Constitutional amendment to protect private property rights tops agenda
Alabama Farmers Federation is supporting a constitutional amendment in the regular session of the Alabama Legislature that would prevent government from seizing private property for private development.
Sen. Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega, and Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, have agreed to sponsor the legislation, which strengthens a private property protection law passed last summer during the special session of the Legislature.
Action by the Legislature to protect private property was prompted by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year that allowed the city of New London, Conn., to use eminent domain to seize private property for private development. Eminent domain previously had only been used to take land for “public use,” such as roads.
The decision sparked a nationwide movement to enact state laws that would prevent that type of land grab. Alabama was one of the first states to pass legislation restricting the use of eminent domain. Thanks to the grassroots efforts of the Federation, the Legislature passed a law that was much stronger than the one originally proposed.
The 2005 law, however, left some room for interpretation by government — especially regarding the definition of “blight.” It also could be amended by the Legislature at a later date. That’s why the Federation immediately went to work on a constitutional amendment to shore up the law passed during the special session last year. Once the law is in the constitution, it could not be changed without a vote of the people.
A recent survey commissioned by the American Farm Bureau Federation shows strong public support for the protection of private property rights. According to the poll, 95 percent of Americans disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision to expand eminent domain, and 87 percent strongly disagreed with the ruling. In fact, 62 percent of respondents opposed “the right of government to take property while compensating the owner for fair market value” for any reason.
Legislators have heard the outcry from voters, and a number of bills are being introduced. Members should note that the legislation supported by the Federation will be sponsored by Sen. Preuitt and Rep. Black. Other eminent domain bills include HB 151 by Rep. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale; SB 119 by Sen. Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery; SB 136 by Sen. Jack Biddle, R-Gardendale; and SB 202 by Sen. Steve French, R-Birmingham. Federation members should contact their legislators before Tuesday and encourage them to cosponsor the Preuitt-Black constitutional amendment.
Ag Department Seeks Confidentiality Bill For Animal ID
HB 254, sponsored by Rep. Blaine Galliher, R-Gadsden, seeks to change existing law related to information collected by the State Department of Agriculture and Industries in order to implement and maintain a database consistent with the USDA’s National Animal Identification System.
Under existing law, the commissioner of Agriculture and Industries has no specific authority to keep confidential any personal information about individual farming operations in the interest of public health, safety and welfare. This bill would authorize the department to develop and implement an animal identification system consistent with the USDA. This bill also would provide that information collected by the department to implement and maintain the animal identification system would be confidential with certain exceptions.
This bill would authorize the commissioner to make confidential certain information collected in the interest of public health, safety and welfare. It would apply to information regarding livestock, milk and dairy products, eggs, cotton, poultry, commercial feed, grain, seed, fertilizer, plants and trees, pesticides, or any other subject regulated by the department. AFF Monitoring.
T. Little, D. Newton Propose Constitutional Convention
Two veteran lawmakers have proposed a constitutional amendment calling for a vote on whether Alabama should hold a convention to rewrite the 1901 Constitution.
Sen. Ted Little, D-Auburn, and Rep. Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham, have introduced SB 52 and HB 109, which ask voters to decide on the convention in the November general election.
If approved, voters would return to the polls in April 2007 to elect 210 convention delegates – one woman and one man from each of Alabama’s 105 House districts. The delegates would serve 11 months, a lengthy term that would discourage many Alabamians from seeking a seat at the convention.
Alabama Farmers Federation has long opposed a constitutional convention, which is seen by many as a back-door approach to raise taxes, grant unlimited home rule, implement zoning and legalize gambling.
The Federation has supported recompiling the constitution to remove obsolete language and make it more readable, and it believes any revision of the document should be done on an article-by-article basis. AFF Opposes.
P. Lindsey, Hinshaw Seek To Limit Free Speech
The Alabama Farmers Federation opposes bills introduced in this session of the Legislature that would require groups to disclose names of contributors attempting to influence pending legislation or educate voters about an issue.
HB 90, sponsored by Rep. Randy Hinshaw, D-Meridianville, targets grassroots organizations like the Alabama Farmers Federation. The Senate debated this same disclosure bill for five weeks during the 2005 session.
Rep. Hinshaw has sponsored another version of the bill, HB 113, and Sen. Pat Lindsey, D-Butler, has introduced the companion bill, SB 123, in the Senate. The House version passed out of committee on Wednesday. The Federation believes all three bills would have negative consequences on efforts by grassroots groups to educate the public on any issue.
The bills infringe on free speech rights and would lessen the Federation’s ability to participate in public information campaigns. AFF Opposes.
Senate committee considers forestry, ADEM appointments
Three appointments to state boards or commissions that were supported by the Federation have been made and were sent to the Senate Confirmations Committee on Thursday. The committee is chaired by Sen. E.B. McClain, D-Midfield.
Kenneth Real was appointed by the governor to serve on the Alabama Forestry Commission. Real is a registered consulting forester from Detroit, Ala., and currently is serving as the Marion County Farmers Federation president. Melisa Love of Auburn, Ala., also was appointed to serve on the Alabama Forestry Commission.
Dr. Kathleen Jo Felker was appointed to serve a six-year term on the Environmental Management Commission. Dr. Felker is a radiologist from Huntsville and will serve in the position designated for someone licensed to practice medicine in the state of Alabama.
Bills In Brief
Family Farm Preservation Act – SB 244
Assigned to Judiciary Committee
SB 244, sponsored by Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, was introduced on Thursday. Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, assigned it to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it has died the past two years. Generally, the bill would provide that a farm or an expansion of a farm could not be found to be a public or private 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 farm owner 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. AFF Supports.
Non-payment of Ag Goods – HB 9
HB 9, sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Oden, R-Eva, was pre-filed and passed the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. It is on the calendar for debate by the full House. In past sessions, a companion bill has been sponsored by Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, in the Senate, but he has yet to introduce the bill in 2006. 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.
Fish Weighing Bill
SB 165 and HB 180
SB 165, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, passed the Senate Agriculture and Forestry Committee on Thursday. HB 180, sponsored by Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, is expected to be on the House Agriculture Committee agenda next Wednesday. The bill would require farm-raised catfish to be weighed with a device capable of electronically printing a ticket, which provides an exact duplicate of the weight indicated for the farmer. The bill also would require processors to drain the water in weighing baskets containing farm-raised catfish before weighing, and it would allow a deduction from the weight of the catfish for any foreign substances in the weighing basket.
Cotton Module Truck Tag
HB 206 and SB 69
SB 69, sponsored by Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, and HB 206, sponsored by Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, would provide that the annual license tax and registration of a vehicle designed and especially constructed to transport raw cotton from harvest to a cotton gin could be no more than $250. Both bills were introduced Tuesday, the first day of the session. The Senate version passed the Senate Agriculture Committee and is awaiting action by the full Senate. The House version is expected to be considered by the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee Wednesday. The bill would reduce the amount of money going into the road and bridge fund, which may draw some opposition from the Alabama Road Builders. This bill also would clarify the exemption for axle and gross width requirements, which could draw opposition from the Department of Transportation or the Department of Public Safety. However, the bill is needed because owners of cotton module trucks are currently paying road taxes for 12 months and only traveling on the road for three of those months. Because of the way the truck is manufactured, it is not used for any other purpose outside the ginning season. With the axles located toward the front of the truck, it also makes it almost impossible to comply with current weight laws. AFF Supports.
All-Terrain Vehicle Registration
HB 293, 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. The bill would provide criminal penalties for violations related to the act. This bill would require owners of off-road vehicles, as defined, to register their vehicles and pay any applicable sales taxes in the same manner as for other motor vehicles. Several groups representing pension and annuity funds, state troopers, county sheriffs, probate judges, fire fighters and conservation game wardens want some of the revenue the registration fees would generate. The sales tax provision in the bill would generate revenue for the General Fund Budget. AFF is opposed to the bill as currently written and will not support unreasonable taxes or fees associated with the registration. The Federation does, however, support the concept of registering ATVs to help with theft recovery. The bill was assigned to the House Agriculture Committee.
Employment of Illegal Immigrants
SB 134, sponsored by Sen. E.B. McClain, D-Midfield, would make it a crime to employ an illegal immigrant and would provide penalties for any employer who does so. The employer would be charged with a Class C felony, regardless of whether the employee misrepresented his or her citizenship status to gain employment. The bill also requires the employer to have on file a copy of the birth certificate or other documentation attesting citizenship of the United States. Those documents would have to be available for review during employment and up to two years after. The Federation supports guest worker programs for farm labor and believes this is a federal issue not to be legislated state by state.
Four-Year Reappraisal of Property
SB 6, SB 174 and HB 29
SB 6, sponsored by Sen. Bradley Bryne, R-Fairhope; SB 174, sponsored by Sen. Jack Biddle, R-Gardendale; and HB 29, sponsored Rep. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale, would provide that reappraisal of property in Alabama shall not be conducted more often than every four years. The Alabama Department of Revenue supervises and regulates the periodic reappraisal of all property in the state, and Gov. Riley, by an executive order, has required annual reappraisals.