Local lawmakers’ views vary on next steps after Roe v. Wade overturned
By Bayne Hughes
For the Enquirer
Members of the Morgan County legislative delegation, attending a legislative update forum Thursday, had varying views on whether a 2019 state ban on abortions that took effect last week after Roe v. Wade was overturned should be amended to include exceptions for rape and incest.
Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, sponsored the 2019 law. With some exceptions related to the health of the mother or the certainty of the child’s death immediately after birth, the law would ban abortions from the point of conception. An abortion provider violating the ban would be guilty of a Class A felony.
The law was blocked in 2019 by a federal court, but took effect last Friday when the U.S. Supreme Court overruled Roe in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
Collins has previously said the purpose of her law was to get the Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade, and that she preferred legislation that banned abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detectable, with exceptions for rape and incest.
On Thursday, she was ambivalent about her plans now that the court has overturned Roe v. Wade.
“I’m so pleased,” Collins said of last Friday’s Supreme Court decision. “After a decades-old fight, it’s a real answer to a prayer and culmination of a lot of hard work since 1973 (when Roe v. Wade was decided). Right now, we just need to celebrate life and see how everything unfolds. We don’t go into session again until March.”
Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said it’s his understanding there may need to be some clarifications made to the 2019 law and he’s not sure how the state will proceed.
“The legal community is going to have to weigh in and the prosecutorial community will need to get some clarifications,” Orr said.
Rep. Parker Moore, R-Hartselle, said he does expect changes in the next legislative session.
“They’re working on some changes that will include possible exceptions for rape and incest,” Moore said.
But Rep. Scott Stadthagen, R-Hartselle, disagreed.
“I do not see the Legislature making any changes,” Stadthagen said. “I think we will leave it as it is. Everybody I’ve talked to feels comfortable with the law that we have.”
The delegation on Thursday answered questions at the forum sponsored by the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce and spoke about a number of state and local issues. The questions were submitted to the chamber prior to the event and read by Keith Ferguson, of Athens State University.
Much of Thursday’s discussion involved laws passed in this year’s session.
• Collins said a law she thinks will have a significant impact is one that gives tax relief of up to $6,000 on income from deferred compensation plans, such as 401(k)s.
“You’re not taxed in your retirement plan, but you’re fully taxed on your other income,” she said.
• Collins said the elimination of the business privilege tax will help the business community.
“A lot of time you paid more to your accountant to figure that out than you actually paid in taxes,” she said.
• Orr said a bill that changes the requirements for unemployment compensation will help businesses find more employees during the ongoing worker shortage.
Previously, unemployed people only had to show that they logged in online once a week and applied for a job. The new law increases this number to three times a week, although Orr wanted this number to be five times a week.
“They beat me down to three times a week,” Orr said. “But there is a small nudge to start an audit feature in which the Alabama Department of Labor checks to make sure the unemployed are following the rules.”
Moore said he’s hearing that people are scheduling interviews to fulfill the requirements and then not showing up for them.
“Somebody needs to add incentives for people to get a job,” Moore said.
Stadthagen said one of his priorities for the next session is getting people back to work and addressing the issue of people scheduling interviews and then not showing up.
• With the passage of the bill that eliminates the requirement for gun permits, the delegation was asked how it will help sheriffs’ offices with the loss of revenue.
Moore said the new law allows sheriffs to apply for state funds — $5 million statewide — to compensate for the funding loss from permit fees.
“There’s a misconception that this is going to create the wild, wild West,” Moore said.
A new state database is under development to help officers flag people who are prohibited from possessing a handgun.
“This puts in a place where it will flag a person who’s been convicted of a felony so the officer automatically knows what he’s facing when dealing with this person,” Moore said.
Stadthagen said people will still have to purchase a gun permit if they plan to take their gun to neighboring states.
• Orr said a law he sponsored that delays English Language Learner students ‘ achievement test scores from affecting the performance markers used to assign letter grades to schools from one year to five years will eliminate an unfair disadvantage to school systems like Decatur with a high number of ELL students.
“Test scores are important for economic growth,” Orr said.
• Moore said mental health is a big issue for him, and he lauded the $62 million allocated by the state to this issue over the past two years. He said he’s working with a UAB Medicine Huntsville professor on creating a residency program for psychology students in this area.
“We don’t have a psychology residency in this area and studies show that students tend to stay in areas where they graduate from,” Moore said.
The lawmakers also discussed plans for future legislation.
• On the issue of providing additional state funding for school systems to hire more school resource officers, Collins said a 2018 task force on SROs that she chaired recommended that school systems and local law enforcement partner by providing the funding locally instead of depending on state funding.
All of the legislators said a third Tennessee River bridge from Decatur to Limestone County is a priority. Orr said another priority is widening the four-lane section of Interstate 565 just east of County Line Road.
Orr said he’s also working with Decatur on getting funding to help with the Alabama 67-Upper River Road intersection realignment.
Orr said inflation has not impacted state sales and income tax revenues “for a variety of reasons, but I do anticipate it will hit us eventually.”
Collins said they’re working on a bill to get more new nurses into the workforce faster. This includes allowing students to be employed to engage in some nursing activities while they work on their nursing degrees. She and Orr said Calhoun and Athens State are ramping up their nursing programs to meet the area’s needs.
Moore said the state is still working on guidelines on how it can spend American Recovery Plan Act funds before there’s a decision on whether a special session of the Legislature will be called.
Orr said the original goal for the session was August, but that date is doubtful now.