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March 04, 2005   Email to Friend 

Barron sponsors bill to help development in rural Alabama

Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, president pro tem of the Senate, has introduced a bill that would create a Center for Rural Alabama to help all rural areas of the state. The bill, SB 366, was assigned to the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.

"The simple truth is," said Sen. Barron, "while some parts of the state are thriving, many of the 1.3 million people who live in rural Alabama are not sharing in this prosperity."

Auburn University's Economic Development Institute recently ranked all 67 counties in economic vitality, looking at such measurements as population growth, household income, educational attainment and employment. Barron noted that of the poorest 38 counties, 37 are rural.

"I've studied what other states have done, and have centered this legislation on what has worked,” Sen. Barron said

Similar to existing organizations in North Carolina, Virginia, Texas and Louisiana. The center will be a legislatively created non-profit facility. Initial board members will be appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the House of Representatives, president pro tem of the Senate and the commissioner of agriculture and industries.

Sen. Barron said one of the many benefits of the center would be an information database where counties and municipalities in rural Alabama could share ideas they have tried, including their successes and failures. He said the center would focus on all aspects of rural areas, including health care, education and other important issues facing rural Alabama. Under his legislation, the center will have a number of duties, among them: serve as a clearinghouse for rural development information, develop rural policy in conjunction with other agencies, work to improve coordination and cost-effectiveness of existing programs, develop and work with existing programs to improve local leadership capacity, assist the governor, Legislature and various agencies in formulating rural policy and fostering innovative strategies that promote rural development.

Alfa Farmers President Jerry Newby said the Federation has been looking for an advocate of rural Alabama for some time.

“We truly appreciate Sen. Barron’s leadership and his efforts for rural Alabama,” Newby said. AFF Supports.


House passes minimum 10-mill property tax bill

Sponsored by Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, HB 136, would call for a constitutional amendment to be voted on in a statewide referendum to require all counties and school systems to have a minimum 10 mills of property tax.

The bill passed the House Education Committee chaired by Rep Lindsey on a loud and divided vote in which the chairman declared it to pass. It now moves to the full House.

Currently, some 30 school systems do not have 10 mills in property taxes because the State Foundation Program only requires the equivalency of 10 mills.

The legislation would require 24 counties and six cities to pay higher property taxes. Here is the list of school systems followed by the current millage rate: Autauga County, 7; Barbour County, 7; Bibb County, 7; Blount County, 9; Chilton County, 9; Conecuh County, 9.5; Covington County, 7; Crenshaw County, 8; Cullman County, 7; Dale County, 9; Elmore County, 7; Fayette County, 7; Hale County, 7; Houston County, 8; Jackson County, 7; Lamar County, 7; Lawrence County, 9; Limestone County, 8.5; Marengo County, 8; Marion County, 7; Montgomery County, 7; Pike, County 9.7; Tuscaloosa County, 9.5 and Walker County, 8. City school systems and their millage rates include Andalusia, 7; Arab, 7.5; Athens, 8.5; Daleville, 8; Dothan, 8 and Linden, 8.

These systems use sales tax to make up the difference. However, since the Foundation Program uses the value of a mill in determining each school system's allocation, these 30 school boards will actually lose funds due to the move toward annual property tax reappraisal and other economic conditions.

In last year’s session, Alabama Power and other utilities were opposed to this same legislation because any increase in property taxes affects utilities at a 50 percent higher rate than it does other businesses. This is because utilities are assessed at a 30 percent ratio. They have removed their objections this session.

If this constitutional amendment passes statewide, it will go into effect in all systems regardless if their system voted against it.

During the 2004 legislative session, the Alabama Farmers Federation and County Federations, working with state and local boards of education, reached an agreement that was acceptable to our organization.

When this issue came up, our county organizations met with the local superintendents about this issue.


Senate debates BellSouth rate bill

SB 114, , sponsored by Sen. Hap Myers, R-Mobile,and Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, HB 211, would effectively deregulate all phone companies in the state. Opponents of the bill fear it would increase rates and possibly diminish services in rural, less populated areas.

The Senate debated SB 114 Thursday, and several amendments were added. Amendments are expected to address possible negative implications the bill may have on rural customers. The debate will continue Tuesday. The Federation opposes this bill as written.


BILLS IN BRIEF

Queen Bee State Insect HB 376
Sponsored by Rep. Sue Schmitz, D-Toney, this bill 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 is now in the Senate Committee on Tourism and Marketing chaired by Sen. Myron Penn, D-Union Springs.AFF Supports.

Fish Weighing Bill - SB 324, HB 392
HB 392 sponsored by Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, and SB 324, 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. The 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. The bill would allow a deduction from the weight of the catfish for any foreign substances in the weighing basket. HB 392 passed the House on Thursday and was referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. SB 324 was passed out of the Senate Committee on Wednesday. AFF Supports.

State Income Tax Changed to Mirror Federal Laws - SB 390
SB 390, sponsored by Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, would allow a casualty loss on cattle and trees suffered in a presidentially declared disaster to be taken on state income tax at an amount equal to the entire decline in the fair market value of the affected real or personal property. Under existing law, a casualty loss deduction on state income tax for cattle and trees is deducted in accordance with the U.S. Internal Revenue code regulations for the same deduction for federal income tax purposes. SB 390 was assigned to the Finance and Taxation-General Fund Committee. Because this bill should originate in the House, Rep. Yusuf Salaam, D-Selma, plans to introduce a House version on Tuesday. After the bill is introduced in the Senate, the Legislative Fiscal Office will prepare a fiscal note on the bill, relating how it will impact the General Fund. The Federation plans to continue to study this bill and the impact it will have on farmers’ tax returns who have losses during natural disasters. AFF Monitoring.

Non-payment for Ag Goods SB 147 and HB 442
Sponsored by Sen. Lowell Barron, D- Fyffe, and Rep. Jeremy Oden, R-Eva, the bill would establish the crime of 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 agricultural products or chattel and refuses to pay within the contract date or within 20 days following receipt of the commodity. Such person 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 passed the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday with amendments that make it more like the Senate version. The House version includes all products or chattels of an agricultural nature. AFF Supports.

ATV Registration - HB 386
Sponsored by Rep. Ron Johnson, R-Sylacauga, HB 386 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. The bill also would provide for the issuance of regulations by the department. The bill would provide for criminal penalties for violations related to the act. This bill would prohibit the unauthorized alteration of identification numbers or registration information relating to off-road vehicles or identifiable component parts thereof and would provide criminal penalties for violations of this act. This bill would 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 again this week to give the committee time to review a substitute bill. The committee is expected to vote on the bill next week. AFF is opposed to the bill as currently written because of the casual sales tax provisions but supports the registration of ATV's to help prevent theft. The substitute would only require a one-time registration, and the sticker would only have to be issued again if it is illegible, removed or destroyed. If a used ATV is sold, you would remove the sticker, and the new owner would be required to register, pay any applicable taxes and place a new sticker on the ATV. AFF Monitoring.

ADEM Commissioner Qualifications Expanded SB 222 and HB 321
HB 321, sponsored by Rep. Frank McDaniel, D-Albertville, would provide that the member previously required to be certified by the National Water Well Association Certification Program must be certified by the National Ground Water Association Certification Program or must be a geologist licensed to practice geology by the State of Alabama. This bill passed the House Tuesday with amendments. AFF supports the expansion of this position to include the certified geologist. However, the certification of the well driller still does not require the commissioner to hold a current certification. AFF is opposed to this version as written and continues to work with interested parties for further clarification. SB 222 is sponsored by Sen. Larry Means, D-Attalla, and is still in the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs. AFF Monitoring.

Limited Home Rule - SB 129, HB 40
Sponsored by Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, and Rep. Jack Venable, D-Tallassee, SB 129 allows Alabama counties to vote on additional powers not prohibited or provided for by general law or the state constitution. SB 129 received final passage in the Senate. The bill was amended to exempt Jefferson County from the fee structure. The bill was amended in the House to define weed, junkyard and animal nuisance control and removed county authority over water, sewer and public transportation. AFF Monitoring


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