By ALEXANDER WILLIS and ANNA BARRETT, Alabama Daily News
Organized retail theft bill moves through House
A bill targeting organized retail theft was approved by the Alabama House Wednesday in a vote along party lines. The bill establishes new criminal penalties for theft involving two or more people working together.
As originally written, the bill would have made it a Class B felony for two or more people working together to shoplift, regardless of the value of items stolen. On May 17, the House Judiciary Committee passed the bill with a significant amendment, establishing a threshold that the value of stolen items must reach before the organized retail theft charge could be imposed, starting at $500.
On the House floor Wednesday, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris, explained what he considered to be the dire need for the bill.
“We’re paying for it, the taxpayers are paying for it, we’re all paying for it; now it’s gotten so organized,” Treadaway said on organized retail theft in Alabama.
“Big box, high-end, small stores, it’s occurring everywhere because quite frankly, there’s no enforcement, there’s no teeth in the current law,” he said. “We’ve emboldened the criminal like never before, (and) they’re going in larger numbers.”
Rep. Prince Chestnut, D-Valley Grande, voiced support for the amendment that established a threshold before the Class B felony charge could be imposed, arguing that without it, two parents shoplifting baby formula could have been charged with a felony under the original form of the bill.
The House went on to approve the bill with a vote along party lines of 76-27. It now moves to the Senate, where, if approved, would then go to the governor’s office for final approval.
Bill banning state investment in anti-ESG companies approved by House
The Alabama House on Wednesday approved a bill that would prohibit the state from contracting with companies that boycott organizations based on environmental, social or governance factors, which Republicans across the country have argued promote liberal agendas.
The bill passed the Senate on May 18 along party lines. Senate Democrats, such as Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, argued the bill sent an anti-business message to the business community.
When appearing before the House on Wednesday, the bill was introduced and passed within a matter of minutes with no discussion, passing along party lines with a vote of 74-27. It now goes to Gov. Kay Ivey for her signature.
Gang crime bill passes committee with name change
A bill increasing criminal penalties for illegal gang activity received a favorable report in the House Judiciary committee with an amendment on Wednesday after some language changes
Sponsored by Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Pike Road, Senate Bill 143 was amended to change “gang members” to “criminal enterprise members.” Barfoot said that he worked with multiple parties to make the bill more palatable.
Senate Bill 143 and House Bill 191, sponsored by Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris, increase penalties for felonies committed during gang activity, create a minimum sentence for any use of a firearm by gang members and specify people 16 and older can be charged as adults for gang-related offenses.
Rep. Patrice McClammy, D-Montgomery, brought up the change in language and noted that the original language was her issue with the bill, and was in support of the change.
House committee amends, approves bill improving public record transparency
A bill that would require government agencies to respond to public record requests more promptly was amended Wednesday to include a new exclusion, then approved by the House Ethics and Campaign Finance Committee.
While existing law grants Alabamians the right to request public documents and records, many end up waiting months for their requests to be fulfilled because there are no enforced deadlines in the process. Senate Bill 196, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, would change that.
The bill would mandate that government agencies must respond to a public records request within 10 business days, and fulfill the request within 20 business days. Under certain circumstances, agencies are afforded 45 business days were the request to require exorbitant time to fulfill, plus an additional 15 business days for certain requests related to more sensitive documents.
The bill was presented to the House committee mostly unchanged since its May 11 passage in the Senate, save for a bill substitute that clarified that the public record response deadlines did not apply to the judicial branch. Committee Chair Rep. Matt Simpson told Alabama Daily News that the exclusion of the state’s judicial branch was included to protect district attorney files.
“We just want to make sure you couldn’t come through and get district attorney office files,” Simpson said, “You could really mess up some trials.”
Another change made to the bill as part of the substitute was replacing the phrase “public record” with “public writing,” suggesting police body cam footage would not be applicable to the proposed law.
Simpson said he expects the bill to be on the House floor for a vote on Thursday, which, if approved, would require approval as substituted by the Senate. If concurred by the Senate, the bill would then make its way to Gov. Kay Ivey’s office for final approval.
Special education classroom security bill passes House
A bill that would place security cameras into special education classrooms passed the House unanimously on Wednesday with one amendment.
Sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, Senate Bill 56, would put cameras in classrooms where most of the students have special needs. The recordings could be viewed if there was an allegation of wrongdoing or abuse by educators or other personnel. The House Education Policy Committee amended the bill, adding footage of harassment, neglect and other inappropriate behavior to the list of what could be presented to a school superintendent.
“This bill would promote employee safety, as well as student safety,” the presenter of the bill, Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton, said.
The bill will now go back to the Senate for concurrence. Orr began working on this legislation last year following the alleged abuse of a 12-year-old student in Limestone County. He has said the bill would help guard vulnerable students as well as teachers.