By CAROLINE BECK Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama House of Representatives trudged through a substantial calendar of bills on Tuesday.
PTSD compensation for first responders, consumer protection during natural disasters, Habitual Offender Act changes, election audits, Tier II retirement benefits for state police, and law enforcement phone tapping were among the bills that passed.
Here’s a full rundown.
PTSD compensation for first responders
A bill that would require cities and county governments to reimburse for certain co-payments related to post traumatic stress disorder treatment for law enforcement officers and firefighters passed the House unanimously on Tuesday.
House Bill 212 from Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Daphne, is meant to help first responders get the necessary help they need, Simpson said.
“It’s to combat the ongoing mental health crisis that we have and the number of suicides we have in law enforcement and firefighters as well to bridge that gap and get treatment to those who definitely need it,” Simpson told ADN.
The bill also allows for first responders to receive up to 24 months of disability benefits if they are unable to work due to their condition.
The bill has 23 co-sponsors including House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia. The legislation has also received support from the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, the Alabama League of Municipalities, the Alabama State Fraternal Order of Police and the Professional Fire Fighters of Alabama.
Post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental disorders are not covered under Alabama’s workers’ compensation laws.
Rep. Tommy Hanes, R-Bryant, offered an amendment that would allow volunteer firefighters to be covered in the legislation, but the amendment was not passed.
Simpson said the bill had to start small in its scope of coverage in order to prove to counties and cities that the reimbursements would not bankrupt them but told members he will work on future legislation to include volunteer firefighters and dispatchers.
Consumer Protection during natural disasters
House Bill 27, also sponsored by Simpson, enhances the criminal penalties for home repair fraud that occurred during a state of emergency to a Class C felony.
The bill passed the House with a vote of 99-1 with the only no vote from Rep. Andrew Sorrell, R-Muscle Shoals.
Simpson said the bill is meant to help protect Alabamians from bad actors entering the state after natural disasters damage homes.
“This protects our citizens and protects our people from being victims of someone who comes in and preys on them by faking that they have a licensee or pressuring them into these services to get something off their home,” Simpson said.
The bill creates the Alabama State of Emergency Consumer Protection Act and can involve anyone whose home received more than $10,000 in damages.
Lawmakers from Mobile and Baldwin counties co-sponsored the bill and the same legislation passed the House last year with a 97-2 vote, but the coronavirus pandemic prevented it from moving to the Senate.
House Bill 24 from Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, would allow for certain individuals convicted of a nonviolent crime prior to Oct. 1, 2013 under the Habitual Felony Offender Act to be eligible for resentencing. It passed the House 63-33 with one abstention.
House Bill 116 from Rep. David Standridge, R-Hayden, authorizes a one-time post-election audit after the Nov. 8, 2022 general election. It passed the House 84-9.
Standridge said the bill is to prepare the state for if any federal legislation passes asking states to conduct audits for the next general election.
“This is to try to develop best practices and procedures because we know this is something Congress has been working on, on both sides of the aisle,” Standridge said.
The audit would involve three different counties and would be conducted on only one statewide office and one county office in each of the three counties.
Several Democrats had issues with the bill, including Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, who has sponsored several bills aimed at opening up more early voting opportunities.
“If there is funding for these audits, there should be funding for early voting,” Jackson said.
House Bill 79 from Rep. Phillip Pettus, R-Killen, modifies the Tier II retirement benefits for state police to receive full benefits after 25-years of creditable service. It passed the House unanimously.
Another bill sponsored by Pettus, House Bill 81, would allow hazardous duty time to be calculated for in-service death benefits for firefighters, law enforcement officers and correctional officers even if they have not reached 25 years of service, also passed the House unanimously.
House Bill 17 from Rep. Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, would allow local police to tap phone calls and online communications without involving federal law enforcement if there is probable cause to believe the person involved “is committing, has committed, or is about to commit certain felony drug offenses.”
The bill passed the House with a 80-14 vote with five abstentions.
The Alabama attorney general would have to approve the wiretapping.
Rep. Andy Whitt, R-Harvest, Rep. Proncey Robertson, R-Mt. Hope, and Rep. Shane Stringer, R-Citronelle, are co-sponsors on the bill.