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April 07, 2009   Email to Friend 

Amendment offered to telephone deregulation bill

The Alabama Senate this week approved an amendment to SB 373 which would prevent rural customers from being charged more for basic telephone service than their urban counterparts if telephone deregulation is adopted.

SB 373, sponsored by Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, would further limit the jurisdiction of the Public Service Commission over residential telephone service. It also would delete the PSC’s jurisdiction over business service and voice over Internet protocol (VoIP).

Proponents of the bill argue deregulation would benefit customers because it would spur increased competition among carriers resulting in more services and lower costs. Alabama Farmers Federation testified last month, however, that there is not enough competition among telephone carriers in rural areas to hold down rates.

This concern was addressed with the adoption of an amendment by Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, that states the “rate for residential basic telephone service and for a business customer who subscribes to no more than one line of basic telephone service shall be the same in rural areas as in urban areas of the state.” A second amendment by Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, states that rates for basic telephone service under Beason’s amendment would be no higher than on the effective date of the bill becoming law.

The bill awaits action in the full Senate. Meanwhile, a companion bill, HB 478, sponsored by Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, passed the House Government Operations Committee Wednesday. The substitute approved by the committee includes the language from the Beason and Barron amendments.

AFF is neutral on SB 373 and HB 478, as amended.

Removal of deduction hamstrings food tax bill

A bill that would remove the 4 percent state sales tax on food failed to secure enough votes for consideration by the House of Representatives twice this week.

This makes three times the budget isolation resolution (BIR) on HB 116 by Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, has failed in the last two weeks. Legislative rules require a three-fifths vote of members present to allow consideration of bills prior to passage of the state budgets.

Knight’s original bill would have allowed individuals making less than $100,000 annually and couples making less than $200,000 to keep the deduction for federal income taxes paid. The deduction would be phased out for those with higher incomes.

On Wednesday and again Thursday, Knight proposed to raise the threshold at which taxpayers lose their deduction. One proposal would have allowed a single taxpayer making less than $400,000 a year and married couples making less than $1.2 million to keep the federal income tax deduction the first year. In subsequent years, the threshold at which taxpayers lose the deduction would be gradually lowered to $75,000 for singles and $125,000 for married couples, according to the Associated Press.

House Republicans and Democrats agree on removing the state sales tax on food, but differ on how to make up the lost revenue. Republicans who voted against the BIR argued that removal of the federal income tax deduction would hurt small businesses.

A companion bill, SB 115 by Hank Sanders, D-Selma, passed a Senate committee in February. If approved by the Legislature, the plan would go before voters as a proposed constitutional amendment in November 2010.

Two other bills have been introduced that would remove the state sales tax on food. HB 79, by Robert Bentley, R-Tuscaloosa, and HB 697, by Benjamin Lewis, R-Dothan, await action in the House Education Appropriations Committee.

Alabama Farmers Federation supports removing sales taxes on food, but opposes raising taxes on income.

Coastal insurance bills pass Senate committee

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee passed two bills Wednesday by Sen. Ben Brooks, R-Mobile, aimed at addressing the affordability of homeowners insurance in coastal areas.

SB 1 would provide insurance credits for homeowners who build or retrofit a home to be resistant to severe weather. The bill was amended to specify that homes qualifying for the premium discounts would have to comply with the 2006 International Residential Code, or to the Fortified For Safe Living Standards, which were established by the Institute for Business, Home and Safety. The Fortified standards require homes to have stronger roofs, better flood protection, significant wind resistance and doors and windows protected from flying debris.

A second bill, SB 191, would prohibit the application of a hurricane deductible for property damage not associated with a named tropical storm or hurricane. Insurers who violate the act would face a fine of up to $10,000 and possible revocation or suspension of their license.

Similar bills are expected to be considered by the House Banking and Insurance Committee Wednesday. HB 540, which is similar to SB 1, is sponsored by Rep. Spencer Collier, R-Irvington. HB 542, which is similar to SB 191, is sponsored by Rep. Steve McMillan, R-Bay Minette. AFF neutral.

Livestock theft investigation bill passes Senate

Livestock theft investigators with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries would have the authority to execute search warrants under a bill passed Thursday by the Senate.

SB 362, sponsored by Sen. Kim Benefield, D-Woodland, was requested by investigators with the Department of Agriculture to help curtail a recent rash of cattle rustling.

Twice last month, Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks announced arrests and the recovery of stolen property as a result of a multi-agency dragnet.

“Cattle rustlers in this state have been warned: We are on your trail,” said Sparks. “The Department of Agriculture and Industries and other state and local law enforcement agencies are working together and getting results. We have built good relationships with neighboring states and criminals cannot get far without being discovered.” AFF supports.

Joint water committee issues initial report

A legislative committee charged with assessing the management of Alabama’s water resources issued its initial report Tuesday.

The Permanent Joint Legislative Committee on Water Policy and Management was created last year with the express intention of developing a comprehensive statewide water management plan for future water emergencies. It is chaired by Sen. Kim Benefield, D-Woodland. Rep. Greg Canfield, R-Vestavia Hills, is the vice chair.

At a news conference Tuesday, the committee recommended transportation along Alabama's inland waterways be managed by Alabama's Department of Transportation. HB 118, sponsored by Rep. Terry Spicer, D-Elba, has been assigned to the House Government Operations Committee. It would authorize the state DOT to coordinate and plan for the development of transportation on the state's inland waterways and would establish a fund to develop infrastructure along the waterways.

The committee also recommended SJR 5 by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, which has been enacted. The resolution calls for creation of a technical advisory committee, a sharable data repository and enhanced surface and ground water assessment and monitoring.

The committee said the initial work done during the past nine months has helped lay the foundation of knowledge needed to complete the task of formulating a workable state plan for water management.

Meanwhile, the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Water Resource Committee is set to meet Tuesday as it continues collecting information for use in making sure agriculture is well represented in water management discussions.

Bills In Brief

GAMBLING, SB 471 AND HB 676, sponsored by Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, and Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, would create a statewide gaming commission to regulate and tax gambling operations in the state. Both bills have passed out of committee and await action in their respective houses. If approved by a super majority in both houses, the measure would go before voters as a proposed constitutional amendment in June 2010. AFF opposes legalizing gambling in any form.

MINI TRUCKS, HB 752, sponsored by Rep. Spencer Collier, R-Irvington, would authorize a certificate of title for certain mini-trucks to operate on the streets and highways of Alabama, except interstate highways. Mini-trucks, which often are imported from Asia, are increasingly popular with farmers because of their fuel efficiency and convenience. The bill is set to be considered by the House Public Safety Committee on Wednesday. AFF supports.

SCRAP METAL, 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 passed the judiciary committees in their respective houses. AFF supports.

CATFISH LABELING, HB 473, sponsored by Rep. A.J. McCampbell, D-Demopolis, would define the term “catfish” and would require food service establishments to comply with country-of-origin labeling requirements. The bill has passed the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee and awaits action in the full House. AFF supports.

PROPANE CHECKOFF, 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. The legislation includes language that exempts propane sold for agricultural uses from the checkoff assessment. Wood’s bills have passed the House and the Senate Commerce, Transportation and Utilities Committee. They await action in the full Senate, as do Holley’s bills, which also passed committee. AFF neutral.

HUNTING PRESERVE LICENSE, SB 433 and HB 501, sponsored by Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, and Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, would allow a commercial bird hunting preserve to purchase a license rather than requiring each individual hunter to purchase a license. Both bills have passed committee and are on the calendar in their respective houses. AFF supports.

ETHANOL, SB 66 and HB 186, sponsored by Sen. Kim Benefield, D-Woodland, and Rep. Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill, would legalize the transportation of ethyl alcohol intended for use as fuel. Keahey’s bill has passed the full House and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and awaits action in the Senate, as does Benefield’s bill. AFF supports.

DOG FIGHTING, SB 547 and HB 741, sponsored by Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, and Rep. Tommy Sherer, D-Jasper, provide procedures for the confiscation and disposition of dogs used for fighting. The bills would not prohibit legal activities associated with farming, hunting or fishing. The bills are supported by the Humane Society of the United States. The sponsors agreed to language in the bills that protect agriculture. AFF monitoring.

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