Friday, May 21, 2021

Legislative Session ends with top priorities met for trucking

The 2021 Alabama Legislature Regular Legislative Session ended earlier this week with some big wins and interesting developments that will impact Alabama businesses for years to come.

Like other business state organizations, our top priorities for the session, which we outlined back in February, included: 

  • SB 30Renewing economic development incentives
  • HB 102 – Passing COVID-19 liability protection
  • HB 170 – Expanding CARES Act tax relief

We are pleased to report that each of these measures was enacted thanks to the guidance and support of Gov. Kay Ivey and the legislature.

Meanwhile, Alabama Trucking Association leaders worked with and supported the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s (ALEA) effort to get a federally required update to Alabama law related to Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT). In short, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is requiring additional requirements for ELDT under Section 380 and ALEA is responsible for enforcing these requirements beginning February 7, 2022.

Our team worked closely with Sen. Kirk Hatcher (D-Montgomery) and Rep. Connie Rowe (R-Jasper) to pass SB 322 to conform Alabama law to align with the federal standards that will enhance safety and training at CDL programs.

Of other interest to truckers, Gov. Ivey signed a corresponding $7.67 billion Education Trust Fund budget. The budgets will boost the state’s investment in electric vehicles in two ways: a $2 million grant program for electric vehicle infrastructure and planning housed at the Alabama Dept. of Economic and Community Affairs, as well as $1 million for an electric vehicle technology education program.

The biggest news outside of the industry came on the final day of the session when Gov. Kay Ivey announced that she had signed medical marijuana legislation into law.

After thorough and extended consideration in the legislature, SB 46 by Sen. Tim Melson (R-Florence) had been pending with the governor since May 6. In the ensuing days, speculation had focused on the possibility that she would allow it to become law without her signature. Running to more than a hundred pages, Act 2021-450 is extremely comprehensive, specifically addressing everything from recommendation limits (conditions, dosage, delivery method), production and dispensary rules, to establishing a governing commission and detailed employer protections. 

Among protections for employers, key provisions include:

  • Employees and/or their dependents are ineligible for workers’ compensation benefits if the injury or death resulted from the employees’ impairment by medical cannabis. 
  • Health insurance plans are not obligated to cover medical cannabis treatment. 
  • Employers are not required to allow employees to use medical cannabis and are allowed to consider medical cannabis use in hiring/firing/disciplinary decisions.
  • Employers are not prohibited from establishing or enforcing a drug testing policy.
  • The new state law does not supersede federal restrictions on employment and does not create a cause of action against employers due to an employee’s use of medical cannabis.
  • The drug-free workplace discount on workers’ compensation premiums is preserved.
  • Employers retain the right to deny payment of workers’ compensation benefits due to a positive drug test. 

In economic development news, the House started Monday by concurring with Senate changes to the proposed Alabama Rural, Agribusiness and Opportunity Zone Jobs Act. HB 473 by Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) is now pending with the governor.

The bill would establish a $50 million pool of capital that must be invested in small businesses in rural and economically impoverished (opportunity zones and low-income census tracts) communities. It would also set targets for investing in minority-owned businesses. 

Federal SSBCI grants from the American Rescue Plan would be used to match private sector investments on a 1:1 ratio to raise capital for the fund, which would, in turn, be invested by fund managers into small businesses with growth potential. Access to capital is one of the primary barriers faced by entrepreneurs in rural and impoverished areas and for minority businesses.

Please click here for a full wrap of the session from our lobbying team at Fine Geddie & Associates.