Letters & Testimony

Alabama Arise testimony in opposition to corporate COVID-19 immunity bill

Arise’s Robyn Hyden testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday in opposition to SB 30. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, would provide corporations with a broad range of civil immunity against lawsuits related to exposure to coronavirus or contraction of COVID-19. Here’s the full text of Hyden’s prepared remarks:

Good morning. I’m here to represent Alabama Arise, our 158 member organizations and thousands of members and partners around the state of Alabama who believe that poor and working-class people deserve equal protection and opportunity for dignity, equity and justice.

We know you are a deliberative body, and we believe that more deliberation is needed on this bill. First, we are concerned that provisions are being made in this legislative session to protect business and corporate interests without a similar focus on protecting workers and everyday people who are the true economic engine of our state. This bill provides virtual blanket immunity, harming workers and rewarding bad actors.

Second, the standard of “clear and convincing evidence” required in this bill is simply too high and will prevent legitimate claims from being addressed. We would propose the “preponderance of evidence” standard used in other civil cases.

Inconsistent standards and lowered expectations

Third, there are major inconsistencies that need to be addressed. This bill creates two competing standards of care: one in section 4, and one in section 3. Section 4 appears to be retroactive and includes a clear link to compliance with public health standards. Section 3 does not mention anything about compliance with public health standards. Those standards should be consistent. And further, disallowing lawsuits for negligence, as this bill does, gives irresponsible entities a free pass for acts committed during the COVID-19 pandemic that would normally subject them to liability.

Finally, we believe the references to “applicable public health guidance” in the introduction should include guidance issued by federal agencies, not just state agencies. The federal SAFE TO WORK immunity legislation supported by Sen. Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans tied immunity to reasonable compliance with public health standards, as have immunity bills in most other states. There’s no logic in lowering our expectations of businesses moving forward when they already know so much about how to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In conclusion, I urge you all to consider actions to protect and nurture workers’ well-being through worker supports that will allow people who are medically vulnerable to protect both their health and their financial well-being during this pandemic. Front-line workers deserve access to health care, hazard pay and social support programs if they are unable to work in a high-risk field. Too many workers are being driven into risky working conditions with no alternatives.

Thank you so much for your time.