Legislative Briefs – Wednesday, Feb. 24

Legislative Briefs – Wednesday, Feb. 24

By MARY SELL and CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Here’s a rundown of notable legislative action in the Alabama Legislature for Wednesday, Feb. 24.

Medical marijaua

A bill to legalize and regulate medical marijuana passed the Alabama Senate Wednesday, a major step forward in a years-long effort to allow the use of the drug to treat chronic pain and other conditions.

Senate Bill 46 sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, would allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana products to treat more than 16 qualifying medical conditions and symptoms listed in the bill, including post-traumatic stress disorder, autism spectrum disorder, Crohn’s disease, HIV/AIDS-related nausea and cancer-related chronic pain and nausea. An amendment added on the Senate floor by Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, added Sickle Cell Anemia to the list of approved conditions.

The bill creates a Medical Cannabis Commission to oversee regulations and licensing for medical marijuana cultivators, processors and dispensaries, and also requires a statewide seed-to-sale tracking system for all cannabis in the state.

Melson said his main motivation for advancing the bill was hearing from patients and seeing the need to provide some kind of pain relief for those who can’t find it through other medications.

“I’m not a recreational marijuana person, I don’t want that in this state,” Melson told reporters on Wednesday. “I just want the patients who need it to have it. All I’ve done for the last 30 years now is medical research. I’ve seen a lot of good drugs and I’ve seen a lot of bad drugs, and I looked into this and started reading the articles and I’ve seen that we need to give this a try.”

Senate Bill 46 passed the Senate by a 20-10 vote. It now goes to the House of Representatives, where previous medical marijuana legislation has died in previous years.

Committee approves bill banning trans student athletes in K-12 sports

The House Education Policy Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that says “biological male” student athletes cannot participate against female athletes in K-12 sports.

Rep. Scott Stadthagen, R-Hartselle, told the committee his House Bill 391 protects the integrity of girl’s sports.

“Women’s rights currently are being trampled on,” Stadthagen said. “It is unfair for biological males to compete and beat females in high school sports.”

The bill does not specifically mention transgender students, but says students must play on teams in accordance to the gender assigned to them at birth.

It says schools may not participate in athletic events conducted under the authority of any athletic association “that permits or allows participation in athletic events conducted exclusively for males by any individual who is not a biological male as indicated on a birth certificate or participation in athletic events conducted exclusively for females by any individual who is not a biological female as indicated on a birth certificate.”

There are exceptions for co-ed sports and events.

Stadthagen noted that about a dozen other states are proposing similar laws.

Last year, Alabama Daily News reported that the Alabama High School Athletic Association already has a similar policy that participation in athletics should be determined by the gender on the student-athlete’s birth certificate. That policy is based on the Alabama State Department of Education policy for school enrollment, according to AHSAA.

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, asked if AHSAA already has a policy, why a law is needed.

“I feel like it’s a waste of time,” Daniels said.

Rep. Rich Kerry, R-Albertville, said the association’s bylaws could change, hence the need for state law.

Stadthagen’s bill has more than 30 co-sponsors in the House.

The House Education Policy Committee also approved:

  • House Bill 385 from Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, to revise sex education curriculum in the state. Hall said her bill revises outdated and inaccurate information. She also noted the sex education is not a requirement in Alabama schools.
  • House Bill 97 by Rep. Tashina Morris, D-Montgomery,  to include mental health awareness in the annual employee training sessions that schools must hold. Current topics in the training include school lockdown plan, drills, and procedures to be conducted during a school year.
  • House Bill 246, Rep. Jeremy Gray’s third attempt to lift the prohibition on the teaching of yoga at public schools. Gray is a Democrat from Opelika.
  • House Bill 260 by Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Albertville, creates a Teacher Bill of Rights, including the right to teach free from the fear of frivolous lawsuits, the right to use appropriate means of discipline, including corporal punishment, as may be prescribed by the local board of education, the right to remove any persistently disruptive student from a classroom and the right to have his or her professional discretion and recommendations concerning disciplinary actions respected by school and district administrators.
  • House Bill 407, by Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, creates a State Seal of Biliteracy program to recognize graduates who have attained a high level of proficiency in speaking, reading, and writing in one or more languages in addition to English.

Born alive abortion

A bill that would require physicians to exercise reasonable care to preserve the life of an unborn child after a failed abortion passed House committee on Wednesday.

House Bill 237 from Rep. Ginny Shaver, R-Leesburg, would also create criminal penalties for physicians who do not follow the law. The woman having the abortion would not be charged with a criminal offense.

House Judiciary Chairman Jim Hill, R-Moody, added an amendment to the bill that changes the criminal penalties towards a physician who doesn’t follow the law to be a Class A felony.

The bill passed out of committee with Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, and Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, voting against the bill.

In 2019, lawmakers approved a near total ban on abortions in the state. That law is being challenged in court.

Crime of doxing

A bill that would create a new criminal penalty for doxing, or when someone posts private identifying information online with the intent to harass or harm someone, passed out of committee on Wednesday.

House Bill 403 from Rep. Shane Stringer, R-Citronelle, would make the crime of doxing a class A misdemeanor.

“We’re starting to see more and more cases across the country where people are taking what would normally be private information and putting it on social media or out in the public against people they don’t agree with or that they have vendettas against,” Stringer told ADN.

Stringer said most of the cases he’s heard about are from outside of Alabama but has heard of instances in Baldwin County where information about certain law enforcement officers has been posted.

The bill passed on a voice vote.

According to the legislative text, someone commits doxing if he or she “intentionally electronically publishes, posts, or provides personal identifying information of another person, with the intent that others will use that information to harass or harm that other person, and the other person is actually harassed or harmed” or “intentionally electronically publishes, posts or provides personal identifying information of a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or public servant, with the intent that others will use that information to harass, harm or impede the duties of that law enforcement officer, firefighter, or public servant, and the law enforcement officer, firefighter, or public servant is actually harassed, harmed, or impeded from performing his or her governmental function.”

Transgender treatment ban for minors

The House Judiciary Committee also advanced a bill that would make it a felony for doctors to treat transgender youth with hormonal therapy and puberty blockers to help their transition.

The committee approved the bill on an 11-3 vote, putting it in line for a floor vote in the House of Representative. The Senate Health Committee earlier approved a Senate version of the bill.

Alabama is one of at least eight states where conservative lawmakers are pushing such measures, arguing such decisions should wait until adulthood.

Parents of transgender teens spoke out against the bill in a public hearing earlier this month.

The bills introduced in the Alabama Senate and Alabama House of Representatives would prohibit the use of puberty-blocking drugs, hormonal therapy and surgery to treat transgender minors.

Violators could face up to 10 years in prison.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.