BATC seeks solutions and cooperation
A delegation of the Business Associations’ Tax Coalition (BATC) met with members of the House and Senate bipartisan negotiating committee Thursday to encourage meaningful spending reform. The Alabama Farmers Federation is a BATC member.
In an effort to foster a productive atmosphere for the ongoing negotiations, the BATC delegation expressed a commitment to work with the legislative committee to find areas to reform state government and rebuild public trust. BATC representatives pointed out several areas of reform that would result in long-term stabilization of the state’s budgets.
“It is BATC’s firm position that budget stabilization and spending reform must take place before tax hikes are considered,” said BATC chairman Russell Davis. “I applaud the leaders of the House and Senate who are working in a tough atmosphere to find solutions.”
Davis said BATC would work toward progress despite a negative television ad campaign being waged by other organizations. The ad campaign was called “shameless" by Birmingham News editorial writers.
“Such ads are an age-old political tactic that oversimplifies complex issues, misleads state employees and poisons the atmosphere of negotiation,” Davis said. “We believe the negotiating committee should be able to work in an environment free of the politics of division so that the numbers, not the nonsense, can do the talking.”
Legislators spent a great deal of time this week discussing budgets for the next fiscal year.
Tax collections for the Education Trust Fund for October through February have increased 5.5 percent, or $92.7 million over the same time last year.
Those figures have translated into optimism among legislators who say they will be able to pass an education budget for the 2005 budget year without raising taxes.
Tax collections in the state that are earmarked for education grew by $17.5 million, or 4.8 percent, compared to February of 2003. The primary sources of those taxes include sales taxes and personal and corporate income taxes. Despite a downturn in collections for January, overall sales tax collections for October 2003 through February were up 8.9 percent, and income taxes increased by 4.3 percent.
However, news for the state’s General Fund is not so encouraging. Collections there dropped by $41.7 million, or 8.1 percent, during the same time. Much of the downturn is blamed on one-time money the state received from lawsuit settlements that were used to prop up the General Fund.
“There’s no growth, and the growth in expenditures (for the General Fund) in just a couple of areas is such that we’re not going to have enough funds to fully fund all the operations outside education without additional revenue,” Hammett told the Associated Press.
Wildlife feeding bill set for hearing before House Ag Committee
Members of the Federation’s State Wildlife Committee and other wildlife enthusiasts are expected to testify before the House Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Committee Wednesday during a 1:30 p.m. hearing. The hearing on HB 518 will be in the Star Wars room of the State House.
The Federation’s State Wildlife Committee has endorsed the legislation. Twenty-six other states, including all of Alabama’s neighbors, allow supplemental feeding during hunting season. The Senate bill, SB 49, was sponsored by Sen. Myron Penn, D-Union Springs, and has been approved by the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.
Its companion bill, HB 518, is sponsored by Rep. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster. It is assigned to the House Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Committee which has scheduled the hearing for Wednesday.
The bill requires that supplemental feeding be a part of an overall deer management plan, that feeders be placed within 200 yards of a green field and that feeders be placed at least 100 yards from the hunter and out of the line of his sight. It also provides penalties for violators which range from $300 to $500 upon conviction. The bill requires that male whitetail deer harvested under the feeding program must have at least three one-inch points above the hairline on one side.
The Alabama Wildlife Federation is opposing the bill, claiming, among other things, that it encourages the transmission of diseases among whitetail deer. However, resolutions passed by the AWF board supports supplemental feeding of deer so long as it doesn’t include hunting over bait.
The Alabama Rifle and Pistol Association, the Alabama affiliate of the National Rifle Association, also opposes the bill, according to the organization’s State Vice President James Porter. He said the bill removes the “fair chase” aspect of hunting. Porter said he doesn’t know if the organization has a formal policy opposing such legislation, but added that the group doesn’t have a problem with hunting over green fields, which he called “a naturally occurring phenomenon.”
Federation Wildlife Division Director Steve Guy encouraged those who favor the bill to attend the hearing. He said expert testimony in favor of the bill will be presented during the hearing.
Guy also encouraged Federation members in favor of the bill to contact the members of the House Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation Committee. They are: Chairman Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville; Vice Chairman John Robinson, D-Scottsboro; Greg Albritton, R-Excel; Billy Beasley, D-Clayton; Warren Beck, R-Geneva; Lucius Black, D-York; Joe Carothers, D-Dothan; Tommy Carter, D-Elkmont; Spencer Collier, R-Irvington; Rusty Glover, R-Semmes; Micky Hammon, R-Decatur; Allen Layson, D-Reform; Yusuf Salaam, D-Selma; Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro; and Cam Ward, R-Alabaster. They can be reached at the State House at 334-242-7600.
Compromise reached in trooper pay increase bill
A compromise between insurance company representatives and lobbyists for the Alabama Troopers' Association appears to have settled a dispute over attempts to increase fees for motor vehicle reports (MVRs).
SB 350, sponsored by Sen. Myron Penn, D-Union Springs, would have increased the MVR fee from $5.75 to $10. The current fee doesn’t include additional money insurance companies pay for electronic delivery of MVRs which is listed as “administrative fees’ and cost $1-$2 each.
Sen. Penn told members of the House Commerce, Transportation and Utilities Committee that the bill would generate $8.5 million in new revenue that would be earmarked to increase troopers’ salaries and to hire 100 new troopers.
The compromise included an increase of $1 per year for MVRs for the next three years with a stipulation of no further increases for five years after the third dollar is implemented. As part of the agreement, the Department of Public Safety has agreed to work with Alfa and other insurance companies to provide a new service. The department will supply undisclosed drivers’ reports which would notify insurance companies of new eligible drivers.
B 350 is part of a package of three bills in the House commerce, Transportation and Utilities Committee that would raise a combined total of $13 million for state troopers. SB 218, sponsored by Sen. Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery, would increase CDL application fees from $5 to $25 and retest fees would be $15 with the skills portions costing $20.
SB 241, sponsored by Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, would increase drivers’ license fees from $20 to $25.
All three bills are part of an overall package being pushed by the Alabama Troopers Association, not the Department of Public Safety.
OTHER BILLS OF INTEREST
SB 81, sponsored by Sen. Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega, and HB 299, sponsored by Rep. John Robinson, D-Scottsboro, are both out of committee awaiting action in their respective chambers. The current law requires that trucks weighing 8,000 pounds or less pay a $23 fee to register their truck and this group is the only trucks that currently may display a distinctive and personalized license plate.
This legislation will divide the current weight classification between 8,001 to 12,000 pounds that current pay a $105 registration fee into two new categories. The categories would be a weight classification of 8,001 pounds to 10,000 pounds at a registration fee of $35 and as amended by agricultural groups would allow distinctive and personalized tags in this new category. The second weight category would be 10,001 to 12,000 pounds at a cost of $105 and does not allow for a special tag.
This bill will allow farmers and others who drive larger trucks to purchase tags such as the “Farming Feeds Alabama” tag.
HB 108, which establishes the appointing of poll watchers in issue elections by political parties only, was scheduled for a public hearing this week. However, the hearing was canceled when the bill’s sponsor, Rep. George Bandy, D-Opelika, did not attend. Federation Director of Governmental Affairs Freddie Patterson was prepared to testify during the hearing. The Federation believes poll watchers should be allowed in issue elections and should include opponents and proponents that have a vested interest in the outcome of the vote. Alabama Secretary of State Nancy Worley said she shares Alfa’s concern and has been supportive of attempts to amend the bill. Rep. Ken Guin, D-Carbon Hill, chairman of the committee, requested that the bill be carried over again until next week. The Federation opposes the bill as written and plans to have representatives testify when the public hearing is held.
The Federation opposes the bill as written. The bill has been assigned to the House Constitution and Elections Committee.
HB 51, sponsored by Rep. Jimmy Martin, D-Clanton, was defeated in the House Judiciary Committee this week by a vote of 8-5. The bill would have reduced membership on the Alabama Supreme Court to six justices (and one chief justice) effective following the next general election in November 2004. Currently there are eight associate justices and the chief justice.
SB 382, sponsored by Senators Charles Steele, D-Tuscaloosa and Zeb Little, D-Cullman, would standardize Alabama’s catfish weighing practices with those of other states. It requires processors to use a weighing device that would electronically print data that includes processor and producer information. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee and is supported by the Federation.
The House companion bill, HB 541, is sponsored by Rep. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro.
Family Farm Preservation Act stalled in committee
The Family Farm Preservation Act is currently stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill 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.