Changes to emergency declarations and contact tracing ready for Senate consideration

Several bills are making their way through the Legislature that would alter Alabama’s processes during a state of emergency or spread of an infectious disease.

EMERGENCY DECLARATION
SB 97 by Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, and HB241 by Rep. Mike Holmes, R-Wetumpka, would give the Legislature more authority for extending public health emergencies. Under the companion bills, the State Health Officer’s emergency declarations must be approved by the governor and filed with Secretary of State to have the full effect of law. Governor-approved health officer declarations would end after 14 days and could only be extended by a joint resolution of the Legislature or a joint proclamation from the Senate President Pro Tempore and the Speaker of the House, when the Legislature isn’t in session.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Whatley’s bill on a 7-4 vote Feb. 3. The bill awaits action by the full Senate. The House State Government Committee has not yet taken up the House version.

CONTACT TRACING
Legislation ready for Senate consideration would make cooperation in COVID-19 contact tracing voluntary. The Senate Healthcare Committee on Wednesday gave unanimous approval to SB1 by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur. Under the bill, anyone who refuses or fails to cooperate in contact tracing would be immune from liability arising from that refusal.

Orr said people should not be required to tell contact tracers with whom they have associated or been around.

Other key provisions of the bill include:

  • Information collected through contact tracing must be used only for that purpose, kept confidential and not disclosed;
  • Information must be destroyed when no longer needed for contact tracing;
  • People working as contact tracers must receive training and must acknowledge that they are familiar with the confidentiality protections in the legislation.

OTHER PENDING BILLS

County Health Orders: SB184 by Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, prohibits county health officers from issuing a health order, during a state of emergency, if the State Health Officer has already issued a statewide order. The bill has been referred to the Senate Healthcare Committee.

Vaccinations: HB278 by Rep. Ritchie Whorton, R-Owens Cross Roads, repeals the law authorizing cities to compel vaccinations through an ordinance. It prohibits employers from taking adverse action against an employee based on an employee’s immunization status and creates a cause of action against employers. It also allows Alabamians to opt out of mandatory vaccination programs based on their religious views, if they have medical conditions or based on “sincerely held personal beliefs.” The bill has been assigned to the House Health Committee.

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