Alabama Legislature

Alabama House Passes Controversial Bills During Contentious Day of Debate

Photo by Caroline Beck, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY — A day full of contentious bills in the House of Representatives Thursday was paired with multiple motions to cut off debate, which many Democratic members said were “unjust.”

Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, said at one point during the debate that the cloture motions were taking away her right to debate on legislation.

“You’ve taken all my voice away when you give up that cloture,” Moore said.

House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter said the motions were necessary to keep Democrats from dragging out debate in an effort to delay or kill legislation.

Here’s a look what happened Thursday.

Transgender-Youth Sports Ban Passes House

A bill that would require transgender youth to play sports according to their sex assigned at birth instead of how they choose to identify passed the Alabama House of Representatives on Thursday.

House Bill 391 is sponsored by Rep. Scott Stadthagen, R-Hartselle, who said the idea was to protect biological females in the state.

“It is unfair for biological males to compete against females in high school sports,” Stadthagen said on the House floor. “As a father of a daughter and (on) behalf of every female athlete in our state, I’m proud to stand here with HB391”

The bill 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.

The finale vote on the bill was 74-19, falling along party lines.

Many Democrats spoke against the bill for more than an hour during floor debate, saying it would hurt transgender youth. Rep. Neil Rafferty, D-Birmingham, said those children and teens were watching the lawmakers’ debate.

“There are kids watching this who are asking, ‘Why are they targeting and singling me out?’” Rafferty said.

Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, said the bill ultimately would hurt vulnerable trans-youth who already are facing difficulties in their lives.

“What you are adding to these young people is psychological problems that they are going through anyway,” Moore said.

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.

Rep. Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, said he thinks the bill is not needed since the AHSAA policy is in place and that this will be challenged in the courts due to Title IX federal protections.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

Born-Alive Abortion Bill Passes

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

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

“This bill does not restrict abortion in any way,” Shaver said. “We did that already, this has to do with some aftereffects when an abortion takes place.”

An amendment was approved that would make it a Class A felony for a physician to violate the law. The crime could be punishable with no less than 20 years in prison or a fine no less than $100,000.

The final vote on the bill was 76-12 with 10 members abstaining. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Rep. Neil Rafferty, D-Birmingham, opposed the bill, saying federal law already provided criminal penalties. He said he wished the Legislature focused more on decreasing infant and maternal mortality in the state.

“I think that this is already the law and I don’t see how it is not,” Rafferty said. “I wish we were dealing with the fact that we have a lot of other big issues here that deal with a lack of access to care.”

Shaver said she had heard stories second-hand about babies being alive after failed abortions in Alabama and doctors not taking necessary measures to save the child.

Rep. Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville, supports the bill and said the legislation was about protecting the most vulnerable in society.

“I find it reprehensible that anybody who calls themselves a doctor would deny lifesaving treatment to a baby,” Kiel said.

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

Anti-Rioting Bill Passes

A bill that would increase penalties for those who participate in riots and change the definition of a riot passed the House Thursday on a party-line vote. Republicans said the measure is necessary to prevent some of the violence like what erupted in the wake of the killing of George Floyd last year. Democrats said the bill would end up hurting peaceful protestors.

House Bill 445 is sponsored by Rep. Allen Treadaway, a retired Birmingham assistant police chief. He said it was in reaction to protests that happened last summer but would not inhibit first amendment rights to protest.

“We went to great lengths to make sure your first amendment rights were protected, even going so far as changing existing definitions that are currently in law,” Treadaway said.

The bill now defines a riot as “the assemblage of five or more persons resulting in conduct which creates an immediate danger of damage to property or injury to persons.”

The new definition takes out any mention of protestors obstructing law enforcement or other government functions. Treadaway said obstructing governmental functions is already punishable by state law.

The bill also says that if a person receives an order to disperse or is in violation of a curfew, the person is intentionally participating in a riot.

The bill passed with a final vote of 74-25. It now goes to the Senate.

Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, voted against the bill and evoked memories of the 1965 civil rights protests in which protestors often were beaten and arrested for peacefully protesting in Alabama.

“I’m worried this will be used as a tool to keep people from the fabric that this country is made of,” Coleman said. “When we feel that this government hasn’t treated us right, we go out in the streets and march in the streets to change those injustices.”

Multiple Democratic members said more efforts should be taken to bridge the trust gap between law enforcement and minority communities.

“We’re using this to avoid the conversation on police accountability,” Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, said. “We’re passing bills on prosecuting protestors because we don’t want to face the truth.”

The bill also stipulates that if a municipality decides to reduce its law enforcement budget by more than 50%, it may not be eligible to receive grants, gifts or any other sum of money from the state. This does not apply if the agency employs 20 officers or less, which Treadaway says is most agencies in Alabama.