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Sexual assault reporting bill, others advance in Alabama House

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The House Safety and Homeland Security Committee approved a number of bills last week, among them being additional penalties for street racing, smoking or vaping in a vehicle while a child is present, and more.

Legislation to increase law enforcement agencies’ reporting requirements for sexual assault cases has advanced in the Alabama House.

“It basically requires every law enforcement agency to report the number of sexual assault cases in their jurisdiction; the number of evidence submitted for forensic analysis, the number of cases where evidence was not submitted, and the number of cases closed and the reason the cases were closed,” Rep. Chip Brown, R-Hollingers Island, said recently of House Bill 21.

“It also requires the (Alabama) Department of Forensics Science to report the number of sexual assault cases received, completed, and in progress. They report these to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, and then in turn they report them to the Legislature annually.”

The House Safety and Homeland Security Committee approved the bill last week, putting it in line for a vote by the full chamber.

The bill was received positively during last year’s legislative session, passing both House and Senate committees, but failed to see a vote on the Senate Floor as lawmakers “ran out of time,” Brown said.

In addition setting up uniform sexual assault reporting standards, the bill is also designed to help expedite the processing of assault kits, with a backlog of untested ADFS kits going back to as far as the 1970s.

“The purpose of this is to allow the public to know the number of sexual assaults that are occurring in their area, especially on college campuses, and also allow law enforcement to prevent having backlogs,” Brown said. “What this does is works with law enforcement, and at the same time, it’s a bill for the public to let them know; it’s their right to know.”

Smoking and vaping ban in vehicles with children

The same committee also approved a bill to ban smoking in vehicles where children age 13 and younger are present. House Bill 3, sponsored by Rep. Rolanda Hollis, D-Birmingham, would apply to vehicles that are moving and still regardless of whether the windows are open.

A fine of up to $100 would be imposed on those who violate the proposed law. Law enforcement officers would also only be permitted to charge or investigate individuals violating the proposed law as a secondary violation, and would not be permitted to conduct a traffic stop based solely on observing a driver smoking or vaping where a child is present.

Parole violation hold extension bill

Introduced by Rep. Jerry Starnes, R-Prattville, House Bill 72 would allow for parole violators to be held an additional 20 days in custody were “exigent circumstances” to delay a probation officer’s written report.

Under existing law, if an individual on parole violates their court-mandated conditions of release, a probation officer is required to provide a written report on the subject within 20 business days. The parolee is entitled to hearing prior to their parole being revoked. Depending on the charge, a parolee may be jailed during this process.

If the hearing is not held within 20 business days, the parolee is released back under parole supervision.

Starnes’ proposed bill would allow for exceptions to the 20-business-day time frame were the parole court to determine “exigent circumstances exist that preclude holding the hearing within 20 business days.”

Committee member Rep. Tracy Estes, R-Winfield, asked Starnes to explain what might be considered “exigent circumstances.” Starnes said that the COVID-19 pandemic created several such scenarios.

“Hearing officers were not able to go to the jails because the jails were shut down and that caused issues with the department because of lawsuits and things,” Starnes said. “So we’re just trying to cover our bases.”

Starnes recently retired from the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles after more than 20 years.

The bill saw no opposition, and received a unanimous favorable report by the committee.

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