MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday passed legislation that would prohibit sex offenders from being employed or volunteering as first responders.

House Bill 222 (HB222), sponsored by State Rep. Kerry Underwood (R-Tuscumbia), would amend the state law to prevent those who have been convicted of sex offenses from working as a first responder, which the bill defines as a "paramedic, firefighter, rescue squad member, emergency medical technician, or other individual who, in the course of his or her professional duties, responds to fire, medical, hazardous material or other similar emergencies, whether compensated or not."

Underwood presented the bill to the House, saying that a situation arose in his district where an offender was volunteering in a fire department.

State Rep. Thomas Jackson (D-Thomasville) took umbrage with the bill, asking Underwood if he believed in second chances.

"You're going to blackball them from participating in that; why would you do a thing like that?" he asked.

Underwood responded that sex offenders are already prohibited from entering specific locations, and working as a first responder would likely require them to break the law by entering those locations.

"My background shouldn't stop me from being able to love and to help and to save lives," Jackson replied. "I'm just being realistic."

State Rep Ernie Yarbrough (R-Trinity) spoke in support of the legislation, calling it "a great bill."

"I tell my kids that actions have consequences, and as you get older, that gets magnified," he said. "Having laws does not mean that people haven't changed, repented, do better. But it does mean that actions have consequences, and I think that's a very good thing. So thank you for bringing the bill because I have kids down to four years old, and I'd like to know that the people in some of those positions just really have never done certain things."

The bill ultimately passed with a committee substitute that clarified that employers or volunteer organizations are not liable if an offender is found working at a relevant location.

The bill ultimately passed with a vote of 100 "yeas" and two abstentions.

In Barbour County, the search for a missing child created an online petition to remove the local volunteer fire chief after it was revealed that he was a convicted sex offender.

Texasville Volunteer Fire Chief Robert Joel Drawdy assisted in the search for a Clayton child on January 12. The child's mother reported him missing from a camper. She told investigators she briefly left him asleep in the camper while she went to the restroom at a place nearby.

Drawdy is a registered sex offender who was convicted in Florida in 1998 of two counts of attempted sexual battery of a victim 12 or older, with the offender coercing the victim by threat of force or violence.

Alabama Search and Rescue (ALSAR) said after arriving at the scene with its incident command truck and NASAR-certified tracking bloodhound teams, Drawdy asked searchers to leave. They said he told them to leave the area because ALSAR is not affiliated with AARS and "per the request of the Childersburg Rescue Squad."

The child was eventually found and transported to the hospital, but the community outrage continued.

ALSAR publicly distanced itself from the Texasville Volunteer Fire Department, posting on social media, "This individual, Joel Drawdy, has never been associated with ALSAR; this is, or was, the Chief of Barbour Co SAR / Texasville Vol Fire Dept. No affiliation to us whatsoever; every volunteer at ALSAR is background checked before joining. We can not answer to why the Alabama Association of Rescue Squads (AARS) allowed him to be a member; that should be taken up with them."

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