LEGISLATIVE REPORT – FEBRUARY 23, 2024

Volume 25 Number 4 – 7th, 8th, and 9th legislative days

The Alabama legislature reconvened the 2024 regular legislative session on Tuesday, February 20, 2024. 

CHOOSE Act & Education Savings Account

As anticipated, a substitute to Rep. Danny Garrett’s (R-Trussville) CHOOSE Act legislation was adopted on Wednesday in the House Ways & Means Education committee meeting. The substitute bill would:

  • Cap the education savings accounts fund at $500 million, with excess funds potentially being appropriated
  • elsewhere.
  • Mandate that before allocating more than $100 million annually to the fund, the Alabama Department of Revenue must certify that at least 90% of the fund has been spent.
  • Require participating schools to be located within Alabama.
  • Mandate that participating schools share student test scores directly with parents annually and report school-level assessment information to the Alabama Department of Revenue.
  • Grant military families priority access to tax credits in the first two years of implementation if they are zoned for public schools labeled “D” or “F” under the state’s school grading system. However, this doesn’t change the priority of up to 500 special needs students to receive first access to the ESAs.

HB129, as amended, is currently listed as the first bill on the House’s special order calendar for Tuesday, February 27th, and a vote is anticipated. 

Anti Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Bill

A bill limiting public school and colleges’ “diversity, equity and inclusion” efforts was introduced on Tuesday by Sen. Will Barfoot (R-Pike Road) with immediate opposition from democratic legislators. SB129 would prohibit government institutions, including state agencies, public schools and colleges, from funding a diversity, equity and inclusion office and from sponsoring DEI programs or any program that “advocates for a divisive concept.” The bill defines diversity, equity and inclusion programs as any “where participation is based on an individual’s race, sex, gender identity, ethnicity, national origin, or sexual orientation.” The bill was in the Senate County and Municipal Government committee on Wednesday where a public hearing was held and the bill ultimately received a favorable report. The bill was the only item on the Senate’s special order calendar for Thursday, and a substitute was offered on the floor. After six hours of debate, the Senate adopted multiple floor amendments and the bill passed as amended on a 26-7 vote along party lines.

Seafood Labeling Bill

Both versions of the newly introduced seafood labeling bill, which expands labeling requirements for all food service establishments, received a lot of attention this week. The Senate version, SB90 sponsored by Sen. David Sessions (R-Grand Bay), was amended in the Senate Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry committee on Tuesday and was ultimately carried over. On Wednesday, a committee substitute for the House version, HB66, was adopted that addressed many of the concerns raised by the restaurant, hospitality, and retail industry advocates. A few changes include:

  • Removing labeling requirements for advertising and digital materials. 
  • Allowing for one printed sign in the restaurant or a “clip on” paper for menus. 
  • Allowing for labeling as “domestic” or “imported” rather than listing the country of origin. 

The amended version of SB90 and the substitute for HB66 were not available online. 

Service Contracts Disclosure Bill

A new bill filed this year, HB154, would make several changes to the state’s service contracts disclosure law. Frustrated over a dispute with a home warranty company, sponsor Rep. A.J. McCampbell (D-Gallion), introduced the bill to clarify and increase service contract disclosure requirements when a warranty purports to either repair or replace a defective product. 

Many industry advocates have expressed their concerns with this bill and the sponsor has agreed to work on it further. Rep. Jim Hill (R-Springville), who chairs the House Judiciary committee, expressed his desire to continue working with the sponsor to improve this legislation as the code section has not been updated in decades. The bill was ultimately carried over in committee. 

Comprehensive Gaming & Lottery Legislation

Initially rumored to be in committee and later on the Senate floor for a vote this week, the comprehensive gaming legislation did not see any action. The Alabama Senate Republican Caucus is discussing and gauging support for HB151 and HB152. The constitutional amendment requires 21 of 35 Senators to vote in favor in order to pass. Although Republicans hold a supermajority (27 seats), they do not seem to have enough favorable votes yet. It remains to be seen when the bills will be in committee and on the Senate floor for a vote.

Last Actions & Bill Updates

  • HB113 – Public elementary school, admittance of children to kindergarten and first grade, demonstration of first grade readiness
    • Feb 22, 2024 | House – Passed House of Origin
  • HB87 – Airport Authorities; authorities authorized to participate in and form lawful business entities or ventures, and conduct activities incidental to operation of the authority. (Transportation and Energy)
    • Feb 20, 2024 | House – Passed House Of Origin
  • SB59 – Public k-12 education; hands on instruction in CPR and the use of AEDs, required in health classes; State Board of Education, authorized to adopt rules
    • Feb 21, 2024 | Reported Favorably Out of Healthcare Committee In House of Origin
  • HB168 – Crimes & Offenses, raises max. age for offenses involving obscene materials with depictions of children, authorizes punitive damages for victims of those offenses, and directs Board of Ed. to require policies related to those offenses
    • Feb 22, 2024 | Passed House Of Origin
  • HB164 – Consumer Protection; online distribution of material harmful to minors, prohibited; online age-verification requirements, required
    • Feb 21, 2024 | House – Reported Out of Judiciary Committee In House of Origin

Notable Bills Introduced This Week

  • HB225 – Definition of child; embryo outside a human uterus excluded from definition. (Judiciary)
  • HB216 – Public school safety, silent panic alert technology required and provided for, Board of Education required to adopt rules (Education Policy)
  • HB220 – Taxation; creates Tourism Tax Protection Act (Ways and Means General Fund)
  • HB227 – Ethics; laws pertaining to public officials and public employees revised (Ethics and Campaign Finance)

The House and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, February 27th for the 10th legislative day.