Alabama Legislature

House Passes Bill Requiring Pre-K and Community Corrections, Aniah’s Law and Others

The empty House chamber in Alabama’s State House. (Photo by Caroline Beck, Alabama Daily News)

Here’s a rundown of legislative action in the Alabama House of Representatives Tuesday.

Mandatory Kindergarten 

A bill that would require children to go through kindergarten, or take an assessment, before they move on to the first grade passed the House on Tuesday.

The final vote for House Bill 208 was 83-17.

Bill sponsor Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said more needs to be done to better prepare Alabama students.

“We need to make sure that we’re doing what we’re supposed to do so that every child in Alabama has a strong path to follow so they can be successful in life,” Warren said.

Rep. Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville, said he is worried that this bill is taking choices away from parents.

“I take issue with us suggesting that a parent does not know the best path forward for the education of their child,” Kiel said.

Warren explained that parents don’t have to send a child into a kindergarten classroom, but children do have to pass an assessment showing they meet the requirements to go into the first grade.

An amendment by Rep. Danny Garret, R-Trussville, passed that would make the State Department of Education create the qualifying assessment instead of allowing each district to create its own.

Another amendment from Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, was passed that makes the law go into effect immediately when approved.

Aniah’s Law

The House passed unanimously the two bills related to denying bail for those accused of committing violent crimes. The proposal, known as “Aniah’s Law,” is named after Aniah Blanchard, whose alleged killer was free on bond when she was kidnapped after an arrest for battery in 2019.

The bill would deny bail for murder, first-degree assault, first-degree kidnapping, first-degree rape, first-degree sodomy, sexual torture, first-degree domestic violence, first-degree human trafficking, first-degree burglary, first-degree arson, first-degree robbery, terrorism and aggravated child abuse.

House Bill 131, sponsored by Rep. Chip Brown, R-Mobile, is a constitutional amendment and, if passed by the Senate, would have to be approved by a majority of Alabama voters in the next statewide election.

Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, who is a family friend of the Blanchard family, supports the bill and hopes it helps avoid future tragedies.

“No family should go through what this family has gone through,” Coleman said.

Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights

The House passed unanimously legislation that would create a sexual assault survivor “bill of rights” and set a requirement for how long law enforcement must preserve evidence from sexual assault cases.

Brown is also sponsoring House Bill 137, which also would help provide financial compensation to cover medical costs related to sexual assault evidence kits.

An amendment was added to the bill that would allow health insurers to pay for the medical costs if the victim had qualifying insurance.

The bill also sets up a Sexual Assault Task Force responsible for developing and implementing best practices regarding the care and treatment of survivors and the preservation of evidence. An amendment was approved that included a person from the Department of Human Resources on the task force.

Community Corrections

House Bill 73, from Rep. Jim Hill, R-Odenville, passed the House on an 88-9 vote and requires community corrections programs statewide.

The bill requires each judicial circuit to establish a community corrections program in at least one county in the circuit. Hill is a former circuit judge in St. Clair County and helped create the community correction program there.

Some Democratic members took issue with why the program included the wording “punishment” when the programing should be more focused on helping “correct” a person. Hill explained that was simply the name of the programming in state law.

Those who voted against the bill include Reps. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville, Arnold Mooney, R-Birmingham, Wes Allen, R-Troy, David Wheeler, R-Vestavia Hills, Alan Treadaway, R-Birmingham, Connie Rowe, R-Jasper, John Rogers, D-Birmingham and Chris Sells, R-Greenville.

Local School Board Accountability 

A bill to require leadership and training standards for members of local school boards was carried over by request of the bill sponsor Tuesday after multiple members expressed concern about it unfairly hurting board members.

House Bill 338 is sponsored by Rep. Tracy Estes, R-Winfield, a former Winfield Board of Education member who explained that the bill gives “teeth” to the current state requirements already in place for board members.

The bill also provides for the removal of members who miss too many meetings or don’t comply with the law.

The bill would allow the State Board of Education to adopt a model code of conduct for members of local boards of education and require each local board of education to adopt a code of conduct that includes at a minimum the state’s model. The bill also says the state superintendent of education shall develop continuing education and training programs for board members “to enhance the understanding of the role of each board member in assuring the effective provision of educational services.”

Board members who don’t follow aspects of the new law could be censured, sanctioned or removed from office.

Estes said the bill was created in collaboration with the Alabama School Board Association, the State Superintendents Association, the State Department of Education and other education groups.

A fiscal note about the bill’s possible cost to taxpayers was not available Tuesday on the Legislature’s website.

Rep. Jamie Kiel, R-Trussville, took issue with the bill, saying that voters who elected school board members should be the ones who hold members accountable.

“As elected officials, we have that accountability now and it is through constituents that sent us there,” Kiel said. “If I’m not doing something that pleases them, they let me know that.”