Major issues to be decided in session’s final days

Major issues to be decided in session’s final days

By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala (AP) — Alabama lawmakers return to Montgomery on Tuesday with a number of large issues to be decided in the closing days of the legislative session.

Legislators expect to conclude the session this week.

Here’s a look at some of the proposals that could be decided in the session’s final days.

TEACHER PAY RAISES

Lawmakers are expected to give final approval to the largest pay raise in a generation for teachers with nine or more years experience. The Senate approved the raises as part of next year’s education trust fund budget. The House of Representatives must decide whether to accept Senate changes, but House leaders have expressed support for the raises.

The raise would be based on the teacher’s experience. A teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 20 years of experience would see their minimum salary rise from $51,810 to $57,214. School systems in Alabama and across the country have reported concerns about teacher shortages, particularly as the coronavirus pandemic accelerated a wave of retirements. That has led states to look at pay increases and other measures to try to recruit and retain educators.

READING PROMOTION REQUIREMENT

The House of Representatives on Tuesday will debate a proposal to postpone a high-stakes requirement to hold back third graders who don’t read on grade level. The requirement of the 2019 Alabama Literacy Act is now scheduled to start this spring, but would be pushed back until the 2023-2024 school year under the proposal. Many lawmakers expressed concern after the pandemic interrupted classrooms for two years. There is broad support for a delay although lawmakers have disagreed on how long that delay should be. To move on to fourth grade, students would have to make above a “cut score” on standardized testing or demonstrate mastery of reading standards through a reading portfolio. State officials earlier this year said 23% of students scored below the set cutoff score on the latest assessment.

DIVISIVE CONCEPTS

The bill by Republican Rep. Ed Oliver of Dadeville would prohibit a list of “divisive concepts” from being taught in schools and in diversity training for state entities. The banned concepts would include that the United States is “inherently racist or sexist” and that anyone should be asked to accept “a sense of guilt” or a need to work harder because of their race or gender. The Alabama House of Representatives approved the bill after an emotional night of debate. The House-passed bill is awaiting committee action in the Alabama Senate. The list in the bill is similar to a now-repealed executive order that former President Donald Trump issued regarding training for federal employees. Similar language has since popped up in bills in more than a dozen states.

TRANS TREATMENT BAN

The Alabama Senate has approved a measure by Republican Sen. Shay Shelnutt of Trussville to make it a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for doctors to give transgender minors puberty-blockers, hormones or surgeries to help affirm their gender identity. Proponents of the bill said the decisions on the medications should wait until a person is an adult.

Opponents say lawmakers are inserting themselves into decisions that belong with families and their doctors. The Senate-passed bill, along with similar legislation by Republican Rep. Wes Allen of Troy, is pending in the Alabama House of Representatives. The U.S. Department of Justice last week sent a letter to state attorneys general warning that laws and policies that prevent individuals from receiving gender-affirming medical care might be an infringement on a person’s constitutional rights.

REDEFINING RIOT

The Alabama House of Representatives approved a bill that would create a new crime of assault of a first-responder and change the definition of riot in state law. The bill defines a riot as “the assemblage of five or more persons engaging in conduct which creates an immediate danger of and/or results in damage to property or injury to persons.” The legislation is pending in Senate committee. Rep. Allen Treadaway, a retired Birmingham assistant police chief, proposed the bill after a protest turned violent in Birmingham in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis. Opposed lawmakers say the definition of a riot is subjective, and an officer could make arrests based on his or her presumptions about the people involved.