Legislative Report March 13, 2020

Volume 21 Number 6 – March 13, 2020

11th & 12th legislative days

First confirmed case of COVID-19 in Alabama

Alabama’s first case of the COVID-19 coronavirus had been confirmed in a Montgomery County man. Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said Friday the state’s first confirmed case was found in an adult male patient who had felt ill after returning from out-of-state travel. The man’s test results were confirmed about 8 a.m. Friday, and he is currently self-isolating, not hospitalized.

The city of Montgomery moved to shut down any large public events, on advice from public health officials who are cautioning people to avoid gatherings of hundreds of people. All city sponsored events, including an upcoming half marathon and rodeo, are cancelled effective immediately. City buildings may be limited in terms of access, though access to “essential city services” will not be.

For more information, visit Alabama Public Health.

Senate approves medical marijuana bill 

After several hours of debate on Thursday, the Senate voted 22 – 10 to approve a medical marijuana bill. The proposal would allow people with a doctor’s recommendation to use medical marijuana for 15 conditions including cancer, anxiety and chronic pain. It also would allow them to purchase cannabis products at one of 34 licensed dispensaries. The bill would allow marijuana in forms such as pills, skin patches, and creams, but not in smoking or vaping products.

The bill faced considerable opposition from several Senators and also from Alabama’s Attorney General. He sent lawmakers a letter expressing his opposition, noting that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

The path forward in the House is unclear as Speaker McCutcheon said they are in “wait and see mode.”

House committee approves bill to allow for direct shipment of wine

HB 365 by Rep. Terri Collins (R – Decatur) would allow for the direct shipment of wine from a wine manufacturer, something that is illegal in Alabama today.

Under existing law, if a person visits a winery and they would like to ship wine home, they must ship it to an ABC store in the state and go pick it up. Rep. Collins’ bill would allow consumers to ship the wine directly to their home.

A similar bill passed the House last year, but stalled in the Senate.

A task force to study the direct shipment of wine was formed last session and met several times throughout 2019. The nine-member task force included a licensed Alabama wine manufacturer, distributor and retailer as well as a representative of a shipping and delivery business. The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control board also had a representative. The other members were lawmakers.

Wine distributors, including Christie Strategy Group client International Wines and Craft Beer, have worked with Rep. Collins on her direct shipment bill. As part of that work, Rep. Collins also introduced a bill this week to expand wine franchise laws in the state.

HB 445 would set conditions and requirements for franchise agreements between suppliers and wholesale distributors of wine, including provisions for the modification, termination, cancellation, non-renewal, or discontinuance of an agreement. The bill is strongly supported by International Wines and Craft Beer and other wine wholesalers.

Small cell legislation approved in House committee

Small cell legislation is one step closer to final passage. On Wednesday, the House Urban and Rural Development Committee approved SB 172, which sets up a statewide framework for the deployment of small cell devices.

A public hearing request was removed and there were no questions or amendments to the bill, so the committee voted quickly to approve the bill.

The bill is supported by the wireless industry, and former opponents to the bill, including the cable industry, cities, and electric utilities, amended the bill in the Senate and are now neutral. The House is expected to take up the bill soon after spring break.

Upcoming legislative schedule

The legislature will take the next several days for spring break. The House will return on Wednesday, March 25, for committee meetings and will convene on Thursday, March 26, at 9:30 a.m. for the 13th legislative day.

The Senate will take a full two week spring break and will reconvene on Tuesday, March 31, at 2:00 p.m. for the 14th legislative day.