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March 06, 2009   Email to Friend 

Telephone deregulation bill passes committee

A bill that would further limit the jurisdiction of the Public Service Commission over residential telephone service passed the Senate Commerce, Transportation and Utilities Committee Feb. 26 on a voice vote of 6-1.

SB 373, sponsored by Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, also would delete the PSC’s jurisdiction over business service and specifies that voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) would not be regulated by the Commission.

The Alabama Farmers Federation’s utility rate expert, Yvette Smiley-Smith, testified that there is not enough competition among service providers in rural areas to keep rates from skyrocketing if deregulated.

Currently, AT&T charges a flat rate of $16.95 per month statewide for basic telephone service. As written, the bill would remove restrictions on residential telephone rate increases and could allow telephone companies to charge customers significantly more in rural areas where service is less concentrated.

Federation Governmental Affairs Director Paul Pinyan also testified that many farmers not only have residential service, but also rely on business lines for their poultry houses, barns and shops.

Morgan County dairy farmer Greg Abercrombie was interviewed by the Decatur Daily about the issue. His home and family business depend on landline telephone service in the mountainous, rural area. The landline automatically notifies him if electricity goes out in the dairy. It also provides rapid access to 911 in an emergency, while mobile telephone signals are spotty and may go to the wrong location for quickest help.

A similar bill, HB 478, sponsored by Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, will be the subject of a public hearing in the House Government Operations Committee Wednesday at 9 a.m. in Room 622 of the State House.

The committee is chaired by Rep. Oliver Robinson, D-Birmingham and includes Reps. Lea Fite, D-Anniston; Arthur Payne, R-Trussville; Barbara Boyd, D-Talladega; Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham; James Fields, D-Cullman; Victor Gaston, R-Mobile; Mike Hill, R-Columbiana; Ralph Howard, D-Greensboro; Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn; Jody Letson, D-Hillsboro; Mac McCutcheon, R-Capshaw; Pat Moore, R-Pleasant Grove; Johnny Mack Morrow, D-Red Bay; and Harry Shiver, R-Bay Minette.

The Alabama Farmers Federation is working with the bill sponsors and AT&T to amend the bill to protect rural customers from rate increases. Federation members are encouraged to call their senators and House Government Operations Committee members and share their concerns regarding the availability of affordable residential and business service in rural Alabama.

Subcommittee to meet on catfish labeling bill

A subcommittee of the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee will meet Tuesday to consider two bills dealing with the labeling of catfish and other seafood sold in restaurants.

The subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Ralph Howard, D-Greensboro, will meet in Room 603 of the State House following adjournment in the House. The bills to be discussed are HB 473, sponsored by Rep. A.J. McCampbell, D-Demopolis, and HB 435, sponsored by Rep. Spencer Collier, R-Irvington.

McCampbell’s bill would require food service establishments to disclose the country-of-origin of catfish they serve, and the Alabama Catfish Producers has agreed to provide signs and labels to these restaurants free of charge.

Collier’s bill would provide consumers the “right to know” whether farm-raised and wild fish served in restaurants is imported or domestic. Both Collier and McCampbell serve on the subcommittee.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, assigned the bills to the subcommittee following a public hearing Feb. 25. He charged the committee to come back with "one bill or two bills" that the committee can send to the full House.

At the hearing, representatives from the Alabama Retail Association and Alabama Restaurant Association testified that the bills would be costly for businesses to implement. Dallas County farmer Fran Pearce spoke in favor of the bill as did Federation Catfish Director Mitt Walker and Ag Commissioner Ron Sparks.

Ag Tag redesign goes before committee

A state-mandated redesign of the Farming Feeds Alabama vehicle license plate will go before a Legislative Oversight Committee Tuesday.

The committee is chaired by Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile and includes Sens. Larry Means, D-Attalla and Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne; and Reps. Arthur Payne, R-Trussville, John Rogers, D-Birmingham and Craig Ford, D-Gadsden.

Proceeds from the Farming Feeds Alabama tag support Ag in the Classroom, the Farming Feeds Alabama television commercials and other ag education and promotion efforts. The state requires tags to be reissued every seven years. The new tag, if approved, would be available in November.

Public hearing set for coastal insurance bills

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee will hold a public hearing Wednesday, March 11, on a series of bills related to insurance in coastal areas.

More than a half-dozen bills have been introduced in the Legislature related to the availability and cost of homeowners insurance in these areas.

The Alabama Farmers Federation and Alfa Insurance hosted a meeting Tuesday with lawmakers from Mobile and Baldwin counties to discuss the needs of policyholders in the area and the issues facing the insurance company. Alfa and the Federation have been working with the senators and representatives to develop solutions to improve the availability and affordability of insurance in coastal areas without being punitive to other policyholders or providers.

The Banking and Insurance Committee is chaired by Sen. Bobby Denton, D-Tuscumbia. Members include Sens. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro; Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe; Roger Bedford, D-Russellville; Kim Benefield, D-Woodland; Steve French, R-Birmingham; Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega; Harri Anne Smith, R-Slocomb; Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne; Zeb Little, D-Cullman; and Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills.

Cockfighting bill passes Senate committee

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee gave a favorable report to a bill Tuesday that would increase penalties for cockfighting.

Sen. Hinton Mitchem, D-Albertville, offered a substitute to the original bill he sponsored following discussions with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, Alabama Farmers Federation and Alabama Poultry and Egg Association.

As amended, SB 146, would make it a Class A misdemeanor to train or fight a rooster or to be a spectator at a cockfight. A second conviction for cockfighting would be a Class C felony. The bill also would require persons who regularly keep cocks to register the location with the Department of Agriculture for the purpose of disease monitoring.

The substitute bill removes language that could punish those who simply own or possess a rooster. It also clarifies language dealing with the confiscation and disposition of roosters to ensure the state veterinarian rather than activist organizations are given authority over private property.

A companion to the original version of SB 146 is sponsored by Rep. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster. It has been carried over in the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee. The bills are supported by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which operates no humane shelters but has amassed millions of dollars to wage campaigns against animal agriculture in states like Florida, Arizona and California.

AFF neutral on SB 146, as amended.

Bills In Brief

SB 53 and HB 90, sponsored by Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, and Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, would increase criminal penalties for persons selling stolen metal to a recycler. The bills also would include in the offense any cost of property damage caused during the theft of metal. The bills have been assigned to the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, respectively. AFF supports.

HB 202, sponsored by Rep. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale, would limit the liability of landowners who lease property for hunting and fishing. The bill passed the House and is pending action in the Senate Judiciary Committee. AFF supports.

HB 77 and HB 78, sponsored by Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood, and SB 401 and SB 402, sponsored by Sen. Tom Butler, D-Madison, would allow for an article-by-article approach to revising the railroad and banking articles of the Alabama Constitution, respectively. All four bills have passed committee and await action in their respective chambers. AFF supports this approach to revising the Constitution.

SB 74, sponsored by Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, would allow the seizure and forfeiture of any equipment or vehicle used in any felony involving the harvesting, removal, transportation, sale or disposal of forest products. The bill has passed committee and awaits action in the full Senate. AFF supports.

SB 102 and SB 104, sponsored by Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba, and HB 423 and HB 424, sponsored by Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, would create a propane gas checkoff program for promotion, education and research. One bill is needed to call for a constitutional amendment on the issue, and the other authorizes the establishment of a council to administer the checkoff. The legislation includes language that exempts propane sold for agricultural uses from the checkoff assessment. Holley’s bills have passed committee and await action in the full Senate. Wood’s bills have passed the House and await action in the Senate Commerce, Transportation and Utilities Committee. AFF neutral.

SB 279, sponsored by Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, failed Tuesday on the Senate floor. The proposed constitutional amendment would have spent $1 billion from an oil and gas revenue savings account over 10 years on highway construction. The legislation required 21 votes for passage but failed on a 19-11 vote. Voting “yes” were 17 Democrats and two Republicans. Voting “no” were 11 Republicans. Two Democrats did not vote. AFF supports the improvement of infrastructure, including roads, used for the transportation of farm products and supplies.

SB 309, sponsored by Sen. Hank Erwin, R-Montevallo, would require private businesses and government entities that operate automated irrigation systems to install rain sensors to override the irrigation system if there has been adequate rainfall. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. AFF monitoring.

SB 362, sponsored by Sen. Kim Benefield, D-Woodland, would give livestock theft investigators the power and authority to execute search warrants. Investigators with the Department of Agriculture and Industries have requested this authority to help curtail a recent rash of cattle rustling. The bill has passed committee and awaits action in the full Senate. AFF supports.

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