Legislative Report – May 5, 2023

VOLUME 24 NUMBER 7 – MAY 5, 2023

The Alabama Legislature reconvened its regular session on Tuesday, May 2nd, 2023, working through the 16th, 17th, and 18th legislative days.

Public Hearings for PBM & Scope of Practice Bills 

There were many health-related bills this week that received notable attention in committee meetings on Wednesday, many of which had public hearings. 

The Senate State Government committee held a  public hearing on SB220. The bill would allow pharmacists to refuse service to a customer if they deemed the drug reimbursement insufficient. SB220, sponsored by Sen. Tom Butler (R-Madison), and proposed by the Pharmacy Association, could negatively impact consumers by raising prices on prescriptions and interrupting medication schedules. 

During the public hearing, opponents included Robin Stone, Executive Director of the Alliance of Alabama Healthcare Consumers, Ted Hosp, Vice President of Government Relations for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, and David Cole, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs for the Business Council of Alabama. Proponents of the bill included Bobby Giles, Director of Government Affairs for the Alabama Pharmacy Association and the owner of several pharmacies throughout the state. 

An amendment, supported by opponents of the original bill, would 1) require a pharmacist who declines to fill a prescription based on the payment they receive to instruct the patient to contact their health plan so that the patient could be directed to a pharmacy that will fill the prescription; and 2) mandate that an alternative therapy cost the patient either the same amount or less than the originally prescribed medication. The amendment was offered by Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine) and was adopted with unexpected support from the bill sponsor. Sen. Merika-Coleman (D-Bessemer) also offered an amendment, which was adopted, that would prohibit  health insurance companies from seeking retribution on a pharmacy and/or pharmacist that refused to fill a prescription. The future of the bill is unclear as proponents of the bill strongly opposed the first amendment.

Multiple scope of practice bills have been introduced this year. On Wednesday, there was a public hearing on a bill that would establish the Health Professional Scope of Practice Review Commission to review and make recommendations to the Legislature regarding legislation revising or creating scope of practice laws for health professions. HB354, sponsored by Rep. Wes Kitchens (R-Arab), received a significant amount of opposition during the hearing, primarily from the Medical Association of Alabama. Ultimately, the bill was assigned to a sub-committee that will be chaired by Rep. Craig Lipscomb (R-Gadsden). Committee members will assess data provided by medical professionals in approximately three weeks. 

Senate Approves $8.8 Billion Education Trust Fund Budget, Decreases Rebate 

On Thursday, the Senate approved a record $8.8 billion state education spending plan for fiscal year 2024 and an unprecedented $2.8 billion supplemental spending bill. 

A major change over the Governor’s spending proposal was the significant decrease in the proposed tax rebate. The Senate reduced the rebate amounts from $400 for individuals and $800 for couples to a little over $100 per filer. Additionally, some non-education items were removed from the supplemental proposal, including $31 million for an airport project in Mobile, $25 million for the Port of Mobile, and $25 million for a water park complex in Montgomery. The budget also removed a regular $25 million for rural broadband grants, which has been in the budget for years.

An additional $3 million was added to the Department of Mental Health’s ETF budget  that will go towards service provider rate increases to help the Intellectual and Developmental Disability (ID/DD) community recruit and retain workers. This was a major priority funding item for Christie Strategy Group client, the Alabama Service Providers Association. With the inclusion of the $3 million in the ETF, the Department is less than $1 million away from their total request of $11.1 million for ID/DD workforce. 

A full breakdown of the ETF budget floor substitute can be found here. The supplemental funding proposal can be found here.

Overtime Pay Income Tax Exemption Passed in the House Unanimously

A bill that would exempt overtime pay from state income tax passed the House unanimously on Tuesday. It has been a major priority for Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) who has spoken on the business-friendly nature of the bill. HB 217 now advances to the Senate. 

Bill to Allow the Utilization of Certain Refrigerants

A bill that would allow the use of certain refrigerants and refrigerant-equipped products that are in compliance with the National Clean Air Act received a favorable report from the Senate State Government committee on Wednesday. HB163, sponsored by Rep. Chip Brown (R-Mobile), is a priority bill for Christie Strategy Group client, Rheem Manufacturing. It now goes to the full Senate for final passage.

Additional Law Enforcement Training for Interacting with Disabled Individuals

On Thursday, the House passed a bill that would require all law enforcement officers to undergo a one-hour training related to individuals with certain sensory needs or invisible disabilities. Rep. Leigh Hulsey (R-Helena) sponsored the bill and explained to House members that her inspiration came from her son who has Autism. 

Under existing law, a law enforcement officer must complete 12 hours of continuing education training approved by the Alabama Peace Officers’ Standards and Training (APOST) Commission. HB356 would require the APOST Commission to collaborate with a nonprofit company to provide training to certified officers every other year about interacting with individuals with sensory needs or invisible disabilities. 

Rep. Joe Lovvorn (R-Auburn) offered a friendly amendment that renamed the legislation the “Cade Noah Act” after Rep. Hulsey’s son. The bill passed unanimously and garnered 98 co-sponsors. It now advances to the Senate. 

The Legislature will reconvene next Tuesday, May 9, 2023, for the 19th legislative day.