LEGISLATURE WINDING DOWN SESSION
Several bills of interest to Alabama farmers are moving through the Legislature during its final days of the session.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- The Alabama Legislature last week gave final approval to a bill affirming the state's authority to regulate fertilizer, passed an Arizona-style immigration bill and approved a proposal for a constitutional amendment that will let voters decide whether to reauthorize Forever Wild funding for another 20 years.
SB 123, sponsored by Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, passed the House of Representatives Wednesday. It prohibits local governments from regulating the registration, packaging, labeling, sale, storage or distribution of fertilizer. The companion bill, HB 198, was sponsored by Rep. Chad Fincher, R-Semmes. Gov. Robert Bentley is expected to sign the bill into law.
On Thursday, the House gave final approval to a proposed constitutional amendment that would reauthorize funding for the Forever Wild program for another 20 years. SB 369, sponsored by Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery, allows voters to decide the fate of the land-buying program during the Nov. 6, 2012, general election.
Forever Wild uses 10 percent of the investment income from the state's oil and gas trust fund to preserve land for recreation. Since 1992, the program has spent about $160 million to purchase or lease more than 220,000 acres.
Late Thursday night, legislators passed HB56 sponsored by Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, which requires all employers to E-verify new hires beginning April 1. The governor is expected to sign the bill. Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, sponsored a similar immigration bill that would have, among other things, excluded the requirement for employers to use the E-verify system.
Brian Hardin, assistant director of Governmental and Agricultural Programs, said the Federation is developing plans to help educate members about the new regulations.
In other agricultural related legislation, the House passed a bill that would protect Alabama honeybee colonies from pests and disease by increasing fines for illegally transporting honeybees across state lines. SB 433, sponsored by Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, now heads to the governor for his signature. The companion bill, HB 552, was sponsored by Rep. Chad Fincher, R-Semmes.
Also on the way to the governor is a measure that would give the Department of Agriculture and Industries authority to approve roadside signage for agritourism operations. HB 188, sponsored by Rep. Elwyn Thomas, R-Oneonta, passed the Senate Thursday. Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Red Hill, sponsored the companion bill, SB 153, and handled the legislation in the Senate.
"Agricultural tourist attractions often have problems getting tourists to their location because of poor sign placement and confusion on small or country roads, this bill will fix those problems," said Scofield, who chairs the Senate Tourism Committee.
Agriculture and Tourism are two of Alabama's largest industries, both with an economic impact exceeding $9 billion. This bill will combine those two industries thus providing an economic boost to all of Alabama, Scofield added.
Many states have passed similar legislation and have experienced a noticeable increase in tourism. More than 27 states have put in agricultural tourist signs, including Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Louisiana.
In other action Thursday, the Senate gave final approval to a bill that would change the Alabama Agricultural Center Corporation board of directors, which oversees Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery. HB 486, sponsored by Rep. Joe Hubbard, D-Montgomery, adds the chair of the Montgomery County Commission, the president of the Montgomery City Council and the mayor of Montgomery to the board. It also authorizes the corporation to issue bonds for the upkeep and renovation of the coliseum. The coliseum hosts livestock shows and other agricultural events.
The Legislature sent a package of four tort reform bills to the governor last week. The bills protect Alabama retailers from product liability lawsuits aimed at manufacturers; lower the interest rate defendants pay on judgements during the appeals process; prohibit the practice of "forum shopping" in wrongful death lawsuits; and establish a framework for the admission of expert testimony.
Meanwhile, Gov. Bentley last week signed signed the Landowners Protection Act (SB 84). The new law, sponsored by Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale, limits the liability of landowners who lease their property for hunting or fishing.