Legislative Report – May 10, 2019

Volume 20 Number 7 – May 10, 2019

16th, 17th & 18th legislative days

Bill to Change Broadband Grant Program Approved by Full Senate

SB 90 by Sen. Clay Scofield (R – Guntersville) would make changes to the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act by expanding the definition of an “unserved area,” increasing the percentage of project costs eligible for grant funding, and allowing for “middle mile” projects.

The bill was approved by the full Senate on Wednesday by a vote of 27 – 0.

Changes to the program include

• Changing the “minimum service threshold” from 10/1 download/upload speed to 25/3

• Adding two tiers of funding – 1) $2.5 million grants for projects that will be capable of transmitting broadband signals at the minimum service threshold; 2) $5 million grants for projects that will be capable of transmitting broadband signals with an average speed per customer of at least 50/50

• Increasing the percentage of grant money available from 20 percent of project costs to 50 percent

• Including “middle mile” projects, which are broadband projects that do not serve a customer, and projects that serve a hospital, public school, public safety, or economic development site in a rural area. Forty percent of the total grant program can be used on these projects.

The Senate included $30 million for the grant program in the Education Trust Fund budget.

The bill has been referred to the House Ways and Means – Education Committee.

Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill

For likely the first time in history, the Alabama Senate approved a bill to allow for the use of medical marijuana.

The Senate discussed the bill on Wednesday but ultimately carried it over after Sen. Larry Stutts (R – Sheffield), an OBGYN, questioned the sponsor, an anesthesiologist, about the merits of medical marijuana, asserting that there was a lack of research and support from mainstream medical organizations.

On Thursday, Sen. Tim Melson (R – Florence), the sponsor, brought the bill up quickly and the Senate voted before Sen. Stutts was able to ask any more questions. The bill passed 17 – 6.

Under the bill, a doctor could recommend the use of cannabis to treat the symptoms associated with about a dozen conditions listed in the bill, including: autism spectrum disorder; epilepsy; cancer; degenerative or pervasive neurological disorders; glaucoma; HIV/AIDS; multiple sclerosis; muscle disorders, including those associated with muscle spasms; opioid addiction; pain syndromes or pain associated with other medical conditions; and post-traumatic stress disorder.

A doctor would have to conduct a physical examination before making the recommendation. The doctor would refer the patient to a second doctor who is a specialist in treating the qualifying condition.

Doctors recommending medical cannabis would have to receive 10 hours of continuing education in cannabis treatment annually.

The bill would create an 11-member Alabama Medicaid Cannabis Commission. Among its initial responsibilities would be to create an application form for a medical cannabis card, establish a website for public access and information, and establish a patient registry.

The bill has been referred to the House Health Committee.

Chaos Erupts in Senate Amid Abortion Debate

Following the medical marijuana debate, the Senate began debate on a bill to ban abortions. The original House bill included exceptions only in the cases of endangering the mother’s life. It did not include exceptions for rape or incest.

The Senate Judiciary Committee added an amendment to allow for rape and incest exceptions. When the committee amendment came up for approval on the Senate floor, Sen. Clyde Chambliss (R – Prattville), the Senate sponsor, quickly moved to table the amendment on a voice vote. Sen. Bobby Singleton (D – Greensboro) challenged the voice vote as he had requested roll call votes on all motions. Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth said the motion was not debatable and Sen. Singleton began shouting in opposition.

Amid the chaos, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R – Anniston) moved to adjourn and come back next week to continue debate.

Rep. Terri Collins (R – Decatur), the sponsor of the bill, objected to an exception for rape and incest, saying any exceptions could hurt the goal of creating a court case to weigh whether embryos and fetuses are people with rights of personhood. She has argued that lawmakers could come back and add exemptions if states regain control of abortion access.

House Committee Changes Lottery Bill; Delays Vote

On Thursday, the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee adopted a substitute version to the lottery bill that passed the Senate, but they did not take a final vote on the bill. The substitute changes how the money will be distributed – 75 percent to the General Fund and 25 percent to the Education Trust Fund.

The original version, by Sen. Greg Albritton (R – Atmore), would have first applied the revenue to pay back the Alabama Trust Fund for transfers made to support the state budget from 2013-2015. After that, Albrittons’ bill would have split lottery revenues between the General Fund, a new reserve fund, and the Alabama Trust Fund.

The lottery is projected to raise about $167 million a year after prizes and expenses are paid.

Rep. Becky Nordgren (R – Gadsden), Chairman of the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee, said the committee would vote on the bill next week.

Upcoming Legislative Schedule

The House and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, May 14, 2019 at 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., respectively.