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April 29, 2005   Email to Friend 

Senate ends filibuster, considers budget; Riley promises veto

A month-long stalemate in the Senate ended Wednesday when senators agreed to a compromise on the State Education Budget.

The agreement gives state-funded universities an additional $13 million in the 2005-2006 education budget plus gives a 6 percent raise for education employees.

The Senate’s version of the budget, which had been adopted earlier in the session by the House, left funding for all education programs from kindergarten through higher education in tact. Also included in the agreement that ended the filibuster was a commitment by legislators to pass the a budget on the next-to-last meeting day of the session instead of the last day, May 16. That move could effectively block the governor’s chance to veto the budget.

Gov. Bob Riley’s proposed budget included a 4 percent pay raise - an amount he said the state could afford. Anything more is likely to send the budget into proration next year, he said.

However, by approving the budget with one business day remaining, the Legislature can vote to override the veto that Gov. Riley has promised because of his opposition to a 6 percent raise. If the budgets were passed on the last day, the governor could veto the budget without risk of the Legislature overriding it, Senate budget committee Chairman Hank Sanders, D-Selma, told the Associated Press.

On Wednesday, the House, which has already passed both state budgets, voted 96-0 in favor of a 4 percent cost-of-living raise for state employees and state retirees beginning Oct. 1. The bill also would give employees another 2 percent the following year if money is available, and it would switch the workers' paychecks from every two weeks to twice a month in April 2006.

The Alabama Farmers Federation supported Gov. Riley’s budgets, both of which were based on sound financial planning, said Federation Governmental Affairs Director Freddie Patterson.

“To give teachers a 6 percent pay raise knowing that the revenue projections are not there to support it is fiscally irresponsible,” Patterson said. “The difference between Gov. Riley’s 4 percent proposal and the 6 percent raise passed by the Legislature definitely could send the state into proration next year and could force the layoff of teachers and support workers. The governor may still have the opportunity to veto the education budget, and if he does, we would support him.”


House passes amended deregulation bill

The Alabama House of Representatives approved the BellSouth deregulation bill on Tuesday by a vote of 69 in favor and 27 against SB 114. The Federation was able to reach a compromise on the bill after several weeks of expressing concerns about the BellSouth rate bill. The Federation’s attorneys worked many hours on the bill with the interested parties to draft an amendment that was offered by Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, and adopted by the entire House by a vote of 94-0.

Rep. Greer, a former member of the Public Service Commission, was able to fully explain the amendment supported by the Federation to the legislative body. There were several other representatives who offered amendments, but their efforts failed to gain enough support. The Federation’s amendment was the only amendment adopted, and it now goes back to the Senate for concurrence.

The Farmers Federation has been concerned about the impact the BellSouth deregulation bills (SB114 by Sen. Hap Myers, R-Mobile, and HB211 by Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia) would have on rural service areas throughout the state.

The organization’s goal from the beginning was not to defeat the legislation, but to ensure that rural Alabamians would not see an increase in the cost of basic phone service because of deregulation.

The Federation also was concerned that rural customers could have difficulty obtaining basic phone service if these bills passed in their original form. If the bill passes in its amended form, Alabama residence will still have some needed protection that the Public Service Commission has provided over the years.

It is not certain when the Senate may concur with the House on the amended version, but it is expected in the last days of the session. AFF continues to monitor this legislation.


Disclosure bill likely dead for this session

Bills that would have required politically active groups to disclose names of contributors attempting to influence pending legislation or educate voters about an issue appears to be dead for this legislative session. The legislation could have included grassroots organizations like the Alabama Farmers Federation.

The Senate carried over a version of a public disclosure bill Wednesday after debating it for five weeks, and House Speaker Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, said another version of the bill, approved Wednesday by a House committee, won't be considered by the House in the closing days of this session.

This bill would have negative consequences on efforts by grassroots groups to educate the public on issues such as referendums proposing tax increases, home rule and commodity checkoffs, said Federation Governmental Affairs Director Freddie Patterson.

The Federation believes the bill infringes on free speech rights that would lessens its ability to participate in public information campaigns.


Passage of Family Farm Act not likely this session

Opposition from trial lawyers has made passage of the Alabama Family Farm Preservation Act unlikely for this session.

The bill never made it out of committee this session, however, Federation leaders say the legislation will continue to be at the forefront of the organization’s political agenda and will be back next year.


BILLS IN BRIEF

Fish Weighing Bill - SB 324 and HB 392
HB 392, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, only needs one more vote before being sent to the governor for his signature. The Senate version, SB 324, was sponsored by Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro. He will be trying to get the House version of his bill on the Senate floor for its final approval. The bill would require draining water in weighing baskets containing farm-raised catfish before they are weighed.

The bill also would require the weighing device to conform to legal standards and 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. The bill would allow a deduction from the weight of the catfish for any foreign substances in the weighing basket. Members interested in this bill should contact Sen. Singleton to encourage him to make this bill a priority. Additionally, members are encouraged to contact their senator seeking support of HB 392. AFF Supports.

Queen Bee as the Official State Insect - HB 376
In an effort to promote the beekeeping industry in Alabama, Rep. Sue Schmitz, D-Toney, sponsored a bill that would designate the queen honey bee as the Official State Insect of Alabama. Currently, the monarch butterfly has that designation. The bill passed the House and is now in the Senate where it is just one vote away of being sent to the governor for his signature. When the filibuster stopped this week, the committee report was received by the Senate, and it now can move forward in the final days. Members should talk to their senator and ask them to request it to be considered by the Senate and to vote in support of HB 376. AFF Supports.

Non-payment for Ag Goods - SB 147 and HB 442
HB 442, sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Oden, R-Eva, was assigned to the Senate Agriculture and Forestry Committee after the filibuster ended this week. Federation Governmental Affairs Assistant Department Director Paul Pinyan said the bill will be reported out of committee with a few changes from language in SB 147. With any changes in the bill, it would have to go back to the House if it is approved by the Senate.

The companion bill, SB147 is sponsored by Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, and is awaiting action by the full Senate. This legislation 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 agriculture products or chattel and refuses to pay within the contract date or within 20 days following receipt of the commodity.

The violator would be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. If the value exceeds $1,000 it would be a Class C felony. AFF Supports.

Strengthen the Criminal Trespass Law HB 550
HB 550, sponsored by Rep. Joe Carothers, D-Dothan, would make much needed changes to the current trespass laws in Alabama. HB 550 was received in the Senate after the filibuster ended this week and was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham.

Members are urged to call Sen. Smitherman and ask him to place HB 550 on the committee agenda for Tuesday when the Senate returns to Montgomery. Sen. Smitherman may be reached at his office at 334-242-7870.

HB 550 would provide civil immunity for landowners against trespassers. An owner, lessee, or occupant of land would owe no duty of care to a person entering the property without the actual knowledge and express permission of the owner and would owe no duty to any person entering the land without the actual knowledge and the express permission of the owner or occupier to warn the person regarding a hazardous condition.

The bill would not repeal liability for the willful or malicious failure to guard against a dangerous artificial condition, use, structure, or activity if the property owner knowingly puts someone at risk. AFF Supports.

Minimum 10 Mill Tax - HB 136
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 county and city school systems to have a minimum of 10 mills of property tax.

The House passed the bill earlier in the session and received a favorable vote by the Senate committee. It is now on the Senate calendar for a final vote and is among hundreds of bills that could be considered during the final week of the session.

Currently, some 30 school systems do not have a minimum of 10 mills in property taxes because the State Foundation Program only requires the equivalence of 10 mills. The legislation would require 24 counties and six cities to pay higher property taxes. If this constitutional amendment passes statewide, it will go into effect in all systems regardless if a 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.


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