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No votes on virus liability, health officer power bills

May 6, 2020 GMT

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama lawmakers will not vote this session on controversial proposals that would limit the state health officer’s powers and another to give immunity to companies for coronavirus-related lawsuits, the Republican leader of the Alabama Senate said Wednesday.

The bills are expected to return in the next legislative session after this one was cut short because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said lawmakers agreed to limit the abbreviated legislative session to state budgets, local bills and a school bond issue. Marsh said House members expressed concern Wednesday about expanding the session to other topics.

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“We’ve decided to just stick to the budgets, the bond issue and local bills,” Marsh said in a telephone interview.

The proposal by Republican Sen. Arthur Orr of Decatur would shield businesses

churches and others from coronavirus exposure liability unless the lawsuit proved the entity caused the damages, injury, or death by “acting with wanton, reckless, willful, or intentional misconduct.”

“It is a limited immunity bill,” Orr told senators Wednesday.

Orr said businesses, churches and other entities are concerned about the possibility of a multitude of lawsuits.

Orr said he will bring the bill back in the next session.

A bill by Republican Sen. Tom Whatley of Auburn would require the governor to sign off on the state health officer’s orders during a virus outbreak. The bill would also require legislative approval to extend any state of emergency issued by the governor beyond 14 days. The approval could be done by joint resolution of the Legislature or joint proclamation of House and Senate leaders.

“This bill simply improves the system of checks and balances in the state when a state of emergency has been declared,” Whatley said

Marsh, who is a co-sponsor of the bill, said the legislation will likely be addressed in a later session.

“I’ve been one of those that think we went too far too soon,” Marsh said.

A House committee on Wednesday advanced the state general fund budget. Marsh said lawmakers hope to conclude the session Saturday.

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