2021 Alabama legislative session
The 2021 Alabama legislative session began on February 2, 2021 and adjourned on May 18.
The make-up of the legislature was unchanged from the 2020 Alabama legislative session, having been set by the 2018 general election. The Alabama House of Representatives consisted of 76 Republican members (all white) and 27 Democrats (26 of them Black), with two vacant seats, and was presided over by Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-District 25, Madison County). The Alabama State Senate had a 27-7 Republican majority (all 26 Republicans being white and 6 of 7 Democrats being Black), with one vacant seat, and was chaired by Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth.
Following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 a group of white and Black legislators began speaking and, at the suggestion of Representative Tracy Estes and with the support of Anthony Daniels, held an unpublicized meeting at First Baptist Church of Montgomery on Friday June 12. During the session, Black Democrats discussed their personal experiences with structural racism. The group set the stage for a series of bipartisan measures to be passed in support of rural business development and addressing teacher shortages, including the Alabama Rural, Agribusiness, and Opportunity Zone Jobs Act.
Among the other major issues taken up during the 2021 session were the legalization of medical cannabis, casino gambling, and at-home wine delivery.
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-4, established certain civil immunities against claims of damages against businesses, institutions and healthcare providers and their officers related to the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic. (link)
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-160, amended the Emergency Management Act of 1955 to exempt businesses, the Alabama State House, and churches and other religious institutions from closure by executive order during a state of emergency caused by a pandemic or bioterrorism. The bill was sponsored by Representative Jamie Kiel (R-Russellville). (link)
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-188, sponsored in the Senate by Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills) authorized the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to permit home delivery of wine and beer to adults for personal use. The bill was signed by Governor Ivey on April 13. (link)
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-214, signed on April 15 gave the city of Mountain Brook the authority to designate Crestline Village, English Village and Mountain Brook village as Entertainment Districts. (link)
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-220 passed on April 14 and signed on April 16, designated the sweet potato as the Alabama state vegetable. (link)
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-227, signed on April 20, made allowance for college athletes to be compensated for the use of their name, image or likeness pursuant to anticipated NCAA rule changes. Colleges would have to develop guidelines and conduct programs on financial literacy. Enforcement would be carried out by the Alabama Athlete Agents Commission. (link)
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-245, introduced by Rep. Allen Treadaway (R-51) in the House made changes to the retirement pension system for officers and employees of the City of Birmingham. The bill was supported by Mayor Randall Woodfin's office, and passed the House by a 24-2 vote, with only Merika Coleman and John Rogers voting against it. Linda Coleman-Madison introduced it in the Senate, where it was passed without opposition and was signed on April 20. (link)
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-246, the Alabama Uniform Concealed Carry Permit Act, created a new category for a lifetime firearm permit and also required the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency to create a database of persons whose right to possess a firearm has been revoked due to a criminal convictions or court order. The bill was sponsored by Randy Price (R-Opelika) in the Senate, where it passed by a 25-6 vote, and by Proncey Robertson (R-Mount Hope) in the House of Representatives, where it passed by a 69-18 vote on April 8. (link)
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-267, "Aniah's Law" allows judges the power to deny release on bail to defendants charged with first-degree felonies other than capital murder.
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-285, forbids public K-12 schools from participating in athletic events in the state that allow transgendered athletes to participate.
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-286, the REDEEMER Act (for "Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment and Eliminate Recidivism"), establishes a process to expunge the criminal records of certain persons previously convicted of low-level drug offenses.
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-408, provided for the creation and dissolution of joint road improvement authorities between counties and municipalities. (link)
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-411, recognized the Dauphin Island Sea Lab's Alabama Aquarium as the official aquarium of Alabama. (link)
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-419, sponsored by Representative Terri Collins (R-Decatur), further amended the ABC Board's oversight of home wine delivery. (link)
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-421, enacted that Alabama would observe daylight savings time year-round if federal law were changed to allow it. (link)
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-440, made it legal for wineries in the state to sell directly to retailers and consumers. (link)
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-446, the Alabama Voter Confidence Act, requires the Alabama Secretary of State to conduct a post-election audit of the election results in 3 counties immediately following the November 2022 general election. The bill was sponsored by David Standridge (R-Hayden) and Billy Beasley (D-Clayton). Governor Ivey signed it into law on May 14. (link)
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-448, made more explicit a prohibition against voting in Alabama and in another state in the same election. (link)
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-450, The Darren Wesley "Ato" Hall Compassion Act, established an intrastate system for the cultivation, processing and distribution of certain forms of cannabis for the treatment of certain medical conditions. The Alabama Medical Cannibis Commission would oversee licensing of producers, dispensaries and users. The bill was sponsored by Mike Ball (R-Madison) in the House of Representatives and Tim Melson (R-Florence) in the Senate, and was signed by Governor Ivey on May 17. It was named in honor of the son of Representative Laura Hall (D-Huntsville). (link)
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-451, exempted private vehicles operated by state, local, or federal law enforcement officers from legal restrictions on automobile window tint.
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-453, raised the legal age to purchase tobacco or nicotine products to 21. (link)
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-461, removed certain restrictions on the sale of home-made food products. (link)
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-465, Connect Alabama Act of 2021, intended to expand broadband internet access in underserved areas. (link)
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-474, allowed restaurants to permit pet dogs in outdoor dining areas. (link)
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-475, allowed public schools to offer yoga instruction, with parents' permission. (link)
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-492, Alabama Rural, Agribusiness, and Opportunity Zone Jobs Act. (link)
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-493, the Alabama Vaccine Passport Ban, prohibits government entities and private businesses from making vaccination a condition for providing access to facilities or services. Sponsored in the Senate by Arthur Orr (R-Decatur). (link)
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-502, "Gianna's Law" (for activist Gianna Jessen), makes it a class A felony for any physician to fail to, "exercise reasonable care to preserve the life of a child who is born alive after an abortion or attempted abortion." (link)
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-534, modifies the procedure used to identify inactive voters by use of national databases. Sponsored in the House by Rep. Rod Scott (D-Fairfield). (link)
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-535, requires elections officials to install voting machines on the interior of buildings designated as polling places and prohibits curbside voting. Sponsored in the House by Rep. Wes Allen (R-Pike County). (link)
The legislature failed to take up federal court-ordered changes to conditions in state prisons during the regular legislative session, even as lenders backed out of a planned build-lease program negotiated by the Governor's office. Governor Kay Ivey called a special session beginning on September 27 to consider a plan to issue bonds for the construction of new prisons. The proposal, which bypassed open procurement practices in the interest of expediting construction by approving the same development partners, passed easily on October 1.
Governor Ivey called a second special session to begin on October 28 to modify the state's voting districts based on data from the 2020 U.S. Census. The legislature's Reapportionment Committee began meeting on October 26 to consider new Congressional district lines, as well as State house and senate districts, and Alabama State Board of Education districts.
State Senators Rodger Smitherman and Bobby Singleton were the lead plaintiffs in a lawsuit alleging that the 2011 redistricting map unlawfully diluted the voting power of Black Alabamians by concentrating them into a single Congressional district. The Republican majority passed adopted a new district map that retained or exacerbated those conditions.
In January 2022 a panel of three federal judges heard arguments that the plan which was passed violated the Voting Rights Act, and ruled that the legislature would need to adopt a plan which achieved fairer representation within two weeks, or accept a plan drawn by a court-appointed expert. Attorney General Steve Marshall announced that he would appeal the ruling. On February 7 the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay of the lower court's order pending its review of the appeal, thus allowing the 2022 election to be conducted using the districts ruled to be unlawful by the lower court.
During the second special session, additional laws limiting COVID vaccination mandates were also passed:
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-560, requires consent of a parent in order to administer a COVID-19 vaccine to a minor, or for an educational institution to inquire about the COVID vaccination status of a minor. Colleges still require proof of vaccination against measles, mumps, rubella, viral meningitis and/or hepatitis. (link)
- Act of Alabama No. 2021-561, prohibits employers from terminating an employee who refuses a COVID-19 vaccine by claiming a religious or medical exemption (though Alabama law does not require an employee to show cause for terminating an employee.) The bill was sponsored in the Senate by Chris Elliot (R-Fairhope). The law is scheduled to expire on May 1, 2023 unless renewed. (link)
Other proposed legislation
- The legislature debated revisions to the 2017 Alabama Memorial Preservation Act. A failed bill sponsored by Representative Juandalynn Given (D-Birmingham) would have opened a path to turn over monuments to the Alabama Historical Commission. A different bill, HB242 sponsored by Representative Mike Holmes (R-Wetumpka) would have increased fines, punished individual officials who voted to remove monuments, and outlawed the "reinterpretation" of existing monuments. Holmes' bill was referred to the House Committee on State Government and did not advance.
- A proposed Alabama Second Amendment Preservation Act, SB358 sponsored by Senator Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) provided that, "...no appointed or elected official, officer, employee, or agent of the state, or any political subdivision of the state, when acting in an official capacity, shall implement, administer, or enforce an executive order or directive issued by the President of the United States, or any act of the United States Congress, that becomes effective after January 1, 2021, that regulates the ownership, use, or possession of firearms, ammunition, or firearm accessories." The Senate bill passed by a 21-5 vote on April 15. The legislation stalled in the House Judiciary Committee.
- Debates on establishment of a state lottery and the legalization of casino gambling took up much of the session, with no legislation passed.
- Cason, Mike (February 1, 2021) "Alabama lawmaker wants to raise penalty for removing historical monuments." The Birmingham News
- Cason, Mile (April 1, 2021) "Alabama lawmakers pass bill to allow churches, businesses to stay open during pandemic." The Birmingham News
- Cason, Mike (April 6, 2021) "Birmingham pension system bill causes sharp disagreement in Alabama House." The Birmingham News
- Cason, Mike (April 6, 2021) "Bill would allow Alabama parents to move students to other school districts." The Birmingham News
- Cason, Mike (April 8, 2021) "Alabama lawmakers approve lifetime pistol permits, database of people prohibited from having guns." The Birmingham News
- Cason, Mike (April 14, 2021) "Bill would increase penalties for removing historical monuments in Alabama." The Birmingham News
- Cason, Mike (April 15, 2021) "Alabama lawmakers pass bill to ban transgender athletes from public school teams." The Birmingham News
- Cason, Mike (April 20, 2021) "Gov. Kay Ivey signs bill allowing college athletes to be paid for use of name, image, likeness." The Birmingham News
- Cason, Mike (May 6, 2021) "Alabama House passes medical marijuana bill." The Birmingham News
- Johnson, Roy S. (May 19, 2021) "Imagine if lawmakers actually tried to make all Alabamians’ lives better; I’m still imagining" The Birmingham News
- Cason, Mike (May 20, 2021) "Gov. Kay Ivey signs bill allowing yoga in Alabama public schools." The Birmingham News
- McDonald, Virginia (June 24, 2021) "As other states drew fire for passing restrictive election laws, Alabama skirted outside the limelight. But changes were made here, too" BirminghamWatch
- Johnson, Roy S. & Cameron Smith (August 15, 2021) "Bipartisanship in the Alabama Legislature? It actually happened, quietly and effectively" The Birmingham News
- Johnson, Roy S. & Cameron Smith (August 16, 2021) "Historic bipartisan alliance in Alabama legislature quietly bore surprising fruit; will it endure or spoil?" The Birmingham News
- Cason, Mike (September 17, 2021) "Gov. Kay Ivey to call special session on new Alabama prisons starting Sept. 27." The Birmingham News
- Yurkanin, Any (September 28, 2021) "Lawsuit challenges Alabama Congressional districts as diluting the Black vote." The Birmingham News
- Cason, Mike (October 1, 2021) "Alabama lawmakers give final approval to plan to build two 4,000-bed prisons." The Birmingham News
- Cason, Mike (October 3, 2021) "Alabama’s new prison-building plan skips bid process for earlier start on construction." The Birmingham News
- Cason, Mike (October 15, 2021) "Racial makeup of congressional districts will be issue in Alabama special session." The Birmingham News
- Cason, Mike (November 4, 2021) "Gov. Kay Ivey signs bills for Alabama’s new congressional, legislative districts." The Birmingham News
- Cason, Mike (November 5, 2021) "Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signs employee vaccine mandate exemption, parental consent bills." The Birmingham News
- Koplowitz, Howard (January 24, 2021) "Alabama’s congressional redistricting maps blocked: Federal judges seek more Black majority districts." The Birmingham News
- Legislative Acts by Year at sos.alabama.gov