Each year, your Alabama Retail Association governmental affairs team scours the more than 1,000 bills introduced during a regular session of the Alabama Legislature to protect your business. Alabama Retail advocates for legislation that will benefit your business, while protecting retailers from legislation that would harm your business. We represent you on the front lines each and every day and, best of all, bring benefits to your pocket! A sampling of bills Alabama Retail tracked in the 2009 regular session and how their fate benefited retailers follow:
BILLS PASSED BENEFIT BOTTOM LINE
ALABAMA RETAIL PREVENTS EPHEDRINE BAN
An Alabama Retail-backed correction now is part of the state law regulating the sale of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. Had this correction not received final legislative approval, come Oct. 1, all over-the-counter ephedrine or pseudoephedrine medications currently being sold behind the counter through a signature log would have been banned completely from sale. Instead, pharmacies continue to sell ephedrine and pseudoephedrine products in the same way they have since changes were made to those type sales in 2004.
IT’S LIGHTS, CAMERAS AND ACTION IN ALABAMA
The Entertainment Industry Incentive Act of 2009, an Alabama Retail 2009 Legislative Agenda item, is already benefiting retailers. This act offers tax incentives to movie, TV and video as well as soundtrack productions. “Lifted,” a $675,000 feature-length independent movie about a singer, already qualified under this new law for a rebate of $153,750 based on the amount producers expect to spend in Alabama. This movie alone will employ more than 160 Alabamians. More benefit to come!
SMALL TOWN ALCOHOL VOTES; RESTAURANT/CLUB LICENSES POSSIBLE
Alabama lawmakers had to override a gubernatorial veto to do it, but now under Alabama law, any city of more than 1,000 residents, even those in a dry county (except Clay, Randolph, and Blount counties),
can ask voters if they want to approve the sale of alcoholic beverages. This new law contains an Alabama Retail -supported provision that allows businesses operating under both a restaurant and club liquor license to continue to do so. Without this change, about 25 restaurants in Shelby County and another 20 in Dothan would have had to decide between their two licenses and quit serving on Sundays.
SELL HIGHER ALCOHOL CONTENT BEER & WINE
The allowable alcohol content of table wine in Alabama has increased from 14.9 percent to 16.5 percent, under a new law supported by Alabama Retail . Since Aug. 1, grocery stores, restaurants and specialty stores have been able to sell the richer, more potent wines. Convenience stores are specifically excluded.
The Alabama Legislature also finally freed the hops. The state alcohol content limitation went from 6 percent to the current 13.9 percent, allowing for the sale of gourmet beers in our state. Only merchants with a retail beer license for on-premises and off-premises consumption can sell the higher alcohol content beer under this new law.
AVOID TAXES: PROTECTIVE BENEFIT COALITION BLOCKS UNEMPLOYMENT TAXES
More important sometimes than what passes in a legislative session is what doesn’t, especially when the legislation that doesn’t make it through the process would raise your taxes. Such was the case with a
proposed $22 million annual increase in unemployment compensation taxes for employers. A coalition, including your Alabama Retail Association, made sure neither bill proposed cleared the originating chambers. Expect legislation to increase unemployment benefits to return in the 2010 and 2011 regular legislative sessions. Alabama Retail will be there again to oppose these tax increases.
UNITARY COMBINED REPORTING KEPT AT BAY
The Business Associations’ Tax Coalition, the 30-member group of business and trade associations chaired by Alabama Retail President Rick Brown, will continue to oppose a proposal to require multistate
corporations to file Alabama income taxes in a unitary combined report. The 2009 legislation never even received a committee hearing. Opposition to required unitary combined reporting for corporate taxpayers was part of Alabama Retail’s 2009 Legislative Agenda and will remain so next year.
FEDERAL INCOME TAXES PAID DEDUCTION INTACT
Bills that would have removed state sales tax from groceries never received passage in either chamber. All of the proposals would have limited the exemption for federal income taxes paid to cover the more
than $350 million in estimated annual state revenue lost if the four percent state sales tax had been removed from groceries.
EFFORT TO TRIPLE CIGARETTE TAX FAILS
Another tax that failed to gain passage in the 2009 session would have tripled the tax on a pack of cigarettes from 26 cents per pack to 75 cents per pack. It never even received committee consideration.
Alabama Retail continues to support comprehensive tax reform over patchwork tax policy such as advocated by this proposal.
RED-TAPE MINIMIZATION BENEFIT
LABELING LAWS LESS BURDENSOME
Despite your calls to lawmakers, numerous letters sent by grocers and restaurants to legislators and the governor, as well as almost daily efforts by your Alabama Retail lobbyists during the 2009 regular session, the
governor signed two country-of-origin labeling bills into law. As the bills moved through the process this year, Alabama Retail, working in association with the Alabama Restaurant Association, did convince lawmakers to amend the legislation so the resulting laws are not as burdensome as originally proposed.
NO NEW CAUSE OF ACTION
Alabama Retail and other groups fought throughout the 2009 session to remove the open-ended liability from a bill that would have made it a misdemeanor for businesses to ban lawfully possessed firearms locked in employee or customer vehicles in public or private company parking lots. The House unanimously approved the bill, while the Senate debated but never voted on the companion.
RETAILER-PUNITIVE DATA BREACH BILLS DIE
Two bills, as originally proposed, would have created new, private causes of actions a financial institution could use against retailers responsible for a security breach. Alabama Retail opposed the original legislation
because of the new cause of action and because it would have drawn retailers into a dispute between the financial institutions and the credit-card companies.
COURTS CAN STILL GET UNEMPLOYMENT FACTS
Legislation died that would have excluded unemployment compensation case facts from consideration as evidence in other proceedings. This bill would have robbed you of the ability to use an employee’s
previous statements and findings in certain cases.
PARTIAL DISABILITY CAP REMAINS INTACT
For the second year in a row, Alabama Retail -opposed legislation to remove the $220 weekly cap for partial disabilities and allow an employee to claim that an injury to one part of the body affects another, thus claiming disability on both, never made it out of committee.
CHALLENGES TO JUDICIAL ELECTIONS DEFLECTED
Alabama’s method of electing judges remains the same as no proposals to change how Alabama elects it judges received legislative approval in 2009. Proposals tried included nonpartisan election of state judges; using nominating committees to fill state judicial office vacancies, thus turning the decision of who will be a judge in Alabama over to the state bar; and retention elections for appellate judges.
GENERIC SUBSTITUTION FOR ANTI-EPILEPTIC DRUGS
Two resolutions and a bill died that sought to prohibit pharmacists from substituting generics for any anti-epileptic therapeutic product without first notifying the prescribing physician and patient. Alabama Retail opposed all of these proposals as they would have adversely affected the delivery of patient care.
PHARMACISTS’ CONSCIENCE CLEAR OF MANDATES
No committee even considered a bill that would have allowed healthcare providers to refuse healthcare services that violated their conscience. This legislation also would have interfered with pharmacy and other healthcare employers’ ability to discipline employees for violating company policies or procedures.
KEEPING HEALTHCARE COSTS DOWN
Alabama Retail continued in the 2009 session to oppose any mandatory healthcare benefits that could further increase the cost of healthcare coverage. Several such bills died, including required coverage
for prosthetics and for dependents until age 27.
INCREASE HEALTH INSURANCE DEDUCTION TO 200 PERCENT
In 2008, Alabama Retail and BATC achieved a 150 percent deduction for health insurance premiums paid by small businesses and their employees. Legislation proposed in 2009 would have bumped Alabama businesses with fewer than 25 employees and their employees who earn less than $50,000 up to a 200 percent deduction for the health insurance premiums they pay. Alabama Retail will support this legislation again in 2010.
ENERGY-EFFICIENT PRODUCTS SALES TAX HOLIDAY
As it has for many years, Alabama Retail will continue to support legislation to create an energy-efficient sales tax holiday. Opposition from the Alabama Education Association kept legislation that would have added energy-efficient appliances to the list of items included in Alabama’s annual sales tax holiday, from committee approval in 2009.
RESOLVE OTHERS’ ISSUES WITH SECURITY FREEZES
Efforts by the American Association of Retired Persons and trial lawyers to add liability language sidelined legislation that would have allowed a consumer to place a security freeze on his or her credit
report by sending a written request to a consumer credit reporting agency, Rather than risk addition of language detrimental to retailers, Alabama Retail worked to stall these bills in 2009, but will continue to work for security freeze legislation in 2010.