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February 29, 2008   Email to Friend 

Senate, House pass PAC-to-PAC transfer ban

Legislation that would curtail the practice of moving contributions through a series of political action committees, or PAC-to-PAC transfers, passed both the House and Senate, but differences in the two versions must now be resolved by a conference committee.

On Tuesday, the Senate passed an amended version of HB 73, sponsored by Rep. Jeff McLaughlin, D-Guntersville, by a 20-14 vote. The House passed its version of the bill Feb. 7, but refused to concur with the amended Senate version on Thursday.

A major difference between the two versions is a provision in the Senate-passed bill that would allow legislators to form caucus groups that could raise money during the legislative session while they are voting on bills. The Senate version also would exempt political parties from the PAC-to-PAC ban. Alabama Farmers Federation External Affairs Director John Pudner said this would allow parties to transfer money to groups that spend political contributions to influence elections by increasing voter turnout in areas with strong party support.

"In legislative races in 2006, the PAC of the Alabama Farmers Federation insisted on strict accountability and reporting. It made contributions directly to specific candidates who were doing approved activities such as sending mail informing voters of the different positions and qualifications of the candidates in the race," Pudner said. "If voters agreed with the Farmers Federation's positions, they might be more likely to vote for a candidate endorsed by the PAC, and if they disagreed, they might be more likely to vote for the opponent."

However, Pudner said other groups transferred millions of dollars through multiple PACs during those races. As a result, voters were not given the opportunity to decide if they agreed with out-of-state groups or others trying to influence races in Alabama. The bill passed by the Senate would not totally eliminate this activity because it would continue to allow transfers of money among campaigns, political parties and caucuses.

The Federation will continue to monitor the bill. We are hopeful the conference committee will close the loopholes in the bill. On Thursday, the House appointed Rep. McLaughlin, Rep. Mac McCutcheon, R-Capshaw, and Rep. Roderick Scott, D-Fairfield, to the conference committee. The Senate is expected to name its conferees on Monday. AFF monitoring.

Family Farm Preservation hearing set for March 12

A public hearing will be held Wednesday, March 12, on the Family Farm Preservation Act, SB 368. The bill, sponsored by Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee Chairman Kim Benefield, D-Woodland, would prevent law-abiding farms from being declared a public or private nuisance and would discourage frivolous nuisance lawsuits by requiring losing plaintiffs to pay the farmer's attorney's fees.

Alabama Farmers Federation leaders are encouraged to attend the hearing, which currently is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. in Room 609-A of the State House.

The Family Farm Preservation Act was first introduced in 2001. Despite passing the House of Representatives in previous sessions, it failed to win approval in the Senate, where it was assigned to the Judiciary Committee or delayed in the Rules Committee. Since becoming chair of the Senate Ag Committee, Benefield has worked to ensure the bill receives a fair hearing in her committee.

Farmers wishing to offer testimony at the the March 12 hearing should contact Federation Agricultural Legislation Director Brian Hardin at 1-800-392-5705, ext. 4217 or BHardin@alfafarmers.org. AFF supports.

Coastal insurance bills passed by Senate committee

Three bills aimed at addressing the availability and affordability of insurance for Gulf Coast residents passed the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee Wednesday.

SB 5, sponsored by Sen. Ben Brooks, R-Mobile, would restructure the board of the Alabama Underwriting Association, or "beach pool." It also would provide tax incentives for residents who make weather-resistant improvements to their property.

Meanwhile, Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, has sponsored SB 296, which would make the "beach pool" part of state law. Earlier this year, Alabama Insurance Commissioner Walter Bell reported that Alabama is the only state where the "beach pool" plan is not included in state law. Bedford's bill would retain the current structure of the "beach pool."

The third insurance-related bill passed out of committee was SB 3, sponsored by Brooks. The legislation would allow captive insurance companies to sell automobile and residential homeowners policies. Captive insurance allows businesses, governments and associations to self-insure as a group, such as condos on the beach.

Alabama Farmers Federation is working with both Brooks and Bedford on the "beach pool" legislation to resolve differences and find a solution that will increase the availability and affordability of insurance for coastal residents.

Because captive insurance companies are not subject to the same regulations and audits as traditional property and casualty companies, customers safeguards could be jeopardized if captive companies were allowed to sell personal lines insurance. The Federation hopes to work with the sponsor to ensure policyholders are protected while providing new coverage options for commercial property and some condominium units along the coast. AFF monitoring.

House passes minimum liability insurance limits

The House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that would raise minimum liability insurance limits for Alabama motorists. HB 15, sponsored by Rep. Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill, would require insurance of $25,000 for the injury or death of one person, $50,000 for multiple injuries or deaths and $25,000 for property damage. Current minimum limits are $20,000, $40,000 and $10,000, respectively. The bill also would raise the coverage required for uninsured motorists.

A similar bill, SB 4, sponsored by Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, passed the Senate Feb. 7 and awaits action in the full House. HB 15 has been assigned to the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee. AFF supports.

Beason introduces immigration reform bill

Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, has introduced a bill targeting illegal immigration that includes more than a dozen provisions. The Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, SB 426, has 25 cosponsors and is assigned to the Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Accountability Committee, chaired by Sen. Ted Little, D-Auburn. A public hearing on the bill will be Wednesday.

Major provisions of the bill include requiring worker identification cards for out-of-state residents, prohibiting illegal aliens from receiving government benefits, denying government contracts to businesses that employ undocumented workers and increasing penalties for employers who hire illegals.

Four Alabama farmers served on the Joint Interim Patriotic Immigration Commission along with Beason, who served as the vice chairman. The Commission's report, which was presented to the Legislature two weeks ago, encouraged Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform including a guest worker provision.

Alabama Farmers Federation is working with Sen. Beason and the sponsors of other immigration reform bills to ensure legislation does not create undue hardship for the state's farmers. The Federation supports secure borders, restrictions on illegals receiving government benefits and tighter health and safety standards, but acknowledges immigration reform is a national issue that should be addressed by Congress. AFF monitoring.

Bills In Brief

HB 234 - Sponsored by William Thigpen, D-Fayette, this bill would encourage the use of alternative fuels by providing a motor fuel tax credit for the transportation of biofuel feedstocks such as switchgrass, corn, soybeans and animal waste to the manufacturing plant. AFF supports.

SJR 28 - Sponsored by Sen. Kim Benefield, D-Woodland, the resolution would create the Alabama Permanent Joint Legislative Committee on Water Policy and Management. The purpose is to develop the Alabama Water Management Plan to recommend to the governor and the Legislature courses of action to address the state's long-term and short-term water resource challenges. The joint resolution has passed the Senate and awaits action in the House. AFF supports.

HB 576 & SB 399 - Sponsored by Rep. A.J. McCampbell, D-Demopolis, and Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, the bills would require food service establishments to provide country-of-origin labeling of catfish. The bills have been assigned to the agriculture committees in their respective houses. 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.

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 House-passed bill was approved by the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee Wednesday. AFF supports.

HB 333 and SB 386 - Sponsored by Rep. Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill, and Sen. Pat Lindsey, D-Butler, these bills would expand the criteria for rural land surveyors. Under the legislation, those who 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 could take the state test to obtain a surveyor's license. The Federation is meeting with the sponsors and the Alabama Society of Professional Land Surveyors to resolve differences about the bills. AFF supports concept.

SB 320 - Sponsored by Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, the Child Protection Act would establish regulations for hiring minors under 16 years of age and would provide civil penalties for violations of the act. The bill provides exemptions for agricultural businesses. It is assigned to the Senate Business and Labor Committee. AFF monitoring.

HB 74 - Sponsored by Rep. Ronald Grantland, D-Hartselle, the bill would require contractors doing business with the State of Alabama to certify they do not hire undocumented workers. The bill passed the House on Thursday and is assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee. AFF monitoring.

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.

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