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Legislative briefs for May 10

It was a long day in the Legislature with a lot of bills moving.

Catch up with what happened via our legislative briefs package below.

Child abuse statute of limitations extension bill discussed during public hearing

Legislation pending in the Alabama Senate would give victims of child sexual abuse significantly more time to bring civil lawsuits against their alleged abusers.

Current law sets the statute of limitations at six years after a victim turns 19. Senate Bill 127 by Sen. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, would extend that to 36 years after the victim turns 19. 

During a public hearing Wednesday morning, two adults spoke to the Senate Judiciary Committee about the sexual abuse they suffered as children, their lack of recourse and the lingering trauma the abuse caused. 

No one spoke against the bill but Coleman said she has heard there are opponents trying to stop the bill. No one has come to her directly.

Senate Bill 127 has nine Democrat and Republican co-sponsors. Several Democrats on the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday tried to advance the bill after a public hearing, but committee chairman Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Pike Road, said his commitment prior to the meeting was a public hearing without a vote.

He encouraged anyone with concerns about the bill to contact Coleman and said it would get a vote next week.

“Let’s figure out who’s opposed to it and why,” Barfoot said.


State cookie bill advances

A bill to name the “Yellowhammer cookie” Alabama’s official state cookie  passed unanimously in the House State Government Committee on Wednesday. 

The legislation, and cookie, are the result of students at Trinity Presbyterian School. The fourth-grade class at Trinity was shocked to learn Alabama does not have a state cookie, said Hudson Cornet, a senior at the school who presented the bill to the committee.

The class had a contest to see who could make the best cookie, Cornet said.

The Yellowhammer cookie is made of peanut butter, oats and pecans. He said these three ingredients come from different parts of the state and embody its cultural heritage.

“This also embodies our state’s cultural heritage with George Washington Carver’s research at Tuskegee Institute, which is now Tuskegee University,” Cornet said. “It encapsulates what our state was built upon.”

The bill now goes to the House.


Effort to address paramedic shortage by removing college requirement advances in committee

A bill that aims to address the ongoing shortage of EMTs and paramedics in the state passed through the House Health Committee on Wednesday.

To become a licensed paramedic in Alabama, individuals have to complete a community paramedic training program from an accredited college, many of which require participants to earn a two-year college degree.

House Bill 417, sponsored by Rep. Phillip Pettus, R-Greenhill, would remove that requirement in an effort to streamline the paramedic licensing process and help alleviate existing shortages.

“We have a shortage in my area of paramedics, we do not have enough,” Pettus said when presenting his bill. 

“In my area, our college requires a two-year degree to be a paramedic, our college also has a two-year degree (requirement) to be a registered nurse. So what this bill does is basically take away the requirement to have a college degree to be a paramedic. You’ve still got to do all your medical (training), you just don’t have to have the English and the math.”

The bill received little discussion and was unanimously approved by the committee. Rep. Phillip Rigsby, R-Huntsville, who sits on the committee and is a licensed EMT, told Alabama Daily News that he thought the bill was a “great workforce development tool,” and that “with the shortage right now with paramedics,” he would support “anything we can do to streamline the ability to get paramedics on the ground (and) give them the training they need.”


Bill to make Juneteenth a state holiday stalls

A bill that would make Juneteenth a state holiday, as well as another bill that would observe all federal holidays at the state level, was moved to the Government Relations Subcommittee of the House State Government Committee on Wednesday.

Rep. Kevin Lawrence, D-Hayneville, asked the chairman of the committee, Rep. Chris Sells, R-Greenville, for a commitment to not let HB97 and HB247 linger in the subcommittee. 

“I give you my word, we’ll work on it,” Sells said.

Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, sponsor for HB247, said she spoke with Sells and the governor’s office about making Juneteenth a state holiday. She said the bill adds it without changing existing holidays.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas — two months after the Confederacy had surrendered. That was also about 2 1/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the Southern states.

Last year, Gov. Kay Ivey gave state employees the day off, but that was not a permanent change.

Juneteenth is the only federal holiday Alabama doesn’t designate as an official state holiday. It also observes three Confederate holidays.


School sporting events one step closer to being required to accept cash as bill advances committee

A bill that would require all public school-sponsored sporting events accept cash as a form of payment passed through the Senate Education Policy Committee on Wednesday.

Sponsored by Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford, the bill passed the Alabama House last week with a unanimous vote, and received 87 co-sponsors.

The intent behind the bill, Hurst previously explained, was to address scenarios where older individuals may not have a smartphone or debit or credit card but want to attend a school sporting event. While Hurst did not attend the committee meeting, Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, shared in Hurst’s concerns, telling committee members he had seen first hand an older individual be denied access to a sporting event due to only having cash.

The bill passed the committee unanimously.


Bill modifying charter school laws passes committee

The Senate Education Policy Committee passed a bill Wednesday that would modify the state’s existing laws regarding public charter schools.

Among the changes include modifications to the Alabama Public Charter School Commission, the body that authorizes conversions of public schools to public charter schools, by changing the appointment process and providing new guidelines for school conversions and enrollment.

Regarding enrollment, the bill would give charter schools the ability to give preference to students who have economic or academic disadvantages. The bill would also extend the term length of those sitting on the Charter School Commission from two to four years, mandate them to undergo additional training and allow them to hire staff.

Sponsored by Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Pike Road, the bill passed the committee unanimously, with its House counterpart also receiving a favorable report last week.


Sentence reform bill passes committee

A bill that would exempt certain nonviolent offenses from being eligible for enhanced sentencing under the state’s habitual felony offender law passed the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. The bill would also allow for certain inmates who have had their sentence enhanced under the habitual felony offender law to be eligible for a resentencing hearing.

More than 500 people are currently serving life sentences without parole who were sentenced under the habitual felony offender law as of 2020, with 187 serving life sentences without parole with robbery being their most serious offense.

Sponsor Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, said he hopes the bill can help both future and past nonviolent offenders receive a second chance in their later years of life. England also said that retroactively, his bill would affect about 300 inmates.

“There’s 25,000 people in the prison system; so we helped 300, what difference does it make,” England said following the bill’s passage. 

“I don’t want to disregard the fact that we’re talking about humans – humanity – and some people do deserve a second chance for review. This is a small first step and we’re going to continue to work to find different ways to alleviate the prison population, but also to create a review for people that may be unjustly serving beyond their time.”

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