Legislative Report – April 30, 2021

Volume 22 Number 11 – April 30, 2021

26th & 27th legislative days

Wine shipment bill goes to the Governor

After years of debate and negotiations, Rep. Terri Collins’ (R – Decatur) bill to allow for direct shipment of wine from a manufacturer to a customer’s home received final approval by the legislature on Thursday. The Senate voted 27 – 0 for the bill and the House of Representatives voted 88 – 5 to accept Senate changes to the bill. It now goes to the Governor for her signature.

The bill would allow wineries to obtain a direct wine shipper license from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to ship limited quantities of wine directly to Alabama residents 21 and older. It also sets up statewide wine franchise protections for wine wholesalers in the state. Franchise protections are already law in Jefferson, Mobile, Montgomery, Baldwin, and Shelby counties.

Christie Strategy Group, on behalf of International Wines and Craft Beer, worked closely with Rep. Collins to ensure that franchise protections were included in the bill along with other compromise language limiting the scope of wine shipment.

If the Governor signs the bill, which is expected, the law will go into effect on August 1, 2021.

Both budgets on the move

The House passed the $7.6 billion ETF budget on Tuesday, and the Senate concurred on the changes on Thursday; it is now headed to the Governor. The budget includes increases for school spending, colleges and universities and early learning, as well as some correctional education. There are also more targeted increases to attract and retain math and science teachers in middle and high schools and a 2% pay raise for teachers.

The proposed $2.4 billion 2022 General Fund is more than $80 million larger than the current year’s budget. The Senate approved it Thursday and sent it back to the House. Rep. Steve Clouse (R – Ozark) recommended it be sent to a conference committee to work out differences. Most state agencies will see a small increase or level funding, though a handful will get significant additions to their budgets. The budget also includes a 2% state employees’ pay raise.

Christie Strategy Group worked with a coalition of mental health providers on behalf of the Alabama Service Providers Association to receive new line items in both budgets.

The ETF includes a line item for the nurse delegation program, a program used by providers to train unlicensed staff to provide medication. Currently, providers are losing money on the much needed program; the new line item will help cover costs.

The General Fund budget includes new rate increases for all community mental health providers throughout the state. Community providers are struggling to recruit and retain quality staff and rates have not been raised for several years. The modest rate increases in the budget will assist in raising pay for community mental health direct service providers.

Pharmacy benefit manager legislation goes to Governor

A bill to increase state regulations on pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) was approved in the House on Thursday.

SB 227 by Sen. Tom Butler (R – Madison) prohibits PBMs from giving people a financial incentive to choose one pharmacy over another. It also says that PBMs cannot require people to use a mail-order pharmacy or a pharmacy affiliated with a pharmacy benefits manager.

An amendment added on the House floor would ensure that the parts of the bill that are pre-empted by federal law would remain intact. The amendment was important to several large employers, including Christie Strategy Group client, Rheem Manufacturing.

The bill represents a compromise between insurers and pharmacists. BCBS was originally opposed to the bill, arguing that the increased regulations would ultimately lead to higher prescription costs for Alabamians. After hours of negotiations, interested parties reached an agreement and the bill now goes to the Governor for her signature.

Upcoming legislative schedule

The House of Representatives and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, May 4, 2021, both at 2:00 p.m.