Legislative Report – February 25, 2021

Volume 22 Number 3 – February 25, 2021

7th, 8th, & 9th legislative days

Medical marijuana bill approved in Senate

After fewer than 20 minutes of debate, the Senate approved legislation legalizing and regulating medical marijuana by a vote of 20 – 10 on Wednesday.

The bill would allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana products to treat 17 qualifying medical conditions and symptoms listed in the bill, including post-traumatic stress disorder, autism spectrum disorder, Crohn’s disease, HIV/AIDS-related nausea, cancer-related chronic pain and nausea, and sickle-cell anemia. It also creates a Medical Cannabis Commission to oversee regulations and licensing for medical marijuana cultivators, processors and dispensaries, and also requires a statewide seed-to-sale tracking system for all cannabis in the state.

Sen. Tim Melson (R – Florence), a physician, has been working on the legislation for several years. The bill has been approved by the Senate in previous years, but has died in the House. Sen. Melson indicated he is optimistic about its chances in the House this year.

Police and planning jurisdiction bill receives public hearing

SB 107 by Sen. Chris Elliott (R – Fairhope) would stop the growth of police jurisdictions in the state and rein in municipalities’ ability to enforce planning and zoning requirements outside their limits. The Senate approved the bill prior to the weeklong break, and the House County and Municipal Government committee held a public hearing on the bill on Wednesday.

The bill freezes police jurisdictions where they currently exist and freezes planning jurisdictions at 1.5 miles out from the current city limit lines. The bill also lets cities pull back their police jurisdiction in half mile increments and precludes municipal business license fees and building permit fees in the jurisdictions.

Current state law says police jurisdictions can extend three miles beyond the corporate limits of a city with more than 6,000 people and 1.5 miles beyond the corporate limits of cities with fewer than 6,000 people. Residents and businesses can get municipal services like fire and police protection at a reduced tax. Planning jurisdictions can extend up to five miles beyond city limits.

This is the third year that Sen. Elliott has proposed legislation on police and planning jurisdictions. In the 2019 session, he sponsored a bill to keep police jurisdictions and taxing authorities within cities’ corporate limits. It was amended to grandfather in existing police jurisdictions but still would have eliminated building code enforcement within police jurisdictions. It would have also limited city planning commissions’ reach outside of corporate limits. The bill passed the Senate, then died in the House.

In 2020, Elliott sponsored legislation to allow counties to have referendums to keep existing police jurisdictions. It was approved in Senate committee but did not go further before the legislature adjourned due to COVID-19.

The League of Municipalities opposes the legislation. They argue that police and planning jurisdictions allow for more seamless growth of cities and provide important services to those who live and work within them. Executive Director Greg Cochran spoke in opposition of the bill in committee especially citing concerns about rolling back cities planning jurisdiction, which can include the regulation of subdivisions just outside city limits and building permits.

Representatives from the Alabama Farmers Federation and Alabama Forestry Association spoke in favor of the bill citing municipal regulation of farms and timberland.

The chairman of the committee, Rep. Reed Ingram (R – Pike Road), sent the bill to the Government Services subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Chris Blackshear (R – Phenix City). The subcommittee met on Thursday morning where Sen. Elliott presented the bill again and representatives from The League of Municipalities and the Alabama County Commission Association spoke. Rep. Blackshear indicated that the subcommittee will meet at least one more time and encouraged all parties to continue negotiations. Rep. Ingram has said that he expects the bill before the full committee the next time they meet, which could be as early as next week.

Vote on gaming bill delayed

Prior to the weeklong legislative break, Sen. Del Marsh (R – Anniston), the sponsor of comprehensive gaming legislation, indicated that the full Senate would vote on the bill this week. On Tuesday, however, Sen. Marsh said he would continue working on the legislation over the next two weeks to garner more support in the Senate and House.

The bill proposes establishing a state lottery as well as five casinos offering table games, sports betting, and slot machines. The casinos would be located at four existing dog tracks plus a fifth site in north Alabama that would be run by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, the state’s only federally recognized Native American tribe. The proposal also would encourage the governor to negotiate with the Poarch Band for a compact involving their three other sites, which currently have electronic bingo machines.

Sen. Marsh said he is considering adding two additional casino locations two the bill, with one in each of the seven congressional districts. Those two locations would be open to competitive bids, which would be overseen by the new Gaming Commission set up in the legislation.

The Legislative Services Agency estimated the lottery, casinos, and sports betting would raise net revenue of about $450 million to $670 million. The lottery money would fund college scholarships in high-demand career fields. Money from license fees and a 20% tax on the casinos would support the expansion of broadband internet access, the state General Fund, rural health care, mental health, and other programs.

The legislation, a constitutional amendment, requires three-fifths approval in the Senate and House. Sen. Marsh has said he has the 21 votes needed in the Senate, but the 63 votes needed in the House may be harder to get.

Wine legislation continues to flow

Legislation to allow adult citizens of Alabama additional options to purchase wine through both direct delivery and shipment continues to flow through the legislative process.

Delivery and shipment, while sounding very similar in the generic sense, have very different meanings as it relates to wine and other alcohol beverages.

SB 126 by Sen. Jabo Waggoner (R – Vestavia Hills) would provide for delivery of sealed beer, wine, and liquor from grocery stores, restaurants, and other licensed retailers to residences. Safeguards are included in the legislation to help ensure that these products are transported securely and are only delivered to adults above the age of majority.

Sen. Waggoner has also introduced legislation to allow wine to be shipped directly from manufacturers to consumers with certain specific limitations.  SB 138 also includes language to standardize franchise protections given to wine wholesalers in our state.  Currently, local wine franchise legislation covers wholesalers operating in  Mobile, Baldwin, Jefferson, Shelby, and Montgomery counties.

Rep. Terri Collins (R – Decatur) has introduced HB 437 providing for the shipment (not delivery) of wine from manufacturers to Alabama consumers.  The legislation as introduced by Rep. Collins does not include the franchise protection afforded wine wholesalers in the Waggoner bill.  It is anticipated that Rep. Collins will add franchise protection for wine wholesalers in a substitute bill when the House Committee on Economic Development and Tourism considers it in the near future.

House approves historic tax credit extension

On Thursday, the House approved HB 281 by Rep. Victor Gaston (R – Mobile) and co-sponsored by 19 others. The bill would renew the Alabama historic rehabilitation tax credit.

The bill would extend the program through 2027, providing $20 million in tax credits to qualified projects across the state. Rural communities would be entitled to 40% of that amount, and any credits not used by June in the program year would become available to projects in urban areas. The credit for any commercial project is capped at $5 million.

First passed in 2013, the program has been vital to the redevelopment of areas around the state. From 2018 to 2022, 94 projects in 17 counties resulted in $520 million in total private investment; $100 million in credits were issued, reserved or wait-listed during that time.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

Upcoming legislative schedule

The House of Representatives and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, at 1:00 and 2:00 p.m., respectively.