5th & 6th legislative days
The Alabama Legislature has now met for 6 of the possible 30 days during the session. The House has seen the introduction of 310 bills to date, and the Senate 225. Three of the bills introduced so far have dominated the halls and newspaper headlines this week. They included medical marijuana, occupational taxes and landfill cover. Those bills are highlighted below.
Medical marijuana bill approved in committee
A bill to allow medical marijuana use in Alabama cleared its first hurdle on Wednesday. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved SB 165 by Sen. Tim Melson (R – Florence) by a vote of 8 – 1 – 1.
The bill would allow people with a doctor’s recommendation to use medical marijuana for 15 named conditions and to purchase cannabis products at one of 34 licensed dispensaries. The bill would allow marijuana in forms such as pills, gummy cubes, oils, skin patches, gels, and creams but not in smoking or vaping products.
Proponents and opponents spoke before the committee prior to the vote. Advocates spoke on the benefits of cannabis to their loved ones who suffered from debilitating diseases and seizures. Opponents, including law enforcement and conservative groups, spoke on the dangers of addiction and potential of abuse. Attorney General Steve Marshall also sent a letter to the committee outlining his opposition.
Sen. Melson has said he expects the bill to pass the full Senate. The bigger test will come in the House of Representatives.
Montgomery City Council approves occupational tax despite Senate committee vote
On Tuesday, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee approved HB 147 by Rep. Chris Sells (R – Greenville), which prohibits future occupational taxes unless authorized by local law. A few hours later, the Montgomery City Council approved a 1% occupational tax that goes into effect in January 2021.
Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed spoke before the Senate committee and urged them to hold off in order to give the city more time to explore their options. He also emphasized the importance of local control. The mayors of the 10 largest cities also sent an open letter to the committee opposing the legislation.
The legislation includes a retroactive provision that says occupational taxes not in effect as of February 1, 2020 are prohibited, so it is unclear if Montgomery will be allowed to collect the new tax in 2021.
House approves alternative cover landfill bill
On Thursday, the House approved a bill to clarify what materials can be used to cover landfills each day. Previously approved “alternative cover” materials have included shredded vehicle components from scrapped cars, contaminated soil and coal ash.
Federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations say landfill operators must cover disposed solid waste with six inches of earthen material at the end of each operating day for safety and health reasons. The EPA also says approval of alternative covers is allowed by directors of state environmental agencies if the landfill operator “demonstrates that the alternative material and thickness control disease vectors, fires, odors, blowing litter and scavenging without presenting a threat to human health and the environment.”
But late last year, some landfills had to stop using the alternatives after communities near two sites filed a lawsuit that argued ADEM wasn’t making landfills demonstrate the effectiveness of their covers. The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals ruled in October that ADEM should not have allowed the alternatives.
The lawsuit claimed that the use of waste covers including tarps has led to a foul smell and vermin around landfills. The judges overturned a lower court that dismissed the lawsuit.
House Bill 140 now allows for alternative coverings besides just compacted earth on the landfills. It was approved by the House 102-0 and now moves to the Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee.
Bills of Interest to the Concrete Industry
House Bill 276 by Representative Joe Lovvorn and Senate Bill 197 by Senator Tom Whatley would create a tax credit of $3,000 for individuals who construct a safe room on their residence or property. The bill also creates a $4,500 credit for individuals who donate a safe room for another family who is in financial need. Senate Bill 197 cleared the Forestry and Agriculture Committee on Wednesday and House Bill 276 is on the agenda of the House Ways and Means Education Budget for 2/26/2020.
Senate Bill 217 by Senator Whatley would mandate gas taxes or excise taxes implemented by counties or municipalities only be used for road and bridge construction. State gas taxes are required by law to be used for road and bridge construction only. The bill does have a provision that the county or city can continue to use the gas tax for up to five years, if the funds were allocated for another use prior to the act.
Senate Bill 126 by Senator Clyde Chambliss which would prohibit indemnification clauses in construction contracts signed by architects and engineers did not move this week.
Upcoming legislative schedule
The House of Representatives and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, February 25, 2020, at 1:00 and 2:00 p.m., respectively.