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Legislative briefs – Tuesday, April 20

By CAROLINE BECK and MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama Legislature met for the 24th day of its 30-day regular session Tuesday. Here are the highlights of what happened at the State House.

Bill ensuring hospital, nursing home visitation rights goes to governor

A bill requiring hospitals and nursing homes to allow at least one caregiver or family member to visit loved ones in times of emergency passed the Senate Tuesday and now goes to Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk.

House Bill 521, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Wood, R-Valley, says that visitation should happen “consistent with all applicable federal laws and regulations of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or any limitations set by a state or federal public health order.”

Sen. Garland Gudger, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill, named the legislation after Harold Sachs, a well known Republican political operative who died while hospitalized for COVID-19 without seeing his family for weeks.

Gudger, R-Cullman, told his Senate colleagues he has heard several similar stories since sponsoring the bill. The bill passed 28-0 and now goes to Ivey.

Hospital and nursing home groups previously said they were following federal guidelines when they last year stopped allowing visitors because of the pandemic.


Bill would require collection of race data in traffic stops

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama Senate on Tuesday approved legislation to require police agencies to record racial data during traffic stops.

Senators approved the legislation on a 19-7 vote. It moves to the Alabama House. State Sen. Rodger Smitherman of Birmingham said his bill is intended to prevent the targeting of motorists based on their race or ethnicity.

The bill would require law enforcement agencies to adopt written policies to prohibit racial profiling. It would also require law enforcement agencies to record the race of motorists involved in traffic stops and whether the motorist received a ticket or a warning.

Police agencies would submit the data to the attorney general who could order training if he, or she, thinks the data indicates a problem.

Smitherman, who is Black, has described his own experiences being stopped by police during past debates on the bill.

Committee OKs inmate IDs for absentee voting, kills curbside voting

The Senate Government Affairs Committee on Tuesday advanced Senate Bill 377 to add prison identifications to the list of valid identifications for absentee voting. 

Bill sponsor Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said inmates may not have other valid forms of identification in which to get an absentee ballot. 

Incarceration is one of about nine reasons under current law that people can vote absentee.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

The same committee voted down another voter bill from Singleton. Senate Bill 370 would have provided a process for curbside voting for those with disabilities. State law does not allow for curbside voting. Singleton said being able to vote without having to enter the precinct would give an option besides absentee ballots to those with disabilities.

Republicans on the committee expressed concerns about staffing and costs associated with curbside voting.

Broadband expansion bill heads to full House

The House Urban and Rural Development Committee voted unanimously to approve Senate Bill 215, which seeks to expand high-speed broadband internet service throughout the state.

The bill passed on a voice vote and now heads to the full House.

Some changes in the bill include reserving 70% of the first three years of funding for the program to build last-mile infrastructure in unserved rural areas.

Last-mile infrastructure refers to reaching specific homes or end-users for internet use. Unserved areas are defined in the bill as areas that do not meet minimum speeds of 100 megabits per second.

Rep. Danny Garret, R-Trussville, is carrying the bill in the House and told committee members that the point of the bill was to prioritize unserved areas.

The bill creates a nine-member Alabama Digital Expansion Authority to oversee the expansion and availability. A larger Connect Alabama Advisory Board will make recommendations to the authority. The authority within a year of the law’s passage must develop and begin executing a Statewide Connectivity Plan. A timeline for implementation must be included.

Drive-through alcohol bill passes House

A bill that would allow drive-through or walk-up purchases of beer and wine for off-site consumption passed the Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday.

House Bill 560 is sponsored by Rep. Gill Isbell, R-Gadsden, who said his intent was to offer more convenience to Alabama consumers and that all state, local and federal laws that currently apply to purchasing alcohol would still apply.

The final vote on the bill was 67-20 with seven abstentions.

Free menstrual products in schools passes first vote

A bill that would require local school boards to provide menstrual products in schools at no cost to students passed its first vote on Tuesday.

House Bill 88 from Rep. Rolanda Hollis, D-Birmingham, would require public schools to provide female hygiene products, such as tampons and sanitary napkins, to schools for grades 5-12.

The bill passed on a voice vote in the House Ways and Means Education Committee and now goes to the full House.

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