WVPA Sharing

WV Senate passes Russian vodka, pharmacy services bills

By Autumn Shelton, WV Press News Sharing

CHARLESTON, W. Va. – Forty-three bills on third reading passed the West Virginia Senate on Friday, including an amended bill referencing a recent executive order by Gov. Jim Justice that bans the sale of Russian-produced liquor in the state. 

According to Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, the amendment to engrossed House Bill 4848 changes certain aspects of the current law relating to non-intoxicating beer, wine and liquor licenses. 

“The bill clarifies that licensees are not required to bag product when they sell it for off-premises consumption,” Trump said. Additionally, he explained that the distance a non-intoxicating alcoholic beverage seller can be located from a church, school or college will be decreased from 300 feet to 200 feet. 

In some instances, the church, school or college may provide written notice that a seller may be located closer than 200 feet. “That’s up to the church, school or college,” Trump noted. 

The bill also keeps the minimum mandatory markup for sales to individuals at 10%, but for sales to private clubs or restaurants the minimum markup would be 112.5%, Trump continued. It also creates new licenses that may be issued by the state Alcohol Beverage Control Administration, including a private bakery license, a private cigar shop license, a private food truck license, and a private college sports stadium license.  

It increases the cap on delivery fees from $5 to $20, includes the Governor’s executive order that the state can no longer buy vodka from Russia and requires that proceeds from the sales of remaining Russian produced liquor go to an organization that benefits the citizens of Ukraine. 

Following the explanation, Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, rose in support of the bill. 

“There’s a part of this bill that I really like and it’s about selling the Russian vodka and donating the proceeds to those in the Ukraine,” Tarr said. “There’s a current effort going on by the General for our National Guard in West Virginia to send body armor to the citizens of Ukraine. And, so, if you are looking for a worthy cause, for those who are selling this Russian vodka to send something to, we can send body armor to the citizens of Ukraine.” 

The bill passed by a vote of 26-8. 

The Senate also passed an amendment for the engrossed committee substitute for House Bill 4112, which provides consumer choice for pharmacy services. This complicated bill was explained by Sen. Michael Maroney, R-Marshall. 

The bill defines the term speciality drug, prevents Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBM’s) from excluding certain pharmacies who meet federal and state criteria from participating in their network, gives 340b plan protections – a federal program that makes prescription drugs more affordable – and gives pharmacies the right to file a complaint with the state insurance commissioner over speciality drug classifications, Maroney said. 

“It’s a pro-small business and a pro-free markets bill,” Maroney noted, after being questioned by Sen. Michael Romano, D-Harrison, as to whether this bill would cause drug costs to go up or down. “This is a patient’s choice bill for access to pharmacies.” 

Additionally, Maroney stated that a fee, which has been in place for a year by PBM’s, should not be passed on to the patient, although theoretically it could. However, as part of a federal Supreme Court ruling called the Rutledge Decision handed down in 2020, state’s can regulate PBM’s with regard to Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) plans, Maroney continued. 

There was no further discussion on the fee. 

“I gotta tell you Senator, I have a lot of faith in you and I want to believe what’s going on here. You just tell me, is this a good thing for consumers?” Romano asked. 

“Yes,” Maroney responded. “Little West Virginia is leading the way with regards to prescription drug pricing. Across the nation, we are leading the way. That’s why we are getting so much kick-back. We are fighting the giants, but we are winning and we are going to keep on winning. The end result is going to be lower drug prices, not only for West Virginia, but everyone in America.” 

Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, also spoke to the bill. 

He stated that he is concerned about his constituents who asked him to vote against the bill, including those with the United Mine Workers of America. 

According to Caputo, there is a fear that the bill could increase costs. 

“You know, just talking to those folks and the fear that they have causes me to pause to be honest with you,” Caputo said to Maroney. “On top of that, we got some letters from big employers in the state that have a fear about this bill – that it could increase costs to employees.” 

He said he could not support passage of the bill due to that fear. He and Romano cast the only no votes.

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