The Alabama Legislature applied the brakes slightly in the 2013 regular session to the dizzying pace at which it had been enacting legislation during the current term. Fewer bills were introduced and fewer were enacted. Even so, more than 400 bills and resolutions became law in 2013. For 70 years, the Alabama Retail Association has represented retailers wherever public policy is made. Alabama Retail advocates for legislation that benefits your business, while protecting retailers from potentially damaging legislation. During the 2013 regular session, your association kept you posted on about 140 retail-related bills in its weekly e-newsletter, Capitol Retail Report. When the 2014 regular session begins Tuesday, Jan. 14, your Alabama Retail governmental affairs team will be there again benefiting you.
LEGISLATION THAT WILL REAPPEAR
Taxpayer Bill of Rights II to Resurface
Although the governor agreed this year to a revised version of landmark legislation to centralize Alabama’s tax appeal process and separate it from the taxing governments, the Alabama Senate did not debate it during the 2013 regular session. The legislation endorsed by 26 members of the Business Associations’ Tax Coalition will return in some form in 2014.
Business License Reform on the Horizon
The Alabama Legislature could complete its effort to streamline the state’s business license system in 2014. Efforts were made this year to eliminate the more than 140 existing state and county business licenses currently required in Alabama and replace them with a single flat-fee license. Alabama Retail will continue to be involved in the discussions on how best to simplify the current cumbersome system and reduce its drain on retailer resources and time.
Back with Small Biz Remittal After The Fact
Your trade association will advocate for some 4,000 small businesses in Alabama to be able to remit sales taxes after the fact rather than in advance in 2014. The third year could be the charm for legislation that would allow retailers with monthly sales averaging $2,500 or less to no longer have to estimate their sales tax obligation in advance each month. The current threshold of $1,000 remains for now.
Expect Change in Access to EBT Benefits in 2014
Recent changes to federal regulations prohibit the use of Electronic Benefit Transfer benefits for public and private liquor stores, casinos and strip clubs and gave states until 2014 to adopt similar rules. A bill before the Alabama Legislature to make those and other changes to welfare benefits in our state did not pass in this year’s session. Both the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are loaded onto a single EBT card, which works much like a debit card and is used to purchase goods in many Alabama retail stores.
Corporations Can Give to Campaigns without Limit
As of Aug. 1, provided the U.S. Department of Justice preclears the new law, corporate campaign donors no longer have to research how many elections there have been so far in the year to determine how much they can give to state political candidates. The state’s reformed campaign finance law removes the limit on corporate campaign giving.
Check Your Firearms Policy
New law, which takes effect Aug. 1, expands where Alabamians can carry firearms. The law keeps businesses in several instances from prohibiting employees or the general public from carrying guns onto business property. Employers can forbid employees to carry firearms while working, either on or off the employer’s property, and businesses with certain security measures and barriers can prohibit even those with concealed carry permits from bringing their weapons inside the building. Other more open, less secure businesses, however, can’t prevent a concealed permit holder from bringing a concealed gun inside their store or business, under the new law. However, if you don’t want openly carried holstered pistols inside your business, consider posting a sign stating that firearms are not permitted on the property. Employers can no longer prohibit employees who are legal gun owners from bringing their pistols or shotguns to work as long as the weapons are locked out of sight in the employee’s vehicle in the company parking lot. The new law may require revisions to your company policy and postings at your business. Read a Business Guide to Alabama’s New Gun Law.
Medicaid Delivery Overhaul Fully in Place in 2016
By Oct. 1, 2016, health care delivery and risks for Alabama’s Medicaid recipients will have fully shifted from the agency’s current fee-for-service model to regional care organizations under a per-person, or capitated, model. The new delivery networks are to be in place by April 1, 2015. Medicaid recipients in nursing homes and dentists who deliver Medicaid services are not part of the initial revamped system. The governor also has created the Alabama Medicaid Pharmacy Study Commission to review Alabama Medicaid’s pharmacy delivery and reimbursement system. He expects a report on the pharmacy portion of Medicaid delivery by Dec. 1 of this year. Meanwhile, the 2014 General Fund budget prevents the Alabama Medicaid Agency from asking for a pharmacy benefit manager program prior to July 1, 2014. The budget also says if Medicaid decides to go the PBM route that any such program won’t be operational prior to Jan. 1, 2015
New Law Could Ease Regulatory Burden
As of July 1, Alabama state agencies are required to post information related to proposed and existing regulation reviews on their websites and to fulfill license or permit requests within 28 calendar days or notify the applicant as to why the license or permit has not been granted. The Red Tape Reduction Act requires state agencies to produce a business economic impact statement for any challenged regulation prior to its adoption. It also calls for the review of existing rules and regulations every five years.
Businesses Responsible for Weight Inspections
Retailers and other merchants can now use certified inspectors to ensure equipment used to weigh and/or measure is working properly. The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries will develop rules for inspections and provide decals that the registered service agents must place conspicuously on devices that pass inspection. The department will maintain a central database for the inspection reports. Any individual or company that services, repairs or reconditions weighing or measuring devices and registers with the Agriculture and Industries commissioner could be a service agent.
Late Responses to UC Inquiries Could Cost Your Business
As of Aug. 1, employers who have failed to respond in a timely fashion or adequately two or more times when questioned by the state about an unemployment claim could see a decline in their unemployment compensation account. Any consequent overpayment of claims could be charged against the employers’ account.
Pharmacists Can Accept Unused, Expired Drugs
Beginning Aug. 1, pharmacists can accept unused or expired dispensed medications for the purposes of destruction only. Thelaw continues to forbid pharmacists from paying refunds for unused prescription drugs.
Check IDs for E-Cigarette Sales by Aug. 1
As of Aug. 1, minors will no longer be able to buy, use, possess or transport electronic cigarettes in Alabama. As regulations related to this new law are developed, the Alabama Retail Association will share the guidelines with affected retail members. Starting Aug. 1, retailers should allow only those 19 and older to purchase electronic cigarettes.
Unitary Combined Reporting Dies Again
Alabama Retail again successfully opposed required unitary combined reporting for corporate income taxes, which would have been detrimental to Alabama’s ability to attract new businesses and keep the ones it has.
Maximum Weekly Jobless Benefits Remain As Is
Certain employers avoided an estimated $13 million in additional unemployment taxes in 2015 because the Alabama Senate never considered an increase in the maximum weekly jobless benefit. The weekly benefit continues to top out at $265. The unsuccessful legislation would have increased that amount by $20 by the summer of 2014.
Several Fees Remain Same; Increases Avoided
Legislation that would have tied fee rates to the Consumer Price Index, a potentially punitive proposal for business, was among the bills that died in the 2013 regular session. Other bills that would have doubled filing fees for alcohol beverage licenses and increased late fees for license renewals also died.
Legal Entanglements Averted
The Alabama False Claims Act, which could have escalated the filing of large, expensive and business-discouraging litigation in our state, stalled and ultimately died at the urging of the Alabama Civil Justice Reform Committee, of which Alabama Retail is a member. The untenable but popular idea of losers pay in civil litigation also died in committee.