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February 15, 2008   Email to Friend 

Governor, DPS expected to announce bill to repeal DOT exemption

Gov. Bob Riley is expected to announce legislation that would repeal the agricultural exemption from certain DOT requirements passed during the 2007 Regular Session. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration says the state will lose $4 million in federal funding this year if the exemption is not removed.

Alabama Department of Public Safety officials told reporters this week the legislation will be a “compromise that everybody can live with.” However, the governor’s administration has yet to discuss details of the bill with the Alabama Farmers Federation and other affected groups. The Federation has requested a meeting with the governor and will thoroughly review his proposed legislation.

Last year, the Legislature overwhelmingly approved a measure that exempted agriculture from cumbersome regulations governing intrastate carriers. The Federation has maintained that farmers using trucks to market their products and haul supplies should not be subject to burdensome paperwork required of commercial carriers. Current law exempts agricultural operators from requirements to keep log books, obtain medical cards for drivers and register their trucks with the U.S. Department of Transportation. Without the exemption, even certain pickup trucks would have to comply with the regulations.

Meanwhile, the organization is working with Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, and others to pass a federal-level exemption for agriculture (HR 3098). At the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting in New Orleans last month, the national organization adopted the exemption as part of its national policy, and the AFBF has made passage of the bill a priority.

Paul Pinyan, director of the Federation’s Department of Governmental Affairs, said county leaders should work to ensure the governor’s legislation does not repeal the gains fought for and attained last year.

“Our membership worked hard for passage of the exemption last year. Federal Motor Carrier guidelines allow states to exempt drivers and vehicles from certain requirements,” Pinyan said. “We must make sure that any changes in the current law continue to protect farmers from costly, time-consuming and unnecessary paperwork, while keeping our roads safe.”

Alternative energy bills gain momentum in Legislature

More than a dozen bills proposed by the Joint Permanent Committee on Energy Policy moved quickly through House and Senate committees the first full week of the legislative session, laying the groundwork for Alabama to become a leader in alternative fuels.

“Alabama will become a national leader in alternative and renewable energy research and development and will aggressively move forward with the 2008 energy initiative,” said Rep. Frank McDaniel, D-Albertville.

A summary of the bills follows:

HB 233 & SB 313, sponsored by Rep. Greg Wren, R-Montgomery, and Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, would create the Legislative Energy Policy Office and provide for the development of an ongoing state energy plan.

HB 234 & SB 305, sponsored by Rep. William Thigpen, D-Fayette, and Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, would provide tax credits and abatements for energy-related expenditures.

HB 235 & SB 306, sponsored by Rep. Thigpen and Sen. Kim Benefield, D-Woodland, would provide tax credits for the production and use of alternative fuels.

HB 236 & SB 311, sponsored by Rep. Betty Carol Graham, D-Alexander City, and Sen. Ted Little, D-Auburn, would provide grants for the development of alternative energy technology.

HB 237 & SB 308, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, and Sen. Mitchell, would establish procedures to encourage state government to maintain fuel-efficient “green” fleet vehicles.

HB 238 & SB 352, sponsored by Rep. Jackson and Sen. Parker Griffith, D-Huntsville, would raise weight limits for vehicles that use auxiliary power or idle reduction technology.

HB 239, HB 240, SB 314 & SB 315, sponsored by Rep. McDaniel and Sen. Mitchell, would allow life-cycle costs to be a factor in the bidding process for state property and vehicles.

HB 241 and SB 353, sponsored by Rep. Wren and Sen. Griffith, would establish energy-efficiency requirements for new government buildings.

HB 242 and SB 309, sponsored by Rep. Wren and Sen. Hinton Mitchem, D-Albertville, would require the Alabama Building Commission to adopt the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code for commercial buildings.

HB 244, sponsored Rep. Wren, would make energy-efficient products eligible for exemptions during sales tax holidays.

HB 245 and SB 312, sponsored by Rep. Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill, and Sen. Benefield, would remove restrictions on the manufacturing, sale and transportation of ethanol used for fuel.

Senate seeks to increase auto insurance liability limits

Alabama motorists would be required to maintain higher levels of liability insurance under a bill that passed the Senate Feb. 7.

SB 4, sponsored by Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, would increase the limits for the first time since 1983. Currently, state law requires liability insurance of $20,000 for the injury or death of one person, $40,000 for multiple injuries or deaths, and $10,000 for property damage. Bedford's bill would raise that to $25,000 for a single person, $50,000 for multiple people, and $25,000 for property damage. The bill also would raise the coverage required for uninsured motorists.

Under the bill, insurance companies would have 90 days to implement the new limits for new customers and 180 days for renewals. About 7 percent of Alfa customers would be affected by the increase in liability limits, and 90 percent would have to raise their uninsured motorist coverage.

SB 4 has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee. The companion bill, HB 15, sponsored by Rep. Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill, passed the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday and awaits action by the full House. AFF supports.

Legislators pressure governor to rescind annual reappraisals

More than half-dozen bills and resolutions have been introduced to rescind annual property tax appraisals.

Given slower-than-expected growth in the General Fund and Education budgets, it is unlikely a bill to return appraisals to once every four years will pass both houses of the Legislature. However, legislators have passed joint resolutions that put pressure on the governor to rescind the practice.

Bills currently pending in the Senate Finance and Taxation - Education Committee are SB 40, sponsored by Sen. Larry Means, D-Attalla; SB 79, sponsored by Sen. Steve French, R-Birmingham; SB 103, sponsored by Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale; and SB 259, sponsored by Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston. Pending in the House Government Appropriations Committee are HB 6, sponsored by Rep. Todd Greason, R-Ider, and HB 140 and HB 406, sponsored by Rep. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale.

HJR 9, sponsored by Rep. Mike Millican, D-Hamilton, and SJR 9, sponsored by Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, have passed both the House and Senate and are awaiting the governor’s signature.

In 2003, then Revenue Commissioner Dwight Carlisle, with the backing of Gov. Bob Riley, met with county revenue officials and ordered them to switch to annual property tax reappraisals. AFF supports the above bills.

Bills In Brief

SB 368 – Sponsored by Sen. Kim Benefield, D-Woodland, the Family Farm Preservation Act would prevent law-abiding farms from being declared a public nuisance. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. AFF supports.

HB 333 – Sponsored by Rep. Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill, this bill would expand the criteria for rural land surveyors. It would allow licensing of surveyors who meet certain criteria if they have a four-year civil engineering or forestry degree; a two-year technical degree in surveying or forestry with two years’ experience; or eight or more years of field experience. The bill has been assigned to the House Boards and Commissions Committee. The companion bill will be sponsored by Sen. Pat Lindsey, D-Butler. AFF supports concept.

HB 335 & SB 221 – Sponsored by Rep. Spencer Collier, R-Irvington, and Sen. Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega, the bills would require country-of-origin labeling of fish used for human consumption. HB 335 was assigned to the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee; SB 221 was assigned to the Small Business and Economic Development Committee. AFF supports.

HB 94 – Sponsored by Rep. Ron Johnson, R-Sylacauga, the bill would require title registration and a registration decal for all-terrain vehicles starting with 2010 models. The bill passed the House Tuesday and awaits action in the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. AFF supports.

SB 5 – Sponsored by Sen. Ben Brooks, R-Mobile, the bill would restructure the board of the Alabama beach pool, which provides wind coverage for coastal residents. It also would provide tax incentives for residents who make weather-resistant improvements to their property. The bill is pending action in the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee. AFF opposes as written.

SB 296 – Sponsored by Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, the bill would retain the current structure of the Alabama beach pool. The bill is pending action in the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee. AFF opposes as written.

HB 99, SB 148 & SB 321 – Sponsored by Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, and Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, the bills would allow property owners to recover the cost of damages incurred during the theft of copper or scrap metal. HB 99 has passed the House Judiciary Committee. SB 148 and SB 321 are pending action in the Senate Judiciary Committee. AFF supports.

HB 121 – Sponsored by Rep. Mike Hill, R-Columbiana, the bill would establish as statewide building code council under the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA). Farm structures would be exempt. The bill passed the House and was assigned to the Senate Economic Expansion and Trade Committee. AFF supports.

HB 454 – Sponsored by Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, the Safe Dam Legislation would require an inventory and classification of dams by the Alabama Office of Water Resources. The bill is pending action in the House Commerce Committee. AFF supports.

SB 225 – Sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, would make it illegal for a person to knowingly transport or conceal an illegal alien. The bill is pending action in the Senate Judiciary Committee. AFF supports.

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