Riley reveals budgets, fails to gain support for call of special session
Gov. Bob Riley apparently received his first defeat of the regular session that began Tuesday when he failed to gain enough support for his call of an immediate special session.
Riley wanted legislators to recess from their regular session and consider his accountability package before they began working on state budgets.
The House and Senate adjourned Thursday for the weekend without taking up the governor’s accountability plan because, according to Republican leaders, he did not have the votes in the House or Senate to get the Legislature to recess for the special session. The governor is expected to lobby legislators this weekend to try to get the votes he needs to recess for the special session.
However, the governor gave Legislators plenty to ponder this weekend when he introduced his proposed state budgets Thursday.
Those plans included steep budget cuts in some areas and several proposed fee increases that would directly impact farmers and the insurance industry.
Among the increases proposed by the governor were tax hikes on nursing home beds, accelerating the collection of the national tobacco settlement payments, increased fees for obtaining driver’s records from the Department of Public Safety, fee increases for billboard advertisers, freezing enrollment in the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Program, freezing merit pay raises for state employees as well as some other pay incentives, and increasing the amount that state workers pay for their health insurance.
Riley’s General Fund budget proposal for non-education agencies would increase from $1.27 billion this year to $1.33 billion in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 – a $59 million hike.
Riley’s plan would cut many state programs 7 percent below this year, but the departments of Public Health, Medicaid, Human Resources and Senior Services would see increases.
The governor’s proposed Education budget would increase spending from $4.28 billion this year to $4.39 billion in the 2004-05 school year – a $111 million hike.
The Alabama Farmers Federation and other members of the Foundation for Educational and Economic Development, have developed a package of accountability initiatives that will be presented to the Legislature.
These include proposals that would end proration in state budgets; improve accounting oversight of state agencies; establish a plan for cost reduction and establish future cost containment of state employee health insurance; increase local control of schools and consolidate work force training in the state.
The governor’s proposed budgets can be viewed on line at:www.budget.alabama.gov.
Family Farm Preservation Act
Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee told farmers at the Federation’s Commodity Producers Organizational Conference Wednesday that he will sponsor the Family Farm Preservation Act in the Senate.
If adopted, it will keep a farming operation, abiding by the current rules and regulations, from being declared a public nuisance. It also would stipulate that any person or group that sues a farmer abiding by current rules and regulation for public nuisance and loses, must pay the farmer's attorney's fees and expenses associated with the case.
Federation Wildlife Committee suggests changes to proposed deer feeding bill
Sen. Myron Penn, D-Union Springs, introduced Senate Bill 49 to allow deer and turkey hunters statewide to legally use game feeders during hunting season. Currently, a game feeder must be emptied or consumed at least 10 days before hunting is legal in its vicinity.
The bill was assigned to the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee chaired by Sen. Zeb Little D- Cullman. Sen. Little spoke to farmers at the Federation’s Commodity Producers Organizational Conference earlier this week. He said the bill could provide some relief to farmers who are experiencing overpopulation and suffering crop damage. The bill also would provide revenue to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources by requiring a $20 permit and a decal per feeder plus a $5 administrative fee for the counties.
The bill provides penalties for violators which range from $300 to $500 upon conviction. The bill requires that bucks harvested under the feeding program must have at least three one-inch points above the hairline on one side.
Some early opponents of the bill said supplemental deer feeding could cause the spread of disease. However, the bill includes a provision for the state veterinarian, with the support of the Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and the Alabama Conservation Commissioner, to have authority to suspend the feeding program if an outbreak occurs.
Twenty-six other states, including all of Alabama’s neighbors, allow supplemental feeding during hunting season.
The Alabama Farmers Federation Wildlife State Committee voted this week to support the bill. It would like to see some changes to the bill, and AFF will be meeting with the sponsor to offer the following amendments:
1. Reducing protein requirement of the feed from 20 percent to 15 percent, which would allow half corn and half soybean rations.
2. Supplemental feeding program should be a part of a regular overall deer management program, not just during hunting season.
3. Increase the distance feeders may be located to 200 yards from the food plot instead of 100 yards offered in the current legislation and;
4. Food plot or green fields with a feeder located on them be increased from a minimum 1/4 acre to a minimum of 1/2 acre in size.
Fee increases proposed for Department of Agriculture
Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks said he will seek increased fees for the Department of Agriculture and Industries that could generate an additional $5.3 million to $9.8 million for the department.
Sparks plans to have the legislation introduced during the current session. Currently, the department receives about $4.5 million through fees. The department’s funding from the General Fund budget was cut by $3.7 million, or 27 percent, for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 and other programs in the office were cut $489,750.
Sparks’ recommendation includes increases for inspections of animal, biological, agricultural and chemical products, bee hive registration and cotton gin permits.
Other items targeted for increase include commercial feed licenses, nurserymen dealer permits, seed dealer permits, pesticide applicator permits and various weights and measures fees. Sparks said some of the fees haven’t been changed since 1969.
The Federation’s state commodity chairmen met Jan. 6 with representatives of the Department of Agriculture to discuss the proposed fee increases.
Federation leaders are continuing their assessment of the proposal.
BILLS IN BRIEF
Ethanol Fuel Incentive – SB 10
Sponsored by Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, SB 10 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. It is assigned to the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. AFF OPPOSES the bill as written.
Anhydrous Ammonia – HB 162
Sponsored by Rep. Ron Johnson, R-Sylacauga, HB 162 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 is assigned to the House Judiciary Committee. AFF SUPPORTS.
Gleaning – HB 23 – SB 198
Sponsored by Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, and Sen. Jimmy Holley, D-Elba, the bill allows farmers to invite non-profit agencies to gather remaining agriculture crops, with limitations of civil liability, and donate them to charitable organizations. The liability risks do not exceed that of a trespasser. AFF SUPPORTS.
Volunteer Firemen – SB 185
Sponsored by Sen. Ted Little, D-Auburn, SB 185 would allow volunteer firemen to have the same powers as municipal firemen in deterring interference or hindrance in fire control or firefighting activities. It has been assigned to the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. AFF MONITORING.
Public Timber Sales – HB 33
Sponsored by Rep. Allen Layson, D-Reform, HB 33 allows timber on public lands to be sold as surplus property without bidding. It increases the minimum sale allowed without bid from $500 to $25,000. The bill has been assigned to the House Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Committee.
Federation opposes bill to reduce Supreme Court
Rep.Jimmy Martin, D-Clanton, has sponsored HB 51 that would reduce membership on the Alabama Supreme Court to six associate justices (and one chief justice) effective following the next general election in November 2004. Currently there are eight associate justices and the chief justice.
The Alabama Farmers Federation strongly opposes HB 51. Not long ago the Alabama Supreme Court was dominated by justices who favored trial lawyers and big jury awards. These jury awards hurt businesses and damaged the reputation of the state.
A reduction in the number of justices would provide trial lawyers the opportunity to concentrate personal resources in fewer races. The Federation strongly opposes any effort by the trial lawyers to regain control of the only branch of government capable of restraining their self-interest.
HB 51 has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee. Members of the House Judiciary Committee are: Marcel Black, chair; Charles Newton, vice chair; Steve McMillan; Dick Brewbaker; Linda Coleman; Priscilla Dunn; Laura Hall; Jamie Ison; Albert Morton; John Robinson; Yusuf Salaam; Howard Sanderford; William Thigpen; Jack Venable; and Cam Ward.
Federation members are urged to contact the committee members and voice opposition to this bill.
Phone numbers and addresses of these representatives are listed in the Capitol Connection portion of the Alfa Farmers website.