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March 03, 2006   Email to Friend 

House Committee Holds Hearing on Eminent Domain Legislation

The House Committee on County and Municipal Government held a public hearing on HB 622 Wednesday, but did not vote on the proposed constitutional amendment supported by the Alabama Farmers Federation.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, and is co-sponsored by 10 of the 14 members of the House Committee on County and Municipal Government.

The legislation would prohibit the use of eminent domain to condemn private property for commercial development.

So many people showed up to testify at the 1:30 p.m. hearing the crowd overflowed the meeting room and eventually the hearing was moved to the main House chamber.

Federation Governmental Affairs Director Freddie Patterson was among those who testified at Wednesday’s hearing. He described the bill backed by the Federation as a work in progress.

“This bill prevents the condemnation process from taking private property for economic development,” Patterson said. “It also requires just and reasonable compensation at a fair market value if eminent domain is exercised.”

Others who testified in favor of the bill before the committee included representatives of the Alabama Association of REALTORS and the National Federation of Independent Business.

At Wednesday’s hearing, officials representing the Alabama League of Municipalities and the Association of County Commissions of Alabama spoke against the bill.

The Senate version of the bill, SB 446, already has passed the Senate Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Elections (CCFEE) Committee and is awaiting action by the full Senate. SB 446 is sponsored by Sen. Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega.

Both the Senate and House versions of the bills supported by the Federation 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 using eminent domain regulations to condemn them for blight.

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


Senate to Debate Ag Confidentiality Bill Tuesday

HB 254, sponsored by Rep. Blaine Galliher, R-Gadsden, was up for final consideration in the Senate late Thursday when Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, moved for adjournment after much discussion. The bill will be first on the agenda as unfinished business Tuesday when the Senate reconvenes.

The bill authorizes the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries to develop and implement an animal identification database consistent with the USDA’s Animal Identification System.

The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries already has implemented a voluntary premises registration program, which is the initial step toward a National Animal Identification System (NAIS).

NAIS is a cooperative state-federal-industry partnership to standardize and expand animal identification programs and practices to all livestock species and poultry. NAIS is being developed through the integration of three components — premises identification, animal identification and animal tracking.

The long-term goal of the NAIS is to provide animal health officials with the capability to identify all livestock and premises that have had direct contact with a disease of concern within 48 hours after discovery.

HB 254 would require 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. Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks supports the bill because he said he believes such information doesn’t need to be made public where potential terrorists would have knowledge of the public’s food supply.

“The Federation supports the voluntary premises registration of producers as well as animal identification and supports the confidentiality of any records gathered by government agencies from farmers if the federal government mandates that states implement such programs,” said Federation Beef, Dairy and Hay & Forage Director Perry Mobley. “The confidentiality of the premises registration information collected at the state level through NAIS could be compromised if this bill doesn’t pass.”

Already in Alabama, more than 2,000 farms and ranches have voluntarily signed up for premises registration. AFF Supports.


Legislature Passes Catfish-Weighing Bill

SB 165, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, passed the House last week and was sent to Gov. Bob Riley for review on Tuesday. The House version of the bill was sponsored by Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville.

This bill would require fish weighing devices to conform to certain legal requirements. Processors would be required to drain water in weighing baskets containing farm-raised catfish prior to 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.

“We are thankful to the legislators for helping the catfish industry implement a uniform, statewide weighing system for our producers,” said Federation Catfish Director Mitt Walker. AFF Supports.


House Passes Cotton Module Truck Tag Bill

The House unanimously passed HB 206 (the Cotton Module Truck Tag Bill), sponsored by Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, Thursday by a vote of 100-0. This bill 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.

The House bill now goes to the Senate where it can be considered by the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee as early as next week. The Senate companion bill is sponsored by Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, chairman of the committee.

HB 206 was amended by the House Public Safety Committee, and the Federation agreed to changes requested by the Alabama Department of Revenue, that would make it easier to implement the new tag for cotton module trucks. The new tags will be available in October when most truck tags are purchased. The companion bill, SB 69, passed the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee without the amendments and is awaiting action by the full Senate.

“We have worked diligently with the Alabama Revenue Department, Alabama Department of Public Safety and the Alabama Department of Transportation to remove opposition to the current bill as amended,” said Federation Executive Director Mike Kilgore.

This bill is needed because owners of cotton module trucks currently are paying road taxes for year-round use while the vehicles are only on the road for about three months per year. This can be addressed by creating a special tag to be used only on cotton module trucks.

This bill does not change the current law for width, height, length and gross weight requirements.

Module trucks are manufactured for a very specific use and are not suitable for any other purpose outside of the ginning season. AFF Supports.


Bills Seek to Overturn Governor’s Reappraisal Order

Several bills have been introduced this session to reverse Gov. Bob Riley’s executive order requiring counties to conduct re-appraisals annually instead of once every four years.

SB 6, SB 174, SB 413, SB 484, SB 502 and HB 29, HB 666 and HB 691all would limit reappraisal of property to once every four years.

There have been several public hearings with heated opposition from the Association of County Commissions of Alabama claiming the bills would place the entire ad valorem tax collection process at constitutional risk.

A public hearing on requiring reappraisal every four years was held Wednesday on a local bill, HB 418, sponsored by Rep. Gerald Allen-R, Tuscaloosa. Another local bill, HB 434, sponsored by Rep. Skippy White, D-Pollard, requested and received an advisory opinion from the Alabama Supreme Court recently. The opinion was not conclusive.

None of the bills have been voted out of committee. When the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee meets next week, it is expected to vote on SB 6 by Sen. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, to allow reappraisal no more than once every four years.

This will be the first chance to see how the Legislature feels about this issue.

The Federation supports the efforts of legislators to eliminate mandatory annual re-appraisals statewide. AFF Supports.


Bills in Brief

SB 137 - PASSED – Regulates hunting game animals in confined areas and prohibits hunting tame and exotic animals. AFF Supports.
SB 12 and HB 14 – Allows municipalities to pre-zone property before annexation. AFF Monitoring.
SB 123 and HB 113 – Requires groups that are politically active to disclose names of contributing members. AFF Opposes.
SB 134 and HB 673 – Makes it a crime to employ illegal immigrants. AFF Monitoring. SB 244 – Protects law-abiding farms from frivolous nuisance lawsuits. AFF Supports.
SB 308 – Creates the crime of endangering the food and water supply. AFF Supports.
SB 320 and HB 395 – Requires country-of-origin labeling of fish in restaurants. AFF Supports.
SB 402, SB 442 and HB 550 – Requires a licensed realtor to sell, negotiate, exchange, purchase, rent or lease real estate in Alabama and provides penalities for violators. AFF Opposes.
SB 403 – Requires state officials to obtain legislative approval before binding the state in an international trade agreement. AFF Monitoring.
HB 205 – Designates the peach as the state tree fruit. AFF Monitoring.
HB 293 – Creates a title of registration for all-terrain vehicles. AFF Supports as amended.
HB 304, HB 305 and SB 243, SB 270 – Establishes a checkoff program for propane gas. AFF Opposes.
HB 464 – Defines the area where hunting is allowed in relation to wildlife feeding. AFF Monitoring.
HB 482 – Requires that justices on the Supreme Court, Court of Civil Appeals, Court of Criminal Appeals , circuit court judges and district court judges must have been licensed to practice law at least 10 years before being elected or appointed to the bench. AFF Supports.


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