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Legislative briefs – Wed. April 14

By MARY SELL and CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Several committees of the Alabama Legislature met Wednesday to consider various bills. Here are legislative briefs from the State House.

Committee advances ADOC reporting requirements

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved House Bill 106, which would require the Alabama Department of Corrections to make quarterly reports to a legislative oversight committee.

Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, sponsored the bill. Information required would include hiring and retention, inmate population size and litigation against the department, including money paid for lawsuits.

Prison crowding and understaffing issues have plagued the ADOC for years and are part of the reason behind multiple lawsuits against the state.

“That’s going to put the responsibility on us to receive it and understand it,” Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, said.

“And fix it,” Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said.

It passed the committee unanimously.

Sexual assault survivor “bill of rights” advances

The Senate Judiciary Committee also approved House Bill 137 to create a sexual assault survivor “bill of rights” and set a requirement for how long law enforcement must preserve evidence from sexual assault cases.

“This will helpfully clean out some of those cold cases,” sponsor Rep. Chip Brown, R-Hollinger’s Island, said to the committee.

Brown’s bills would also help provide financial compensation to cover medical costs related to sexual assault evidence kits and would allow health insurers to pay for the medical costs if the victim had qualifying insurance.

The bill also sets up a Sexual Assault Task Force responsible for developing and implementing best practices regarding the care and treatment of survivors and the preservation of evidence. An amendment was approved that included a person from the Department of Human Resources on the task force.

Grand jury witness bill delayed

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday delayed a vote on a bill to remove witnesses from the state’s grand jury secrecy laws. Rep. Jim Hill, R-Odenville, said he wanted committee members to read a recent federal judge’s ruling on the issue.

Alabama Daily News reported on both the bill from Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison, and the ruling, earlier this week.

Ball told ADN his bill would allow witnesses to talk about what they knew before their testimony, the questions they were asked and how they were asked. Current law doesn’t allow witnesses to talk publicly about their experiences before grand juries.

The Alabama Attorney General’s office opposes the bill, saying it would “frustrate criminal investigations by putting sensitive information into the public domain.”

Emergency Order bill carried over

The House State Government Committee on Wednesday voted to carry over a bill that would have curtailed the governor’s power in issuing state emergency orders.

House Bill 241 from Rep. Mike Holmes, R-Wetumpka, failed to pass out of committee on a vote of 7-2.

The bill was the companion bill to Senate bill 97 from Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, which has already passed the Senate.

Whatley’s bill says that state emergency orders would end after 45 days or can be extended to up to 120 days through the passage of a joint resolution by the Legislature.

The governor would still be allowed to extend the order if it affects less than one-third of all counties in the state, is in response to an oil spill or is in response to a weather-related event.

The bill also says with regards to state public health emergency orders concerning an outbreak of disease or a pandemic have to be approved by the governor and a copy of the order is filed with the Secretary of State’s office.

Holmes said he felt frustrated by many of the actions the executive branch took during the beginning of the pandemic and thought the orders had adverse consequences to small businesses and churches in the state.

Committee chairman Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, who voted to carry the bill over, said he was concerned that the bill could have an impact on federal relief dollars the state gets during a state of emergency.

“To borrow a phrase you heard on the radio, you can’t get a herd of turtles together to make a decision during an emergency, those have to be made immediately,” Pringle said during committee. “If our declared state of emergency expires and we don’t have a resolution to extend it, what happens? We lose all that federal money.”

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