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March 16, 2007   Email to Friend 

Mitchell introduces bill to define agriculture and agricultural

Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, introduced SB 164 this week in an effort to more clearly define “agriculture” and “agricultural” to apply whenever these terms are used in the Code of Alabama, except in those instances where the context indicates otherwise.

Senate co-sponsors of the bill include Sens. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega, Parker Griffith, D-Huntsville, Jimmy Holley, D-Elba, Ag Committee Chairman Kim Benefield, D-Woodland, Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, Senate Majority Leader Zeb Little, D-Cullman, Linda Coleman, D-Birmingham and Ben Brooks, R-Mobile. Current state law has only one definition of agriculture, and it is outdated. It did not include items such as ornamental horticulture, timber management and wildlife production.

The bill has been assigned to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee where Mitchell serves as chairman.

In the House, the bill will be sponsored by Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia. Several representatives have indicated they will be co-sponsors of the bill.

The bill will cover on-farm recreational or educational activities directly involving the production of farm products, fishing and wildlife activities.

Specifically, the bill states those activities, land, buildings, and machinery relating to any of the following:
• The raising, harvesting, rotation, selling, or marketing of crops or products of the soil planted, served, or saved including cereals, vegetables, fruits, fibers, sugars, resins and pitches, grasses, grains, seeds, nuts, bulbs, feed, forage, wood and wood by-products, nursery stock, including trees and shrubs or other plants grown or kept for propagation, distribution or sale, vegetable oils, flowers, silage, pasturage and other products and produce thereof.
• The feeding, breeding, management, raising, marketing, sale or production of livestock of all types, poultry, insects, fish and other aquatic animals for meat, leather, eggs, fur, milk, bone, liquids and other products and produce thereof.
• Recreational or educational activities directly involving or relating to the production of farm products of the types described in the two previous paragraphs, including fishing or the taking, capture, or capture and release of wildlife, including wildlife animal feeding, husbandry and conservation activities, as well as fish and game management, culling, hunting and related wildlife environmental preservation activities.

This act will become effective immediately if it passes.

Governor proposes record state spending

Gov. Bob Riley has proposed record spending for the state’s General Fund Budget and Education Trust Fund Budget, including a 7 percent raise to teachers, but no money to raise state employee salaries. The proposed $1.8 billion General Fund budget and the $6.6 billion Education Budget to be considered by the Legislature are likely to see changes before they return to the governor for his signature.

The Education Trust Fund Budget has gone from $4.2 billion to $6.6 billion in the past four years. The General Fund budget proposed by Riley is about $100 million more than last year's spending plan, but much of that increase is aimed at the increased cost of Medicaid.

The proposed Education Budget includes $5 million for the Career Tech Initiative backed by the Alabama Farmers Federation. The initiative provides an opportunity to put qualified ag education teachers on 12-month contracts. Also included in the education budget is a $1 million increase for the Alabama Agricultural Land Grant Alliance (Auburn University, Tuskegee University and Alabama A & M University). The increase funds research and new innovations in agriculture at the universities along with rural life enhancement programs.

The General Fund budget did not include funding for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) to offset registration fees that could be charged to farmers by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM). However, the $350,000 line item to cover the cost for inspection and compliance requirements of CAFOs is expected to be restored to the General Fund Budget next week.

The General Fund Budget includes $200,000 for fire ant control as a line item in the budget for the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries. Money to continue the “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” program is included in the Alabama Farmers Market Authority budget.

The General Fund budget includes funding to hire 100 new state troopers and to improve service at driver's license offices across the state. It also includes additional funding for screening women for breast and cervical cancer and for children's health insurance.

Thursday, House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, introduced HB 387 that would give all state employees a cost of living raise.

Mandatory insurance limits bill introduced

A bill that would raise the cost of insurance for motorists throughout the state, SB 202, was introduced this week by Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville.

Alfa and the Alabama Farmers Federation oppose the measure because it would substantially raise the minimum insurance liabilities required for Alabama motorists, forcing insurance premiums to rise. Current Alabama law sets minimum liability limits at $20,000 for injury liability for one person in an accident, $40,000 for all injuries in an accident, and $10,000 for property damage in an accident.

Bedford, who is a trial lawyer, proposes the limits be raised to $50,000, $100,000 and $20,000, respectively.

“This bill would drive premiums up, particularly for low-income motorists,” said Federation Governmental Affairs Director Freddie Patterson. “This is an attempt by trial lawyers to make more money off motor vehicle accidents. Actually, when premiums are higher, low-income motorists are less likely to purchase insurance.”

DOT, hunting tax measures on legislative agenda

Sen. Parker Griffith, D-Huntsville, and Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, are expected to introduce bills Tuesday that provide exemptions from intrastate Department of Transportation (DOT) registration for agricultural and other vehicles up to 26,001 pounds from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety regulations.

The bill is supported by an agricultural coalition that includes the Alabama Farmers Federation, Alabama Cattlemen’s Association, Alabama Poultry and Egg Association and the Alabama Forestry Association. The National Federation of Independent Businesses also supports the measure. Numerous co-sponsors are expected for both the House and Senate version of the bill. Federation members are encouraged to contact their legislators to seek support for the legislation.

Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, and Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, D-Red Bay, are expected to introduce legislation next week that would exclude hunting lodges from lodging and amusement taxes. Last year, the Alabama Department of Revenue attempted to collect such taxes, but that effort was stopped when an attorney general’s opinion ruled such establishments were excluded.

State lawmakers take aim at illegal immigrants

Several bills aimed at illegal immigrants and guest workers have been introduced this legislative session. The Alabama Farmers Federation contends immigration issues should be handled on the federal level and is working with the American Farm Bureau regarding guest worker programs.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, has sponsored two bills, SB 214 and SB 215, that would prohibit the state from issuing or renewing the professional or commercial license of any person who is not a lawful citizen of the United States. Orr’s bills also provide financial penalties, namely disqualification of state incentives, to employers of illegal immigrants. SB 214 has been assigned to the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs and SB 215 has been assigned to the Committee on Small Business and Economic Development.

Rep. Mickey Hammon, R-Decatur, has sponsored the companion bills in the House, HB 287 and HB 286, both of which have been assigned to the House Governmental Operations Committee. Hammon also has introduced three other immigration regulation bills. One of the bills, HB 289, would allow law enforcement officers to impound vehicles driven by illegal immigrants who do not have proof of liability insurance or a valid driver’s license. The bill has been assigned to the House Public Safety Committee.

Rep. Ronald Grantland, D-Hartselle, introduced HB 124 this week. This bill has been assigned to the Governmental Operations Committee. This legislation would require individuals and businesses that contract with the state to certify their workers as legal U.S. residents. If workers are found to be illegal, such contracts with the state would be void.

Bills in Brief

HB 274 and HB 275- Sponsored by Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston. The bills would create a propane checkoff program collected from the distributors. Agriculture would be exempt from the checkoff. The bill has been assigned to the House Committee on Commerce.
HB 254 - Sponsored by Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville. The bill would enact the Wildlife Heritage Act of 2007 that would increase hunting and fishing license fees. The bill is in the Committee of Agriculture and Forestry, chaired by Jackson.
HB 328 - Sponsored by Rep. Spencer Collier, R-Irvington. The bill would require that certain farm-raised fish or wild fish served at a food service establishment for human consumption be identified as imported or domestic. The bill is in the House Committee of Agriculture and Forestry.
HB 367 - Sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Oden, R-Eva. The bill would make it a crime to fail to pay for agricultural products. The timber and cattle industries have been excluded in this bill. The bill is in the House Judiciary Committee.
HB 406 – Sponsored by Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre. The bill allows the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries to spend public funds for agricultural economic recruitment efforts.
HB 123 – Sponsored by Rep. Thad McClammy, D-Montgomery. The bill designates the Department of Agriculture and Industries as the official state agency for alternative fuels. The bill is assigned to the Committee of Agriculture and Forestry. This bill is expected to be amended to address conflicts with the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, which currently handles some alternative fuel initiatives.

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