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May 29, 2007   Email to Friend 

Senate deadlock broken; committee passes DOT exemption bill

A bill that would exempt agricultural trucks and some other vehicles up to 26,001 pounds from U.S. Department of Transportation intrastate registration passed the Senate Commerce Transportation and Utilities Committee Thursday by a vote of 14-0.

HB 432, sponsored by Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, was assigned to the Senate committee after a stalemate in the Senate was broken Tuesday. For most of the session, the Senate had been unable to vote on legislation or receive bills passed by the House as Republican senators filibustered routine bills to protest Senate rules they said gave too much power to the Democratic majority. On Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom postponed two sunset bills that had been filibustered, clearing the way for the Senate to consider state budgets and other business. Republican senators protested the action by Folsom and the Democratic majority, saying it violated the state constitution because two-thirds of the senators did not vote to set aside the bills.

Once the gridlock was broken, the Senate quickly passed the general fund and education budgets out of committee, which include pay raises for teachers and state employees. Thirty-two other House bills awaiting action in the Senate were assigned to Senate committees. Those included 31 local bills and only one general bill -- HB 432, the DOT exemption supported by the Federation.

Alabama Farmers Federation Executive Director Mike Kilgore praised Senate Pro Tem Hinton Mitchem, D-Union Grove, for singling out the DOT bill for action.

"As a rural resident and agribusinessman, Sen. Mitchem understands the far-reaching negative impact intrastate DOT registration could have on our state's farmers," said Kilgore. "He met with Federation leaders from his district and pledged that if the stalemate in the Senate ended, the bill would be the first legislation considered."

After Mitchem assigned HB 432 to the Senate Commerce Transportation and Utilities Committee, the Alabama Trial Lawyers Association requested a public hearing on the bill. Kilgore credited Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks for mediating with the agriculture coalition and trial lawyers to avoid a public hearing.

"Immediately after the bill was assigned to committee, Commissioner Sparks began working with the trial lawyers and farm groups to reach a consensus," Kilgore said. "Tuesday afternoon and throughout the day on Wednesday, he met with both groups on the phone and in person to iron out differences. Without his leadership, the trial lawyers would have insisted on a public hearing, and this important legislation would have died in committee."

The negotiations resulted in a substitute bill being drafted that would exclude certain non-agricultural vehicles from the weight exemption. These include cement trucks, emergency vehicles, garbage trucks and wreckers, among others. The bill also provides assurances that the legislation would not compromise safety.

"Nothing in this act shall be interpreted to exempt any person from obligations to operate a motor vehicle in a safe and proper manner or to observe the rules of the road," the bill states.

On Thursday morning, Committee Chairman Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, moved the bill out of committee once both groups assured him a compromise had been reached. Voting in favor of the bill were: Chairman Ross and Sens. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe; Roger Bedford, D-Russellville; Charles Bishop, R-Jasper; Linda Coleman, D-Birmingham; Rusty Glover, R-Semmes; Pat Lindsey, D-Butler; Zeb Little, D-Cullman; Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne; Hinton Mitchem, D-Union Grove; Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega; Harri Anne Smith, R-Slocomb; Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills; and Jimmy Holley, D-Elba. Not voting was Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma.

The substitute bill will now go to the Senate Rules Committee, chaired by Sen. Barron. In order for the bill to be enacted, the Rules Committee must put the measure on the Senate calendar; the full Senate must pass the bill; the full House must concur with the substitute; and the governor must sign the bill into law. Federation Governmental Affairs Director Freddie Patterson encouraged local leaders to contact members of the Rules Committee this weekend and encourage them to put HB 432 on the Senate calendar. In addition, members should encourage all senators to approve the measure when it comes before the full Senate -- as early as next week.

Besides Chairman Barron, members of the Rules Committee are: Sens. Pat Lindsey, D-Butler; Ted Little, D-Auburn; Roger Bedford, D-Russellville; Tom Butler, D-Madison; Bobby Denton, D-Muscle Shoals; Vivian Figures, D-Mobile; Steve French, R-Birmingham; Parker Griffith, D-Huntsville; Zeb Little, D-Cullman; Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne; Hinton Mitchem, D-Union Grove; Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery; Harri Anne Smith, R-Slocomb; Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham; and Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills.

With only three legislative days left in the regular session, Kilgore said next week is crucial to achieving final passage of the DOT bill.

"For more than a year, farmers have been threatened with costly and burdensome regulations. We have worked through objections by the Department of Public Safety, numerous enforcement deadlines, concerns by trial lawyers and questions about compliance with federal regulations," Kilgore said.

"Thanks to the efforts of a coalition that included the Federation, Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, Alabama Cattlemen's Association, Alabama Poultry and Egg Association, Alabama Forestry Association and National Federation of Independent Businesses, we now have a bill with broad-based support that will ensure farmers and small businesses are not subjected to the same rules as commercial interstate carriers."

In order to provide time for House concurrence, Kilgore said the full Senate needs to pass HB 432 by Thursday, May 31.

Bills Dead For Session

With only three legislative days left in the regular session of the Alabama Legislature, dozens of bills effectively died this week when they failed to pass their houses of origin. Among those were the following bills being tracked by the Alabama Farmers Federation:

HB 98 and SB 99, sponsored by Rep. Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham, and Sen. Ted Little, D-Auburn, would have held a referendum to decide whether to elect delegates to rewrite the constitution.

HB 286 and SB 215, sponsored by Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, and Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, would have prohibited giving economic incentives to businesses that employ illegal immigrants.

HB 287 and SB 214,, sponsored by Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, and Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, would have prohibited government agencies from issuing or renewing business licenses for illegal immigrants.

HB 289,, sponsored by Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, would have allowed law enforcement officers to impound vehicles driven by illegal immigrants.

HB 328, sponsored by Rep. Spencer Collier, R-Irvington, would have required country-of-origin labeling of fish used for human consumption.

HB 367, sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Oden, R-Eva, would have made it a crime to fail to pay for agricultural products.

HB 406, sponsored by Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, would have allowed the Department of Agriculture and Industries to fund certain public relations activities.

HB 434 and SB 164, sponsored by Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, and Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, would have redefined "agriculture" to include agritourism and other on-farm activities.

HB 452 and SB 260, sponsored by Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, D-Red Bay, and Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, would have exempted hunting lodges and fishing camps from sales and lodging taxes.

HB 527 and SB 333, sponsored by Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, and Sen. Pat Lindsey, D-Butler, would have authorized bingo gambling at racetracks in Mobile County and Birmingham.

HB 554 and SB 337, sponsored by Rep. Oliver Robinson, D-Birmingham, and Sen. Harri Anne Smith, R-Slocomb, would have expanded the state Linked Deposit Program to include agricultural loans, thereby reducing interest rates for farmers and small businesses at local banks.

HB 569 and SB 29, sponsored by Rep. Steve McMillan, R-Bay Minette, and Sen. Bradley Byrne, R-Mobile, would have increased the criminal penalties for horse or equine torture.

HB 571 and SB 241, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, and Sen. Kim Benefield, D-Woodland, would have allowed for the sale of home-processed items at farmers markets.

HB 737, sponsored by Rep. Mike Ball, R-Huntsville, would have increased criminal penalties for those employing illegal immigrants.

HB 738, sponsored by Rep. William Thigpen, D-Fayette, would have authorized hunting on property where game feeding takes place.

HB 749, sponsored by Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, D-Red Bay, would have imposed a tax on all blended motor fuel and would require licensing and fees for alternative fuel suppliers.

SB 202, sponsored by Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, would have increased liability insurance limits for motor vehicles.

SB 279 and SB 284, sponsored by Sen. Jimmy Holley, D-Elba, would have created a checkoff program for propane gas to fund consumer education and promotion. The House versions of these bills, HB 274 and HB 275, sponsored by Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, await action in the Senate.

SB 285, sponsored by Sen. Kim Benefield, D-Woodland, the Family Farm Preservation Act would have prevented law-abiding farms from being declared a public nuisance.

SB 294, sponsored by Sen. Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery, would have granted civil immunity to landowners who allow their property to be used for recreational equine activities.

SB 300, sponsored by Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, would have required property reappraisals to be conducted every four years.

SB 315, sponsored by Sen. Linda Coleman, D-Birmingham, would have authorized municipalities to pre-zone property being annexed under certain conditions.

SB 335, sponsored by Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, would have allowed volunteer fire departments to collect fees for services.

SB 344, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, would have allowed ethyl alcohol used as alternative fuel to be transported on state highways. The House version of this bill, HB 557, sponsored by Rep. Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill, awaits action in the Senate.

SB 425, sponsored by Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, would have expedited UCC filings for agricultural products with the Secretary of State.

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