Special Session Review: Legislature Adopts New District Maps and Approves COVID-19 Vaccine Exemption for Employees

BCA Governmental Affairs Staff

BCA Governmental Affairs Staff

The Alabama Legislature convened in special session on October 28 to focus on one of its primary responsibilities, the re-drawing of district lines for the Alabama Legislature, Congressional delegation and State Board of Education. After making quick work of new district maps and approving an $80 million supplemental appropriation to support healthcare services in the state, the legislature quickly turned its attention to bills that allow employees to opt-out of mandated vaccine requirements.

Redistricting and Healthcare Appropriation

Four bills were approved by the Legislature which redrew Alabama’s House, Senate, Congressional and State Board of Education districts based on the Census data accumulated in 2020. HB 1 and HB 2, by Rep. Chris Pringle (R-Mobile), dealt with the proposed Congressional and State House of Representative districts. SB 1 and SB 2, by Sen. Jim McClendon (R-Springville), dealt with proposed State Senate and School Board of Education districts. All four bills have been signed into law by the Governor.

Links to all four maps approved by the Legislature can be found below:

The legislature also approved a supplemental appropriation of $80 million to the Department of Finance that will be re-directed to support the delivery of healthcare and related services. These funds will be distributed through the Alabama Hospital Association and the Alabama Nursing Home Association in accordance with a memorandum of agreement with the two organizations.

Vaccine Mandate Bills

The legislature worked late into Thursday evening before adjourning sine die after approving SB 9, sponsored by Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Daphne), that provides automatic exemptions, with few exemptions, for employees who claim an exemption, based on medical or religious beliefs, from an employer’s COVID-19 vaccination policy. A link to SB 9 can be found here.

Another bill, Senate Bill 15, by Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) was approved and will prohibit COVID-19 vaccinations for minors without parental consent. A link to SB 15 can be found here.

Much of the attention of the session focused on efforts by the House and Senate Republican super-majority caucuses to pass legislation that would make it easier for employees to obtain exemptions from COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Several pieces of anti-vaccine mandate legislation were introduced, but SB 9 quickly became the favored vehicle of the House and Senate leadership. The bill was broadly opposed by BCA and many other statewide business groups because of its negative impact on employers which included the removal of the rights of businesses to make personnel decisions. The passing of this state legislation could potentially be in conflict with the federal vaccine mandate released by the Biden administration. This conflict has the ability to cause confusion among those included in the federal mandate with no clear direction on how to comply.  

SB 9 provides a COVID-19 vaccination exemption to any employee who completes, signs and submits a form based on medical and religious beliefs to their employer. SB 9 places Alabama employers, particularly federal contractors, in a no-win position by forcing them to attempt to comply with existing rules and requirements issued by federal agencies and a new state statute that attempts to preempt federal law.

As approved by the Legislature, SB 9 will:

BCA emphasized to the Legislature its confidence in employers to make sensible decisions that are fair to its workers. In addition, BCA communicated to members of the legislature that federal contractors have no choice in complying with a federally required vaccine mandate. Failure to comply will result in the threat of loss of current and future contracts which will result in the termination of jobs. The passage of SB 9 now puts Alabama in the unfortunate position of no longer being a full “employment at-will” state.

A final version of SB 9 and its original list of co-sponsors can be found here.

The list of how Senate and House members voted on the final version SB 9 can be found in the links below:

House Final Vote on SB 9

Senate Final Vote on SB 9

Governor Ivey signed SB 9 and SB 15 into law on Nov. 5. Her statement can be found here.

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