Local lawmaker says pandemic will create unique legislative session

Published 6:49 pm Thursday, January 28, 2021

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Rep. Wes Allen said the Alabama Legislature will try and pick up where it left off during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Pike County Chamber of Commerce hosted Allen and Business Council of Alabama Senior Vice President of Governmental Affairs David Cole for a virtual meeting through Zoom.

“There were a lot of bills that weren’t attended to [last year],” Allen, R-Troy, said. “When we broke in March for Spring Break, we didn’t understand that the COVID-19 outbreak would shut everything down.”

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Allen said when the 2021 session begins Tuesday morning he expects some pressing legislation to be taken up first. He said he thinks the first order of business will be to take up a liability protection bill for businesses against litigation filed by people claiming to have contracted COVID-19 from the business.

Cole said the BCA fully supported the legislation. He said the BCA had developed a bill in 2020 to protect businesses from COVID-based lawsuits and Gov. Kay Ivey signed the policy into an executive order. But, he said, the legislature needed to pass a similar measure to ensure businesses remained protected for the foreseeable future.

“There’s a bill that provides liability from people that claim they contracted COVID at a business,” Cole said. “Businesses need protection from people that will file frivolous lawsuits. We submitted a bill to Gov. Ivey and she signed it as an executive order. But, the executive order will expire when the state of emergency ends. This bill doesn’t provide blanket immunity to businesses. Businesses have to prove they were operating under state and Centers for Disease Control guidelines. If not, they can be held liable.”

The legislature will meet for two weeks, then take  week long break to assess the legislative calendar. During the two weeks, the Legislature has six days in session. At minimum, it takes five session days to pass a bill. So, Cole said the COVID liability bill could be passed before the Legislature takes its break.

Allen said he expected the state budgets to be addressed quickly this session. He said the Education Trust Fund Budget is in good standing and he expects the General Fund Budget to be strong again this year.

The ETF has a rolling reserve that acts as a rainy day fund to provide funding in years when there may be a budget shortfall, thus preventing proration. Allen said the legislature installed a rolling reserve fund for the General Fund last year. He said the rolling reserve coupled with the addition of a growth tax, from a portion of the internet sales tax, will put Alabama’s General Fund budget on solid financial footing.

Allen said other topics he expected to be addressed in some form or fashion were a lottery and gambling bill as well as a plan to get Alabama’s prison system out from under two federal lawsuits.