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Legislative briefs for May 16

Coleman questions why child sexual assault bill isn’t moving

Sen. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, took to the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon to express her frustration that she hasn’t gotten a committee vote on her bill to give victims of child sexual abuse significantly more time to bring civil lawsuits against their alleged abusers.

There was a public hearing on Senate Bill 127 last week in the Senate Judiciary Committee but no vote was taken and the bill is not on today’s agenda.

Current law sets the statute of limitations on civil lawsuits for child assault victims at six years after he or she turns 19. Senate Bill 127 would extend that to 36 years after the victim turns 19. 

On the Senate floor, Coleman said she’s heard insurance companies in the state oppose her bill, but no one has come to discuss it with her.

“How low do you have to be to victimize a child?” Coleman said. “How low do we have to be not to take the issue up?”

Renee Carter, executive director of the Alabama Insurance Coalition, a trade association for insurance providers, told Alabama Daily News Tuesday evening that no one wants to protect people who abuse children, but there is industry wide concern about the bill that makes retroactive victims’ ability to seek damages from those who abused them. 

“It will inevitably lead to an “avalanche of claims and lawsuits” not just against the predator, “but your schools, your churches, your camps, your sports organizations…” she said.

“They are going to be unprepared financially to absorb that enormous potential liability,” Carter said.

“(Our concern) is more not do you do it, but how you do it,” she said.

Carter said the coalition would be reaching out to Coleman.


Principal training, pay bill clears Senate

A bill to create additional professional training and mentoring for public school principals and vice-principals — and pay more to those who complete the new program — passed the Alabama Senate on Tuesday. 

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said his Senate Bill 300 would create a better system of principal training. 

Orr’s bill creates the Alabama Principal Leadership Developing System that would give annual supplements of $10,000 for principals and $5,000 for vice-principals who complete the program. An additional $5,000 or $2,500 would be available to the school leaders in low-performing schools.

The 2024 education budget approved by the Senate appropriates $850,000 for the Principal Leadership and Mentoring Act. 

There are about 1,440 public schools across the state and principals’ salaries vary. But on the lowest end, an elementary school leader starts at about $62,000 per year, Vic Wilson, executive director of the Council of Leaders in Alabama Schools, previously told ADN. Wilson has worked with Orr on this bill for about a year.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously and now goes to the House.


Bill allows PAC-to-party transfers of money

Political action committees in Alabama could again donate to political parties under a bill approved unanimously in the Senate on Tuesday.

There was no floor discussion or opposition to the Senate Bill 289 and it now goes to the House.

The bill from Sen. Sam Givhan, R-Huntsville, allows PACs to donate to political parties as well as individual candidates’ campaign funds.

The Alabama Legislature, newly controlled by Republicans in 2010, banned political action committees from giving money to one another. 

Alabama Republican Party Chairman John Wahl told Alabama Daily News that because Alabama classifies political parties as PACs, it is currently one of the only states in the country that does not allow state and county party groups to share resources.

“This was an unintended consequence of the PAC-to-PAC ban a few years ago, and something that should be addressed,” Wahl said. “It can be very frustrating for both Republican and Democrat state parties when they can’t help a county party that needs assistance. It’s also frustrating for women’s organizations and political clubs for young people that can’t purchase a table at a party function. This is something that affects both Democrats and Republicans, and I am glad the Legislature is looking into it.”

The bill now goes to the House.


House approves bill mandating smartphones, tablets be sold with enabled content filter

A bill that would require all smartphones and tablets sold in Alabama to have a content safety filter enabled saw approval from the Alabama House on Tuesday.

Known as the Protection of Minors from Unfiltered Devices Act, the bill is sponsored by Rep. Chris Sells, R-Greenville, who told Alabama Daily News that his intent was to protect minors from being able to access harmful material, particularly pornography. The bill would introduce civil penalties for smartphone and tablet manufacturers of up to $50,000 per violation.

Under the bill, the content filter would be enabled for all smartphones and tablets, whether sold to an adult or child, however, an adult would be able to bypass the filter with a password.

The bill saw some opposition on the House floor. 

Rep. Napoleon Bracy, D-Saraland, argued that the goal of the bill “isn’t really realistic” and would be difficult to enforce. Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook, outright opposed the bill, but told Sells that he agreed with its intent.

House members ultimately approved the bill with a vote of 70-8, with 24 abstaining from the vote.


Sentencing reform bill narrowly passes House

A bill that would exempt certain nonviolent offenders from enhanced sentencing under Alabama’s habitual felony offender laws saw approval in the Alabama House on Tuesday.

Sponsored by Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, who has sponsored a number of bills this session aimed at criminal justice reform, the bill would also allow eligible inmates to request a resentencing hearing, which England said would apply to approximately 300 inmates.

On the House floor, England offered an amendment to his bill, an amendment that contained suggestions from Rep. Russell Bedsole, R-Alabaster, and the state Attorney General’s Office. The suggestions, England said, made his proposal “a better bill.”

Explaining the amendment, England said that were an inmate to request a resentencing hearing under his proposed law, the victim, local law enforcement and district attorney’s office would now be notified. The amendment would also sunset the bill after five years, and require inmates to serve at least 23 years in prison before becoming eligible for a resentencing hearing.

The amendment passed with a vote of 83-17, and the bill itself passed with a vote of 64-37.


Paramedic college requirement removal bill passes House

Amid the ongoing shortage of EMTs and paramedics, the Alabama House passed a bill Tuesday that would remove requirements for paramedics to earn a two-year college degree to become licensed.

Paramedics in Alabama are required to complete a community paramedic training program before becoming licensed. The programs are offered by both two-year colleges and universities, many of which are only offered as part of a two-year college degree that include classes unrelated to the profession as a requirement.

House Bill 417, sponsored by Rep. Phillip Pettus, R-Greenhill, would simply remove the college requirement for all paramedic training programs.

House members ultimately approved the bill unanimously.


The Yellowhammer Cookie will go to Senate for final passage

House Bill 421 would name the Yellowhammer cookie, made of peanut butter, oats and pecans, as the Alabama State Cookie passed unanimously in the House of Representatives on Tuesday. 

The bill now goes to the Senate.

Hudson Cornet, a senior at Trinity Presbyterian School, presented the bill to the House State Government Committee on May 10. 

After learning Alabama didn’t have an official cookie, the  fourth grade class at Trinity held a contest for who could make the best treat, according to Cornet. The main ingredients are all grown in Alabama, Cornet said.

“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.”


Driver’s license suspension relief bill close to final passage

A bill that would mean those paying off traffic fines won’t lose their licenses the first time they miss a court date or a payment is close to final passage in the Alabama Legislature.

As changed and approved in the House, Senate Bill 154 would allow a judge to suspend a driver’s license only if an individual fails to appear in court more than once or misses three payments. The original bill by Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Pike Road, and Sen. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, allowed for missing up to six payments and three court dates.

Under current law, a judge can suspend a license if an individual fails to pay a payment plan due one time, according to Rep. Tim Wadsworth, R-Arley.

The bill would only allow the license to be reinstated if the individual complies with the notice to appear in court, if passed and signed into law. 

The Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice has advocated for this bill for multiple sessions. Frederick Spight, the policy director for Appleseed, said the House changes were the result of compromises and negotiations with the Attorney General’s office and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. 

Nearly 170,000 Alabamians have lost their driver’s licenses because they missed court or can’t afford to pay their tickets, according to Appleseed.

Spight said the bill approved in the House is more restrictive than what was originally proposed, but a step in the right direction.

“Most importantly, it still provides an avenue of grace and relief to many Alabamians,” Spight said.


House passes bill banning all vaping products to those under 21

A bill that makes it illegal to sell vaping products to Alabamians under the age of 21 was approved in the Alabama House on Tuesday.

House Bill 319 is sponsored by Rep. Barbara Drummond, D-Mobile. She said the main reason for this bill is that the full contents of vapes is unknown to consumers. 

“This is another bite at the apple,” she said. “For me, biting this apple is for the health of young people.”

The bill would introduce a fine for vendors that violate this law, starting with $500 for the first offense. Drummond said 75% of this fine would go to the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and 25% would go to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency.

The bill will now go to the Senate.


After bill rejected, Smitherman vows to ‘keep educating’ Senate

Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, slowed the Senate’s passage of bills Tuesday after his colleagues voted down his legislation to implement a statewide due process system for students in jeopardy of being suspended or expelled from public schools. 

The bill failed with 20 of a total of 35 senators voting against it.

The failure seemed to surprise Smitherman, who said no one tried to amend it or address any concerns about Senate Bill 181, which among other things says students can’t be expelled for truancy. He spent the rest of the legislative day slowing action, speaking on multiple bills.

He had a similar bill last year and said he thought his colleagues understood its importance.

 “I didn’t take the time to educate y’all,” he said on the floor. “ … I’ve got nine more days to educate y’all.”

That’s how many legislative days are left in the session. He said he hoped there’d be a change of heart in the Senate.

“Otherwise I’ll have to keep educating, educating, educating…” he said. 


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