LEGISLATIVE REPORT – MARCH 8, 2024

Volume 25 Number 6 – 13th, 14th, and 15th legislative days

The Alabama legislature reconvened the 2024 regular legislative session on Tuesday, March 5, 2024. This week also marked the halfway point with only 15 legislative days remaining.

Comprehensive Gaming & Lottery Legislation

This week, after approximately nine hours of floor debate, the Senate approved a modified version of the comprehensive gaming package, HB151 and HB152. A total of twenty floor amendments were made to the combined package. Substantial changes included the exclusion of casinos and sports betting from the proposal, putting the Fair Campaign Practice Act language in that was originally included in the House version, and removing the three-year waiting period before all gaming revenues are split into thirds (education, infrastructure, and General Fund spending). The bill will now be returned to the House, where resistance to the Senate’s revisions is anticipated. Consequently, a conference between the House and Senate is likely to convene to reconcile differences and formulate a final bill. Following the conference, the proposed legislation will be presented to both chambers for a final vote.

IVF Immunity Bill

On Wednesday, both the House and Senate chambers approved SB159, an IVF immunity bill to address a wave of criticism after services were halted at some of the state’s largest fertility clinics in response to a recent ruling from the Alabama Supreme Court. The new bill, championed by Sen. Tim Melson (R-Florence) and Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur), shields providers from prosecution and civil lawsuits “for the damage to or death of an embryo” during IVF services. Civil lawsuits could be pursued against manufacturers of IVF-related goods, such as the nutrient-rich solutions used to grow embryos, but damages would be capped to “the price paid for the impacted in vitro cycle.” Governor Ivey signed the bill shortly after passage, and the legislation took immediate effect ensuring IVF clinics can resume treatment as soon as possible.

CHOOSE Act & Education Savings Account

Following an extensive debate, the Senate approved the CHOOSE Act with a 23-9 vote. Although five floor amendments were offered, they all ultimately failed and the bill remained as it was passed in the House. As previously noted in legislative updates, this bill establishes education savings accounts (ESAs) for parents to utilize in securing educational services for their children. The bill has now successfully passed through both chambers and received approval from Governor Kay Ivey.

Pharmacy Reimbursement Bill 

The House Insurance committee on Wednesday approved a bill that requires pharmacy benefit managers to reimburse pharmacies for their actual acquisition costs, plus a “professional dispensing fee” of $10.64. Opponents of House Bill 238 say it could result in increased costs to consumers and to businesses that provide health coverage to employees. These projected costs could be as high as $275/person annually or $1,100/for a family of four annually. The business community is strongly opposed to the bill.

Ethics Reform Bill

The House Ethics Committee met again on Wednesday where the ethics reform bill sponsor, Rep. Matt Simpson (R-Daphne), addressed additional questions from the committee regarding the substitute language. HB227 would establish new five-year terms for the Alabama Ethics Commission Director, require a reappointment process subject to Senate confirmation, and transfer all criminal violations to the criminal code. The bill received a favorable report from the committee with a unanimous vote. 

Anti-Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

On Thursday, a bill sponsored by Sen. Will Barfoot (R-Pike Road), aimed at imposing limitations on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives within the state, was passed by the House. HB129, carried by Rep. Ed Oliver (R-Dadeville), seeks to prohibit state agencies, public schools, and colleges from financing DEI offices, endorsing DEI programs, or promoting divisive ideologies. Democrats voiced their opposition to the bill during an extensive debate on the House floor. The bill will now head back to the Senate where they will vote to concur with the changes made in the House before being sent to the Governor for final approval.

Device-Filtering & Age-Verification Bills

On Wednesday, a device-filtering bill received a favorable report from the House Commerce and Small Business committee. The bill sponsor, Rep. Chris Sells (R-Greenville), introduced a similar bill last year that received a significant amount of opposition from the telecommunications industry and was unsuccessful in receiving final passage. As introduced, HB167 requires every mobile phone or tablet activated within the state of Alabama to have a built-in “obscenity filter” that is enabled by default. The intent of the bill is to protect children from exposure to obscene content. The future of the bill is still yet to be determined as another bill that takes a different approach is moving through the process at a faster pace. 

HB164, by Rep. Ben Robbins (R-Sylacauga), would require lewd sites to have a valid photo ID to confirm the user from Alabama is at least 18 years of age to access their content. The bill has already received a successful vote in the House and is awaiting approval in the Senate Judiciary committee. 

 

Last Actions & Bill Updates

  • SB1 – Absentee voting; prohibit assistance in preparation of; exceptions provided
    • Mar 07, 2024 | House – Passed Second House
  • HB73 – Real Property Tax Assessment
    • Mar 07, 2024 | House – Read Second Time In House of Origin (Ways and Means General Fund)
  • HB220 – Taxation; creates Tourism Tax Protection Act
    • Mar 07, 2024 | House – Read Second Time In House of Origin (Ways and Means General Fund)

 

Notable Bills Introduced This Week

  • SB218 – State Port Authority; provide that authority is a body corporate and may employ non-merit system employees (County and Municipal Government)
  • HB307 – 911 districts, permit districts to cooperate in providing services (Boards, Agencies and Commissions)
  • HB309 – State employees, eight weeks paid parental leave provided for, State Personnel Department required to adopt rules (Ways and Means General Fund)
  • HB310 – Rural Hospital Investment Program established, tax credits for donations to rural hospitals authorized (Ways and Means Education)
  • SB213 – Data privacy; required notifications, registration, and security methods for consumer data brokers provided (Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development)

 

The Legislature has their “District Work Week” next week so the House and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, March 19, 2024 for the 16th legislative day.