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Legislative briefs for May 24

‘What Is a Woman Act’ advances committee

A bill that would codify into law the definitions of men and women saw a favorable report Wednesday in the House Health Committee amid strong opposition from the LGBT community.

Dubbed the What Is a Woman Act, the bill establishes strict definitions of men and women as a means to categorize individuals. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Susan DuBose, R-Hoover, argued that establishing such definitions would help protect people as it relates to sex discrimination laws and other sex-specific programs and protections.

The bill proved controversial among the LGBT community, who rallied by the hundreds last week in front of the State House in opposition, and spoke at length against the bill during a public hearing last Thursday.

As it relates to individuals who exhibit physical traits that make their sex difficult to determine as either male or female, often referred to as intersex, the bill would afford them the protections and accommodations afforded under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

During the committee meeting, Rep. Neil Rafferty, D-Birmingham, said he still held some concerns related to how the bill defines intersex people.

“We’re not really defining this, and according to the American Intersex Society, the UN and a couple of other organizations that take into account these disorders, there’s approximately 1.7% of the population (who fall in this category), and you don’t really define it down,” Rafferty said.

Rep. Pebblin Warren, R-Tuskegee, expressed concerns of her own related to the lack of accommodations to incarcerated transgender people, citing safety concerns.

The bill now needs three more votes in the remaining five days of the session.


Body-cam bill passes House

A bill that would provide procedures on releasing footage of law enforcement body-worn cameras passed the House with a vote of 87-15 on Wednesday.

Sponsored by Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, House Bill 289 would also specify who can request access to body-cam footage, limiting access to those shown in the footage or their representatives. 

The bill was passed with one amendment from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency that if an investigation was transferred between agencies, the receiving agency would be responsible for the custodial procedures for allowing access to the footage.


First-grade readiness bill passes Senate Committee

A bill that would require students to either attend kindergarten or pass a first grade readiness assessment test saw a favorable report Wednesday in the Senate Education Policy Committee.

Pending a Senate vote, the bill will go to Gov. Kay Ivey.

Under existing law, children in Alabama may enter public school beginning in the first grade. Under the proposed bill, sponsored by Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, children could only enter the public school system in first grade were they to pass an assessment. Students who fail the assessment would instead be required to attend kindergarten.

The bill has been introduced in past legislative sessions but never passed. This year, Ivey voiced support for the measure in March during her state of the state address.


Bill bans firearms for immigrants in country illegally

A bill that would ban people residing in Alabama illegally from obtaining a firearm passed the House unanimously on Wednesday. 

Sponsored by Rep. Ron Bolton, R-Northport, House Bill 64 would make illegal possession of a firearm by someone without legal status in the country a Class C felony. 

The bill will now go to the Senate.


Parental rights bill passes after stumbling earlier in session

A bill that would codify into law the rights of parents “to make decisions concerning the care of their children” was approved by the Alabama House Wednesday after failing to pass earlier in May.

Sponsored by Rep. Kenneth Paschal, R-Pelham, House Bill 6 would prohibit the state from interfering in the rights of parents to “direct the upbringing, education, care and custody of his or her child,” with the only exception being for a “compelling state interest.”

Rep. Prince Chestnut, D-Valley Grande, proposed an amendment to the bill adding clarifying language that it would not apply to custody disputes between parents, an amendment that was received favorably by Paschal and ultimately approved by the House.

When last up for a vote on the House floor on May 2, Democrats voiced their opposition to the bill for over an hour, many of whom argued the proposal was too broad in scope. Yet despite the previous opposition, the bill was approved by the House with discussion with a vote of 87-8, with seven abstaining.


Public hearing held to require unanimous death penalty jury vote

A public hearing was held on Wednesday for a bill that would require a unanimous vote on a jury to recommend the death penalty.

Sponsored by Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, House Bill 14 would also require a resentencing for those on death row that did not get one following legislation passed in 2018 that took away judicial override on death penalty cases. This bill would provide that a defendant may be resentenced if a judge sentenced him or her to a sentence other than the jury’s advisory sentence and if the death sentence was not unanimous.

The bill did not receive a committee vote on Wednesday and with five legislative days left, it is unlikely to advance. 

Still, six people spoke in favor of the bill at a public hearing, including former Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Pike Road. He co-sponsored the original bill in 2017 with England that only allowed judges to use judicial override to impose death sentences if at least 10 of 12 jurors voted to impose a death sentence. That bill became law.

Mae Puckett, a proponent of the bill, told the committee about a specific case this bill would affect, if passed. She was a juror for Robin “Rocky” Myers in 1991 in which he was found guilty of murder, but the jury did not want the death penalty for Myers. Puckett said that two years later, the judge on Myers’ case overrode the jury’s decision and put him on death row. If passed, this bill would allow Myers to be resentenced with the chance of getting off of death row. 

“If we are going to be a state that puts people to death, it has to be the hardest thing we do,” England said.

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