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Legislative Session: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Good

1. Coronavirus-related relief passes.

API called for bills that would protect businesses from frivolous lawsuits and ensure that coronavirus-relief funds aren’t taxed in the spring of 2020. Unfortunately, Governor Ivey did not call a special session and these bills had to wait until 2021. The legislature, however, quickly passed both measures within the first two weeks of session, with Governor Ivey signing the bills soon after.

2. Civil asset forfeiture reform moves Alabama in the right direction.

Years of work culminated this session in a bill that reformed civil asset forfeiture, a process by which law enforcement charges your property with being involved in a crime and seizes it. API’s work in the State House on this issue goes back years and we are thankful a meaningful step in the right direction was taken this session. There is still, however, work to be done here and work that we know is possible. Arizona, for example, completely eliminated civil asset forfeiture this year. Getting rid of this unconstitutional process is the ultimate goal and we hope lawmakers continue to limit the practice in the future.

3. Lawmakers approve born-alive abortion survivors bill.

The Alabama legislature approved a bill that will require physicians to provide the same standard of care to children born during failed abortions as they would to a child born under other circumstances. The bill was modeled after a federal bill by Senator Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) that failed to gain traction in Congress.

4. Transgender participation in sports bill passes.

Governor Ivey last month signed into law the bill by Rep. Stadthagen (R-Hartselle) that will ban students from competing in K-12 sports against individuals outside of their biological sex, unless the sport is intentionally co-ed. Some media is reporting that this bill bans these students from sports altogether. It does not do this. All students, regardless of their gender identity, will be able to play sports with other individuals of the same sex and in co-ed events.

The Bad

1. Alabama becomes the 36th state to legalize medical marijuana.

Early last week, Governor Ivey signed SB46 by Senator Melson (R-Florence) that will create a system of government-regulated medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivators. Alabama becomes the 36th state in the nation to legalize the substance for medical use, with Florida being our only neighbor where it is similarly allowed.

2. During a pandemic, lawmakers approve the largest budgets in state history.

The pandemic seems to have only padded the state’s coffers. This year, as Alabama businesses have been forced to close down and families relegated to draining their life savings, Alabama lawmakers passed two record budgets and did nothing to cut taxes despite having enough funds to do so. The Education Trust Fund, in fact, increased by over $450 million to $7.7 billion. That’s almost four times the budget increase from last year and almost as much as the increase two years ago when the economy was roaring. The General Fund budget also increased by almost 4%. All of this is in addition to the almost $6 billion the state government is going to receive after all is said and done from federal relief funds. 

3. Bill that would infringe the right to contact your legislators passes the House.

A bill that would have made “doxing” or the publishing of a person’s personal information with the intent of causing harassment, passed the House this session. It seems like not-the-worst idea at first, but the bill could have severly hampered the ability for residents to contact their legislators and for advocacy organizations to give supporters information they need for their voice to be heard in Montgomery. Thankfully, the Senate did not vote on the bill.

3. Bill that would infringe the right to contact your legislators passes the House.

A bill that would have made “doxing” or the publishing of a person’s personal information with the intent of causing harassment, passed the House this session. It seems like not-the-worst idea at first, but the bill could have severly hampered the ability for residents to contact their legislators and for advocacy organizations to give supporters information they need for their voice to be heard in Montgomery. Thankfully, the Senate did not vote on the bill.

The Ugly

1. The “conservative” legislature miserably fails on school choice.

With pandemic-induced school closures there has never been a better year for conservatives to pass school choice bills in state legislatures. Most states with conservative legislatures figured this out quickly, with West Virginia passing school choice for every student, Kentucky expanding school choice over their governor’s veto, and many more examples you can read here. Alabama, however, failed to pass a single school choice measure and rejected one bill just because it smelled like school choice. Nothing like the status quo to make things better, right?

 

1. The “conservative” legislature miserably fails on school choice.

With pandemic-induced school closures there has never been a better year for conservatives to pass school choice bills in state legislatures. Most states with conservative legislatures figured this out quickly, with West Virginia passing school choice for every student, Kentucky expanding school choice over their governor’s veto, and many more examples you can read here. Alabama, however, failed to pass a single school choice measure and rejected one bill just because it smelled like school choice. Nothing like the status quo to make things better, right?

 

2. Gambling distracts from more important business.

“This might be the year.” This refrain rang out in editorials and news articles this session day after day: that this might be the session in which the legislature finally passes a bill related to gambling and the lottery. But just like every other session that “might be the year,” individual interests got the better of the body and the measure failed. Though API is glad the gambling attempt failed, the unfortunate fact is that a lot of legislative time was wasted on this topic. Time that could’ve been spent debating a tax cut, for example, or more thoughtfully considering the budget, or balancing the balance of powers. Maybe the legislature will learn from this experience. Maybe not.

3. House stops balance of power bills.

As detailed in our last legislative recap email, the bill by Senator Whatley (R-Auburn) that would have given the legislature a say in extended states of emergency failed to pass in a last-day fiasco on the floor of the House. The House in committee also twice stopped a bill by Rep. Nordgren (R-Gadsden) that would have allowed the legislature to call itself into a special session even though the bill had dozens of cosponsors. 

3. House stops balance of power bills.

As detailed in our last legislative recap email, the bill by Senator Whatley (R-Auburn) that would have given the legislature a say in extended states of emergency failed to pass in a last-day fiasco on the floor of the House. The House in committee also twice stopped a bill by Rep. Nordgren (R-Gadsden) that would have allowed the legislature to call itself into a special session even though the bill had dozens of cosponsors. 

4. There was little consideration on how to give tax dollars back to the people.

API last year worked with the executive branch to bring a month-long statewide sales tax holiday to the state. The governor opted not to do so with any of the CARES Act funds dumped into the state’s coffers. This session, the legislature could have easily used some of its increasing revenue to reduce taxes in the state. But they didn’t. Budget increases, apparently, were more important than attempting to take less from their constituents. 

Til next session!