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May 02, 2003   Email to Friend 

Bill proposing property tax increase clears Senate committee

A proposed constitutional amendment that would increase property taxes for schools was passed by a Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee Wednesday and is likely to pass the full Senate when the body takes up the legislation.

Sen. Jeff Enfinger, D-Huntsville, introduced the bill that would set minimum ad valorem tax rates at 30 mills or the equivalent in every city and county school system that currently doesn’t meet that level of funding for education by Oct. 1, 2006. This bill is similar to the “Starkey Bill” that has been introduced in past sessions.

Neither Sen. Enfinger’s proposed bill, SB 354, nor the identical bill introduced by Rep. Nelson Starkey, HB 580, addresses accountability among the affected school systems.

Sen. Enfinger’s bill has 21 Senate co-sponsors and is projected to raise an extra $155 million a year for school systems that don’t collect that much in local taxes already. The proposed constitutional amendment would require voter approval. Officials in the Legislative Fiscal Office said tax rates would increase for 69 school systems, while 59 others that already collect at least 30 mills or the equivalent in local school taxes would not be affected. Shelby and Jefferson counties would not be affected by the plan.

There has been much talk in recent weeks about Gov. Bob Riley calling a special session to deal with a predicted $500 million revenue shortfall in the state’s budget. The governor said he won’t ask legislators to consider revenue proposals unless there are measures in place to ensure more and better accountability for how tax money is spent. However, a local millage increase, such as the bill proposed by Sen. Enfinger, and a possible state millage increase that could be included in the governor’s proposal, would equate to a dramatic increase in taxes for property owners.

Additionally, several bills have been introduced that would change some fees and remove some exemptions (particularly sales tax exemptions for farmers), both of which would have the net effect of a tax increase. Also, Alabama Revenue Commissioner Dwight Carlisle has begun implementing a plan that would reappraise property each year. The plan, backed by Gov. Riley, will increase tax revenue every year through an annual reappraisal program.

Carlisle already has ordered county revenue officials to switch to annual property tax reappraisals. Annual reappraisals will start next year in 10 counties with all counties expected to be on the new reappraisal system by 2009.

The Federation continues to oppose both SB 354 and HB 580.

“One area of the state should not dictate local tax policy to another area of the state,” said Freddie Patterson, director of the Federation’s Department of Governmental Affairs.


FAMILY FARM PRESERVATION ACT

The Family Farm Preservation Act HB 420 is likely to come up for a vote in the House of Representatives as early as Tuesday, May 6. Contact your Representative and encourage his or her support for HB 420.

Phone numbers and email addressees for Legislators are available under the Capitol Connection section of the Alfa Farmers Website at www.alfafarmers.org


House Agriculture Subcommittee to consider country-of-origin legislation

A public hearing on HB 609 was held Wednesday before the House Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Committee. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Spencer Collier, R-Irvington, and Sen. Gary Tanner, D-Theodore, SB 452, focuses on “the people have a right to know where their food is grown.” The Senate bill has 34 co-sponsors and the House bill has 98.

With that rallying cry from the bill’s sponsor, the committee listened to an afternoon of heated testimony on Collier’s bill that labels the country of origin for farm-raised fish and wild fish, including shrimp.

The committee heard from shrimp farmers in south Alabama worried about escalating competition from foreign countries . They also heard testimony from business and restaurant representatives concerned about adding new labels to products, and fines associated with potential violations.

Butch Wilson of Dallas County, chairman of the Alabama Catfish Producers, testified in favor of the bill before the House committee about the labeling of farm-raised catfish. Representatives for retail grocers, independent businesses and restaurants are expected to testify to the committee May 7 in opposition to the bill.

Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, chairs the House Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Committee. Following this week’s hearing, he appointed a subcommittee to study the bill for two weeks.

The subcommittee will have its first meeting, May 5 at 3 p.m. in Room 603 at the Alabama State House. Rep. Joe Carothers, D-Dothan, will chair the subcommittee. Other subcommittee members include Representatives Greg Albritton, R-Excel, Spencer Collier, R-Irvington, Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, Yusuf Salaam, D-Selma, Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, Billy Beasley, D-Clayton, John Robinson, D-Scottsboro. Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks also will serve as an advisor to the subcommittee.

In addition to legislators, four lobbyists also were appointed to advise the subcommittee. They are Rosemary Elebash of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, Charles McDonald of the Alabama Retail Association, Pat McWhorter of the Alabama Restaurant Association, and Freddie Patterson of the Alabama Farmers Federation. Patterson will be represented by Jimmy Carlisle, director of the Federation’s Catfish Division, along with Butch Wilson, chairman of the state committee.


BILLS IN BRIEF

ADEM Commission – HB 144, SB 164
Sponsored by Rep. Allen Layson and Sen. Larry Means. Lawmakers carried over the bill last week with one key amendment that would retain the current at-large position and would only change the well drillers’ appointment. If this bill passes as amended, upon the next vacancy, the governor would be required to appoint someone with a scientific background in agriculture and/or forestry from an accredited university, a hydrogeologist or geologist to replace the well drillers position. The Federation supports this legislation because it is important to have agriculture related representation on the commission in light of the strict rules and regulations that affect Alabama agriculture. AFF SUPPORTS.

Home Rule Bills – SB 450, SB 456, HB 621
SB 450, sponsored by Sen. Gary Tanner, D-Theodore; SB 456, sponsored by Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston; and HB 621, sponsored by Rep. Jack Venable, D-Tallassee, are each constitutional amendments that give counties optional home rule powers regarding economic development, public safety and health, taxation, and land use regulation. These bills are identical to the language in a report prepared by the Alabama Citizens Constitutional Commission, appointed by Gov. Bob Riley. AFF OPPOSES.

Tree Stand Safety – HB 623
Sponsored by Rep. Bill Dukes, D-Decatur. This bill would require that you use a safety harness while using an elevated stand. The bill was passed out of the House Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday and was placed on the House calendar. AFF MONITORING.

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.

Ethanol Fuel Incentive – HB 81, SB 300
HB 81 passed 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. There was a Senate substitute to the bill which renamed the fund the Alabama Qualified Fuel Ethanol and Alternative Fuels Producer Incentive Fund. The Federation offered an amendment that would require the biomass to be furnished totally by Alabama farmers insofar as the supply is available. SB 300 is sponsored by Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, and is in the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. AFF MONITORING.


ELECTION BILLS

HB 11 – Sponsored by Rep. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, requires counties to report election results to the Alabama Secretary of State within three hours of polls closing. A second bill sponsored by Rep. Ward, HB 357, allows for electronic filings by candidates of financial reports to the Secretary of State. AFF SUPPORTS.

HB 127 – Sponsored by Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, moves the party certification filing date of presidential and vice presidential candidates to Sept. 2 to ensure that national nominees will be on the Alabama ballot. AFF SUPPORTS.

HB 159 – Sponsored by Rep. Steve McMillian, R-Bay Minette, increases the distance of political activities at polling locations from 30 feet to 200 feet; and HB 160 imposes more severe penalties for voter fraud. AFF SUPPORTS.

HB 353 – Sponsored by Rep. Jeff McLaughlin, D-Guntersville, prevents transfer of funds among political action committees. AFF OPPOSES.

HB 376 – Sponsored by Rep. Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham, requires that the method of election and the number of minorities to be elected ordered by the Federal Courts would be retained until local laws are enacted. AFF OPPOSES.

HB 419 – Sponsored by Rep. Ken Guin, D-Carbon Hill, also known as the Help America Vote Act, places the office of voter registration under the Secretary of State and provides a voter with a way to cast a ballot when their name does not appear on the voting list. AFF OPPOSES.

HB 453 – Sponsored by Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, requires judges seeking election to run without declared party affiliation. AFF OPPOSES.

HB 483 – Sponsored by Rep. Leslie Vance, D-Phenix City, with some exceptions, requires an elected official to resign from their position if they change political party affiliation during their term of office. AFF OPPOSES.

HB 503 – Sponsored by Rep. Randy Hinshaw, D-Huntsville, expands requirements for disclosure of funding sources for all political advertisements. AFF OPPOSES.

SB 3 – Sponsored by Sen. Larry Means, D-Attalla, requires an automatic recount of votes when the results are as close as one-half to one percent of the total number of votes cast. AFF MONITORING.

SB 280 – Sponsored by Sen. Lowell Barron, D- Fyffe, requires judges who have issued advisory opinions to recuse themselves when that issue appears before them in court. AFF OPPOSES.


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