Legislative roundup Major steps taken to pardon Scottsboro Boys
Some interesting bills are making their way out of committee in the Senate and things are moving along more or less as expected in the House, according to Sen. Jerry Fielding (R-Sylacauga) and Rep. Ron Johnson (R-Sylacauga).

Both legislators say they are not aware of any local legislation in Talladega County.

Fielding pointed out that the full Senate had voted for a posthumous pardoning of the so-called Scottsboro Boys.

The Scottsboro boys were nine black teenagers between the ages of 13 and 19 who were accused of raping two white girls on a train in 1931.

After escaping a lynch mob, all but one of the nine defendants were tried, convicted and sentenced to death by all white juries.

The case was sent back on appeal, and once again all were found guilty, in spite of the fact that one of the alleged victims recanted and said under oath that neither of them had been touched by any of the defendants.

This was also sent back on appeal, and in spite of a lack of evidence, all were once again convicted and sentenced to punishments ranging from 75 years in prison to death. One of the defendants was pardoned by George Wallace in 1976, but all of the others remained convicted under the law. The last of them died in 1989.

Fielding said there is no provision under state law to pardon someone who is deceased, so the pardons for the remaining Scottsboro boys required legislative action. He said he expects the bill to progress rapidly through the house and be signed into law by Gov. Robert Bentley.

“We’ve been primarily doing committee work this week,” Fielding said. “I’m the vice chair of the Judiciary Committee, and we passed six or seven bills out this week. For one thing, we passed a bill that might help save some money. Right now, when someone is purged off the voter rolls, the Board of Registrars has to send a registered letter. This law would make it just a regular letter, so all you’d have to pay for was the stamp. And we also passed the Kyle Grady Act, which would allow students in school to inject themselves with epinephrine themselves. Currently, they’re not allowed to do that. The bill is named for a young man who contacted his senator asking them to do this.”

The committee also approved improvements to the eavesdropping statute, providing greater protection for cell phones and other portable devices, and to the driving under the influence statute.

“Currently, if you get two DUIs that are more than five years apart, the first one doesn’t count anymore. This bill takes care of that and some other loopholes,” he said. The bill would also allow convictions from other states to count.

The committee also approved a bill that clears up some recent confusion over private probation companies for municipalities, and clears the way for district court judges and district attorneys offices to let similar contracts.

Fielding also serves on the Health Committee, which this week passed a bill to allow pharmacies to dispense prescriptions to nursing homes and similar facilities from a remote location. A statewide indoor smoking ban was passed out of committee once again this year, but Fielding said he did not think it is likely to pass the full Senate.

On the Job Creation and Economic Development Committee, laws were passed to allow home brewing of beer, wine and cider, with a maximum of 5 gallons per quarter, only by people older than 21 with no felony convictions. Another bill would allow vineyards to establish tasting rooms and sell their wares there, but this bill was carried over to next week.

Fielding also reported that M.P. Greene and Terry Dunn had been unanimously confirmed to the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind Board of Trustees.

Much of the session to date has been spent discussing a controversial reorganization of the Senate. Fielding said he expects that to be voted on Tuesday, and then action will be taken on the Senate version of the school flexibility bill, which has already passed the House.

“The Senate bill addresses some of the concerns of teachers and (Alabama Education Association) that were left out of the House version. I hope to have an opportunity to vote for a bill with those amendments when the time comes. It’s a good bill that provides lots of flexibility for local districts, but continues the protections under the Students First Bill, like teacher tenure. I hope we can pass something that’s fair to everyone.”

In the House, “things are moving along,” Johnson said. “The first seven days were mainly things that the leadership was pushing, so the general and local bills have not really been dealt with yet. We passed a Medicaid Fraud Bill that provides tougher penalties and more staff to conduct audits to detect fraud at places like pharmacies, nursing homes and hospitals.”

Johnson said he voted in favor of the bill. “We’ve got some good laws in place for fraud, but we never had the personnel to do as many audits as we needed. This addresses that.”

He added that “the gun bill is the thing people here have been asking me about the most, and I would expect that to come up for a vote in the House this coming week.”

Rep. Steve Hurst (R-Munford) and Rep. Barbara Boyd (D-Anniston) were unavailable for comment Friday afternoon.

Contact Chris Norwood at cnorwood@dailyhome.com.

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