Alabama Legislature

Legislature Advances Wine Shipment Bill, Other Health Care and Employer-Related Bills

Wine being packed for shipping. (Photo by Steve Garfield via flickr under CC 2.0

MONTGOMERY — The Legislature approved several bills Thursday. Here is a wrap up on action on important legislation.

Direct Shipment Wine Bill Advances

Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, has tried for several years to allow Alabamians to have wine shipped directly to their homes. Her efforts appear to be gaining support.

House Bill 437 was approved in the Senate Tourism Committee on Thursday after Collins worked with Sens. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, and Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, who had similar bills.

The bill was substituted and will have to go back to the House if it’s approved in the Senate. It allows customers to have limited quantities of wine shipped directly from wineries and other providers to their homes. The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board would establish specific rules under the bill.

The Legislature has already approved a bill to allow home delivery of beer, wine and spirits from local retailers and brew pubs.

Mental Health Entities Liability Protection

Bills moving through the Legislature would give regional mental health entities and their employees who work under the Alabama Department of Mental Health the same protections from legal liability given state entities and employees.

House Bill 605 from House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, was approved by the House Health Committee on Thursday.

“It keeps (entities) from being sued so that the money they get goes to the people they need to help,” Ledbetter told the committee.

The liability protection does not extend to subcontractors or independent contractors of facilities.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Senate version of the bill on Thursday. Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, is sponsoring that bill.

Pharmacy Benefits Manager Regulation Bill Passes Senate

Senate Bill 227 by Sen. Tom Butler, R-Madison, to put more state regulations on pharmacy benefit managers, was approved in the Senate on Thursday.

Pharmacy benefit managers are third-party groups that manage drug benefits for insurers, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, the state’s largest insurer.

Butler, a former pharmacist, and Sen. Billy Beasley, D-Clayton, also a pharmacist, have said for several years that PBMs have at times reimbursed pharmacies less than the cost of medications, putting pharmacies in financial jeopardy.

The bill prohibits PBMs from giving people a financial incentive to choose one pharmacy over another. It also says that PBMs can’t require people to use a mail-order pharmacy or a pharmacy affiliated with a pharmacy benefits manager.

Several senators thanked Butler and Beasley for their dedication to the issue.

In an emailed statement, BCBS of Alabama said the Senate-passed bill is a result of debate and compromise with several parties.

“The bill that passed in the Senate this morning contains numerous provisions that will benefit Alabama pharmacists, but it does not contain most of the original provisions that would have increased costs for our customers,” the statement said.

The bill now goes to the House.

Lawmakers Waive Workforce Requirements on Tax Credits

The Alabama House on Thursday gave final approval to legislation giving new and expanding industries in the state a break on workforce requirements if COVID-19 caused hiring delays.

The state’s capital credit program allows an annual tax credit based on a percentage of businesses capital costs. To qualify, the businesses must meet hiring and wage requirements.

Senate Bill 274 from Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, creates the COVID-19 Recovery Capital Credit Protection Act of 2021, providing an extension to the employment and wage requirements for a qualifying project placed into service during 2019, 2020, and 2021.

Initial wage and employment requirements will be extended up to two years for projects “that have been directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the bill says.

Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette, carried the bill in the House. It was approved 88-0 in that chamber and goes to the governor.