2020 Regular Session: Update on Immunity Legislation

May 8, 2020 – Legislators returned to Montgomery on May 4 with an eye toward completing the 2020 Regular Session, but their arrival to the capital city felt somewhat unusual. Because maintaining social distancing guidelines is nearly impossible in the State House, many legislators remained in their districts and the general public’s access to the State House was severely restricted.  Additionally, legislative leaders limited the categories of legislation that representatives and senators would consider during the session’s final days. In the end, while legislators will have fulfilled their sole constitutional obligation before the end of the session by passing next year’s operating budgets, many other important items will remain unsettled when the session adjourns for good on May 18. Those issues include mental health, criminal justice, prison construction, and gambling, as well as the centerpiece of the association’s legislative agenda, the Financial Exploitation Prevention Act.  These and other items will likely be considered over the summer, as many predict that Gov. Kay Ivey will call the Legislature into multiple special sessions before the 2021 Regular Session begins next February.

One particularly important measure that did not pass was introduced this past Monday. Senate Bill 330, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), would have provided a variety of for-profit and non-profit entities, including banks, with immunity from certain civil lawsuits related to the coronavirus if the entity substantially complied with coronavirus-related health directives. This important level of protection was championed by a wide variety of business trade groups, including this Association. And it also enjoyed widespread support from legislators; a supermajority of Senators cosponsored the bill, for instance. Ultimately, however, House and Senate leaders chose to honor the terms of their original agreement and only pass budget bills and local bills.

Acknowledging the importance and timeliness of the debate over the immunity legislation, Gov. Ivey thankfully provided the business community with a life-line by including much of the language from Senate Bill 330 in an Executive Order she issued today. As with the legislation, the Order provides that the best way to avoid COVID-19 liability is for covered entities to operate in a manner that is reasonably consistent with applicable public health guidance in order to show that they are not acting recklessly. Importantly, this Order will expire on or around the time when the state of emergency is ended, which is currently scheduled for May 22. That date can be extended by the governor if necessary.

You can view the order by clicking here.

From a scheduling standpoint, the House and Senate will convene tomorrow to finalize their work on the State General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets. They will next plan to return to Montgomery on May 18 for the session’s last day. The primary purpose of returning on this day will be to deal with any legislation that was vetoed or amended by the governor.

As of the end of the 19th legislative day, legislators have introduced 856 bills – 508 in the House and 348 in the Senate – and 201 resolutions. Of those 1,057 measures, 97 have been enacted into law as of this writing.  The 2020 Regular Session can last for no more than 30 legislative days and must end on or before May 18.