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March 11, 2010   Email to Friend 

Jeff Helms
(334) 613-4212
March 11, 2010

House Agriculture and Forestry Committee Members Benjamin Lewis, R-Dothan, left, and Committee Chairman Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, right, discuss the Family Farm Preservation Act with Nate Jaeger of the Federation Governmental and Agricultural Programs Department following Wednesday's vote.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. - The Family Farm Preservation Act is expected to face a final vote in the Alabama House of Representatives later this month, following unanimous passage of the bill by the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee on Wednesday.

SB 61, sponsored by Sen. Kim Benefield, D-Woodland, would prevent farms that abide by current rules and regulations from being declared a public nuisance. The measure passed the Senate last month by a 30-0 vote. During Wednesday's committee meeting, Rep. Benjamin Lewis, R-Dothan spoke in favor of the bill. A dairy farmer himself, Lewis noted that the bill is important to all voters because it helps maintain a stable food supply and preserves the values, character and work ethic taught on family farms.

In other action, the House Ag Committee passed a bill allowing streamlined licensing of hunters at bird preserves, a bill that strengthens the state veterinarian's authority to oversee livestock care, and two bills increasing penalties for timber theft.

SB 76, sponsored by Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, would provide bird-hunting preserves the option of buying an annual license for $500 that would cover hunters on the property who do not already have the appropriate license. The bill now heads to the full House. The companion bill, HB 302 by Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, is on the Senate calendar.

The committee gave a favorable report to a substitute version of HB 561, sponsored by Rep. Ralph Howard, D-Greensboro. The bill, which updates the state veterinarian's responsibilities related to livestock care, was changed to address concerns by farmers, law enforcement officers, the state Department of Public Health and county commissioners. The changes define livestock an clarify that the bill doesn't affect the authority of law enforcement agencies. They also clarify that the bill doesn't relieve farms of the need to comply with health laws; and clarify that the bill doesn't supersede local ordinances that are not related to livestock care. The companion bill, SB 413 by Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, awaits action by the full Senate.

Meanwhile, the committee passed two Senate bills related to timber theft, which now lack only a vote by the full House before going to the governor. SB 163, sponsored by Sen. Ted Little, D-Auburn, would make the unauthorized cutting, removal, transportation, sale or purchase of timber and forest products a Class A misdemeanor. The bill also would make it a crime to alter a weight-measuring device used for forest products. The companion bill, HB 405 by Rep. Chad Fincher, R-Semmes, was expected to be voted on by the full House Thursday.

The committee also passed SB 185, sponsored by Sen. Mitchell. The bill would allow law enforcement officers to seize equipment possessed by a person charged with a felony offense involving the theft of timber or lumber. The companion bill, HB 175 by Rep. Charles Newton, D-Greenville, has passed the House and awaits action in a Senate committee.

In other business, the House Agriculture Committee assigned a bill strengthening penalties for cockfighting to a subcommittee and delayed action on a bill giving restaurant customers the right to know the country-of-origin of wild seafood. The committee passed a bill allowing farm-raised perch to be sold, provided the seller is permitted by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

In other legislative action, the House passed a bill that would encourage competition in the coastal insurance market by eliminating a rule requiring surplus-line insurers to do business five years in Alabama before writing certain business. SB 10, sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, now heads to the governor. The companion bill is sponsored by Rep. Steve McMillan, R-Bay Minette.

SB 97, sponsored by Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, was expected to be voted on by the full House Thursday. The bill allows checkoff programs to conduct full audits every two years, rather than annually. It requires the programs to file a financial statement every year, but reduces the cost associated with a full audit.

The companion bill, HB 121 by Rep. Tammy Irons, D-Florence, awaits action by the full Senate.

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