ARBA LEGISLATIVE UPDATE 5-7-21
The 2021 Regular Session is almost a wrap!
And, one final legislative day remains before the Alabama Legislature adjourns the 2021 Regular Session for good.
This week, the House floor focused almost exclusively on the medical marijuana bill. And while it may not have been discussed very much on the floor, the comprehensive gaming/lottery legislation was also a hot topic for the house. As the House engaged in filibusters, the Senate gave final passage to several important pieces of legislation including bills supported by the Alabama Innovation Commission. Outside of chambers, the group of legislators charged with overseeing the drafting of redistricting maps held its first meeting and adopted its framework for the process.
Medical Marijuana - While Senate Bill 46, legislation sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson (R-Florence) that legalized cannabis use for certain medicinal purposes, passed the Senate in February, it wasn’t until this week that the bill finally made its way to the House floor. In a rare move, the legislation had been referred by Speaker McCutcheon to two House committees, Health and Judiciary, each of which made numerous changes to the Senate-passed version of the bill. So, when Rep. Mike Ball (R-Huntsville) stepped to the podium Tuesday afternoon, opponents to the legislation were able to use these committee changes to lengthen what would have already been a long debate to 9 long hours of discussion. This forced the house to adjourn and take up the bill on Thursday morning. If signed into law, Senate Bill 46 would make Alabama the 37th state to legalize medical marijuana in some form. Rather than being smoked or vaped, Melson’s bill would only allow for cannabis doses to be prescribed in tasteless pill form and only for certain medical purposes.
Gambling - The House has yet to pass either a constitutional amendment allowing citizens to vote on approving a lottery or the ever-important enabling legislation that would be triggered in the event the amendment was ratified. With that, things look doubtful. A group of conservative Republicans is staunchly opposed to the bill, meaning support from House Democrats would be crucial for the bill to pass. Yet, the Democrats report that they have been largely left out of behind-the-scenes negotiations over the bill, chilling their support. There are also significant disagreements over how existing gaming sites would be treated, the level of influence the Poarch Band of Creek Indians have, and how gaming revenue would be distributed. Next week’s legislative break might provide opponents and proponents with a perfect opportunity to hammer out these differences, but those chances seem slimmer than ever to anyone who watched yesterday’s House floor debate.
Innovation Bills - The Alabama Senate gave final passage to two bills recommended by the newly created Alabama Innovation Commission. The first, House Bill 540 by Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa), establishes the Alabama Innovation Corporation, a public-private partnership promoting entrepreneurship, rural businesses, research and development, and advanced technology skills. The second, House Bill 609 by Rep. Jeremy Gray (D-Opelika), creates the Innovate Alabama Matching Grant Program, which will provide matching funds to federal Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Research awardees.
Reapportionment - The US Census Bureau recently announced that Alabama would retain all 7 of its current seats in the US House of Representatives, but that county- and city-specific Census data may not be available for a few more months. That information is vital to legislatures such as Alabama’s because it forms the basis for drawing the boundary lines for congressional, state House, state Senate, and state Board of Education seats. The committee charged with overseeing this process, the Joint Reapportionment Committee, held its first meeting of the year this week to begin discussing the framework by which the redistricting maps would be crafted. Led by Rep. Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) and Sen. Jim McClendon (R-Springville), the most significant change in the latest guidelines, according to one report, relates to population deviation between districts. During the last redistricting process, map makers endeavored to draw state legislative districts within 1% of the same population totals. This year they will allow for a 5% deviation. The committee plans to host a series of public meetings around the state to allow for citizen input. Redistricting maps require legislative approval, which usually is achieved during a special session devoted to the topic.
Stats - Through 29 of a possible 30 legislative days, representatives and senators have introduced 1,047 bills – 648 in the House and 405 in the Senate – and 421 resolutions. As of this writing, 390 of these measures have been enacted into law. The session will end on May 17. Unless they are called into a special session beforehand, Legislators will subsequently return to Montgomery on Jan. 11, 2022, for next year’s regular session.
ARBA BILLS - While we did not pass the very important changes to our contractor liability law, we had a very successful session making this quadrennium one of the most successful in our history.
Sales Tax Exemption PASSES — SB 99 by Sen. Tom Whatley (R-Auburn)/ HB 340 by Rep. David Faulkner (R-Birmingham) - This bill will return the sales tax exemption on materials to ALDOT projects saving millions in costs.
Work Zone Safety bill PASSES - SB 4 by Sen. Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) was approved by the house and has gone to the governor for her signature. This bill lumps all moving violations into one statute that raises the penalty for violations when workers are present to the greater of $250 or double the fine.
The bill, however, will be returned with an executive amendment to make a technical correction caused by the passage of an expungement bill - SB 117. This is needed because the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration informed ALEA that passage of SB117, now Act 2021-286, put Alabama in violation of 49 CFR 384.226 that addresses masking of violations of those with a commercial drivers license. The penalty for this is 4% of FHWA funds the first year and up to 8% any subsequent years. According to 49 CFR 384.401, this would hit all Federal-aid highway funds including ALDOT's, not just ALEA. Our bill is is being used as the vehicle to correct this issue because there is not enough time in the session to introduce a new bill and our subject matter was sufficient to attach the language.
INDEMNITY - SB 220 by Sen. Scofield (R-Guntersville) HAS BEEN SIGNED BY THE GOVERNOR- This bill prohibits private parties to a road and bridge contract from requiring indemnification for their own errors and omissions. Thanks to our bill sponsors - Rep. McMillan (R-Bay Minette) and Sen. Scofield (R-Guntersville).
Contractor Liability bill WILL NOT PASS - SB 248 by Sen. Scofield (R-Guntersville) - It was anticipated that passing a bill this contentious was going to be a challenge and it proved to be true. I think the best takeaway is that the legislature and leadership have a much more keen understanding this issue and have pledged to keep pursuing common ground. Thank you to our bill sponsor, Senator Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville), for all his efforts on our behalf.
Maximum Vehicle Width - HB 600 by Rep. Smith (R-Billingsly) - This bill would provide for a uniform vehicle width of 102".
Other bills of interest
Driving in Left Lane - HB 505 by Rep. Phillip Pettus (R-Killen) - Dept. of Transportation required to post signs giving notice of restrictions against driving vehicle in leftmost lane. This bill has passed the house.
Local Gas Tax - SB 281 by Sen. Shelnutt (R-Trussville)/ HB 556 by Rep. Sells (R-Greenville) - This bill would require a city or county that increases local gas tax to use it on roads and bridges or hold a referendum to use it another way. It also limits the number of years it may be pledged for debt. This bill was approved by a senate committee over the objection of the League of Municipalities.
Surface Mining Commission - HB 582 by Rep. Connie Rowe (R-Jasper) - this bill would move their monthly meeting requirement to every two months.
Professional Services for Design Contracts - HB 587 by Rep. Chip Brown (R-Mobile) / SB 261 by Sen. Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville) - These bills deal with indemnification and other contractual issues for design engineers. It appears the vertical construction world has been satisfied though the senate bill has not been given a chance for debate by the full senate. The house bill was just introduced this week.