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Legislative briefs for March 23

Senate approves hospital visitation bill

The Alabama Senate on Thursday approved a bill supporters hope will provide families more access to their loved ones in hospitals and nursing homes during pandemics.

Senate Bill 113 by Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, would require health care facilities, including hospitals and nursing homes, to establish policies that meet certain visitation requirements, including allowing in-person visits in several scenarios, such as end-of-life, during childbirth and for pediatric patients.

Twenty-six of Gudger’s Republican colleagues in the Senate are co-sponsors on the bill.

The bill also says its provisions can’t be suspended or modified by emergency rule or order.

In 2021, Gudger sponsored and passed Senate Bill 307, which said during public health emergencies, health care facilities shall continue to allow visitors under certain conditions. He’s since said the bill hasn’t worked as intended and people are still denied access.

Hospital and nursing home leaders have said they followed federal Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services rules during the pandemic. Not following those rules, including on visitations, could result in the loss of funding and licenses.

Sen. Dan Roberts, whose wife , Anne Roberts, died in early 2022 after a lengthy hospitalization with COVID-19, described his family not being able to be in the hospital room during her more than 40-day stay. She was on the ground floor, so they were able to gather at a window and look in at her.

“I would have bought a spacesuit to be able to go in and be with her,” Roberts said.

The bill was originally named for Harold Sachs, a friend of Gudger’s who died in 2020. Anne Roberts’ name was added to the bill. 

Rep. Debbie Wood, R-Valley, is carrying the bill in the House.

Fentanyl trafficking bill passes House

House Bill 1, which would see significant increases to mandatory minimum sentences for fentanyl possession, passed unanimously in the State House on Thursday.

Sponsored by Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Daphne, the bill would see those convicted with possession of 1-2 grams of fentanyl be given a mandatory three-year sentence; ten years for 2-4 grams, 25 years for 4-8 grams, and a life sentence for eight or more grams.

The bill saw no opposition on the House Floor, nor did it see any opposition during Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee, something Simpson spoke to as being a testament to the widespread problem of Fentanyl.

“This is not a partisan bill, this is something that affects every community, and that’s something that we’re taking seriously,” Simpson said after the bill’s passing. “Members of the community, families that have lost loved ones because of fentanyl, we hear you, and we understand we needed to do something on this.”

Simpson said that while imposing harsher penalties for fentanyl possession was important, he and his legislative colleagues will continue to fight the fentanyl crisis with a multifaceted approach.

“This bill that I filed today is not going to be the only answer, we need to educate our community, we need to get people the counseling, the training, (and) the opportunities to get the help that they may need. There’s a multi-level facet of what we’re trying to do here, this is just one tool in the chamber.”

House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, also spoke highly of the bill’s passage, with the bill being noted as among his highest two priorities for this legislative session.

“You think about the fentanyl problem we’ve got across this country, we’re taking steps to try to stop it in Alabama,” Ledbetter said after the bill’s passage.

“There’s enough fentanyl that comes across our border to kill every man, woman and child in the United States, I mean it has become an epidemic and I think every state’s got to start addressing it and we’ve got to start closing our border to keep it from coming in.”

Sen. April Weaver, R-Brierfield, will carry the Senate version of the bill.

Alcohol liability law bill passes Senate

The Alabama Senate on Thursday passed Senate Bill 104 to change the state’s alcohol liability law regarding intoxicated people and the restaurants and bars that serve them.

Sponsor Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Josephine, said that under current law, if a person drinks at multiple establishments over the course of a night and then causes a wreck that kills them or someone else, the first establishment is just as liable as the last, where the person was already intoxicated.

Elliott and others on the Senate floor said the existing law hurts business’ insurance ratings.

His bill says that to be liable, an establishment would “knowingly” provide alcohol to someone over 21 who is visibly intoxicated.

The bill also says providers of alcoholic beverages are not liable to consumers “for injuries or damages suffered by the consumer caused by the consumer’s ingestion of alcohol.”

Supporters of Elliott’s bill include the Alabama Beverage Licensee Association, the Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality Association and the Alabama Retail Association. 

It passed the Senate unanimously and now moves to the House. 

Adoption process streamlining bill gets House approval

A bill designed to streamline the adoption process in Alabama saw unanimous approval in the State House Thursday.

House Bill 101 would set definite time parameters for portions of the adoption process, reduce the number of in-person court procedures, allow for electronic communications throughout the process, and generally update and simplify the state’s adoption law language to be more clear.

Sponsored by Rep. Ginny Shaver, R-Leesburg, the bill is expected to shave as much of a year off the adoption process.

“I think we’re all touched by adoption in some way or another, some more closely than others have a personal experience, (but) I think that’s the reason (the bill received unanimous approval),” Shaver said after the bill’s passage. “I think it’s something we can all come together and support, and that’s a great day.”

There are an estimated 5,700 children currently in foster care. Shaver, along with supporters of the bill, hope the streamlined adoption process will help those nearly 6,000 children find parents more quickly.

The bill saw no amendments as it worked its way through the House, neither did it see any opposition from House members. Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, will carry the bill in the State Senate.

Senate approves video cameras in special education classrooms

Public schools will have to put video cameras in special education classrooms under a bill approved in the Senate on Thursday.

Sen. Arthur Orr’s Senate Bill 56 would require cameras in classes in which at least half of the students receive special education services. According to the bill, the video cameras would record audio and video during school hours and at any time a student is present. Recording must be kept for at least three months.

Orr began working on this legislation last year following the alleged abuse of a 12-year-old student in Limestone County.

Orr on Thursday said the bill would help guard vulnerable students as well as teachers.

“This bill should provide some confidence of parents for their children who are not able to communicate in the classroom setting, as well as provide some protections to educators who are doing very difficult jobs,” Orr said.

If an allegation of abuse or neglect is made, the recordings would be made available to employees involved in the alleged incident, the student’s parents or guardians, investigating administrators, law enforcement agencies and legal counsel for anyone involved.

The bill now goes to the House.

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