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Legislature moves redistricting process forward; Anti-vaccine mandate bills advance Senate committee

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Legislature on Monday began debate on new congressional, legislative and state school board district maps redrawn in accordance with 2020 U.S. Census Bureau statistics.

In addition to the legislature initiating the redistricting process, lawmakers are also poised to take up debate on two anti-vaccine mandate bills which passed through committee in the upper chamber. A proposed appropriations measure relating to costs associated with COVID-19 will also make its way through the legislative process.

Redistricting

The Alabama House of Representatives late Monday afternoon passed the state’s new congressional map. As currently drawn, Republicans control the state’s congressional delegation by a six-to-one margin, with the lone Democrat-represented district, Alabama’s seventh congressional district, currently being occupied by U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell’s (R-Birmingham).

Under the newly-drawn proposal, the state will maintain its one minority-majority congressional district.

Some Democrats advocated for the creation of an additional congressional district to contain a substantial amount of minority voters. Republicans contended that as drawn, the state’s current demographic racial makeup is reflected with the new proposal.

Under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, minority voters must have fair representation when new district lines are created. Republicans maintain that as proposed, the redrawn lines sustain compliance with the law.

While lines were altered, no major changes were brought about in the process as each district will maintain current shape.

A similar debate occurred as both chambers considered the legislature’s new district maps. Democrats alleged that the process was done in a way which protected the supermajority that Republicans hold in the legislature. Republicans pushed back against the accusation.

An additional effort undertaken was the effort to make counties and precincts whole to make representation simple to not have localities split between multiple legislators. Accompanying that was the intention of setting no more than a plus or minus deviation of 5% in determining the number of constituents each legislator represents.

Both the House and Senate passed its respective body’s refreshed legislative district maps and will now head to their counterparts in the opposite chamber. As the Senate passed the updated state school board map, the lower chamber is expected to address the matter on Tuesday.

Pandemic Funding

Legislation not related to the redistricting process passed both chambers, which concerned appropriating American Rescue Plan funding toward reimbursing health care providers for pandemic-related costs. If passed and signed into law, the bill would split the $80 million between state hospitals and nursing homes.

Vaccine Mandates

Two bills relating to combatting President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates were considered by the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee.

Senate Bill 9, authored by State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Daphne), prohibits employers from forcing COVID-19 vaccination upon workers who complete a form indicating that they hold objections on the basis of either medical or religious reasons.

While receiving criticism from Democrats, who argued that it allows employees to claim objection without confirmation, the bill received a favorable report from the committee.

In a conversation with Yellowhammer News, Elliott outlined what he saw as the need to protect workers from receiving the vaccine should it conflict with their religious beliefs or physical wellbeing.

“While the federal government has mandated this, they have not really said anything about the exceptions and exemptions that exist,” Elliott noted. “So what we’re trying to do is make sure that that is clear, and that employers know that if their employees or folks that have employment,” relating to subcontractors and related individuals, “that those folks have the right to simply claim a medical or religious exemption.”

The legislation was a substitute from an original bill Elliott drafted which was altered upon consultation with interested parties. The proposed bill is expected to garner pushback from some in the business community.

As a businessman himself, the senator contended that citizens’ liberty should prevail in the issue.

“I am a businessman, I am a longstanding supporter of the business community… but I believe individual rights come first,” Elliott declared.

Senate Bill 15, sponsored by State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), was the second piece of legislation that received the committee’s blessing. The bill was designed to solidify language and further strengthen the state’s ban against vaccine passports.

Additionally, the bill would ensure parental consent for minors is required concerning COVID-19 vaccination.

The senators are hopeful that the upper chamber will take up the bills for consideration during Tuesday’s reconvening. As the legislation was not included in Gov. Kay Ivey’s special session call, both bills require a two-thirds majority for passage.

Both chambers will reconvene Tuesday morning as the legislature looks to take up further debate on the decennial process of redistricting, along with pandemic relief funding and anti-vaccine mandate legislation.

Yellowhammer News will continue to monitor developments and provide updates throughout the special session.

Dylan Smith is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanSmithAL