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Legislative briefs for April 26

School choice bill sent to new committee, sponsor says ‘stall tactic’

A public hearing on a large school choice bill was held Wednesday, but the legislation may have to wait for its first vote.

The Senate Education Policy Committee heard arguments for and against the bill that would create educational savings accounts and let parents take $6,900 per year in state funding to private schools and home-school settings.

At the end of the hearing, committee chairman Sen. Donnie Chesteen, R-Geneva said he was going to ask that Senate Bill 202 be recommitted to the Senate education budget committee because it impacts school funding. He also said the bill could come back to his committee later. Normally in the legislative process bills only go through one committee in each chamber.

Bill sponsor Sen. Larry Stutts, R-Tuscumbia, pointed out that he originally asked that his bill go to the budget committee, not policy.

“I understand the stalling tactics of running out the legislative session,” Stutts told Chesteen. 

Lawmakers’ regular session is now nearly half over and is expected to end in early to mid-June.

The call for more school choice options in Alabama is growing louder, but some Republican leaders are still not sold on the legislation that does not mandate any standardized testing for the students in private or home-based schools. Some have said it needs more accountability. Stutts and other supporters have said parents are ultimately accountable for their children’s education.


House committee approves, applauds overtime tax exemption bill 

A bill that would exempt overtime pay from state income tax saw unanimous approval in the House Ways and Means Education Committee Wednesday morning, receiving praise from a number of committee members.

Sponsored by Rep. Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, House Bill 217 would exclude pay from any hours worked in excess of 40 from the state’s 5% income tax, and would go into effect Jan. 1, 2024, were it to become law.

“This is an opportunity to provide a tax incentive for work,” Daniels said during the committee meeting. 

“What this bill does is (make) hourly workers that work in excess of 40 hours exempt from the income tax rate. So this increases the workforce participation rate, but also provides an incentive for experienced workforce to work additional hours and take home more.”

Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, the chair of the committee, called the bill “one of the most intriguing bills that has come before our body in a while,” and asked Daniels what other states had implemented similar laws.

“No one,” Daniels said.

It was because of the unprecedented bill, Garrett said, that he introduced an amendment that would sunset the bill after three years were it to become law, an amendment that saw unanimous approval. Lawmakers could later extend the law.

The bill itself also received unanimous approval, but not before Rep. Barbara Drummond, D-Mobile, called it “innovative,” Rep. Troy Stubbs, R-Wetumpka, called it “compelling,” and Rep. Prince Chestnut, D-Valley Grande, called it “pro-innovation and pro-Alabama.”


Senate committee passes bill that adds information as to whether an individual has been involuntarily committed to law enforcement databases

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill Wednesday requiring the Alabama State Law Enforcement Agency to enter into the state firearms prohibited person database any court order related to an individual being involuntarily committed to either inpatient or outpatient treatment.

Sponsored by Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Josephine, Senate Bill 158 was designed to help improve officer safety when conducting traffic stops. Under existing law, those who have been involuntarily committed to a health facility or treatment program may not possess a firearm; Elliott’s bill would let law enforcement know whether an individual had been involuntarily committed in the past.

Al Tolbert, the chief of police for Bay Minette Police Department told the committee about a deadly police encounter involving one of his officers. He said if information on involuntary commitments readily available at the time, it could have made a difference.

“On Aug. 20, 2022, I had a police officer make a traffic stop on a vehicle for a relatively minor traffic violation, and it turned into an officer-involved shooting and ultimately, the suspect lost his life,” Tolbert said. 

“This individual had been involuntarily committed several times and had about a ten-year history of mental illness, and there’s no doubt in my mind had this flag been entered into the database, I believe this officer would have treated this situation differently and the outcome would have been different.”

Tolbert explained that the individual had gained control of the officer’s taser and reportedly tried to use it, after which the officer shot and killed him.

“Our push behind it is it would be a huge officer safety benefit to the police officers, but even more importantly, it would be a huge safety benefit to the public,” Tolbert said.

The committee approved the bill unanimously.


Delta-8 ban for those under 21 passes House committee with tax increase

A bill that would ban the sale of products containing psychoactive cannabinoids — products such as Delta-8 — to anyone under 21 was approved Wednesday by the House Health Committee.

“The purpose of the bill is to keep these psychoactive cannabinoids out of the hands of our children,” said Rep. Russell Bedsole, R-Alabaster, who was carrying the bill on behalf of its sponsor, Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence. 

“These are sold in convenience stores with no regulated access at all, a lot of them are marketed toward children, and are finding their way into the hands of children.”

The bill was passed by the same committee earlier in April, though through a substitute unanimously approved by the committee Wednesday, the previous 5% tax on psychoactive cannabinoid products was increased to 8%.

Those who sell or distribute psychoactive cannabinoid products to an individual under 21 would could be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, and those under 21 found in possession of a psychoactive cannabinoid product would be issued a citation and a fine of between $50 and $200 for a first offense.

A third conviction of possession for an individual under 21 would result in their driver’s license being suspended for three to six months.


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