According to Sen. Jerry Fielding, R-Sylacauga, three confirmed appointments are of particular significance to his constituents in Talladega County. Melissa Williamson and Robert Shelley Jr., both visually impaired, were confirmed to the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind Board of Trustees, Fielding said. And former Lincoln Mayor Lew Watson was confirmed to the State Board of Real Estate Appraisers.
“I think we had 18 total confirmations,” Fielding said, “but those are the ones that will be of most interest in Talladega County.”
The Senate also took up a number of Sunset bills during the week, but probably the most interesting debate before the full body was regarding the “revolving door” bill.
The bill would require former legislators to wait at least two years before working as lobbyists. Amendments were added to the bill to address some ethical questions and it was broadened to include other state departments and agencies outside the legislature.
Between the full sessions on Tuesday and Thursday, Fielding said, Wednesday was taken up with committee meetings.
Following the confirmation committee, Fielding went to the Job Creation Committee meeting, where four bills were eventually voted out and sent to the full Senate.
One bill provided for an optional short tax form for businesses making under $10,000 per year and another one allows a community development district in south Alabama to continue as it is without becoming a city.
The Banking and Insurance committee approved a bill that would protect people who have purchased pre-need funeral policies by creating criminal penalties for violations and setting up trust funds.
The Health Committee dealt with seven bills, including one that would allow children with severe allergies to carry epi-pens at school, regulations on tanning beds (no children under 14, parents present for 15-year-olds, written parental consent for children between 16 and 17, and protective eyewear for all), and a bill protecting the rights of conscience and belief for health care workers.
“That bill already passed the house, and now we’ve passed it out of committee,” he said. “If it is signed into law, we will be one of three states with something like that on the books.”
Other bills deal with hospitals providing new mothers with information on petrussis (whooping cough) and schools providing students with information on meningicocal meningitis.
In the Judiciary Committee, a bill that would allow certain therapeutic substances found in marijuana to be prescribed by a doctor passed, although Fielding said he voted against it.
“There are just not enough parameters in there to make sure it’s not abused,” he said.
Other bills passed out of this committee include one providing judicial immunity to probate judges, additional penalties for airbag fraud, and an increase in the jurisdiction of small claims courts from $3,000 to $6,000.
Bills requiring filing fees to be paid up front and allowing vacant judgeships to be reallocated to other parts of the state also passed out of committee.
Yet another bill passed on to the full Senate allows school districts to educate students about Christmas, Chanukah and other winter holidays, and allows students and teachers to exchange gifts.
A discussion of changes to the open meetings law was carried over, but perhaps the longest debate of the day concerned a bill allowing for the services of midwives during child-birth.
“We spent about an hour hearing witnesses from both sides, and it was interesting testimony, but ultimately the bill was tabled.”
In the House, “things went pretty smooth for us,” according to Rep. Ron Johnson, R-Sylacauga. “We handled a lot of housekeeping for various departments, the Revenue Department and the Durable Medical Equipment Board, and I know there’s a couple more coming. Tuesday and Thursday we took up some of the recommendations from the Sunset Committee. No bills that got tied up this week, and all the ones that come up passed handily. We’re handling some things that have been handled through the rule-making process, and now we’re doing them by statute.”
The House also passed a bill adding car batteries to the list of parts eligible for a core refund.
Johnson also mentioned a group of students from Sylacauga High School who addressed the house in favor of dual-enrollment legislation with the two year college system.
Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford, said he was “surprised that everything moved rapidly, with little filibustering. Nobody really got bent out of shape about anything.”
He was especially pleased with some bills benefiting veterans, including one that allowed disabled vets to get discounted hunting licenses (a version that would have made the licenses free ran into technical difficulties) and another bill that allowed deployed military personnel to get an extension on renewing their licenses. Another bill would require that municipalities near military facilities take those facilities into account when they are expanding.
A bill increasing the burial benefit for workman’s compensation policies was also passed, as was a bill allowing law enforcement officers to continue to accrue benefits while on administrative leave and a bill increasing some election and board fees to reflect those in other states.
Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston, also cited a tribute to the state’s veterans as a high point of the week.
“We had a joint ceremony with the Senate on Wednesday to honor the veterans,” she said. “It’s something we do every year. The governor was there, and so was Gen. Dennis Via, the only four star general in Alabama.”
Contact Chris Norwood at firstname.lastname@example.org