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April 27, 2007   Email to Friend 

Senate hearing Wednesday on Family Farm Preservation Act

Alabama farmers from throughout the state will be in Montgomery Wednesday, May 2, for a Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee hearing on the Family Farm Preservation Act. The hearing was called at the request of environmental activist groups that oppose the bill.

"The Family Farm Preservation Act is a priority for our organization, and we are encouraging leaders to contact members of the Senate Agriculture Committee and ask them to support the bill," said Federation Executive Director Mike Kilgore. "Farmers are good stewards of their resources and live and raise their children in the environment that they operate in. This bill would establish, through statute, the regulatory authority of the state over farming operations and define what is a 'nuisance' and what is not.

"The bill does not prevent someone from suing a farm for nuisance, but sets a deterrent against frivolous nuisance suits," Kilgore added. "It provides a mechanism where the plaintiff would pay the farmer's legal fees, if the case were ruled in favor of the farmer."

The Family Farm Preservation Act, SB 285, is sponsored by Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Kim Benefield, D-Woodland. It provides that farm operations may not be declared a public or private nuisance or be in violation of municipal or county ordinances if operated lawfully and under certain conditions.

Federation leaders are more optimistic about the Family Farm Preservation Act this year because, in year's past, it has been assigned to either the Senate Judiciary Committee or Senate Rules Committee. This year, Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom and President Pro Tem Hinton Mitchem, D- Union Grove, assigned the bill to the Agriculture Committee.

The Federation's Organization and Commodity Departments are working to arrange testimony at the hearing by affected farmers. Federation members are encouraged to contact senators on the Committee and ask them to support SB 285. Committee members are: Sens. Kim Benefield, D-Woodland, chair; Charles Bishop, R-Jasper, vice chair; Roger Bedford, D-Russellville; Tom Butler, D-Madison; Hank Erwin, R-Montevallo; Pat Lindsey, D-Butler; Hinton Mitchem, D-Union Grove; Myron Penn, D-Union Springs; Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro; Harri Anne Smith, R-Slocomb; Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne; Zeb Little, D-Cullman; and Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, whose seat on the Committee is being filled by Rusty Glover, R-Semmes.

As more non-farm residents move into rural areas, it has become increasingly important for the state to provide protection for farmers who obey state and federal laws and regulations, according to Federation Governmental Affairs Director Freddie Patterson.

"Law-abiding farmers should not be forced to pay exorbitant legal bills to defend themselves from frivolous lawsuits," he said. "As the state's largest farm organization, we must educate our legislators about this bill, which would protect our farmers from unwarranted attacks on their livelihood."

The public hearing is set for 9:30 a.m., Wednesday, May 2, at the State House. The Committee will not vote on the bill until its next meeting. Representatives from the Federation as well as the Alabama Cattlemen's Association, Alabama Poultry and Egg Association and Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries are scheduled to testify. AFF Supports.

Constitution convention bill passes Senate committee; House version awaits vote

Bills that would allow voters to decide whether to hold a constitutional convention gained momentum in the Legislature this week with the Senate version passing committee and the House sponsor predicting a vote in the House of Representatives as early as next week.

SB 99, sponsored by Sen. Ted Little, D-Auburn, passed the Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Elections Committee Thursday by a vote 7-2, with three absent.

Voting in favor of the measure were: Sens. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope; Pat Lindsey, D-Butler; Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe; Parker Griffith, D-Huntsville; Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne; Myron Penn, D-Union Springs; and Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery. Voting "no" were: Sens. Ben Brooks, R-Mobile, and Arthur Orr, R-Decatur. Not voting were: Sens. Zeb Little, D-Cullman; Roger Bedford, D-Russellville; and Hank Sanders, D-Selma.

HB 98, sponsored by Rep. Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham, passed the House Constitution and Elections Committee April 11 by a vote of 8-5.

During a rally Wednesday at the State Capitol, Newton told about 120 college students affiliated with the Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform the bill would pass if it can get past a vote on a budget isolation resolution (BIR), a procedural requirement on all legislation taken up before the state's budgets.

Under Newton's bill, voters would decide during the presidential preference primary in February if they want to call a convention. If voters approve calling the convention, delegates would be elected during the regular primary in June. The delegates would then meet in October at the State House in Montgomery to begin work on writing a new constitution. During the general election in 2010, voters would decide whether or not to ratify the new constitution.

The Alabama Farmers Federation supports an article-by-article approach to amending the constitution. Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood, has introduced bills this session to amend two articles of the 1901 Constitution using the article-by-article approach championed by the late Rep. Jack Venable, D-Tallassee. These bills, HB 542 and HB 543, have passed the House and are awaiting action in the Senate Commerce Transportation and Utilities Committee and Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, respectively.

Federation members are encouraged to contact their legislators and ask them to vote "no" on the BIR, which would allow HB 98 to be considered in the House before state budgets; "no" on any cloture vote to cut off debate; and "no" on final passage of HB 98 and SB 99. AFF Opposes.

Horse torture bill could have ramifications for livestock

Farm groups are concerned that bills increasing penalties for horse, pony and other equine abuse could affect livestock production in Alabama.

SB 29, which is on the Senate calendar, and HB 569, which is in the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee, would make torturing a horse, pony or other equine a Class C felony.

Under existing law, a person commits the offense of cruelty to animals if a person subjects an animal, including a horse, pony or other equine, to cruel mistreatment or cruel neglect. Cruelty to animals is a Class B misdemeanor. The proposed bills would provide that a person commits the offense of torture of a horse, pony or other equine if the person intentionally or recklessly tortures a horse, pony or other equine.

SB 29 is sponsored by Sen. Bradley Byrne, R-Mobile, and HB 569 is sponsored by Rep. Steve McMillan, R-Bay Minette. Livestock producers are concerned that well-intended animal cruelty laws could restrict a farmer's ability to house, transport and care for his livestock. Nationwide, well-funded animal rights groups have used animal welfare statutes and regulations to promote an aggressive agenda that targets animal agriculture operations.

The Alabama Farmers Federation and other agriculture groups are working with the bills' sponsors on amendments that would protect animal agricultural practices. AFF Monitoring.

Senate logjam delays action on DOT exemption bill

After passing the House of Representatives April 12 by a vote of 101-2, a bill that would exempt agricultural vehicles from intrastate Department of Transportation (DOT) registration hit a logjam in the Senate this week.

While awaiting assignment to a Senate committee, HB 432, sponsored by Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, was preempted by rules requiring "sunset" bills to be considered by the 15th legislative day (Thursday). The Senate began work Thursday on the sunset bills, which involve the reauthorization and reappointment of boards and commissions set to expire this year. That process will resume Tuesday and could take one to two more legislative days to complete. That means it could be several more days before HB 432 is assigned to a Senate committee.

The companion bill, SB 258, is sponsored by Sen. Parker Griffith, D-Huntsville. It has passed the Senate Commerce, Transportation and Utilities Committee and is on the Senate calendar. If approved by the Senate, SB 258 would be assigned to a House committee. It would have to pass the committee and full House again. AFF Supports.

Bills Introduced This Week

SB 425 -- Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, this week introduced a bill that would streamline the filing of liens on farm products with the Secretary of State's office and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Known as the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) filing bill, SB 425 would allow an original, reproduced copy or signed copy of an effective financing statement to be filed with the Secretary of State. It also would remove the requirement for farmers to provide their Social Security numbers for UCC filings. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which Mitchell chairs. AFF Supports.

HB 737 -- Reps. Mike Ball, R-Huntsville, and Mac McCutcheon, R-Capshaw, this week introduced a bill that would create the crime of unlawful employment of an illegal alien. HB 737 also would make employers liable under civil law if they knowingly employ an illegal alien. The bill has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee. AFF Opposes.

HB 749 -- Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, D-Red Bay, introduced a bill this week that would impose a tax on all blended motor fuel and would require licensing and fees for alternative fuel suppliers. The bill has been assigned to the House Government Finance and Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery. AFF Monitoring.

HB 738 -- Rep. William Thigpen, D-Fayette, introduced a bill this week that would provide for the voluntary feeding of game during hunting season and would require permits to hunt on property where game is being fed. This bill would not affect the ability of a person to operate a feeder for purposes other than hunting game. The cost of a permit would be $25 for the season, plus a $5 issuance fee. Permit money would be deposited in the Game and Fish Fund of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and the $5 issuance fee would go to the county. The bill has been assigned to the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee. AFF Monitoring.

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