Farmers testify before House Ag Committee
More than 300 farmers from throughout Alabama filled the hearing room and hallways of the Alabama State House Wednesday afternoon as members of the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee heard testimony on the Alabama Family Farm Preservation Act. The committee is expected to vote on the bill April 23.
Rep. Neal Morrison, D-Cullman, is the sponsor of HB 420. As the hearing began, he urged members of the committee to keep in mind that the Family Farm Preservation Act is designed “to help protect family farmers who are trying to make sure we have food to eat.”
“In talking to people in my area, my worst fear is that we will get to a point in our country where we depend on other countries to provide our food,” he said.
Doyle Phillips, president of the Clay County Farmers Federation, was among the farmers who testified Wednesday afternoon. He said he and his son operate a poultry and cattle operation where his son is a fifth-generation farmer.
“But without legislation like the Family Farm Preservation Act, he will probably be the last generation,” Phillips said. “Even though we put forth every effort to be good stewards on our farm, we still live in and operate our farm in constant fear of nuisance complaints and lawsuits. Without the Family Farm Preservation Act, the Alabama family farm is in jeopardy. We have the safest, most-reliable food source in the world, and we don’t need to take a chance on losing that.”
Alabama Farmers Federation President Jerry Newby said the Family Farm Preservation Act is important to farmers who are in business now and to the future of agriculture in the state.
“With a farmer’s limited resources, he could be litigated out of business without ever losing a case,” Newby said.
Jeannie Bragg Harvey, chairman of the State Young Farmers Committee, operates a family farm in Madison County with her brother and her parents. She said urban sprawl has brought more residents to the country who aren’t familiar with farm life.
“Urban sprawl has been our constant companion for a decade,” she said. “We welcome our new neighbors, but every day when the phone rings, we know it might be one of them with a concern. And we certainly want to discuss those concerns with them, but when those concerns go unresolved, they lead to these nuisance lawsuits. The Family Farm Preservation Act will protect us. These lawsuits threaten our livelihoods by what I call ‘court costing’ us out of business.”
Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, serves as chairman of the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee. Following Wednesday’s testimony, he postponed a vote on the Family Farm Preservation Act until the next committee hearing on April 23. The bill will be voted on that day, he said.
In the meantime, Jackson appointed a subcommittee to study the bill and make a recommendation to the full committee.
Change in truck tags could cost farmers more money
A bill that has been introduced in the House and Senate could cause some pickup truck owners, including many farmers, to pay more for their tags. The Alabama Farmers Federation opposes the bill as written.
HB 484 and SB 420, sponsored by Rep. John Robinson, D- Scottsboro, and Sen. Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega, would reduce the weight class for F1 tags from 30,000 pounds maximum load limit to 26,000 pounds. The proposed legislation would increase the weight range for F2 tags (now 23,001 to 42,000) to 26,001 to 42,000.
Officials have estimated the change would affect about 800 pickup trucks in the state currently classified in the lower weight range. The change would increase the tag costs by $55 for the affected vehicles.
Because of the proposed changes, pleasure class trucks would get a decrease and farm trucks would get an increase in the price of F2 tags. HB 484 is assigned to the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee. SB 420 is in the Senate Commerce, Transportation and Utilities Committee.
Both sponsors have agreed to delay further action on the bills pending discussions with representatives of the Alabama Farmers Federation, Probate Judges Association and the Alabama Department of Revenue.
Starkey introduces bill to increase ad valorem taxes
Rep. Nelson R. Starkey, D-Florence, has introduced HB 580, a constitutional amendment identical to a Senate bill already introduced by Sen. Jeff Enfinger, D-Huntsville, (SB 354) which would set minimum ad valorem tax rates at 30 mills or the equivalent in every school system that currently doesn’t meet that level of funding for education by Oct. 1, 2006.
Sen. Enfinger’s bill has 21 co-sponsors, while Rep. Starkey’s bill has 44 co-sponsors.
The Alabama Farmers Federation is opposed to voters in any section of the state dictating tax policy to another section of the state regardless of the need.
BILLS IN BRIEF
ADEM Commission – HB 144, SB 164
HB 144, sponsored by Rep. Allen Layson, D-Reform, changes requirements for two of the appointments to the Alabama Environmental Commission when the next vacancies occur. It requires the governor to appoint someone with a scientific background in agriculture and/or forestry from an accredited university to replace the current at-large position on the commission. It also changes requirements for the appointee representing well drillers on the commission to be a geologist or hydrogeologist.
An amendment was offered to retain the at-large position and to change the well drillers appointment to a professional geologist or hydrogeologist with an agricultural science background. The amendment was adopted, but some language was inadvertently omitted and the amended bill was carried over until an agreement can be reached between the interested parties.
The companion bill, SB 164, sponsored by Sen. Larry Means, D-Attalla, passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and is awaiting action in the Senate.
SENATE LOG JAM
The following bills are in a log jam in the Senate because of the disagreement among senators regarding the organization of the Senate:
Anhydrous Ammonia – HB 148
Sponsored by Rep. Ron Johnson, R-Sylacauga, it defines the term “anhydrous ammonia” and makes it a crime to unlawfully possess anhydrous ammonia for illegal drug purposes. This bill has a provision that protects production agriculture in relation to possession of this chemical. The bill passed the House and is in the Senate Judiciary Committee. AFF SUPPORTS.
Ethanol Fuel Incentive – HB 81, SB 300
HB 81 passed the House and is in the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. It is sponsored by Rep. Ken Guin, D-Carbon Hill, and would create the Alabama Qualified Fuel Ethanol Producer Incentive Fund to be administered by the Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries to provide grants to qualified fuel ethanol producers in Alabama. SB 300 is sponsored by Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, and is in the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. AFF MONITORING.
Fuel Storage Tanks – HB 368, SB 255
Sponsored by Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark would allow the governor to appoint a seven-member board to manage the Underground and Aboveground Storage Tank Trust Fund. This is an effort to expedite the process for tank testing and removal. The trust fund acts as insurance for any environmental cleanup. Only farmers who pay the annual registration fee to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management would be affected. Farm tanks must exceed 1,100 gallons before registration is required. HB 368 has passed the House and is in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The companion bill, SB 255, sponsored by Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, is in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
OTHER BILLS OF INTEREST
Drug Trafficking Land Seizure – HB 149
HB 149, sponsored by Rep. Ron Johnson, R-Sylacauga, is on the House calendar. The bill addresses drug trafficking offenses, including that of marijuana plants. While we support the concept of this bill, farmers should be exempt from prosecution if they are unaware of illegal drugs on their property. For a landowner to have property seized, they must unequivocally know there are illegal drugs being grown or manufactured on their property. AFF MONITORING.
Pickup Truck Operations – SB 91
SB 91, sponsored by Sen. Tommy Ed Roberts, D-Hartselle, would prohibit pickup truck operators from allowing a person under the age of 18 to ride in the bed of a pickup truck on a paved highway, excluding trucks used in agricultural operations. (The original bill had age 18 but was amended to 12). The bill is awaiting action by the Senate. AFF SUPPORTS.
Sales Tax Exemption – HB 384
HB 384, sponsored by Rep. Jeff McLaughlin, D-Guntersville, proposes to eliminate the sales tax on food and medicine. It also includes the removal of all sales tax exemptions, including those on agricultural input items. In addition to these proposals, all applicable items subject to sales and use tax would be taxed at three percent rather than the current state tax rate of four percent. The bill is in the House Education Finance and Appropriations Committee. AFF OPPOSES.
Fish Poaching Fine Increase – HB 390
Sponsored by Rep. Steve McMillan, R-Bay Minette, this bill would increase fines for fish poaching in private ponds. The current fines are not less than $25 and not more than $100. The proposed change would increase the fine to not less than $200 and not more than $500. The bill is assigned to the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee. AFF SUPPORTS.
Scrap Tire – HB 186, SB 132
HB 186 passed the House Tuesday and is assigned to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. It is sponsored by Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, and would require consumers to pay a fee for scrap tires, including agricultural tires. The fees would go into a trust fund to clean up all scrap and used tire waste in Alabama. Sen. Larry Means, D-Attalla, is handling SB 132 which is in the Senate Health Committee. The bill could help stop the illegal dumping and trashing of tires. AFF MONITORING.
ADEM Disclosure – SB 338, HB 433
Sponsored by Sen. Ted Little, D-Auburn, the Senate bill is assigned to the Senate Committee on Health. HB 433 is assigned to to House Committee on State Government. It requires ADEM to publish a quarterly list of violators of any rules, permits, orders or statutes that are currently being enforced. The House bill is sponsored by Rep. Sue Schmitz, D-Toney. This information is currently available to the public, but as proposed, would make it easier for the public to access. The Federation feels this compilation is unnecessary. Both remain in their respective committees.
udicial Subpoena Powers – SB 362
SB 362, sponsored by Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, would give authority to the House and Senate Committees on the Judiciary to subpoena both persons and records on any group, organization, etc. involved on any issue before them. AFF believes that subpoena powers should be limited to the courts and not extended to the legislative process. AFF OPPOSES.