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Legislative briefs: Tax cut on diapers, feminine hygiene items advance


Tax cut on baby and feminine hygiene products receives approval

An Alabama Senate committee on Wednesday approved a bill that will take the state’s 4% sales tax off of diapers and other baby items and feminine hygiene products, but not before saying local entities didn’t have to also cut their taxes too.

As originally proposed, Sen. Arthur Orr’s Senate Bill 62 would have removed all sales taxes from the products.

“We claim to support families … a lot of expenses come to bear,” Orr said Wednesday about having young children. He also said half the population shouldn’t be taxed on items that are a necessity.

The original bill would have cut revenues to the state Education Trust Fund by about $8.7 million and the General Fund by $2.5 million. The cut to local governments would be $15.2 million statewide.

But Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, brought an amendment removing the requirement that counties and municipalities also cut the tax.

“We should not meddle in the home rule,” Gudger said.

Most of the committee agreed with him. As the bill moves to the Senate, it only applies to the state sales tax.

Several Democrats voiced support for the bill, saying they’d previously supported similar legislation.

Bill reduces employment requirements of state workers approved

The Senate State Government Committee Wednesday approved Senate Bill 55 that could potentially reduce the requirements needed to obtain some state jobs.

It requires the state personnel director to regularly assess the educational, experiential and training requirements of state positions and “identify classifications of positions in the state service for which the educational, experiential, or training requirements could be reduced from their present level.”

The director is to also reduce, if practicable, positions that require four-year degrees.

Sponsor Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur,  said the Alabama Department of Personnel started doing this on its own last year, but he wants to make sure future department leaders don’t reserve course.

“What has gone on in states is that they started requiring … bachelor’s degrees when it’s not really necessary.” “If we can get quality workers without requiring a college degree, let’s give those folks access to state jobs.”

Second chance resentencing bill advances

A bill that would grant the opportunity for incarcerated Alabamians serving life sentences to be eligible for release under certain circumstances was approved Wednesday in the House Judiciary Committee.

“The bill creates a very limited pathway for individuals that are incarcerated for life without parole (to be released) who have been incarcerated for at least 24 years, who also, in the course of their convictions, have not harmed anyone, no sexual offenses or any homicides,” said Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, the sponsor of the bill.

“Also, the pathway is temporary, it closes after five years.”

The bill passed out of the same committee in 2023, but ultimately failed to become law, and is one of a series of bills England has introduced targeting criminal justice reform. A recent poll showed that 88% of Alabama voters – 86% of Republicans and 92% of Democrats – favor the second chance proposal.

As of 2020, there were more than 500 Alabamians serving life sentences under the state’s habitual offender law, with just under 200 of which would be eligible for a new sentence hearing under England’s proposal.

Save for Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Daphne, every committee member voted to approve the bill. Simpson later told Alabama Daily News that his biggest concern with the bill was the effect it could have on victims.

“My biggest issue is generally, I’m opposed to resentencing hearings; it puts the victim through this process again,” Simpson said. “I’m not necessarily opposed to the thought behind it, but to continuously put the victims over and over through this process… there’s some extent of having to revictimize.”

Anti-swatting bill that targets false reporting approved

The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill Wednesday that would increase criminal penalties for those who make false police reports, more specifically, false reports on things such as mass shootings or bomb threats that elicit a strong response from law enforcement, often referred to as ‘swatting.’

“The hope with this bill is to deter people in the first place from doing it, but knowing that sometimes people will still carry it out, it will impose penalties then,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Phil Ensler, D-Montgomery.

In early February, a Walmart in Pell City was involved in a swatting incident where police received a false report of there being a mass shooter, triggering the response of nine neighboring law enforcement agencies. Ensler’s own place of worship – a synagogue in Montgomery – experienced a swatting incident in December, an incident that caused a complete evacuation.

Under existing law, a false report to law enforcement is a Class A misdemeanor. Under Ensler’s bill, the crime would be elevated to a Class C felony were the false report to be about a felony offense, a Class B felony if the false report lead to an emergency response that caused physical injury to a person, and a Class A felony if the response caused serious injury or death to a person.

The bill saw no opposition in committee, and was approved unanimously.

Judicial Committee passes manslaughter bill surrounding fentanyl

The House Judiciary Committee gave approval Wednesday to a bill that would charge an individual with manslaughter if the sell or distribute a fentanyl laced drug that causes a death.

“If you give somebody a drug and you kill them because it’s fentanyl, I don’t see the difference between killing somebody in a car wreck or killing somebody by passing fentanyl to them,” said Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, sponsor of the bill. “If it’s your friend and you kill your friends, that’s even worse.”

Pringle’s House Bill 10 fixes an error fix in a 2023 law that made it much broader than intended. The enacted law allows for a felony manslaughter for those who knowingly  sell or deliver any drug. Pringle is now trying to get that charge restricted to only fentanyl distribution.

Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, had concerns about the verbiage of the bill and separating drug dealers from users.

“You need to put in this legislation that it’s ‘knowingly’ so you can actually get to the people that you’re talking about,” said Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa.

The bill passed 13-2.

Judicial Committee amends, passes human trafficking bill

The House Judiciary Committee passed a human trafficking bill Wednesday after amending it to lessen criminal penalties for minors.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Donna Givens, R-Loxley, would impose a mandatory life sentence for those convicted of trafficking minors. Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook, however, noted a potential problem with the bill as it was written as it pertains to minors.

“Making this more bullet-proof constitutionally to sentence a minor with life imprisonment without any discretion on that, we believe, could be challenged,” Faulkner said. “We added this amendment if the trafficker, the defendant, is a minor, they would stay as a Class A felony as the law is written, even if it is trafficking another minor.”

The amendment, along with the bill, passed unanimously.


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