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September 16, 2005   Email to Friend 

Grassroots Effort By Federation Members Helps Strengthen Property Rights Bill In Special Session
Debra Davis

Alabama Farmers Federation President Jerry A. Newby, front right, joins Gov. Bob Riley for the signing of a new law limiting the use of eminent domain as Rep. Mac Gipson, R-Prattville, and Sen. Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery, look on.
Hundreds of phone calls from Alabama Farmers Federation members were instrumental in securing passage of an important bill to protect private property rights during the recent special session of the Alabama Legislature. Legislators also approved the state's General Fund budget and approved a constitutional amendment that requires city and county school systems to have a minimum of 10 mills of property taxes for public education.

A recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court could have given cities wide power to condemn property for private development in order to generate tax revenue. The original bill introduced in the special session by Gov. Bob Riley to remedy the adverse effects of the court ruling still would have allowed the state to condemn property for nongovernmental purposes, such as industrial development. A quick response by the Federation to notify its members resulted in more than 1,400 calls in one day to legislators and a much stronger bill to protect property rights.

"A dramatic change literally came about within 24 hours that resulted in amendments to significantly strengthen the original bill," said Federation Executive Director Mike Kilgore. "This would not have happened without the rapid response of the leaders of our organization at the local level who took time to call their legislators."

The Federation was successful in making the restrictions include the state, as well as counties, and added "industrial development" to the restrictive language. As passed, the bill prohibits the state, county and municipalities from condemning property for nongovernmental retail, office, commercial, residential or industrial development.

Federation Governmental Affairs Director Freddie Patterson said a constitutional amendment will be introduced in the regular session next year to give the legislation more permanent footing. "The groundswell of grassroots support generated by our organization has cemented the support of many legislators for future passage of the constitutional amendment," he said.

The new $1.55 billion General Fund budget includes a 6 percent pay raise for state employees as well as funding for several agricultural projects, including $550,000 that will be used to match federal funds for the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program.

In the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries budget, legislators approved $25,000 to promote rabbit production in Alabama, $25,000 for promotion of inland shrimp production in the state and $200,000 for fire ant control. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management budget included $350,000 for regulation of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations in the state.

The 10-mill property tax constitutional amendment will be decided by voters on Nov. 7, 2006 -- the date of the next general election. Currently, 24 county school systems and six city systems have less than 10 mills of property tax. County school systems affected are Autauga, Barbour, Bibb, Blount, Chilton, Conecuh, Covington, Crenshaw, Cullman, Dale, Elmore, Fayette, Hale, Houston, Jackson, Lamar, Lawrence, Limestone, Marengo, Marion, Montgomery, Pike, Tuscaloosa and Walker. City school systems affected are Andalusia, Arab, Athens, Daleville, Dothan and Linden.

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