(AL.com file photo)
The crawfish have been freed.
Eileen Jones, press secretary for Ala. Gov. Kay Ivey, confirmed Tuesday that Ivey had signed HB 528, a bill designed to settle a dispute over informal crawfish boils at Mobile bars. The Mobile County Health Department began cracking down on the traditional springtime boils in 2016, arguing that the venues conducting them did not comply with the food-handling regulations followed by restaurants, and that the events thus posed a potential danger to public health.
Rep. Margie Wilcox proposed legislation this spring that would create an exemption for “intermittent food service establishments,” by which they could serve food at occasional events inspired by local tradition, with little to no health department oversight. Wilcox’s legislation changed forms several times over the course of the recent legislative session; it eventually was approved by both houses and sent to the governor on May 19.
It wasn’t immediately clear exactly when Ivey signed the bill, but she had until Monday to do so.
On Tuesday, Wilcox said she was pleased that Ivey had signed the bill, and had hopes of arranging a ceremonial signing with the governor in downtown Mobile. “We could boil some crawfish for her,” Wilcox said.
Mobile District 2 Councilman Levon Manzie, who’d supported the boils, said Tuesday that “now the citizens of District 2 can go from ‘free the crawfish’ to ‘freed the crawfish.'”
Manzie said he wanted to offer his thanks to Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, who offered the final version of the bill, and also to public health officials who’d helped shape the legislation.
The Mobile County Health Department did not offer immediate comment on the bill becoming law, but earlier had expressed satisfaction with the legislation. “As always, our aim is to promote, improve and protect the health of those who live, work and play in Mobile County, Alabama,” the department said in a May 19 statement. “We believe this legislation does not disrupt our ability to achieve that mission. Our sincere thanks for all the hard work put forth by various individual leaders, food industry representatives, local, state and federal food safety officials.”
Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, whose office had been involved in the controversy, likewise expressed approval.
“Crawfish boils are a beloved tradition in the city of Mobile,” he said Tuesday. “We’re pleased that our citizens and guest will be able to enjoy them safely. We appreciate the collaboration between our local delegation, led by Rep. Wilcox, and the Mobile County Health Department to find a solution that will keep the good times rolling.”
Figures’ substitute version of the bill, which passed the House and Senate, applies just to the city of Mobile, not Mobile County. It allows intermittent food service establishments to conduct “temporary exempt events” that reflect local or regional tradition. Organizers must fill out an online application with the health department. The operator of such an event must have a food handler’s card and must provide a handwashing facility and have a plan for adequate waste disposal.
Wilcox previously said that she supported Figures’ version because it helped narrow down potential loopholes, such as use of home-canned vegetables.
“It’s not really over,” Wilcox said of the fight over the crawfish boils. She said she plans to draft a bill that would extend the coverage to all of Mobile County. If she advertises it in the near future, she said, it’ll be possible to bring it up at a special session, should Ivey call one. She said she thinks the countywide version would help protect small traditional festivals from excessive regulation.
Ivey said her role in the crawfish controversy has led some people to jokingly call her the “crawfish queen.”
“There could be worse things that follow you for the rest of your life,” she said.