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May 02, 2008   Email to Friend 

Senate passes change to DOT exemption

Legislation that would revise Alabama's agricultural exemption from Federal Motor Carrier regulations and preserve more than $3 million in federal funding passed the Senate Wednesday.

SB 482, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, would exempt all agricultural vehicles operating within 150 air miles of the farmer's headquarters with the following exceptions: Drivers operating more than one combination vehicle (truck and trailer) exceeding 26,001 pounds are required to be at least 18 years of age and have a medical card; and vehicle maintenance and inspection records must be maintained on combination vehicles of more than 26,001 pounds.

Commercial driver's license and Department of Transportation registration and door markings would not be required for farmer-owned vehicles operating within 150 air miles of the farm. In addition, hours-of-service rules for drivers would not be applied to drivers transporting agricultural or farm supplies at any time during the year.

Two weeks ago, the House passed the companion bill, HB 697, sponsored by Rep. Mac Gipson, R-Prattville. The Alabama Farmers Federation originally opposed the bill but agreed to withdraw opposition after receiving confirmation from Alabama's director of Public Safety that most of the exemptions fought for last year would be preserved.

Following planting season, the Federation, in conjunction with the Department of Public Safety, will sponsor workshops across the state to educate farmers about the rules of the road. Federation Governmental Affairs Director Paul Pinyan said this will foster understanding between farmers and troopers and will further clarify the exemptions.

Constitutional convention bill falls short in House

Legislation that would call for a referendum on whether the state should hold a constitutional convention failed to secure enough votes in the House of Representatives Thursday to be considered before the state budgets pass.

The budget isolation resolution (BIR) to consider the bill required "yes" votes by three-fifths of those voting. The measure failed 46-44, effectively killing the bill for the session.

HB 308, sponsored by Rep. Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham, would have required a vote on a constitutional amendment to call a convention and would have established procedures for selecting delegates.

A constitutional convention could open the door for tax increases and elimination of both the property tax classification system and the current-use method of property valuation. The Alabama Farmers Federation supports an article-by-article method of revising the constitution. Governmental Affairs Director Paul Pinyan credited Federation members throughout the state for contacting their representatives over the weekend and asking them to vote "no" on the BIR.

Voting against the BIR were: Speaker of the House Seth Hammett and Reps. Allen, A. Baker, Barton, Beck, Boothe, Bridges, Buskey, Clouse, Collier, Davis, Drake, Dukes, Faust, Fincher, Fite, Gaston, Gipson, Greeson, Hammon, Hubbard, Hurst, Ison, Johnson, Laird, Letson, Lewis, Love, Mask, McClurkin, McMillan, Millican, P. Moore, Morrow, C. Newton, Oden, Payne, Shiver, Spicer, Warren, White, Williams, Wood and Wren.

Absent for the vote were: Reps. Beasley, Grimes, Hall, Hill, Hinshaw, Holmes, McClammy, McClendon, Mitchell and Page. Not voting were: Reps. Galliher, McCampbell, O. Robinson and Vance. Rep. Gordon abstained.

Two bills, HB 186 and HB 187, both sponsored by Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood, would revise the corporations and banking articles of the constitution using an article-by-article approach. Both bills have passed the full House and await final action in the Senate before going to the governor.

Senate considers coastal insurance bills

The Senate this week considered a number of bills related to coastal insurance.

SB 296, sponsored by Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, passed the Senate Thursday. The bill would retain the current structure of the Alabama Underwriting Association or "beach pool" and make it 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.

SB 5, sponsored by Sen. Ben Brooks, R-Mobile, also passed the Senate. The bill would restructure the board of the "beach pool." The bill was amended by Sen. Ted Little, D-Auburn, to include political appointees to the "beach pool" board made by the governor, lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House of Representatives. One appointee would be selected from each of the six congressional districts not in the "beach pool" area.

A second bill sponsored by Brooks, SB 3, also passed the Senate. The legislation would allow captive insurance companies to sell residential homeowners coverage in the "beach pool" area. Currently, captive insurance companies allow businesses, governments and associations to self-insure as a group. The bill was amended to exclude automobiles.

Mandatory insurance, catfish labeling carried over

With only three legislative days left in the 2008 Regular Session, time is running out for scores of bills, including one requiring country-of-origin labeling of catfish in restaurants and another that strengthens enforcement of the state's mandatory liability insurance law.

Both bills were carried over Thursday after a two-month-long logjam in the Senate over a Macon County gambling bill was broken.

SB 399, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, would require restaurants to place country-of-origin information for catfish on the menu, placard or other written material. The House-version of the catfish bill, HB 576, sponsored by Rep. A.J. McCampbell, D-Demopolis, will be considered by the full House Tuesday.

SB 260, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, would increase the fines for vehicle owners who don't have insurance and would require proof of insurance when tags are purchased. The bill also requires insurance companies to provide information to license clerks and law enforcement officers to determine if a vehicle is insured. The companion bill, HB 162, sponsored by Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, passed the House and still could be considered by the Senate.

Bill to eliminate sales tax on food in limbo

When a budget isolation resolution (BIR) that would allow senators to vote on a bill to eliminate the state sales tax on food failed this week, it appeared the issue might be dead for this session. But a compromise proposed by the governor could breathe new life into the bill by tying it to legislation to reinstate once-every-four-years property reappraisals and expand health insurance deductions for small businesses and their employees.

Under the governor's plan the state sales tax on groceries would be reduced from 4 percent to 1 percent, and the threshold for filing income taxes for a family of four would be raised from $12,500 a year to $15,500.

The compromise also would implement a 200 percent income tax deduction for health insurance premiums paid by small businesses and their employees, which could save taxpayers $65 million, according to the governor's office. Rep. Jay Love, R-Montgomery, also is sponsoring legislation to increase the health insurance tax deduction for small businesses (those with fewer than 25 employees) and their employees. His bill, HB 144, passed the House Thursday. Love's bill calls for a 20 percent increase in the health insurance deduction, bringing the total to 120 percent. The deduction could grow to 150 percent by 2015, provided there is sufficient growth in the Education Trust Fund budget.

In addition, the plan would call for a statewide referendum in November to establish four-year property reappraisals. More than a half-dozen bills and resolutions have been introduced to rescind annual property tax appraisals.

Under the governor's proposal, the portion of federal income taxes certain filers could deduct from their state income taxes would be reduced. Single taxpayers with an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $50,000 or less could continue to deduct 100 percent of their federal income taxes, as could married couples filing jointly with an AGI of $100,000 or less. Joint filers with an AGI of $100,000 to $200,000 and singles making $50,000 to $100,000 could deduct 75 percent of their federal income taxes. That figure would drop to 50 percent for joint filers making $200,000 to $400,000 and singles with an AGI of $100,000 to $200,000. The federal income tax deduction would be eliminated for singles earning more than $200,000 and for joint filers with an AGI of $400,000 or more.

The governor's office says this plan would preserve the federal income tax deduction for 98 percent of taxpayers. The original bill, HB 274, sponsored by Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, would eliminate the deduction and would erase the 4 percent state sales tax on food.

The governor would pay for a portion of the plan by clarifying a 2001 law to collect income taxes from certain multi-state corporations. Similar language is included in HB 350, sponsored by Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, which passed the House Wednesday. By closing this loophole, the bill would generate more than $60 million in new tax revenue, including about $20 million in back taxes that would be owed by these companies. Both HB 350 and HB 144 have been assigned to the Senate Finance and Taxation, Education Committee.

Intense negotiations are expected in the final three days of the legislative session among the governor, legislators, education and business groups about how these linked bills would raise taxes on some taxpayers and reduce them on others.

College savings tax break passes Senate

The Senate passed a bill Thursday that would provide a tax break for parents who save for their children's college education using two state-sponsored programs.

Sponsored by Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, and championed by State Treasurer Kay Ivey, HB 43 would allow families to deduct up to $5,000 per year invested in the Prepaid Affordable College Tuition Plan or the Alabama Higher Education 529 Fund.

The bill passed the House earlier in the session and now heads to the governor for his signature.

Children who go to college using the savings plans are already exempt from paying state and federal income tax on the money withdrawn from the two plans. The bill is projected to save families $1.5 million annually.

House passes bill overruling double-dipping policy

The House passed a bill Thursday that would allow public employees to serve in the Legislature.

HB 787, sponsored by Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, would overrule a state school board policy that says two-year-college employees would not be able to also serve in the Alabama Legislature or other elected positions.

The bill would require elected officials to detail the hours they work and what they do in their state-funded jobs, as well as using leave time while in elected positions.

The House voted 57-36 to pass the bill. It now goes to the Senate for debate.

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