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Legislative briefs for March 22

Deputy Brad Johnson Act approved in committee

Senate Bill 1, the Deputy Brad Johnson Act, sponsored by Sen. April Weaver, R-Brierfield, was approved 9-4.

The bill is named after Bibb County Deputy Brad Johnson, who was fatally shot in the line of duty last year during a pursuit for a felon granted early release under the state’s “good time” prison behavior law. The offender had a record of violent offenses and escaped prison in 2019.

Current law allows for the classification of inmates based on behavior. Class I prisoners — those considered the most trustworthy — can receive sentence deductions of 75 days for each 30 days served.

This bill would change the current rate to a 30-day deduction for every 75 served and delay when “incentive time” can begin accruing.

Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said he has plans to amend the proposed rate to a 30-day deduction for every 60 days served. He did not offer the amendment during the committee meeting but said he will propose it on the Senate floor.

“The unintended consequences of this bill will back up (our prison system),” Singleton said. “I think we can get it right, so we aren’t just letting criminals out, but we need to reward people that are being good and want to get out and come out to do things different.”

State officials have never said why Patrick Austin Hall, Johnson’s alleged killer, was released from prison in 2022 prior to being charged for the 2019 prison escape.

Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, offered an amendment that would delay the proposed law’s start date until the Department of Corrections had available space and resources to accommodate more prisoners.

“I am going to vote for the bill, but there are concerns I have concerning money and practicality,” Albritton said. “We haven’t built a prison in 50 years in Alabama and have closed several. The number of available spaces, or beds if you will, are declining.”

The amendment failed in a vote of 7-5.

Sen. Lance Bell, R-Riverside, said he supported Weaver’s bill because it’s a public safety issue.

“There are no consequences to being bad in prison, and therefore, my family and other families are in jeopardy of being hurt or harmed (when an inmate) is released,” Bell said.

Fentanyl trafficking bill passes committee

A bill that would significantly increase mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of possessing fentanyl passed unanimously Wednesday in the House Judiciary Committee.

Sponsored by Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Daphne, the legislation is a top priorities for legislators. Simpson said that the bill was designed to primarily target fentanyl traffickers, rather than users.

Current Alabama law does not see mandatory sentences imposed for fentanyl possession under four grams. This new bill would impose a three-year mandatory sentence for those convicted of possessing between 1-2 grams of fentanyl; ten years for 2-4 grams, 25 years for 4-8 grams, and a life sentence for eight or more grams.

In an apparent break from tradition, committee member Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa – a noted advocate for criminal justice reform – told Simpson he agreed with him regarding his fentanyl bill.

“I think we can acknowledge that in the past, we have used sledgehammers on ants and actually created legislation that has gotten the users instead of the people that we’re talking (about),” England said during the committee meeting.

“I think with the way that you approached this legislation, I think this is a good bill to accomplish the objective. We also want to focus on treatment, but as you pointed out, this isn’t those folks.”

Bill that would allow drug dealers to be charged with manslaughter passes committee

Were an Alabamian to overdose from an illegal substance, the individual who sold the drug would be able to be charged with manslaughter under a new bill that passed unanimously Wednesday in the House Judiciary Committee.

Sponsored by Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, House Bill 82 would add a manslaughter charge – a Class B felony – to the list of potential charges for an individual who sells drugs that result in the death of another person.

Pringle shared a personal anecdote with committee members to stress the need for the bill’s passage.

“A friend of mine’s son got addicted to oxycodone after surgery, and his family literally mortgaged their house and sent him to rehab and got him clean,” Pringle said.

“His drug dealer would start hanging out in front of the meetings he was going to trying to get him to take drugs. He wore him down and sold him oxycodone laced with fentanyl and it killed him. The only thing they could charge that man with is trafficking drugs.”

Pringle said a nearly identical bill had been approved by the House Judiciary Committee three times, though ultimately died in the Senate.

Bill giving more decision-making authority to adults with disabilities advances

Senate Bill 55, known as The Colby Act, would allow for an adult with disabilities to enter into a decision-making agreement with an advisory group in lieu of a guardianship or conservatorship.

Under existing law in Alabama, adults with disabilities may be placed under guardianship or conservatorship by order of a probate judge, ending the individual’s right to make decisions on financial affairs.

Sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, SB55 received a favorable report from the Senate Judiciary committee. Orr amended the bill in committee to ensured an individual is not forced into the agreement.

A House version of the bill was introduced by Reps. Cynthia Almond, R-Tuscaloosa, and David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook, which also saw a favorable review in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

Medicaid savings account bill filed

Legislation filed in the Alabama House and Senate would create an “Medicaid Emergency Reserve Fund” within the state treasury and specify what money how money in the fund could be used.

Senate Bill 77 by Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, and House Bill 126, by Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette, is in response to a carryover the Alabama Medicaid Agency has had for several years, largely the result of more federal funding during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Medicaid Commissioner Stephanie Azar had previously asked lawmakers to allow her to create a “reserve fund” with carry over funds in anticipation of cost increases.

“(The bills) would give us legislative appropriation control, rather than just the agency telling us it’s being done that way,” Albritton told Alabama Daily News.

The bill says money in the emergency fund can only be used to:

  • Cover expenditure variances due to cost increases;
  • Cover expenditure variances due to unforeseen cost; or
  • Prevent overdraft or deficit if Medicaid spends its General Fund appropriation before the end of a budget year.

The governor must approve any use of the funds.

Albritton said the bill is not related to any conversations or pushes to expand Medicaid or provide insurance to low-income Alabamians.

“This is not any hidden agenda,” he said.

Last month, Azar told lawmakers the expected carry forward related to increased federal funding is about $88 million. Albritton gave the agency credit for not “spending every stinking dime” available to it. 

Meanwhile, the state is expecting Medicaid’s expenses to increase in fiscal 2024, which begins in October as the COVID public health emergency ends and federal Medicaid funding returns to pre-pandemic levels. 

Committee approves paper ballots, electronic voting machine bills

The Senate State Government Committee on Wednesday approved  Senate Bills 9 and 10, which would mandate the use of paper ballots and ban the use of electronic voting machines with the ability to connect to the internet, respectively. Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, is a sponsor of both.

The state of Alabama has long used paper ballots in its elections, however, the practice is a matter of policy rather than law. Chambliss previously told Alabama Daily News that his two bills would merely codify existing election procedure policies into law.

About SB10, Chambliss said banning voting machine connections to the internet will prevent hacking.

“We want to make sure that we have good, honest elections and every vote is counted once, not twice,” he told the committee.

Both bills now move to the Senate.





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