2021 Legislative Session Wrap Up
May 27, 2021
After the Legislative session was cut short in 2020 and this year’s session was filled with COVID-19 precautions and safety protocols, we knew it would be a challenging year to get much accomplished at the Legislature. However, despite building and public access restrictions, Alabama REALTORS® came away with many legislative wins that will help our members and their businesses for a long time to come.
The Alabama REALTORS® Public Policy Committee worked diligently this session to protect property rights and advocate for our members. This year, the Legislature introduced a total of 1,053 bills: 648 in the House and 405 in the Senate. Of these bills, 350 have become law. Out of all this legislation, Alabama REALTORS® actively monitored 153 bills. In addition to passing or being involved in the below legislation, Alabama REALTORS® opposed eight bills that were adverse to our members’ interests and worked with bill sponsors and stakeholders to amend approximately 20 bills to protect our members.
REALTOR®-Supported Legislation Signed Into Law
$263 Million Rental Assistance Bill: The passage of HB231, sponsored by Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) and Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore), was a huge win for Alabama’s tenants and housing providers. The bill appropriates over $263 million in rental assistance funds. The federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program became law in late 2020 with a set aside of $25 billion for tenants and housing providers. Alabama REALTORS® and local REALTOR® associations worked with the Governor’s Office and eligible local governments respectively to encourage participation in the program. These efforts resulted in Alabama receiving over $326 million to cover rent and utilities for those Alabamians affected by COVID-19. These rental assistance funds will help families avoid eviction while also ensuring that property owners can continue to provide housing.
COVID Liability Bill: SB30, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and carried by Rep. David Faulkner (R-Mountain Brook) in the House, will provide liability protections to businesses, health care providers, and other entities against civil lawsuits related to COVID-19, if said entities have abided by public health guidelines. This bill would not protect “bad actors” by permitting civil actions for wanton, reckless, willful, or intentional misconduct. Alabama REALTORS® worked with many leading trade associations, business groups, and stakeholders to support this bill. With all the uncertainty that the last year brought, this bill is vitally important to Alabama businesses to be able to conduct their business without the threat of frivolous lawsuits.
Remote Ink Notarization Bill: SB275, sponsored by Sen. Sam Givhan (R-Huntsville) and Rep. Andy Whitt (R-Harvest), allows for remote ink notarization with added minimum standards and additional safeguards for when remote notarization is used, including identity verification requirements and a detailed record of the remote notarization act. The bill also provides certainty and clarity around remote notarizations done during the pandemic by ratifying notarizations done under the executive order. This bill is important because in the height of the pandemic, due to the state of emergency, public health orders, and social distancing guidelines, many REALTORS® and other professionals were unable to safely meet in person to close transactions and conduct other essential business. Now, REALTORS® will have the permanent ability to utilize remote ink notarization to safely conduct essential business remotely when needed.
Homestead Exemption Bill: HB344, sponsored by Rep. David Faulkner (R-Mountain Brook) and carried in the Senate by Sen. Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville), will give county tax assessing officials the option of receiving claims for homestead exemptions electronically. The Alabama Department of Revenue will prepare the form to be used in filing the homestead exemption. In 2019, Alabama REALTORS® worked with Rep. Faulkner on a bill allowing homeowners to fill out an affidavit to be filed with the local tax official to claim their homestead exemption, rather than waiting for a recorded deed to arrive in the mail. This bill goes one step farther in making homeownership that much easier by allowing the affidavit to be filed electronically, if allowed by the county tax assessing official. This process will help prevent any delay in getting a homestead exemption filed as well as allow an efficient and safe method for doing so.
Broadband Expansion Bill: SB215, sponsored by Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston), is also known as the Connect Alabama Act. The bill aims to provide broadband expansion across Alabama with a push to expand access and improve capabilities. It would create a state entity, the Alabama Digital Expansion Authority, to oversee the expansion of broadband services throughout the state. Currently, Alabama’s broadband expansion program is done only through ADECA grants, but this bill would allow the Legislature to appropriate direct funding to the state entity. There will also be a larger Connect Alabama Advisory Board that will issue recommendations to the authority and the Alabama Digital Expansion Finance Corporation that will be able to issue bonds to finance certain projects. Currently, funds incoming from the American Rescue Act will support expansion. Joining with other leading trade associations and business groups to form the Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition in 2019, Alabama REALTORS® has always been a strong advocate for broadband expansion. This bill will significantly expand broadband access and capabilities, bolstering economic development and opportunity for Alabama.
Historic Tax Credit Bill: HB281, sponsored by Rep. Victor Gaston (R-Mobile), would provide an early renewal for the widely used Alabama Historic Tax Credit. HB 281 renews the Historic Tax Credit for five more years through 2027, clarifies that the tax credit is refundable for entities receiving the tax credit by transfer or assignment, and restricts the tax credit to projects with commercial or business purposes for tax years 2023 through 2027, although mixed use of commercial and residential is allowed. Alabama REALTORS® have advocated for the creation of and renewal of the Historic tax Credit for many years. This bill will help with important revitalization efforts in many cities and towns across Alabama.
Bills of Interest
Electrical Contracting Bill: HB384, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Sorrells (R-Hartford), revises laws related to electrical contractors. Alabama REALTORS® worked with the sponsor on an amendment to protect the ability of property managers to conduct routine maintenance on properties. The bill did not move forward this session.
Tax Sales Courthouse Bill: SB111, sponsored by Sen. Tom Butler (R-Madison), would allow tax sales to occur on the premises of or within the courthouse or courthouse annex of the county, instead of requiring the sale in front of the courthouse door. Alabama REALTORS® supported this legislative fix to tax sales due to past strict judicial interpretation of this statute in a recent court ruling. This bill passed this session and became law, Act No. 2021-175.
Strengthen Alabama Homes Program Bill: HB188, sponsored by Rep. Chip Brown (R-Mobile), would direct certain excess funds at the end of the year from the Insurance Department Fund to the Strengthen Alabama Homes Fund rather than to the State General Fund. This bill passed the House, but it was carried over in Senate and did not receive a vote prior to the end of session.
Land Use Bills: SB49, sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville), would authorize a county or municipality to use public funds to repair or replace private sewer laterals. Alabama REALTORS® worked with the sponsor to assure that the landowner consented, rather than allowing the county or municipality to act unilaterally. This bill passed as amended and became law, Act. No 2021-347. Another land use bill, SB57, sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson (R-Florence), further provided for the acquisition of private rights-of-way near state-owned property. The bill did not pass this session.
Lead-Based Paint Legislation: SB 143, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) and Rep. Reed Ingram (R- Pike Road), strengthens the Alabama Department of Public Health’s (ADPH) ability to regulate contractors who perform lead-based paint activities, and provides the ability to inspect work by those contractors in. Alabama REALTORS® worked with ADPH on an amendment to protect homeowners by clarifying that government inspectors are limited to inspecting work done by contractors, whether certified or uncertified by ADPH. Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Birmingham) was indispensable in ensuring the amendment was added to the bill. The bill was ultimately voted down by the House.
Boating Safety Bill: HB238, sponsored by Rep. Ginny Shaver (R-Leesburg), aimed to increase boating safety and protect property owners on bodies of water. The bill provided much-needed protection by setting speeds for any watercraft greater than 300 feet wide at idle within 100 feet and watercraft less than 300 feet wide within 50 feet of various public-use locations and properties, such as docks, swimmers, restaurants, and shorelines, among others. The bill was ultimately voted down by the House.
Real Estate Appraisers Bill: HB452, sponsored by Rep. TaShina Morris (D-Montgomery), specifies that a real estate appraiser renewing a real estate appraiser’s license must pay any late fee, application, or filing fees imposed by the board. This bill passed this session and became law assigned Act No. 2021-489..
COVID Relief Funds Tax Exemption Bill: HB170, sponsored by Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) and carried in the Senate by Sen. Dan Roberts (R-Mountain Brook), will exempt funds received from federal coronavirus aid from state income taxes, including any other aid the government approves in 2021. This bill passed this session and became law, Act No. 2021-1.
Ad Valorem Tax Bills: Two bills relating to ad valorem taxes were filed this year. HB341, sponsored by Rep. David Faulkner (R-Mountain Brook), would cap the ad valorem max increase on property to 3% annually. HB449, also sponsored by Rep. Faulkner, would establish a uniform date for ad valorem tax assessment and a process for appeals across the state. Neither bill moved out of the House this session.
Auctioneers Bill: SB27, sponsored by Sen. Randy Price (R-Opelika), made changes to the State Board of Auctioneers and the licensing of auctioneers, among other things. This bill passed and became law, Act. No. 2021-438, this year.
Alabama Real Estate Commission (AREC) Sunset Bill: The Alabama Legislature’s Sunset Committee reviews audits of certain state agencies on a one-to four-year cycle to ensure compliance with state laws and regulations. Initially, HB63, sponsored by Rep. Rex Reynolds (R-Huntsville) provided for the continuance of AREC until October 1, 2023, in accordance with the Sunset Committee’s recommendation. An amendment was made in senate committee for AREC to only be renewed for one year to October 1, 2022. The amendment was ultimately adopted, and the bill passed as amended.
AREC Update Bill: SB331, sponsored by Sen. Dan Roberts (R-Birmingham), was filed to add accountability and updates to the operations of AREC. An amended substitute bill, SB 404, was filed to reflect several amendments and feedback on the legislation. The bill was carried over this session until next year. This will give more time to work toward consensus and use further feedback to craft the bill’s final version. AREC may advance some of the proposals by Commission rule changes this summer and fall.
Residential Mortgage Satisfaction Act: HB457, sponsored by Rep. Chris Pringle (R-Mobile), would expand the Alabama Residential Mortgage Satisfaction Act to require recordation of satisfaction to include mortgages securing commercial agricultural properties. This bill was carried over this session.
Homeowner’s Association Act: SB255, sponsored by Sen. Will Barfoot (R-Pike Road), would make the Alabama Homeowner’s Association Act apply to all homeowners’ associations in the state retroactively and provides certain requirements and additional restrictions for the HOAs. The bill did not move this year.
Home Inspector Liability Period Bill: SB205, sponsored by Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa), would provide a limitation period on civil actions that arise against a home inspector. The bill did not pass this year.
Although the 2021 Regular Legislative Session has come to a close, the Alabama REALTORS® Public Policy Team will continue to advocate on behalf of Alabama REALTORS® and private property rights throughout the year. We appreciate the hard work and input of the Public Policy Committee and members this year.