By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The House Judiciary Committee heard Wednesday about Democrats’ bills to protect pregnant employees in the workplace, prevent discrimination based on hairstyles and alter some of the state’s parole rules.
But committee chairman Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, didn’t have the committee vote on any of the proposals, saying it was too late in the session. With four legislative days left, bills would have to be fast-tracked to clear both chambers.
The now-dead legislation includes House Bill 352 from Rep. Neil Rafferty, D-Birmingham,to require employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.
Rafferty explained that pregnant women in Alabama have no protections when it comes to working conditions when they’re pregnant and is putting their own health and the health of the unborn child at risk.
“No pregnant woman in Alabama should have to choose between her job and a healthy pregnancy,” Rafferty said.
Rafferty said pregnant women can be protected under the American Disabilities Act or the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act but they do not provide specifics of what are “reasonable accommodations” in the workplace for pregnant women.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Alabama is the only state in the country that doesn’t have any additional state law protections for pregnant people.
Rafferty said some of the recommendations in the bill include allowing for more bathroom breaks, the use of breast pumps in the workplace, preventing heavy lifting and extra stools or seating arrangements. Rafferty said the recommendations are meant to be low cost to businesses.
Another bill presented to the committee was House Bill 87 from Rep. Rolanda Hollis, D-Birmingham, that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, age, disability or national origin by an employer, business or local school board.
The bill also specifically mentions that certain hairstyles, such as braids, locks and twists, would also be protected from discrimination.
Hollis said this was modeled after the popular national legislation called the Crown Act that is making its way through other states that provides protection for people of color to wear their hair naturally.
“When people wear different hairstyles, it’s really expressing who they are and it could be for historical reasons or cultural reasons but I believe we shouldn’t discriminate against a person based on their hair,” Hollis said.
There were also multiple other bills that dealt with making changes to parole consideration that did not get a vote in committee.
House Bill 581 from Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, would allow inmates who have reached the age of 50 and regardless of their offense be considered for medical parole.
Current law states that only inmates who are 60 years or older and have been convicted of non-capital offenses could qualify for medical parole. They also have to be suffering from a chronic life-threatening or debilitating illness.
England said the bill was about showing compassion to those inmates who are dying but also has the potential to save the state money.
“A lot of the legislation we do is to try and get around the fact the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles is just ineffective and because of that we loose money and people’s lives are put at serious risk,” England said.
Hill told committee members before they adjourned that he would be happy to have all of the bills that did not get a vote in committee back for consideration next year.