Legislative Report – February 14, 2020

Volume 21 Number 2 – February 14, 2020

3rd & 4th legislative days

House approves bill to limit local authority

On Tuesday, HB 147 by Rep. Chris Sells (R – Greenville), which would prevent municipalities from passing an occupational tax except through local legislation, was approved by the House of Representatives by a vote of 73 – 27. Many believe the bill is targeted at the city of Montgomery, which has discussed an occupational tax proposal but has not yet voted on the measure, due to a retroactive provision that says the law would not apply to a municipality that had an occupational tax in place before February 1, 2020.

The bill is on a fast track to final passage as it was introduced last Tuesday, approved in committee on Thursday, approved by the House this Tuesday, and scheduled in the Senate Governmental Affairs committee next Tuesday.

After the state legislation was introduced, the Montgomery City Council scrambled to draft an ordinance for an occupational license fee that they will discuss at a public hearing next Tuesday. They could also vote on the measure following the public hearing. If approved, the fee would go into effect in January 2021.

The exact same bill was voted down in the House last year.

Senate committee votes down bill to restrict payday loans

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee voted down a bill on Wednesday that would have changed the term of a deferred presentment transaction to a minimum of 30 days. The current term is between 10 and 31 days.

With payday loans, borrowers pay a flat fee of up to $17.50 per $100 to borrow money for a period of 10 to 14 days. Short-term loans by their nature are designed to be just that – a short-term financial solution that helps consumers bridge a gap. Consumers are able to schedule payments that coincide with their pay periods (typically bi-weekly).

The committee voted 6 – 8 against the bill with opponents citing the database that tracks payday loans statewide and prevents consumers from taking out multiple loans at one time or borrowing more than $500 at a time. They also cited concerns over consumers being driven to unregulated, off-shore online lenders if payday lending stores are put out of business.

Small cell bill delayed in committee

SB 172 by Sen. Arthur Orr (R – Decatur), known as the “small cell bill,” was introduced on Tuesday, and the Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development committee held a public hearing on the bill on Wednesday. There was no vote taken on the bill.

The bill creates a streamlined permitting process and establishes uniform parameters for application review and approval. Opponents of the legislation, primarily municipalities, argue that the bill takes away local authority and inhibits public safety. Proponents of the bill, which include the entire wireless industry, assert that local governments will be allowed to review permit requests, including site locations, and also be permitted to deny a small cell application for numerous reasons, including legitimate public safety concerns, noncompliance with applicable codes, noncompliance with lawful height restrictions and spacing requirements, noncompliance with lawful historic district requirements, and more.

Small cells provide flexible network solutions by targeting areas where Alabama residents are prone to experience connectivity issues or areas that cannot effectively be served by a traditional cell tower. Small cells can be attached to various structures like streetlights and utility poles to alleviate network congestion, support 5G, and prepare Alabama for next generation technologies.

Proponents and opponents of the legislation seem to generally agree on the importance of 5G and need for small cell technology, but they do not agree on how to implement the technology statewide.

Medical marijuana bill in committee next week

SB 165, known as “The Compassion Act,” by Sen. Tim Melson (R – Florence) would allow Alabamians with qualifying medical conditions to purchase and use cannabis for medical use. The bill would establish the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission and designate duties of the Commission. Additionally, any person wishing to cultivate, process, dispense, transport, or test the medical cannabis would be required to receive a license from the Commission. Smokable and vaping marijuana products would not be authorized under the bill, only tablets, certain types of edibles, and creams.

The legislation is the product of a study commission created last year, which was composed of doctors, lawyers, and legislators. If approved, Alabama would become the 34th state to authorize the use of medical marijuana.

The bill is scheduled for a public hearing and vote on Wednesday in the Senate Judiciary committee.

Upcoming legislative schedule

The House of Representatives and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, February 18, 2020, at 1:00 and 3:00, respectively.