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June 08, 2007   Email to Friend 

Governor signs DOT exemption bill on last day of session

Alabama farmers won a big victory during the final hours of the legislative session when Gov. Bob Riley signed HB 432, also known as the DOT Exemption Bill.

A coalition of the Alabama Farmers Federation, Alabama Cattlemen's Association, Alabama Poultry & Egg Association, Alabama Forestry Association and Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks have worked to get the legislation passed since the Alabama Department of Public Safety announced plans last year to require intrastate registration.

"Our members made passage of this bill a priority for the legislative session," Federation President Jerry A. Newby said. "Farmers from throughout the state, along with Federation staff members, have spent countless hours on the phone and in the state house talking to legislators to educate them about the bill.

“The overwhelming support we received in both the House and Senate shows that their work paid off. We believe these regulations were intended for large commercial trucking operations, not family farmers. The passage of this bill keeps additional burdens and expenses from being placed on farmers who are hauling their own livestock or crops within the state."

Newby said the bill doesn't weaken any existing safety laws, but exempts farmers from added expenses for signs, medical cards, log books and other new DOT requirements, which would not have resulted in any added benefit to public safety.

The bill states "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 House passed an earlier version of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, which would have excluded all agricultural trucks as well as some other vehicles up to 26,001 pounds from U.S. Department of Transportation intrastate registrations.

The final version of the bill limits the DOT exemptions only to agricultural trucks, which must still abide by all other traffic laws and weight restrictions.

Sen. Parker Griffith, D-Huntsville, sponsored the bill in the Senate, which voted 33-0 in favor of the final bill. The House voted last week to concur with the Senate. That vote was 101-2. Last year, the Alabama Department of Public Safety mailed more than 80,000 letters to farmers and others who have larger pickup trucks registered in the state, telling them they had until July 1, 2006, to comply with the regulations. Riley twice postponed the implementation of the DOT requirements.

The bill will take effect Sept. 1.

Legislature passes bill to increase hunting fees

Hunting and fishing license fees in the state will increase next fall. The bill passed the Senate on the final day of the legislative session and was sent to Gov. Bob Riley late Thursday night. He is expected to sign the bill.

HB 254, also known as the Wildlife Heritage Act of 2007, was sponsored by House Agriculture and Forestry Committee Chairman Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville.

It raises the statewide hunting license fee from $16 to $24, and raises freshwater fishing license fees from $9.50 to $12. The increases will provide funding for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to hire 19 additional conservation officers. It also includes cost-of-living salary increases for department employees.

A compromise bill, supported by the Alabama Farmers Federation, requires $500,000 from new license sales to be earmarked for research and approved by the department’s advisory board.

Additionally, the compromise allows a $1 voluntary donation with license fees to be used for wildlife research.

The bill becomes effective Sept. 1 if the governor signs the bill.

Lawmakers pass bill aimed at copper thieves

The governor is expected to sign a bill that requires scrap metal purchasers to maintain records indicating who sold them the metal. Four amendments were added to the bill that would make it more difficult for purchasers to trade stolen copper and other metals.

HB 94 was sponsored by Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, and was supported by Attorney General Troy King and the Alabama Farmers Federation.

At the Federation's Annual Meeting in December, voting delegates approved a policy "requiring buyers of salvage material to require proper identification of the seller in an attempt to provide a better database for law enforcement officials."

Federation members have reported numerous incidents of rural crime related to copper theft. Homes, farm shops, churches and small businesses have been burglarized. The theft of wiring, motors and other equipment containing copper causes extensive damage to property beyond the value of the actual theft.

The law goes into effect Sept. 1.

New law increases auto minimum liability limits

A compromise bill backed by state trial lawyers will raise the minimum auto liability limits required for Alabama motorists.

The bill, which passed the Senate earlier in the session, passed the House on the final legislative day. The governor is expected to sign the bill, SB 202, which was sponsored by Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville.

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 proposed an increase to $50,000, $100,000 and $20,000, respectively. The new limits also apply to uninsured motorists coverage.

Alfa Insurance worked to reduce the increased limits that eventually passed. The new limits are $25,000, $50,000 and $25,000. Minimum limits haven’t been raised since 1984. The increased limits are expected to cost drivers who don’t already have higher coverage $20-$32 more per year.

New law helps reduce interest rates for farmers

Legislators passed a bill Thursday that will help farmers where they need it most – in their bank account.

The bill lowers loan rates for farmers at local banks by allowing the state treasurer to link ag loans from local banks to state deposits, thereby reducing interest rates for farmers and small businesses.

State Treasurer Kay Ivey worked with the Alabama Farmers Federation to secure passage of the bill which allows the state to invest a portion of state funds with participating banks in a below-market deposit, which links the deposit to a reduced-rate loan for eligible borrowers.

The linked deposit fixed-interest rate paid by the bank shall be two percent below the two-year constant maturity treasury rate.

Farmers or small businesses are only eligible for one linked deposit at any one time. The linked deposit amount shall not exceed $750,000 per borrower. The initial term shall be for two years and it may be renewed for three additional two-year terms.

Alabama Farmers Federation President Jerry A. Newby praised Ivey for her work to help state farmers.

“By enhancing the state’s linked deposit plan, State Treasurer Kay Ivey will help stimulate growth and development in agricultural and small business operations,” Newby said. “It also could provide money for disaster relief by making low-interest rate loans available. We appreciate the work done by Ms. Ivey.”

SB 337 and its companion bill, HB 554, were sponsored by Sen. Harri Anne Smith, R-Slocomb, and Rep. Oliver Robinson, D-Birmingham.

The governor is expected to sign the bill, which becomes effective Jan. 1, 2008.

Bill streamlines filing of liens on farm products

A new bill will streamline the filing of liens on farm products with the Alabama Secretary of State’s office and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The bill, SB 425, was sponsored by Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, and was supported by the Alabama Farmers Federation.

Known as the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) filing bill, it allows an original, reproduced copy or signed copy of an effective financial statement to be filed with the Secretary of State. The new law also removes the requirement that farmers must provide their Social Security number for UCC filings.

The companion bill, HB 795, was sponsored by Rep. Mike Hill, R-Columbiana. The bill passed on the final day of the session and the governor is expected to sign it. It will go into effect Sept. 1.

Newly-elected Secretary of State Beth Chapman appointed Assistant Director of Governmental Affairs Paul Pinyan to a task force that studied the UCC filing operations within her office.

After several meetings, the task force recommended the legislative changes that were eventually passed in the bill.

“This is the beginning of changes that will provide more privacy for borrowers required to file UCC documents,” Pinyan said. “We anticipate this will expedite the implementation of electronic UCC filings which will result in better access and more efficient handling of business filings.”

Chapman said her office hopes to have electronic filing in place by early 2008.

Bills in Brief

HB 557 – died on the last day of the session. The bill would have removed current restrictions regarding the manufacture, sale and transportation of ethyl alcohol (Ethanol) specifically where it will be used as an alternative fuel for motor vehicles. The current restriction was intended to control ethanol produced for alcoholic beverages.

SB 241 and HB 571 – which would have allowed the sale of home-processed items at farmers markets, died in committee in both chambers.

SB 285 – The Family Farm Preservation Act, died in committee following a public hearing. The act would have protected farm operations from being declared a public or private nuisance or being in violation of municipal or county ordinances if they are operated lawfully and under certain conditions.

HB 274 and HB 275 – would have created a propane checkoff program collected from the distributors. Agriculture would have been exempt from the checkoff. The bill failed to come up for a final vote, effectively killing it for the session.

HB 174 – would have required title registration and a registration decal for all-terrain vehicles starting with 2009 models. The bill died when it failed to come up for a final vote on the last day of the session.

HB 406 – passed on the final day of the session. It allows the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries to spend public funds for agricultural economic recruitment efforts.

SJR 22 – a resolution that passed which establishes a commission that will recommend state immigration policy prior to the next legislative session. The Federation will seek an appointment to the commission.

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