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Alabama State Rep. Debbie Wood addressed the Opelika City Council last Tuesday night to provide members of the council with the following updates from the 2019 legislative session:
- Gas Tax – Gov. Kay Ivey called lawmakers into a special session to vote on the gas tax increase to fund road and bridge construction. The 10-cent-a-gallon increase will begin with a six-cent increase on Sept. 1, with the remaining increase being phased during the next three years.
- Abortion Ban – The ban makes it a felony to perform an abortion unless the mother’s life is in danger. It is anticipated that the ban will be blocked by the court system and a lawsuit challenging the legislation has already been filed.
- Third-Grade Reading – The legislation will require third graders to meet reading benchmarks before moving to fourth grade and spells out initiatives to boost test scores.
- State School Board – Voters in Alabama will have the opportunity to decide next year whether they want to abolish the elected state school board and replace it with a nine-member commission that would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Alabama Senate.
- Teacher/Correctional Officer / State Employee Pay Raises – Teachers and other public school employees will receive a 4% pay raise with this approved legislation. State employees will receive a 2% raise. Legislation was also approved to raise pay for correctional officers in response to federal court order to add additional officers.
- Parole Board Overhaul – This legislation makes multiple changes to the state parole board including making a gubernatorial appointee who could be dismissed at will by the governor.
- Equal Pay – This piece of legislation prohibits businesses from paying workers less than employees of another race or sex for the same work unless there are reason such as seniority, a merit system or productivity to account for the difference.
- Jail Food Funds – lawmakers voted to end the practice that has allowed some sheriffs to pocket leftover jail funds as personal income. This bill will require that the food allowance to go into a separate account that can only be used for feeding prisoners.
- Civil Asset Forfeiture – This legislation will track how often prosecutors use civil actions to seize a person’s property for suspected criminal activity. State prosecutors had agreed to track the forfeitures, but the legislation will now mandate it.
- Medical Marijuana Study Commission – This bill will create a medical marijuana commission that will make recommendations for legislation relating to the medical use of cannabis in the state. The commission will be consist of 15 or more members including at least one district attorney, doctors, lawyers, mental health workers and pharmacists among others.
This legislation also extends ‘Carly’s Law’ which was implemented in 2014 allowing federally approved clinical trials of CBD oil to treat children with seizure disorder at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. ‘Carly’s Law’ was set to expire on July 1, 2019. This new bill will extend the legislation for another year. Ivey signed this bill into law on June 10.
- Broadband access – Ivey signed two bills into law aimed at expanding broadband access. One will expand an existing grant program for providers in rural communities and the other allows electricity providers to use existing infrastructure to provide broadband services.
- Marriage Licenses – Marriage licenses will now be replaced with a new form called a marriage certificate which will not require a judge’s signature before a wedding.
- Backseat Seatbelts – This law will require persons in the backseat of a moving vehicle to wear a seatbelt. It is named the Roderic Deshaun Scott Seat Belt Safety Act after Rodrick Scott, a Montgomery teen that was killed in a car crash. The new law takes effect on Sept. 1.
Several pieces of legislation did not make it to Ivey’s desk to be signed into law and include the following:
- a lottery bill
- non-permitted concealed carry of weapons
- decriminalization of marijuana
- a medical marijuana bill legalizing the use of cannabis
- payday loan legislation
- mandatory kindergarten
- an ethics overhaul
- a distracted driving bill.