Additional Eminent Domain Bills Introduced
Two more bills restricting the use of eminent domain were introduced this week, further muddying the water in a debate that has local governments, utilities and other special interest groups wrangling for preferential treatment.
HB 554 and HB 555, sponsored by Rep. Jeff McLaughlin, D-Guntersville, were introduced Tuesday, bringing the total number of eminent domain bills now pending action to eight.
Alabama Farmers Federation is currently working on a constitutional amendment that addresses blight and other concerns. A “blighted” property has generally been one that represents a threat to public health or safety. In recent years, however, local governments expanded that definition to condemn property that stands in the way of development.
Sen. Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega, and Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, have agreed to sponsor the constitutional amendment supported by the Federation. Governmental Affairs Director Freddie Patterson said he expects the bill to be introduced next week. Federation members are encouraged to contact their legislators and ask them to cosponsor the Preuitt-Black constitutional amendment bill.
McLaughlin’s HB 554 bill has been assigned to the House County and Municipal Government Committee, and HB 555 is awaiting action in the House Judiciary Committee. SB 119, sponsored by Sen. Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery, was assigned to the Senate Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Elections Committee, as was SB 136, sponsored by Sen. Jack Biddle, R-Gardendale, and SB 368, sponsored by Sen. Steve French, R-Birmingham.
French also is sponsoring SB 202 in the Senate Economic, Expansion and Trade Committee and SB 297 in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Rep. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale, introduced HB 151, which is in the House County and Municipal Government Committee.
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.
ALDOT Eases Opposition of Cotton Module Truck Bill
The Alabama Department of Transportation agreed this week to stop actively opposing the Cotton Module Hauler Truck Tag bills supported by the Alabama Farmers Federation.
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 would be $250.
HB 206 was amended in committee, and the Federation agreed to changes requested by the Revenue Department that would make it easier to implement the new tag for cotton module trucks.
SB 69 passed the Senate Agriculture Committee without the amendments and is awaiting action by the full Senate. The Alabama Department of Transportation had opposed the bill by sending letters of opposition to legislators and by testifying at a public hearing.
Federation Executive Director Mike Kilgore met with the ALDOT Commissioner Joe McInnes and other department officials this week. ALDOT officials said the department does not plan to work against the bill.
The bill is needed because owners of cotton module trucks are currently paying road taxes for 12 months and are only on the road for three months. This can be addressed by creating a special tag to be used only on cotton module trucks. Because of the way the module trucks are manufactured they are not used for any other purpose outside of the ginning season.
The tag legislation references the weight classification exemption currently provided in the law. It provides that, “two- and three-axle vehicles being used exclusively for the purpose of transporting agricultural commodities or products to and from a farm and for agricultural purposes relating to the operation and maintenance of a farm by any farmer, custom harvester or husbandman may not be made to conform to the axle requirements (provided in the law) or the gross weight requirements (provided in the law).” Alabama Code 32-9-20 (j).
Alabama Farmers Concerned About Propane Checkoff
A proposed constitutional amendment that would allow propane dealers and wholesalers to vote on a checkoff program for their industry has sparked concerns by farmers who fear the added cost would be passed on to customers.
SB 243 and SB 270 are sponsored by Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, and HB 304 and HB 305 are sponsored by Rep. Warren Beck, R-Geneva. Both sets of bills would call for a constitutional amendment and provide enabling legislation for a checkoff equal to $100 to $500 per 100,000 gallons of propane gas sold in Alabama.
If the constitutional amendment is passed by Alabama voters and the checkoff is later approved by two-thirds of dealers and wholesalers, the checkoff would fund safety education and marketing activities. An advisory council made up of six propane dealers, two wholesalers and one member of the public would oversee the checkoff funds.
Alabama poultry farmers and greenhouse growers have expressed concerns about the proposed constitutional amendment because it would increase their already high production costs.
“Propane was 80 cents per gallon last year, and it is $1.20 this winter,” said Blount County farmer Dennis Maze, who chairs the Alabama Farmers Federation’s State Poultry Committee. “This additional cost of propane will decrease the poultry producer’s net income.”
Greenhouse growers echoed Maze’s concerns. Keith Pugh, a member of the Federation’s Greenhouse, Nursery and Sod Committee, said the checkoff could cost some growers thousands of dollars a year.
Federation Poultry Director Guy Hall also noted that poultry producers will not be able to pass the added cost on to their customers because payments received by growers are set by the poultry integrators.
Bills in Brief
Fish Weighing Bill
SB 165 and HB 180 Await Final Action
SB 165, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, passed the Senate and is awaiting final action by the entire House. It was reported out of the House Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Committee Wednesday.
HB 180, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, passed the House on Jan. 26. It is now awaiting action by the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. The first bill to win approval in both houses of the Legislature will be sent to the governor for his signature.
This bill will require fish weighing devices to conform to certain legal requirements. Processors would be required to drain the water in weighing baskets containing farm-raised catfish before weighing. The bill also would require farm-raised catfish to be weighed with a device capable of electronically printing a ticket, to provide an exact duplicate of the weight indicated for the farmer. It also allows a deduction from the weight of the catfish for any foreign substances in the weighing basket. AFF Supports.
Fish Country of Origin Labeling
SB 320 and HB 395
SB 320, sponsored by Sen. Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega, and HB 395, sponsored by Rep. Spencer Collier, R-Irvington, would require farm-raised fish and wild fish used for human consumption to be labeled as imported or domestic when served at a food service establishment. The Alabama Health Department officer would be authorized to conduct the inspections and levy fines of not more than $1,000 for non-compliance. AFF Supports.
Department of Agriculture Confidentiality Bill – HB 254
HB 254, sponsored by Rep. Blaine Galliher, R-Gadsden, passed the House and is in the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.
The bill authorizes the Department of Agriculture and Industries to develop and implement an animal identification database consistent with the USDA’s Animal Identification System. It would provide that information collected for this purpose would be confidential with certain exceptions. This bill would authorize the commissioner to keep information confidential regarding the existence or operation of any agricultural interest or other business regulated by the department. Commissioner Ron Sparks stated in the committee meeting that such information does not need to be made public, where potential terrorists would have knowledge of our food supply. AFF Supports.
Family Farm Preservation Act - SB 244
SB 244, sponsored by Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee. He has made a request for the committee to take action on the bill soon. The Senate Judiciary Committee is chaired by Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, and he will determine when the bill will be on the agenda. The bill would provide that a farm operation may not be found to be a public or private nuisance or a violation of county or municipal ordinances if the farm is operated in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. The bill also would authorize the owner of the farm to recover legal fees if he prevails in any legal action to declare the farm operation a nuisance. AFF Supports.
Pre-Zoning Before Annexation
SB 12 and HB 14
SB 12, sponsored by Sen. Hap Myers, R-Mobile, passed the Senate and was substituted in the House County and Municipal Government Committee on Wednesday. It is now on the House calendar. HB 14, sponsored by Rep. Steve McMillan, R-Bay Minette, passed the County and Municipal Government Committee. McMillan now supports SB 12 as substituted.
Under existing law, a municipality may zone territory only within the corporate limits of the municipality. There is no provision for zoning territory that is proposed to be annexed into the municipality. This bill would authorize municipalities to pre-zone territory proposed for annexation into the municipal corporate limits. The zoning would be effective only if the territory is annexed into the municipality. AFF Monitoring.
Center for Rural Alabama Proposed
SB 135 and HB 358
SB 135, sponsored by Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, and HB 358, introduced by Rep. Frank McDaniel, D-Albertville, would create the Center for Rural Alabama for the purpose of sustaining economic growth in the rural areas of Alabama. Federation Director of Governmental Affairs Freddie Patterson testified at a joint meeting of the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee and the House Commerce Committee on Tuesday. AFF supports this concept but seeks to amend certain provisions. AFF Monitoring.