from the vote.

Alabama Daily News’ Stuart Dyos and Mary Sell contributed to this report.

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