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Legislative Briefs for April 25

Ban on smoking, vaping in cars with kids goes to Ivey

The Alabama Senate on Tuesday gave unanimous final approval to a bill that bans smoking or vaping in a vehicle when a child under 14 is present. The bill now goes to Gov. Kay Ivey for her signature.

Sponsored by Rep. Rolanda Hollis, D-Birmingham, House Bill 3 would impose a fine up to $100 fine for those who violate the law.

Under the bill, law enforcement would not be permitted to conduct a traffic stop based solely on observing a driver smoking or vaping with a child present and would only be permitted to charge or investigate individuals violating the proposed law as a secondary violation.

Senate approves, again, bill to help people keep driver’s licenses

The Alabama Senate on Tuesday approved a bill to allow more people to keep their driver’s licenses as they pay off traffic fines.

Senate Bill 154, sponsored by Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Pike Road, would mandate that in order for a license to be suspended, a traffic offender would have to miss two or more court review dates or six or more payments.

Current law says if a court orders an individual to pay a fine as a result of a traffic infraction, and he or she fails to pay, his or her driver’s license may be immediately suspended. Similarly, failure to appear in court for a review can automatically result in driving privilege suspension.

Nearly 170,000 Alabamians have lost their licenses because they missed court or can’t afford to pay their tickets, according to the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. It and Barfoot have argued taking people’s licenses negatively impacts their ability to work and provide for their families.

The bill now moves to the House, where a similar version died last year. Rep. Tim Wadsworth, R-Arley, is the House sponsor.

House passes 2% pay increase for state employees

Alabama House members unanimously approved on Tuesday a cost-of-living pay increase for state employees. Upon becoming law, all state employees would receive a 2% pay increase on their first pay day of fiscal year 2024, which begins Oct. 1, 2023. 

Sponsored by Rep. Napoleon Bracy, D-Saraland, the bill is expected to increase the costs of state agencies by an estimated $44.9 million in fiscal year 2024, as well as every subsequent year. Of that $44.9 million, however, only an estimated $14.5 million will come from the State General Fund.

Bill increasing grant funds for sheriff departments to offset lost pistol permit revenue passes

A bill that would increase available grant funds for all 67 Alabama sheriff’s departments passed unanimously Tuesday in the Alabama House.

In 2022, lawmakers passed a permitless carry bill, which repealed the requirement that Alabamians acquire a permit to conceal carry a firearm. The bill also created the Local Government Pistol Permit Revenue Loss Fund, which was funded to the tune of $5 million annually through the State General Fund, and could be distributed to sheriff departments via grants.

Sponsored by Rep. Russell Bedsole, R-Alabaster, House Bill 320 would increase that $5 million figure to $7.5 million, as well as change the name of the fund to the Sheriffs’ Advancement in Education, Technology and Training Fund. The $7.5 million would be paid for through the State General Fund, and would be recurring through 2028.

Multiple House members praised the bill on the floor, including Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris.

“I appreciate you bringing this bill because I think it goes with our commitment to law enforcement that any lost revenue we would look to make up, and this bill takes a huge step in that direction,” Treadaway said. “I believe we’re the only constitutional carry in America that actually has that commitment.”

Others, including Reps. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, and Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, used the opportunity to voice their continued concerns with the original permitless carry bill.

“I just want to remind my colleagues that this does not make our sheriffs or the men in blue any safer,” Jackson said on the House floor. “Everybody can wear a gun or have one concealed, and law enforcement can’t question that in a traffic stop, but we’re going to give them a few more dollars to make them feel good.”

The House passed the bill unanimously, with one representative abstaining.

New tax incentive bill for health profession instructors passes House

The Alabama House unanimously approved a bill Tuesday that would establish a new income tax incentive program for health workers who train students enrolled in certain health profession programs.

Dubbed the Preceptor Tax Incentive Program, the bill would provide an income tax credit incentive of $500 for a physician instructor for every 160 hours of student clinical training in certain study programs. The program would also provide an income tax credit of $425 for nurse practitioners instructing certain students, with maximum annual income tax credits capped at between $5,100 and $6,000.

“What this does is establish the Preceptor Tax Incentive Program to offer more training opportunities for medical students, dental students, students of nurse practicing, (and) students of a physician assistant,” Rafferty said. “It offers the folks that would be offering the training a little tax incentive.”

Sponsored by Rep. Neil Rafferty, D-Birmingham, the bill would decrease the income tax receipts to the Education Trust Fund by an estimated $780,000 annually, and would go into effect three months after being signed into law.

House passes nonprofit donor, volunteer and member identity protection bill

A bill prohibiting state agencies from collecting, disclosing or releasing personal information about donors, volunteers or members of nonprofit organizations saw unanimous approval Tuesday in the Alabama House.

Sponsored by Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, but presented on the House floor by Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, Senate Bill 59 — dubbed the Personal Privacy Protection Act — would impose civil and criminal penalties for Alabama state agencies that compile or release identifying information of donors, volunteers or members of nonprofits, except as required by law.

“This is a bipartisan bill,” Garrett said. “Groups on the right, groups on the left are in favor of this protection for their donors.”

Individuals that knowingly violate the statute could be charged with a Class C misdemeanor. Individuals wishing to take civil action for a violation of the bill would be eligible to sue for damages of no less than $2,500, or of up to $7,500 if the violation was deemed “intentional.”

The bill now goes back to the Senate to agree with a change made in the House.

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