Legislative Report – March 5, 2021

Volume 22 Number 4 – March 5, 2021

10th, 11th, & 12th legislative days

Statewide mask mandate to end April 9

Governor Ivey announced on Thursday that the statewide mask mandate will be extended until April 9, but it will expire for good after that. Ivey broke with other Southern Republican Governors who have already lifted statewide mask mandates.

The governor called masks “one of our greatest tools” in preventing the virus’ spread but emphasized that she will not extend the mask order further, saying it will become a matter of personal responsibility when the mandate ends.

Medical officials welcomed Ivey’s decision after urging an extension, arguing that easing restrictions before more people were vaccinated could reverse recent improvements. Alabama’s rolling seven-day average of daily cases has dropped from 3,000 in early January to below 1,000 and hospitalizations are at their lowest point since summer. So far, only about 13% of Alabama’s 4.9 million people have received one dose of vaccine, according to state numbers.

The governor did lift some restrictions on how many people can sit at a restaurant table, but tables are still required to be six feet apart or have a partition. The order also allowed senior citizens to resume some activities and hospitals to increase the number of visitors patients can have from one to two.

More alcohol bills approved in committee

On Thursday, two major alcohol-related bills were approved in House and Senate committee. HB 437 by Rep. Terri Collins (R – Decatur) would allow licensed wine manufacturers to obtain a wine direct shipper license from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) to allow the licensee to ship limited quantities of wine directly to Alabama residents who are at least 21 years of age for their personal use.

The bill, as substituted in the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee,  also includes statewide franchise protections for wine wholesalers in the state. Franchise protections are already law in Jefferson, Mobile, Montgomery, Baldwin, and Shelby counties. Christie Strategy Group, on behalf of International Wines and Craft Beer, has worked closely with Rep. Collins to ensure that franchise protections were included in the substitute along with other compromise language limiting the scope of wine shipment.

The House committee approved the substitute unanimously.

Also on Thursday, the Senate Tourism committee approved SB 287 by Sen. Arthur Orr (R – Decatur), which would require the ABC to adopt rules to phase out of the retail sale of alcoholic beverages by September 2026.

Orr called the bill a “skinny” version of previous phase-out bills. It does not impact ABC’s other operations, including wholesale distribution of alcohol or law enforcement. Orr said when the stores are closed, the state would save $8 million to $12 million per year.

Two women who lost loved ones to drunk drivers spoke against the bill during a public hearing citing the need for control of alcohol sales. Mac McArthur, executive director of the Alabama State Employees Association, also spoke against the bill. He said ABC’s more than 600 retail employees deserve medals and raises for working through the COVID-19 pandemic and Orr’s bill would put them out of a job.

The ABC Board is also opposed. Neil Graff, ABC’s chief operating officer, said ABC stores carry more variety than other retailers and that SB 287 would increase markups on liquor, a price that will be passed to consumers.

Ultimately, the bill was given a favorable report by a vote of 7 – 5, and Sen. Del Marsh (R – Anniston), chairman of the Tourism committee said said it is time to have the ABC store debate on the Senate floor.

Senate approves broadband expansion legislation 

The Senate, on Wednesday, approved a bill to create a new state agency to oversee the expansion and availability of high-speed broadband services throughout the state.

The bill creates a nine-member Alabama Digital Expansion Authority to oversee the expansion and availability of high-speed broadband services throughout the state. A larger Connect Alabama Advisory Board will make recommendations to the authority. The authority within a year of the law’s passage must develop and begin executing a Statewide Connectivity Plan to facilitate the expansion and availability of high-speed broadband networks, services, and technologies. A timeline for implementation must be included. It also creates the Alabama Digital Expansion Finance Corporation that could issue bonds of up to $250 million to finance eligible projects.

Sen. Livingston (R – Scottsboro) added an amendment on the floor that says that for the first two years, no less than 70% of the funding appropriated for the Connect Alabama Fund or other broadband infrastructure expansion shall be used for grants for the extension of last-mile infrastructure in unserved rural areas in a manner consistent with the criteria of the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act.

The program would be partially funded through a gambling expansion bill, also sponsored by Sen. Marsh. That bill is supposed to be debated on the Senate floor next week.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously and now goes to House Ways and Means – Education committee.

Police jurisdiction legislation approved in House committee

The House County and Municipal Government committee approved a substitute of SB 107 on Wednesday. The substitute would allow municipalities who are currently collecting business licenses as of January 21, 2021 and sales taxes in their police jurisdictions to continue to do so moving forward. Over time, however, the police jurisdiction would go away as a municipality annexes into the police jurisdiction. Police jurisdictions would be frozen and would not continue to expand/extend with future annexations.

Effects on Police Jurisdictions

  • Immediately freezes police jurisdiction to 1.5 or 3 miles.
  • Limits enforcement in the police jurisdiction to state misdemeanors adopted as municipal ordinance violations. This would stop enforcement of purely local municipal ordinances not tied to state misdemeanors (noise, leash, dust, etc…).
  • Allows for building code enforcement for those that are doing so as of January 1, 2021, until the county provides building code enforcement at which point it then provides for a 24 month phase out by the municipality unless the county and city enter into an agreement.

 

Effects of Planning Jurisdictions

  • Immediately reduces the planning jurisdiction of a municipality to 1.5 or 3 miles respectively. Effective January 1, 2023, the planning jurisdiction of any municipality will be 1.5 miles unless otherwise provided by local law. It does not, however, “freeze” in place. It will continue to grow along with the municipal corporate limits.
  • Clarifies that a municipality may only regulate subdivisions within its planning jurisdiction and provides for a “family” exemption from subdivision regulation in the planning jurisdiction.
  • Allows for continued subdivision regulation authority in the planning jurisdiction. If a county provides subdivision regulation and there is no agreement between the county and municipality to continue, there is a 24 month phase out by the municipality. It also allows a municipal planning commission to resume subdivision regulation if the county discontinues – again with a 24 month phase in/out.

 

Effects on Reporting Revenue

  • Amends existing reporting requirements to a date certain (March 1 for the previous fiscal year) and provides that if reporting isn’t made within 12 months of the deadline, the municipality may no longer continue licensing and taxing in the police jurisdiction.
  • Municipality must report budget for police and/or fire departments overall.
  • Municipality must report number of calls and activity over all and specific to police jurisdiction.
  • In addition to the reporting, it authorizes the Legislative Council to request an audit of the police jurisdiction of a municipality by the Examiners of Public Accounts. A municipality is only required to pay for this audit if the audit shows that they are not in compliance with spending in the police jurisdiction.

The bill is now poised for action on the House floor.

Upcoming legislative schedule

The House of Representatives and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, March 9, 2021, at 1:00 and 2:00 p.m., respectively.