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March 28, 2008   Email to Friend 

Immigration reform legislation passes House, Senate committees

The State of Alabama moved a step closer toward exercising jurisdiction over illegal immigration this week when several bills that would create criminal penalties for workers and employers passed House and Senate committees. The House is expected to devote an entire legislative day to immigration bills next Thursday.

The most far-reaching bill considered this week was SB 426, sponsored by Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, which passed the Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Accountability Committee. The measure would make it a crime to transport or harbor illegal immigrants and would require identification cards for all out-of-state workers. It also would penalize employers who hire undocumented workers and would restrict public aid to illegal immigrants. This bill is patterned after a controversial law passed in Oklahoma last year, which caused an exodus of both legal and illegal immigrants from the state.

In addition, eight immigration bills passed the House Judiciary Committee Thursday. Among those were four sponsored by Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur. HB 727 would prohibit employers with illegal immigrants from receiving economic incentives. HB 298 would prohibit state and local governments from renewing professional or commercial licenses for illegal immigrants. HB 303 would impound vehicles of persons driving without a driver’s license or proof of insurance. HB 163 would require proof of legal entry into the United States for persons 18 and older to receive public benefits.

The House Judiciary Committee also passed HB 664, sponsored by Rep. Randy Hinshaw, D-Meridianville, which would revoke the business licenses of employers who knowingly employ illegal immigrants. Other bills passing committee include: HB 666, sponsored by Rep. Lea Fite, D-Anniston, which would prohibit municipalities from adopting policies to protect illegal immigrants from deportation; HB 667, sponsored by Rep. James Fields, D-Hanceville, which would make persons charged with a felony or DUI a flight risk; and HB 665, sponsored by Rep. Locy Baker, D-Abbeville, which would make it a Class A misdemeanor to transport an illegal immigrant into the state.

Joe McDonald of Covington Gin in Andalusia was among those who spoke on behalf of agriculture at a House public hearing Wednesday. He echoed the comments he made in Monday’s Montgomery Advertiser in which he said it’s difficult to hire local workers, regardless of the wages. “It’s a seasonal job with no benefits,” he said.

The Alabama Farmers Federation supports secure borders but acknowledges immigration is a national issue. It supports measures that would require migrant workers to obey the law as well as those that prohibit illegal immigrants from receiving public benefits. However, farmers are concerned about legislation that would penalize employers and migrant workers who are making a good-faith effort to obey laws and regulations.

The Federation, along with other agriculture and business groups, are working with the bills’ sponsors to ensure state legislation would not create an additional regulatory burden for employers or create a labor shortage.

The Federation supports the recommendations of the Joint Interim Patriotic Immigration Commission, which encouraged Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that would address workforce needs as well as border security.

Bills introduced to repeal DOT exemption for farmers

Farmers who use large trucks, greater than 26,000 pounds, to haul livestock and other agricultural products would lose their exemptions from Federal Motor Carrier regulations under bills introduced this session.

HB 697, sponsored by Rep. Mac Gipson, R-Prattville, was assigned to the House Government Appropriations Committee, and SB 482, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, was assigned to the Senate Commerce, Transportation and Utilities Committee.

The bills would exempt only vehicles with a gross weight of 26,000 pounds or less. Other states have full agricultural exemptions, and some have exemptions based on higher gross vehicle weights and still maintain federal funding.

The Federation worked hard to win passage of the exemption last year after repeatedly requesting an administrative variance from the governor’s office. Federation members are encouraged to contact their legislators and ask them to keep the current, full agricultural exemption.

House committee votes to update hunting, fishing fines

The House Agriculture and Forestry Committee passed a bill Wednesday that would update fines for hunting and fishing violations.

HB 677, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, would update fines and penalties, some of which have not been changed since 1940. Under the bill, penalties would increase for hunting or fishing without a license, poaching, hunting in a closed season, hunting or fishing with prohibited devices or explosives and hunting protected animals.

The bill is supported by a coalition of agriculture, forestry and wildlife groups, including the Alabama Farmers Federation. It protects private property rights by discouraging poaching and trespassing.

House committee passes catfish labeling bill

A bill that would require restaurants and food service establishments to provide country-of-origin labeling for catfish products passed the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee Wednesday. HB 576 is sponsored by Rep. A.J. McCampbell, Linden. The companion bill, SB 399, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, is expected to be considered by the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee next week. The bill would require the restaurants to place the information on the menu, placard or other written material.

Roughly 70 percent of all catfish consumed in the United States is sold in restaurants. In recent years, mislabeled fish from Asia has been sold as catfish, severely cutting the market for U.S. farm-raised catfish and contributing to a 25 percent reduction in the price received by farmers.

Legislation seeks to amend Workers’ Compensation Act

Business interests in Alabama have expressed concern over a series of bills introduced in the Legislature this session that would amend the Workers’ Compensation Act, creating additional costs for employers.

SB 139, sponsored by Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, would allow an employee to bring a case for wrongful termination if he or she is discharged solely for filing a workers’ compensation claim. The bill is on the Senate calendar.

SB 389, sponsored by Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, would increase the employer’s obligations to pay benefits for injured workers by including “living” assistance expenses. It also would double the cost of the Workers’ Compensation claim, if the employer refuses or fails to provide medical or surgical benefits. The bill is assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

SB 403, also sponsored by Sen. Smitherman, would extend the number of years an employee could receive benefits. It also would allow an injured person to sue first responders who provide emergency services. The bill is assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

SB 405, sponsored by Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, would allow employees to sue their employer even if they are collecting Workers’ Compensation benefits. The bill is assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

HB 502, sponsored by Rep. James Gordon, D-Saraland, would allow an injured employee to select their own physician, and cause the employer to pay the same fees as it would a company physician, for treatment. The bill is assigned to the House Commerce Committee.

These bills would increase the cost of doing business in Alabama. Farmer-related businesses that have more than four employees could be adversely affected. AFF opposes.

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 is expected to be considered by the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee Wednesday. Federation leaders are encouraged to contact members of the Senate Ag Committee and ask them to support the bill. AFF supports.
HB 718 – Sponsored by Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, the bill would increase the permit application fee for outdoor advertising (billboards) along roadways and would prohibit permits for major structural changes to existing signs which do not conform to Department of Transportation regulations. The bill also could change the property tax classification for land where outdoor advertising is placed. The bill is assigned to the House Government Appropriations Committee. AFF opposes.

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