Jackson County’s Legislative Delegation is comprised of Senator Steve Livingston, Representative Tommy Haynes and Representative Ritchie Whorton. The Alabama Senate convened on February 2, 2021, or the second Tuesday of February each year. Legally, the Senate is required to be in session each Tuesday, Wednesday for meetings and Thursday for 130 days and should adjourn on May 30, 2021.
The Alabama State Legislature is responsible for redistricting, the process of drawing new congressional and state legislative district boundaries, every 10 years following the completion of the United States Census. As part of the 2021 legislative session, the lines will be redrafted and enacted after the final Census numbers come through in September.
“There’s a possibility that if our numbers don’t come back strong that Alabama could lose a congressional seat,” Livingston stated. “The legislative districts could change a little bit based on population in that district. I fully expect that Jackson County is probably maintained.”
Because of COVID, legislators were not able to complete several things last year, and they made sure they were completed early on this year. The first of those are economic development bills that expired last year. As of this year’s session, they have already been passed, ensuring industry recruiting tools are up to date and in place with current language.
Second, the Senate also passed lawsuit immunity on frivolous COVID cases, protecting persons and their businesses from someone claiming to have caught the virus on their premises or from one of their employees.
Third, the state tax has also been removed from the CARES Act and stimulus funds that came in from the federal government.
Senator Del Marsh has been working on a Gaming Bill, with the introduction being rewritten and reformatted. Many constituents in Jackson and DeKalb counties on the state line, have made known their wish to be able to vote on the lottery.
Livingston stated, “There are so many folks who go across the state lines and buy their lottery tickets. The question is, what else are they buying while they’re there? Gas, food, groceries?”
Attached to the lottery bill is a casino in Jackson or DeKalb County operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Unlike the other three casinos currently in operation in Alabama, and because this proposed casino would not be on tribal lands, the facility would be just like any other business and subject to taxes.
“It’s going to take a bill change, so it’s going to take a little while to look at it when it comes back out to see. Ultimately, if it passes the legislature, it will go to a vote of the people as the final say.”
Before COVID shut everything down, the Medical Marijuana Act was passed out last year for consideration. Legislators were able to witness a family give CBD oil to their daughter, who was convulsing in their gallery, and witness the immediate relief the oil provided. This act was passed in the Alabama Senate last week with its next stop being The House.
The Simplified Sellers Use Tax (SSUT) has also been a “savior” for local communities and Jackson County. The SSUT operates on the taxation of internet sales, such as clothes, items, or food from the grocery store for your grocery pick-up or when ordering from a restaurant. Anything purchased online goes back to the community from these taxes. Two years ago, Jackson County pulled in $500,000. Last year, the total was around $800,000. As of February, $500,000 has come in so far in this fiscal year. If this amount stays consistent, the average should be upwards of one-million dollars for FY 2021. Of the 8% tax from the SSUT, four percent of these funds goes to the state, two goes to the counties, and the remaining two is split with municipalities.
Another bill, Senate Bill 97 (SB97) has not moved since February 3, 2021. The bill states that under the current law, the Governor must declare a state of emergency via the Legislature by joint resolution or proclamation and that unless extended by the same measures, will terminate after 60 days.
SB97 proposes the state of emergency would terminate after 14 days, instead of 60, and may be extended only on the following conditions: ‘’Joint resolution of the Legislature, or if the Legislature is not in session, by joint proclamation of the President Pro Tempore of the senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.”
The bill also states that, “An order or directive issued by the State Health Officer relating to the outbreak of a disease of pandemic has the full force and effect of law once it is approved by the Governor and a copy is filed with the Office of the Secretary of State.”
Should a proclamation of a state of emergency be issued, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, the Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker of the House of Representatives may request in writing the Governor call the Legislature into special session.
“Under existing law, during a state of emergency, the Governor may file with the Secretary of State an order or other directive that has the effect of suspending a law, ordinance, rule or regulation once the Governor files the directive with the Secretary of State.”
Under SB97, a copy of a directive to suspend a law would have to be provided to the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives by the Governor 48 hours before the directive takes effect. The exceptions being, the Governor determines delaying 48 hours would result in imminent threat to human life.
Currently, Alabama is suffering under record unemployment. Among other requests, the Legislative Delegation also help with unemployment benefits, especially those related to COVID. Veterans needing assistance with federal issues with the VA and the hospitals have also sought assistance with them.
“We put them in touch with whoever they need to talk to in Congress, based on where they live,” stated Livingston. “We do a little of everything, and we’re happy to help with anything we can. It’s really kind of neat just to get to help folks.”
The Jackson County Legislative Delegation is located in downtown Scottsboro at 100 East Peachtree Street, and their phone is 256.218.3090.
by Martha Smith