State lawmakers have finished an active week at the Alabama State House. Only nine legislative days are left in the 2021 Regular Session, so expect the pressure to continue to build in the State House as the fate of several key pieces of legislation hang in the balance. Here are some of the more noteworthy actions that the legislature took during last week's sessions.

Vaccine Passports

The Senate unanimously passed a bill Thursday that would prohibit state or local government "vaccine passports." SB 267 would ban state and local governments from requiring someone to be vaccinated or to show proof of vaccination to receive a government benefit or to enter a government building. The bill would also prohibit an entity or person doing business in Alabama from refusing to provide goods or services to someone based on their immunization status or lack of documentation. The bill is not specific to COVID. SB267 now moves to the House for consideration.

Lottery

The future of a state lottery is still up in the air as Senator McClendon's legislative package was considered by the Senate Wednesday. While enabling legislation establishing the governing structure for a lottery was approved, the constitutional amendment necessary to authorize the lottery was tabled over divisions between those who want a straight lottery bill and those who want a more comprehensive package that would include casinos. While only seven legislative days remain in the 2021 Regular Session, we expect more action on this issue in the remaining days.

Pharmacy Benefit Managers

The Senate passed a bill on Thursday to further regulate pharmacy benefit managers ("PBMs"). The senate-passed version of SB227 is based on lengthy negotiations and significant concessions by both opponents and proponents of the original bill. The bill adopts many of the provisions that pharmacists sought in the original bill, but no longer contains the elements that would have resulted in the greatest cost increases to health plans and plan members.

The major components of the substitute bill passed by the Senate include:

  • Prohibits the mandatory use of mail order pharmacy, but allows optional mail order;
  • Prohibits the mandatory use of a PBM affiliated pharmacy;
  • Allows PBMs to use incentives to encourage people to use lower cost options like mail order;
  • Requires a PBM to let a pharmacy participate in a network as long as the pharmacy agrees to all of the terms and conditions of the network contract;
  • Prohibits a PBM from reimbursing a PBM affiliated pharmacy more than a non-affiliated pharmacy for prescriptions for patients who are members of the same health benefit plan;
  • Allows a pharmacy to inform a patient about lower cost alternative medications;
  • Requires PBMs to prepare and make available an annual report for its clients setting forth the amount of the rebates received and amount retained by the PBM;
  • Adds significant regulatory oversight of PBMs by the Department of Insurance.

SB 227 now moves to the House for consideration.

COVID-19 Recovery Capital Credit Protection Act

The House unanimously approved SB 274 on Thursday. SB 274, the COVID-19 Recovery Capital Credit Protection Act of 2021, extends the time period to satisfy initial wage and employment requirements for up to two years for qualifying Capital Credit Program projects placed into service during 2019, 2020, and 2021. The bill now moves to Governor Ivey's desk.

Medical Cannabis

The House Judiciary Committee passed Senator Melson's medical cannabis bill Wednesday after considering 17 proposed amendments and approving 10. SB 46 would allow medical cannabis to be prescribed in certain forms to treat 16 conditions after other pain remedies have been exhausted. The bill would also create an Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to establish a registry for patients, caregivers, and facilities. The bill still has a long way to go; the next hurdle is the House Health Committee, then the full House. Although previously passed by the Senate, SB 46 would then have to return to the Senate for concurrence with the House changes before going to the governor.

Concealed Carry

The House approved a Senate-passed bill Thursday that would establish a lifetime concealed carry permit and require the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency to develop a statewide firearm database of "prohibited persons." SB 308 would set the permit fee at $300, or $150 for those over 60 years old. The bill also includes yearly reporting requirements for sheriff's offices relating to the number of permits issued and fees collected.

Open Enrollment

The Senate Education Policy Committee approved a bill Tuesday that would require Alabama school systems to adopt open enrollment policies. SB 365 would include exceptions and allow for denial of enrollment for several reasons, including:

  • Lack of space or teachers
  • Requested program not offered
  • School not equipped with necessary facilities to meet special needs of student
  • Student does not meet eligibility criteria
  • Student has been/is being expelled or legally denied permission to enroll
  • Enrollment would run counter to a desegregation plan in effect

Further, schools would not be required to:

  • Alter the structure of the school or the arrangements/function of rooms
  • Offer a particular program if not already offered
  • Alter/waive any established eligibility criteria for participation in a particular program
  • Provide transportation for out-of-system students

SB 365 cleared the Committee by a 7-3 vote and can now be considered by the full Senate.

Student-Athlete Compensation

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill Wednesday to allow compensation of college student-athletes when their name, image, or likeness is used in promotional material. HB 404 comes amid an ongoing U.S. Supreme Court case considering the merits of collegiate amateurism. Already passed by the House, HB 404 can now be taken up by the full Senate.

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