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Legislative Briefs – May 7, 2021

By CAROLINE BECK and MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama Legislature met for the 29th day of the 30-day regular session Thursday. Here are the highlights from the State House. 

Nicotine age raise passes final vote

A bill that would raise the age of buying tobacco products, including vaping products, to 21 years old passed its final vote on Thursday and now goes to the governor.

House bill 273 from Rep. Barbra Drummond, D-Mobile, raised the age from 19 to 21 and also requires vaping manufacturers in the state to submit to a directory.

The Senate passed the bill with amendment on Tuesday with a vote of 24-3 and the House concurred on the bill Thursday morning with a final vote of 58-25.

Daylight saving time bill passes final passage

A bill that would allow the state to adopt permanent daylight saving times if the federal government approves it passed its final vote on Thursday.  

Senate Bill 388 from Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, passed the Senate unanimously and passed the House with a final vote of 93-1. The bill now goes to the governor.

Rep. Ritchie Whorton, R-Owens Cross Road, said this will help with economic growth by allowing businesses to operate longer and improve Alabamians overall health.

“We’ll have more daylight in the afternoon and it will be better for everyone,” Whorton said.

Congress has considered the Sunshine Protection Act of 2021 which has bipartisan sponsors but has not moved in the House yet.

Teacher leaver rollover approved in Senate

House Bill 93 was approved but amended in the Senate. It would let newer teachers in the state rollover each year their sick leave and get paid for unused days when they retire. Current Tier II teachers lose unused days each year. Sponsor Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton, has said his goal was to erase some of the “disparity” between Tier I and Tier II benefit recipients.  As originally written this year and approved in the House, Baker’s bill would have let Tier II teachers collect retirement after 30 year instead of at age 62 as is now law. That portion was struck.  Baker’s bill as approved by the House also increases teachers’ contributions to their retirement from 6% to 6.75%. The Senate changed that to 6.2%. The bill must now go to the House for agreement. 

Tier II retirement benefits went into effect for new teachers in 2013 in an effort to save the state money on retirement costs. Teachers who were already in the classroom at that time got to stay in the more generous Tier I.

Yoga moves

The Alabama Senate approved a bill to undo a nearly three-decade ban on the practice of yoga in public schools. 

House Bill 246 by Rep. Jeremey Gray, D-Opelika, would allow for yoga in K-12 schools, but it would be limited to poses and stretches. The bill says the use of chanting, mantras and teaching the greeting “namaste” would be forbidden.

Some Senate amendments mean the bill goes back to the House.

Innovation Act bills get final approval

Two bills to promote entrepreneurship got final approval in the Legislature and went to the governor Thursday.

House Bill 540 from Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, would create the Alabama Innovation Corporation to help increase Alabama’s competitiveness in areas of technology and innovation as it relates to economic development strategies. The corporation has a $4 million line item in next year’s education budget.

House Bill 609 sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Gray, D-Opelika, and would allow the Alabama Innovation Corporation to make matching grants of up to $250,000 to entities that received federal Small Business Innovation Research grants or Technology Transfer Research grants. It also sets guidelines for awarding the matching grants. There is $5 million in the 2022 education budget for the grants.

The Alabama Innovation Commission proposed the corporation as part of its interim recommendations on strategies that will help the state spur innovation.

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