Law allows businesses and churches to stay open in certain emergencies under same guidelines

Act No. 2021-160
by Rep. Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville

Beginning July 1, 2021, businesses and places of worship can continue to operate in a pandemic, epidemic or bioterrorism event, as long as they comply with safety precautions issued by the governor, a state agency or a local government. The Alabama State House also can remain open to the public while the Legislature is in session during a declared emergency, under Act No. 2021-160.

The governor signed the legislation by Rep. Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville, into law Tuesday, April 7, 2021.

All businesses or places of worship have to be treated equally,” Kiel said during debate. “If the rule is six feet apart and masked, a business or church can remain open under same the rule.”

In a statement after the bill’s passage, he said, “This bill creates a level playing field for all businesses so that if one business can be open under certain guidelines that are sent down by the governor, then all businesses could be open under those same guidelines. This legislation gives Alabamians confidence that all businesses and religious institutions who follow proper guidelines will be able to stay open in future public health outbreaks.”

Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, who carried the bill in the Senate, told senators, “If you’re a small business person, this is your No. 1 bill.” Gudger and his family own Alabama Retail Association member Southern Accents, an architectural antiques and salvage business in downtown Cullman. “This legislation ensures that small businesses in future pandemics won’t be told that they aren’t essential enough to stay open,” he said in a statement.

Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, who served as chairman of the Small Business Commission Emergency Task Force created in the response to COVID-19, earlier said, “what (the task force) found was that by forcing consumers into a few large locations, the state created superspreading events.” He said if more businesses had stayed open, adherence to guidelines would have been better.

The law also makes it so “the governor cannot use the Alabama Emergency Management Act of 1955 to preclude this law,” Kiel said.