- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Gov. Robert Bentley has chosen not to sign a bill that would have allowed HIV clinic pharmacies to redistribute unused drugs, a move that patient advocates on Tuesday said was “extremely disappointing.”

The legislation would have allowed clinics to give government-funded prescription medication to other low income HIV patients instead of throwing expensive drugs away.

“I know that tens of thousands of dollars a year just from our clinic had to be thrown away, and that’s why we asked the state to pass this bill,” said Mary Elizabeth Marr, chief executive officer for Thrive Alabama, a Huntsville-based AIDS service organization and clinic.

Marr said drugs are sometimes left unused when patients need to change regimens or when others move away and leave them behind. New patients entering the system could benefit from using redistributed drugs immediately before they are set up with their own, she said.

Language in the bill would have given immunity to drug makers except in times of “gross negligence.”

A spokeswoman for Bentley said the governor vetoed the bill because he had concerns with the phrase “gross negligence” because it wasn’t defined.

The bill was one of just two separate bills left unsigned by the governor in a move known as a pocket veto. The other unsigned bill would have allowed law enforcement to issue traffic citations to drivers who cause wrecks if they don’t witness the event.

Under current state law, HIV drugs that cost thousands of dollars each month per patient must be discarded if a patient does not use them.

Marr said she thought it would be easy legislation to pass. The bill, she said, was modeled after legislation from another year that allows the Alabama Department of Corrections to redistribute drugs in a similar way.

Bill sponsor Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, said she learned after the bill passed that trial lawyers in the state were concerned with Senate committee changes related to protecting drug makers.

Todd, who sponsored a similar bill that narrowly missed approval during the 2014 legislative session, said she could have worked on the wording if she had known about concerns earlier.

“I’m extremely disappointed in both the trial lawyers and the governor for vetoing the bill, because it could save the state millions of dollars this year that we’ll have to pay for,” she said.

Ginger Avery, executive director for the Alabama Association for Justice, a trial lawyer trade organization, said in a statement that the bill passed by the House is “a good one.”

“We look forward to protecting both HIV patients and others by ensuring this legislation adheres to the 7th Amendment and does not grant carte blanche immunity to drug companies,” she said.

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