In 2010, your Alabama Retail Association governmental affairs team scoured the more than 1,300 bills introduced during the regular session of the Alabama Legislature in an effort to protect your business. Alabama Retail advocates for legislation that benefits your business, while protecting retailers from potentially damaging legislation. But you are the true champions in the legislative arena. Lawmakers want to hear from you, and it is your contact with them that made the difference in 2010. Here’s just a sampling of what you accomplished in the 2010 regular session:
WHAT YOU HELPED ENACT
You Get a Tax Break for Hiring Unemployed
For tax years 2011 and 2012, under The Reemployment Act of 2010, retailers and other businesses can deduct up to 50 percent of the gross wages paid to any employee earning $10 or more an hour who is hired off the unemployment rolls and then is employed full time (37.5 hours weekly) for a full year. The one-time deduction can be claimed after a worker has been on the payroll for a year. The graduated deduction is based on the amount of wages paid. The allowable deductions are: 50 percent for wage rates of $14 per hour or more; 40 percent for wages between $12 and $14 per hour; 35 percent for wages between $10 and $12 per hour; and no deduction for jobs paying less than $10 per hour.
Retailers Can Sell Stronger Wines and Beers
As of July 1, 2010, all retailers licensed to sell wine can sell fortified wines, such as port, sherry, vermouth and “dessert” wines. Any beverage made from fermented fruit containing 24 percent or less alcohol is considered wine or table wine under this new Alabama law. There no longer is a separate definition for fortified wine, which had been defined as wines with an alcohol content of between 16.5 percent and 24 percent.
The new law also allows grocery and convenience stores to sell higher alcohol content beer. In 2009, the Legislature authorized the sale of gourmet beers with alcohol content of up to 13.9 percent, but only for merchants with a retail beer license for on- and off-premises consumption. The 2010 legislation supported by Alabama Retail opens up those sales to all properly licensed beer retailers.
Tuscaloosa Sunday Sales Set for Vote
Under state legislation approved in 2010, the city of Tuscaloosa has set a referendum for Feb. 22, 2011, to decide whether to allow liquor sales between noon and 9:30 p.m. Sundays. If the referendum receives a positive response, Tuscaloosa restaurants, bars, grocery stores and other retailers licensed by the city and the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board would be able to sell alcohol on Sundays, just as they do the rest of the week.
You’ll Track Pseudoephedrine Electronically
By January, 2011, Alabama pharmacies will electronically track the sales of over-the-counter products that contain ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, key ingredients in the production of the illegal drug, methamphetamine. Alabama joins 11 other states in helping law enforcement track the sale of these common cold and allergy medications. Needed equipment will be provided at NO COST to pharmacies and other retailers. The alternative would have been for these products to revert to prescription drugs, which would have limited their access to cold and allergy sufferers and driven up costs.
NEW LAW YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT
Sale of Herb/Marijuana-Like Incense Now Illegal
Alabama became the second state in the nation to criminalize salvia divinorum and Salvinorin A as well as the chemicals JWH-018, JWH-073 and HU-210, all substances used in production of synthetic marijuana, also known as “spice.” Since July 1, 2010, it has been a felony to sell any of these substances and a misdemeanor to possess them. Store owners should have now removed any “spice” products from their shelves and disposed of them.
WHAT YOU HELPED STOP
Your Efforts Avert $42 Million Annual Tax Increase
Thanks to the concerted efforts of Alabama retailers and other business allies, a proposed $42 million annual tax on jobs never made it to the Senate floor for debate. While your calls and letters have stopped this job-killing legislation for two years now, the Legislature has until Sept. 30, 2011, to accept the one-time federal payment of $100.5 million that would drive up your unemployment taxes permanently. Alabama Retail will be there again to oppose any attempt to raise your unemployment compensation taxes.
You Blocked Extreme Immigration Reform
Local and statewide legislation that would have put Alabama employers out of business for failing to verify their employees are in the country legally died as a result of protests from Alabama retailers and other businesses. While Alabama Retail and the Alabama business community does not condone hiring illegal workers, your association fought to keep retailers and other businesses from losing their business licenses for failure to properly perform administrative functions. Alabama Employers for Immigration Reform, a coalition of businesses including Alabama Retail, will continue to fight unduly punitive or burdensome immigration legislation.
Retailers Don’t Have to Collect E-911 Phone Fees
Your association and all of the groups associated with the state’s enhanced 911 emergency telephone service stopped an attempt by a single provider to overhaul the Alabama Wireless E-911 Board and push collection of the fees onto retailers. Lawmakers are expected to try to equalize the fee schedule for land lines as well as wireless phone users in the 2011 session.
You Still Get to Elect Alabama Judges
Alabama’s method of electing judges remains the same as no proposals changing the way Alabama chooses it judges received legislative in approval in 2010. Alabama Retail will continue to oppose any bills that alter the current election process for appellate judges.
Coalition Shoots Down ‘Guns-To-Work’
The Alabama Coalition for Safe Workplaces, which includes Alabama Retail, successfully opposed legislation that would have infringed on employers’ right to secure company property and had the potential to put many small employers who use boilerplate employment manuals in violation. Generic employment manuals often prohibit firearms on company property, including the parking lot, without the business owner even being aware his business has such a policy. This legislation is expected to resurface in 2011.
Courts Can Hear Unemployment Comp Facts
Neither chamber even debated legislation 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.
BUSINESS MANDATES YOU AVOIDED
No Vacation and Sick Leave Mandate
A bill that would have required Alabama employers to give 8.4 hours of sick time for every 80 hours worked if an employee works more than 2,060 hours annually, didn’t even get a committee hearing. Employees would have been allowed to use sick time for preventive care, sickness in their family and to obtain legal and medical services related to domestic assault. The legislation also would have required employers to keep time sheets for every employee for five years and create a presumption of guilt if the records were not kept. Alabama Retail opposes efforts to mandate employee benefits and wages, believing that benefits and salary are best negotiated directly between an employer and his or her employees.
Pharmacists’ Conscience Clear of Mandates
Another mandate that didn’t make it past the committee level 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.
COMING BACK IN 2011 WITH YOUR HELP
Modest Late Fee
A modest $8 increase in late fees for delinquent consumer credit payments from $10 to $18, which Alabama Retail has advocated since 2007, more than likely will reappear in 2011. Alabama Retail supports putting transactions in which consumers buy on credit on the same late fee schedule as small loans.
200 Percent Health Insurance Deduction
In 2008, the Alabama Retail Association and the Business Associations Tax Coalition achieved a 150 percent deduction for health insurance premiums paid by small businesses and their employees. For the past two years, Alabama Retail members have advocated bumping Alabama small businesses businesses up to a 200 percent deduction for the health insurance premiums they pay. Alabama Retail will support this legislation again in 2011.
Energy-Efficient Sales Tax Holiday
The success of the current federal rebate program for energy-efficient appliances could bode well for ARA-supported legislation calling for an energy-efficient sales tax holiday. As it has for many years, Alabama Retail will continue to support legislation to create an energy-efficient sales tax holiday.