Goat Hill Report- Week ending May 12, 2023

This week, the Alabama legislature completed Days 19 and 20 of the 2023 legislative session, reaching the 2/3 completion mark of the 30-day session. The session is expected to conclude by mid-June. Details of this week’s notable action are provided below.

Anti-ESG legislation

This week, SB261 by Sen. Dan Roberts (R-Mountain Brook), the anti-ESG bill highlighted previously was substantially amended and approved in the Senate Fiscal Responsible and Economic Development (FRED) Committee. SB261 is aimed at preventing the state from contracting with companies that “boycott” other state companies based on ESG (environmental, social, and governance) standards. The bill brought out the Business Council of Alabama, ALFA Insurance, Regions Bank and Protective Life in a combined effort to mitigate potential burdens on the business community. These business interests expressed concerns the bill could deter economic development and new business coming to Alabama, and voiced concerns that the bill curbs the first amendment rights of companies to do business, or not do business, with whom they please. The changes to SB261, which were agreed upon by the sponsor and the business community, include the following: the “company” contracting with the government does not include subsidiaries or parent companies; specifies that a boycott is based on sector-wide business decisions directly related to ESG factors; clarifies that company shall not be required by a governmental entity to engage in boycotts nor penalized for not engaging in economic boycotts; specifies the law is to be enforced only by the Attorney General; and the legislation applies to contracts entered into on or after October 1, 2023 – among other edits. After the changes were adopted, the bill passed the FRED Committee on a 10-3 vote and is now set to be heard by the full Senate.

Brownfields Legislation Passes House

The Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday passed HB378 by State Rep. Chip Brown (R–Hollinger’s Island), a bill that expands Alabama’s economic development opportunities by offering liability protections for those who redevelop Brownfield sites in various regions of the state. Brownfield sites designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency include lands that were formerly used for commercial and industrial purposes that suffered environmental damage during their use or contain remnants of hazardous materials that must be cleaned up and remediated before they can be reused and developed. HB378 creates Brownfield redevelopment districts that allow environmental cleanup efforts to take place, and it provides liability protections to those who wish to participate in the program. Once a Brownfield area is fully restored, it can be marketed to industrial prospects and site selectors looking to locate in Alabama. The bill will now be considered by the Alabama Senate.

Bill to Prohibit Chinese Ownership of Property Advances

On Tuesday afternoon, House Majority Leader Scott Stadthagen (R-Hartselle) presented HB379, titled the “Alabama Property Protection Act,” on the House floor. The legislation as introduced would prohibit any purchase of property in Alabama by the Chinese government, Chinese citizens or a company either located in or otherwise controlled by the Chinese government or Chinese citizens. This particular issue has received national attention in 2023, both due to the introduction of federal legislation and as many other states are examining legislation to restrict the influence of China in the US economy. During the debate on HB379, many concerns were raised about the implications that the legislation would have on new industrial recruitment and/or the expansion of existing operations in the state owned by Chinese entities or persons. An amendment to the bill by Rep. Ben Robbins (R-Sylacauga) was accepted that would categorically exclude entities of Taiwan from the bill and also permit existing Chinese businesses in the state to acquire additional property. Ultimately, the bill received final passage as amended by a 73-23 margin and moves on to the Senate for consideration.

Improvements to Open Records Law Considered

Following criticism in recent years that Alabama has one of the nation’s least responsive processes for public records requests, and on the heels of an Executive Order by Gov. Kay Ivey in January directing state agencies to be timelier to such requests, on Thursday the Alabama Senate passed legislation to put time requirements in the state’s open records law. Alabama’s existing open records law says people have a right to view and obtain copies of public records maintained by state, city, and county agencies, as well as school boards, but the law places no requirements on when agencies must respond to requests for records. SB196, by Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), would require a public officer who is a custodian of records for an agency to acknowledge receipt of a request for records no more than 10 business days after receiving it. No more than 20 days after a request, the public officer would have to give a response to the request in one or more of several ways: provide access to the records at a mutually agreed place and time during normal business hours; give an estimate of the costs for copying and producing the records; deny the request in full; or grant the request in part and deny it in part. The denial or partial denial could be because the records requested fall under an exception to the public records law, or because the agency does not have the records. The Alabama Press Association has long supported such changes to the open records law, and this session the APA has worked with counties, cities, and school boards on SB196. The Senate passed Orr’s bill by a vote of 33-0, and it now moves to the House of Representatives.

The Alabama Legislature will reconvene on Tuesday, May 16, 2023.

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