Eminent Domain Talks Continue Over Legislative Spring Break
Cities represented by the Alabama League of Municipalities stubbornly refused to budge despite a strong show of cooperation from other entities during debate on an eminent domain bill supported by the Alabama Farmers Federation.
SB 446, sponsored by Sen. Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega, is on the Senate calendar and will be taken up as unfinished business when it reconvenes March 28.
HB 622, sponsored by Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, was carried over in the House Committee on County & Municipal Government, and will be reconsidered March 29.
Both bills would prohibit the use of eminent domain for private development or a perceived, indirect public benefit, such as increasing taxes. The legislation, however, would preserve the power of eminent domain for legitimate public uses such as roads and utilities.
Freddie Patterson, Federation governmental affairs director, said the concern — and driving force behind opposition from Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile — is over cities’ ability to condemn property and convert it for a higher tax use.
“I’ve never seen so many creative ways of writing the same language just so they can continue doing what they’re already doing. The cities continue to offer unreasonable amendments to perpetuate the current system,” said Patterson.
While utilities, railroads, airports and state docks are cooperating, Patterson said the cities continue to work toward legislation that will enable them to take any land they deem “blighted.” Cities often cite blight and economic development as reasons to seize private property.
As cities continue to encroach into more and more rural areas, this practice becomes even more alarming to rural residents and farmers.
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.
AFF continues to work with interested parties during the recess.
BSE Finding Revives Ag Confidentiality Bill
Just days before the first case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) was found in Alabama, the Senate adjourned without voting on a bill that would ensure confidentiality for farm operators.
HB 254, sponsored by Rep. Blaine Galliher, R-Gadsden, was up for final consideration in the Senate late last week when Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, moved for adjournment after much discussion.
The bill came back up, but there were objections by several senators such as Sen. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope and Sen. Tommy Ed Roberts, D-Hartselle. But instead of holding up the education budget while hundreds of teachers looked on, the bill was carried over and can come up for debate later.
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 state has already 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.
The importance of this concept was realized this week when the first case of the brain-wasting disease was confirmed by state officials.
That incident prompted scores of inquiries from the public and media into the location of the infected cow. HB 254 would authorize the commissioner to keep information confidential regarding the existence or operation of any agricultural interest or other business regulated by the department.
“The Federation supports the confidentiality of any records gathered by government agencies from farmers and supports the voluntary premises registration of producers as well as animal identification if the federal government mandates that states implement such programs,” said Federation Beef, Dairy and Hay & Forage Director Perry Mobley. “This bill does not establish an animal ID system. That will be done on a federal level. This bill will protect the confidentiality of that information when and if an animal ID system comes into effect.”
Already in Alabama, more than 2,000 farms and ranches have voluntarily signed up for premises registration. AFF Supports.
Enfinger’s Senate Bill Seeks Exemption From Pesticide Exam
SB 539, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Enfinger, D-Huntsville, seeks to amend a law allowing hired applicators who are spraying herbicide to operate without passing a required exam administered by the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries.
The proposed exemption would not pertain to restricted-use pesticides, which are not for sale to or for use by the general public.
This bill has raised concern among the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Greenhouse Nursery and Sod Committee.
“We believe individuals in the landscape maintenance business should be properly licensed, trained and certified — including passing the exam before working for the public. The safety of the public and the operators should be the top priority for our industry,” said Brian Hardin, director of the Federation’s Greenhouse Nursery and Sod Division.
Commissioner Ron Sparks has joined the Federation in opposition to this bill. AFF Opposes.
Senate Confirms Forestry Commission Appointees
Four appointments to the Alabama Forestry Commission were considered by the Senate Confirmations Committee on Thursday.
The committee, chaired by Sen. E.B. McClain, D-Midfield, confirmed two seats that are currently vacant and two pre-appointments. All four were confirmed by the entire Senate without a dissenting vote.
“We look forward to working with these new appointees on this commission as they make decisions that will affect forest landowners across this state” said Steve Guy, director of the Alabama Farmers Federation Forestry Committee.
Jerry Smith of Vernon was appointed by Gov. Bob Riley to serve on the Forestry Commission. Smith is employed by Weyerhaeuser and is a graduate of Tuskegee University and Auburn University with degrees in forestry.
Also appointed by the governor was Kenneth Real, president of the Marion County Farmers Federation and a registered consulting forester from Detroit, Ala.
Two appointees — Melisa Love, a consulting forester from Lee County, and Randy Gilmore, president of the Jefferson County Farmers Federation and a forest landowner —will start their terms Nov. 1, 2006.
It is common for the governor and the legislature to make pre-appointments to seats that will become vacant before the next legislative session, especially during an election year.
Panel Lacks Quorum To Act On Rural Center
HB 358, a bill that would create a Center for Rural Alabama to sustain economic growth in rural areas, was on the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee’s agenda Thursday.
However, the panel, chaired by Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, lacked the necessary quorum to act on the bill. It must have committee approval before it can go to the full Senate for a final vote.
The center is a concept which the Alabama Farmers Federation supports in principle, but is concerned about the effectiveness of such projects and how they will be funded.
It has sought to amend certain provisions to ensure the center is responsive to the needs of the rural residents it is intended to serve.
In response to the Federation’s concerns, a list of amendments has been presented that would ensure rural people would be appointed to the center’s board of directors.
HB 358, was introduced by Rep. Frank McDaniel, D-Albertville. Its companion, SB 135, is sponsored by Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe.
The Federation will continue to work on this bill during the final weeks of the session. AFF Monitoring.
Bill Would Make Hiring Illegal Immigrants Felony
A pair of bills that would make it a Class C felony to knowingly hire illegal immigrants passed Judiciary Committees of both the House and Senate this week.
HB 673, sponsored by Rep. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, would create the crime of employing an illegal immigrant and would provide penalties for an employer who employs an illegal immigrant.
A similar bill, SB 134, was introduced by Sen. E.B. McClain, D-Midfield. This bill would create the crime of falsely stating a citizenship status for the purpose of obtaining employment and would provide penalties.
Employing an illegal immigrant is a Class C felony under this proposed law. Farmers who utilize the Basic Pilot Program would be exempt. AFF Monitoring.
Cotton Module Truck Tag Bill Passes Senate Finance and Taxation-Education Panel
The Cotton Module Truck Tag Bill, HB 206 sponsored by Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, unanimously passed the Senate Finance and Taxation-Education Committee chaired by Sen.Hank Sanders, D-Selma, on Wednesday.
This bill would provide that the annual license tax and registration of a vehicle especially designed and constructed to transport raw cotton from harvest to a cotton gin would be $250.
SB 69, the Senate companion bill sponsored by Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, passed the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee without the agreed upon amendments in the House and is also awaiting action by the full Senate.
The new tags will be available in October when most truck tags are purchased. Module trucks are used only during the three months of the ginning season, but owners currently pay road taxes for year-round use.
This bill does not change the current law for width, height, length and gross weight requirements.
The Federation hopes to have HB 206 approved by the entire Senate in these final days of the session and it will then go to the governor for his signature. AFF Supports.