Senate passes amended home rule legislation
Sponsored by Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe; and Rep. Jack Venable, D-Tallassee, HB 40 and SB 129 are bills that would authorize the counties in the state to exercise additional powers if those powers are not prohibited or provided for by general law or the state constitution.
A county would have the option for additional limited home rule only if approved by voters in the unincorporated areas. The referendum can only be called by the option of the county commissioners vote or a petition by 10 percent of the county voters in the last governor’s race. A referendum may only be held every four years.
HB 40 by Rep. Venable was sent back to the Constitution and Elections Committee chaired by Rep. Ken Guin for a public hearing that was held Wednesday. The bill was carried over for no more than two weeks. There has been several amendments prepared to clarify weed abatements, junkyards and county commission responsibilities for the water and sewer services.
“The more definite the language in the bill in regard to what the commission can and can not do, the more palatable it will be for our members,” said Federation Director of Governmental Affairs Freddie Patterson.
SB 129, sponsored by Sen. Barron, received final passage. Two amendments were offered in reference to county regulations on rock quarries which were defeated. Another amendment to exempt Jefferson County from the fee structure passed. AFF Monitoring.
Federation opposes BellSouth deregulation bill
After studying the BellSouth deregulation bill, SB 144, for two weeks, the Alabama Farmers Federation has decided to oppose the bill as written.
The bill was evaluated by an independent utility rate expert and an attorney, and both concluded it would adversely impact telephone rates and service for rural residents.
The Federation supports competition and the free-market system. It is not opposed to the deregulation of broadband, wireless and Internet-based services.
The Federation is concerned the bill, sponsored by Sen. Hap Myers, R-Mobile, would create an environment where families in low-population-density (rural) areas would see landline telephone rates dramatically increase and/or service decline.
Currently, two telephone companies serve almost three-fourths of Alabama's 2.4 million telephone customers. Without Public Service Commission (PSC) oversight, there is concern that these companies would discontinue service to high-cost, rural areas or that the service would be cost-prohibitive.
The Federation will work with all concerned groups, including the Legislature, the PSC and BellSouth, to help ensure families in low-population rural areas continue to have good telephone service at a reasonable price.
Bill proposed to reallocate Forever Wild funds
Sponsored by Sen. Gerald Dial, D- Lineville, and co-sponsored by several state senators, SB-255 would re-appropriate one third of the funding for the state's Forever Wild land-acquisition program.
The bill will reassign $5 million, with $2 million going to volunteer firemen, $2 million to the State Soil and Water Conservation Committee and $1 million to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.
Forever Wild receives up to $15 million per year, or 10 percent of the revenue from offshore natural gas wells in Alabama waters. It uses the money to acquire land used for preserving natural areas in Alabama and public hunting. The Department of Conservation is opposed to the bill and estimates that removing $5 million a year from the program could mean the loss of $20 to $30 million per year in federal matching funds used to buy public lands in Alabama each year.
A similar bill failed last year that benefited only the Soil and Water Conservation Committee. The Federation supports adequate funding for volunteer fire departments to help keep insurance cost lower, and supports adequate funding for both the soil and water conservation committee and ADEM.
In addition, the Federation has been supportive of the Forever Wild program and worked in favor of passing the constitutional amendment that established the original fund. The Federation will continue to monitor this bill.
BILLS IN BRIEF
Family Farm Preservation Act - SB 227
SB 227 sponsored by Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, would provide that a farm operation operated by an owner or principal may not be found to be a public or private nuisance or a violation of county or municipal ordinances or resolutions unless certain conditions are met.
Generally, the farm or an expansion of the farm could not be found to be a nuisance or to be in violation of county or municipal ordinances or resolutions if the farm is operated in accordance with applicable laws and regulations and does not violate certain designated practices. The bill also would authorize the owner of the farm to recover legal fees in the event the owner of the farm prevails in any legal action to declare a farm operation to be a nuisance. The bill was assigned to the Judiciary Committee in the Senate, chaired by Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D- Birmingham. AFF Supports.
Fish Weighing Bill - SB 324, HB 392
HB 392 sponsored by Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, and SB 324 - formerly reported as SB 219, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, would require draining the water in weighing baskets containing farm-raised catfish before weighing. This bill would require the weighing device to conform to legal requirements.
This bill would require farm-raised catfish to be weighed with a weighing device capable of electronically printing a ticket, which provides an exact duplicate of the weight indicated. This bill would allow a deduction from the weight of the catfish for any foreign substances in the weighing basket. SB 219 already was out of committee and awaiting final passage on the Senate calendar this week when Singleton’s election certification was challenged. He has since been certified and he re-introduced the same bill on Thursday. It is now SB 324 and must start the process over, including going before the Senate Agriculture Committee again. AFF Supports.
Non-payment for Ag Goods - SB 147 and HB 442
Sponsored by Sen. Lowell Barron, D- Fyffe, and Rep. Jeremy Oden, R-Eva, this bill would establish as a crime the failure to pay for agricultural products and would create penalties for any person who either, on their own account or that of others, has a fraudulent intent and buys specified commodities. Those items include cotton, corn, rice, crude turpentine, spirits of turpentine, rosin, pitch, tar, timber, pulpwood, Christmas trees, pine needles, horticultural crops, poultry and poultry products, cattle, hogs, sheep, goats, ratites, horses mules, pecans, peaches, apples, watermelons, cantaloupes, or other products or chattel.
If a person refuses to pay for the items within the contract date or within 20 days following receipt of the commodity, he shall be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. If the value exceeds $1,000 it would be a Class C felony.
SB 147 passed the Senate Agriculture Committee and is awaiting action on the Senate calendar. HB 442 was introduced Thursday. The Alabama Farmers Federation plans to offer an amendment to include non-payment of animal bi-products such as poultry litter. AFF Supports.
Supplemental Wildlife Feeding
SB 244, sponsored by Sen. Myron Penn, D-Union Springs, would provide for the voluntary feeding of game by spincast, broadcast, or any other container feeder at any time during the year and would require permits for use of each feeder. This bill would not affect the ability of a person to operate a feeder for purposes other than hunting game. The bill would set the amount of the fee for a permit for each feeder and provides for the deposit of the funds into the Game and Fish Fund of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
The bill also would provide penalties for violations. Under existing law, by regulation of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, hunting of game may not take place where feeding has taken place until all feed has been removed or consumed for at least 10 days prior to hunting. The bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville offered an amendment that passed to remove restrictions of antler size on male deer. The sponsor agreed to the amendment and added that this could be done by promulgating a rule if needed by the Department of Conservation. AFF Monitoring.
Solid Waste Tipping Fee HB 263, SB 231
HB 263 and SB 231 sponsored by Rep. Frank McDaniel, D-Albertville, and Sen. Hinton Mictchem, D-Albertville, would impose a state solid waste disposal fee on generators of solid waste disposed in a commercially operated facility. The fee of 32-cents per ton would fund the solid waste branch of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM). The bill was referred to the Government Finance and Appropriations Committee and is awaiting action. The Federation supports adequate funding for ADEM and is monitoring this legislation. AFF Monitoring.
All Terrain Vehicle Registration
HB 386, sponsored by Rep. Ron Johnson, R-Sylacauga, would require a certificate of title from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for all off-road vehicles, with certain exceptions, beginning with the 2007 model year. This bill would provide procedures for the titling of off-road vehicles including procedures for the transfer of titles, and the perfection of liens. This bill would also provide for the issuance of regulations by the department.
This bill would also prohibit the unauthorized alteration of identification numbers or registration information relating to off-road vehicles, or identifiable component parts and would provide criminal penalties for violations of this act. This bill would also require the owner of off-road vehicles, as defined, to register their vehicle and pay any applicable sales taxes in the same manner as for other motor vehicles.
This bill was carried over by the sponsor at the request of the Alabama Farmers Federation to work on some amendments. There is also expected to be amendments by other groups representing the state troopers, county sheriffs, probate judges and annuity funds whom all want some of the funds designated from the annual registration fee. The sales tax provision in the bill will also generate revenue for the General Fund Budget. AFF is opposed to the bill as currently written but supports the registration of ATVs to prevent theft. AFF Monitoring.
Queen Bee as Official State Insect HB 376
Sponsored by Rep. Sue Schmitz, D-Toney, would designate the queen honey bee as the official state insect of Alabama. Currently, the monarch butterfly is designated as the official state insect. The bill passed the House Agriculture Committee Wednesday and awaits final action in the House. AFF Supports.
Strengthen Criminal Trespass Law
Sponsored by Rep. Joe Carothers, D-Dothan, HB 465 would clarify criminal trespass in an effort to make it clear that these statutes apply to any real property regardless of the number or nature of interests in the property. The bill also permits prosecution of persons who knowingly enter property by crossing a fence, body of water, gate, barricade, cable, or berm. It also defines when notice against trespassing has been posted in a conspicuous manners, including the scope of criminal trespass in the second degree the unauthorized dumping onto premises, the knowingly entering or remaining unlawfully upon real property, and the passing around, through, over, or under a fence, body of water, gate, barricade, cable, berm, or other structure or device designed or used to prevent access or exclude intruders.
This bill was introduced on Thursday and was assigned to House Judiciary Committee. AFF Supports.