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February 17, 2006   Email to Friend 

Preuitt, Black Eminent Domain Bill Passes Senate Committee

A bill supported by the Alabama Farmers Federation that would protect private property by restricting the use of eminent domain by local and state governments passed the Senate Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Elections (CCFEE) Committee Tuesday by a 9-0 vote.

SB 446, sponsored by Sen. Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega, was introduced Feb. 9 and is co-sponsored by 26 of Alabama's 35 senators. The companion bill, HB 622, is sponsored by Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, and was signed by 83 of the state's 105 representatives at the time of its introduction. It has been assigned to the House County and Municipal Government Committee.

Both bills would preserve the power of eminent domain for legitimate public uses such as roads and utilities. The legislation, however, would prohibit expanding the use of eminent domain to include private development for a perceived, indirect public benefit, such as increasing tax revenues. The bills include a 15-year, buy-back clause that would allow the owner to reclaim condemned property if it is not used for the intended purpose or the use is changed. Local governments also would be required to notify property owners about applicable ordinances regarding dilapidated or dangerous properties before exercising eminent domain to condemn them for blight.

“Most importantly, the passage of this constitutional amendment would mean that Alabama's eminent domain law could not be changed in the future, except by another statewide constitutional amendment,” said Federation Governmental Affairs Director Freddie Patterson.

Although Tuesday's committee meeting was not a public hearing, CCFEE Chairman Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, gave several groups an opportunity to speak about the bill. A representative of the Alabama Department of Transportation expressed concern that SB 446 did not give eminent domain authority to all of Alabama's 78 general aviation airports. Sen. Pat Lindsey, D-Butler, and Sen. Gary Tanner, D-Theodore, echoed those comments and asked that consideration be given to ensure smaller airports have the ability to extend runways or make other changes. Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, was the most outspoken about his concerns with the bill. He argued the need to preserve the right of local governments to condemn blighted property.

Smitherman went on to suggest that city and county governments could be given the authority to determine what constitutes blight.

“Although I'm going to vote to get the bill out, I don't want that to be construed that I support this bill,” Smitherman said. The senator said he might exercise his right to discuss the bill further “on the clock,” leading some spectators in the committee room to predict a possible filibuster on the Senate floor.

In addition to SB 446, the CCFEE Committee also passed two other eminent domain bills on Tuesday. They are SB 136, sponsored by Sen. Jack Biddle, R-Gardendale, and SB 368, sponsored by Sen. Steve French, R-Birmingham. Federation members are encouraged to contact their legislators and ask them to support SB 446, sponsored by Rep. Jim Preuitt, and HB 622, sponsored by Rep. Marcel Black.


Center For Rural Alabama Bill Passes House

A bill that would create a Center for Rural Alabama for the purpose of sustaining economic growth in the rural areas passed the House of Representatives Thursday, with some amendments sought by the Federation. It now goes to the Senate.

HB 358, is sponsored by Rep. Frank McDaniel, D-Albertville. The companion bill, SB 135, is sponsored by Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, and is awaiting action in the full Senate.

“Several states have created statewide offices or agencies to study rural concerns and develop policy options to address rural needs,” said Paul Pinyan, assistant director of Governmental Affairs. “Alabama can learn from the successes and failures of rural centers in other states, which vary greatly with regard to size, purpose and administration.”

The Federation is concerned about the effectiveness of such projects and how they will be funded. The Federation supports the rural center concept, but has sought to amend certain provisions of these bills to ensure the center is responsive to the needs of the rural residents it is intended to serve.

To relieve some of the Federation’s concerns, a list of amendments was presented that would ensure rural people would be appointed to the center’s board of directors.

The 12-member board would represent a variety of rural citizen groups such as agriculture, banking, economic development, education, communications, healthcare, etc. Specific appointment recommendations from the interested groups were not adopted on the House floor Thursday.

The House also passed HB 358 with amendments eliminating the executive director from having the sole authority to bind the agency with individual contracts unless a super majority of the board agrees. The center also would not have to give its first annual report until 2008, in order to give time to get the board appointed, the agency staffed and fully functioning.

AFF supports this concept but will continue to seek amendments in the Senate regarding appointments to the 12-member board of directors. AFF Monitoring.


Non-payment of Ag Goods Bill Passes Committee

SB 292, sponsored by Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday with three amendments.

This legislation, as amended, 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, (knowingly and willfully) with fraudulent intent buys agriculture products and refuses to pay within 30 days following receipt of an invoice for the products or 30 days following the contract due date. The violator would be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. If the value exceeds $1,000, it would be a Class C felony. The amendments increased the payment window from 20 to 30 days, excluded timber and pulpwood from the list of covered commodities and added rabbits and shrimp to the list. The companion House bill, HB 9, sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Oden, R-Eva, is in the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. AFF Supports.


Constitutional Convention Bill Dies in Committee

A bill calling for a convention to rewrite the 1901 Alabama Constitution died Wednesday with a 7-7 deadlock in the House Constitution and Elections Committee.

HB 109, sponsored by Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham, would have required a referendum in the November general election on the convention process. If approved, voters would have returned to the polls in April 2007 to elect 210 delegates (one male and one female from each House district), who would write a new constitution over the course of 11 months.

Opponents of the bill argued the current constitution has served Alabama well and that the lengthy convention would exclude many Alabamians from serving as delegates. The Federation supports an article-by-article approach to constitutional revision, where legislators are accountable to their constituents.

Legislators voting in favor of the bill were: Rep. Randy Hinshaw, D-Meridianvile; Rep. Jeff McLaughlin, D-Guntersville; Rep. Bryant Melton, D-Tuscaloosa; Rep. Sue Schmitz, D-Toney; Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood; Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham; and Rep. George Bandy, D-Opelika. Voting against the measure were: Rep. Joseph Mitchell, D-Mobile; Rep. Randy Davis, R-Daphne; Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur; Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston; Rep. Joe Faust, R-Fairhope; Rep. Greg Albritton, R-Excel; and Rep. Steve Hurst, D-Munford. Rep. Tommy Sherer, D-Jasper, was absent for the committee meeting.

The companion bill, SB 52, sponsored by Sen. Ted Little, D-Auburn, has been assigned to the Senate Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Elections Committee. AFF Opposes.


Bills in Brief

SB 69 and HB 206 – Creates a $250 tag for cotton module trucks. AFF Supports.

SB 165 and HB 180 – Standardizes procedures for weighing farm-raised catfish. AFF Supports.

SB 244 – Protects law-abiding farms from frivolous nuisance lawsuits. AFF Supports.

HB 254 – Authorizes Department of Agriculture to implement animal identification and keep information it collects confidential. AFF Supports.

SB 6, SB 174, SB 413 and HB 29 – Limits reappraisal of property to once every four years. AFF Supports.

SB 320 and HB 395 – Requires country-of-origin labeling of fish in restaurants. AFF Supports.

SB 137 and HB 102 – Regulates hunting game animals in confined areas and prohibits hunting tame and exotic animals. AFF Supports.

HB 464 – Defines the area where hunting is allowed in relation to wildlife feeding. AFF Monitoring.

SB 134 – Makes it a crime to employ illegal immigrants. AFF Monitoring.

HB 293 – Creates a title of registration for all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). AFF Monitoring.

SB 12 and HB 14 – Allows municipalities to pre-zone property before annexation. AFF Monitoring.

HB 304 and 305 and SB 243 and 270 – Establishes a checkoff program for propane gas. AFF Monitoring.

HB 205 – Designates the peach as the state tree fruit. AFF Monitoring.

SB 403 – Requires state officials to obtain legislative approval before binding the state in an international trade agreement. AFF Monitoring.

SB 123 and HB 113 – Requires groups that are politically active to disclose names of contributing members . AFF Opposes.


House of Representatives Passes Education Budget

The Alabama House of Representatives approved the state's Education Budget Thursday by a vote of 99-3. The budget for the fiscal year begins Oct. 1. It increases spending by almost $630 million or 11.7 percent more than this year's $5.3 billion budget. The budget now heads to the Senate.

Republican legislators tried unsuccessfully to amend the budget to include some of Gov. Bob Riley's budget proposals such as tax refunds to Alabama taxpayers. Legislators also did not include his proposal to provide money from the budget for capital improvements at schools. Legislators increased their community service grants, which they distribute to their districts, from $12.8 million to $13.8 million, a 7.81 percent increase.

Items of interest to Alabama farmers include a $1,447,703 appropriation, or a 61 percent increase, to the Family Practice Rural Health Board. The Federation has been a strong advocate of Dr. John Wheat and the rural medical scholars program for several years. The Alabama Agricultural Land Grant Alliance (AALGA) received level funding of $6 million for continued support of agricultural research and education at Alabama A&M, Tuskegee and Auburn Universities. The three land grant universities also obtained state matching funds to secure federal funding. Included was a special line item for fire ant eradication of $200,000. The Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension System both received a 19 percent increase in funding.

Breakdown of Education Budget:
K-12 - This year: $3,513,040,711 Next year: $4,015,258,029
Higher Education - This year: $1,402,993,644Next year: $1,664,453,551
Other allocations - This year: $468,999,153 Next year: $336,052,247


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