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February 19, 2010   Email to Friend 

Alabama Senate unanimously passes Family Farm Preservation Act

Alabama farmers cleared a major hurdle in securing legal protection for their farms Tuesday when the Alabama Senate passed the Family Farm Preservation Act by a vote of 30-0.

Sponsored by Sen. Kim Benefield, D-Woodland, SB 61 would protect law-abiding farmers from frivolous lawsuits. It does not change environmental rules or protect those who break the law, but does prevent farming operations that abide by current rules and regulations from being declared a public nuisance. The bill was amended in committee to exclude new and expanding concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) that raise pork. There has not been a new swine CAFO built in Alabama since strengthened CAFO rules were adopted in 1999. The bill gives the judge discretion to require the plaintiff to pay the farmer’s legal fees, if the lawsuit is deemed frivolous, as outlined in the Alabama Litigation Accountability Act.

Brian Hardin, assistant director of the Department of Governmental and Agricultural Programs of the Alabama Farmers Federation, said the Senate’s passage of the Family Farm Preservation Act is a major victory for the state’s farmers.

“This is the culmination of the hard work of Federation members and staff over several years,” Hardin said. “Without this bill, farmers run a greater risk of being sued by neighbors who do not understand production agriculture. This legislation gives law-abiding farmers some level of assurance they will be able to stay in business and pass their operation on to the next generation.”

Hardin praised Benefield for sponsoring the legislation and Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, for getting it on the Senate calendar. Benefield was unable to be at the State House because her husband was hospitalized following an accident last week. When asked by fellow senators what they could do for her, the colleagues reported she said, “Pass the Family Farm bill.”

In Benefield’s absence, Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, and Sen. Harri Anne Smith, R-Slocomb, presented the bill to the Senate for a favorable vote. Sen. Charles Bishop, R-Jasper, also spoke in favor of the bill, noting it will help keep food production from being exported overseas. SB 61 is expected to be considered by the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee Wednesday. AFF supports.

Legislation would make animal care rules uniform

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee this week passed legislation that would prevent county and local governments from developing a patchwork of laws and regulations related to animal welfare that could hinder economic growth and cripple the state’s livestock industry.

SB 413, sponsored by Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, would update the state veterinarian’s responsibilities to include “care of livestock, animal husbandry practices, and control of contagious and infectious diseases of livestock” and would provide uniform rules governing the care and handling of livestock across the state. The bill also strengthens penalties for animal cruelty by establishing minimum fines for repeat offenders.

Rep. Ralph Howard, D-Greensboro, is sponsoring similar legislation, HB 561, which is expected to be considered by the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee Wednesday.

Contrary to concerns raised by some animal rights groups, the legislation does not give the state veterinarian sole authority for investigating cases of animal cruelty. An extensive network of state and local law enforcement officials already is in place to handle such cases. In fact, the bill would not grant the state veterinarian any additional enforcement authority not already provided for in the Code of Alabama. Likewise, the bill doesn’t take authority away from local sheriffs or other law enforcement officers.

The legislation would, however, ensure animal care regulations throughout the state are uniform and based on science. As the state’s chief animal health officer, the state veterinarian would have the responsibility for overseeing such rules. AFF supports.

House, Senate pass legislation to save checkoff dollars

The Alabama Senate and House of Representatives have both passed legislation that would save producer-funded checkoff programs money.

Last week, the Senate passed SB 97, sponsored by Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, and Tuesday the House followed suit by unanimously passing HB 121, sponsored by Rep. Tammy Irons, D-Florence.

The legislation allows checkoff programs to conduct full audits every two years, rather than annually. It requires the programs to file a financial statement every year, but reduces the cost associated with a full audit.

“This legislation is especially important for smaller commodities with limited revenue,” said Jimmy Carlisle, director of the Federation’s Department of Governmental and Agricultural Programs. “A full financial audit costs the same regardless of the annual income of the checkoff program. This bill would maintain the integrity of these programs while freeing more funds for use in research, education and promotion.”

Seven of the Federation’s 17 commodity divisions administer voluntary checkoff programs.

Both bills will now be assigned to committees in the opposite house. AFF supports.

Senate passes bill to allow registration of mini-trucks

The Senate passed a bill Thursday that would establish a license plate category for mini-trucks and exempt such vehicles from certain title requirements. SB 165, sponsored by Sen. Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill, would allow mini-trucks to operate legally on all roads excluding interstate highways. A similar bill, HB 78, sponsored by Rep. Spencer Collier, R-Irvington, has passed the House is on the Senate calendar.

Other states have passed similar legislation, and the Departments of Public Safety and Revenue have signed off on the bill.

The number of mini-trucks on Alabama farms continues to rise. They serve as a convenient and cost-effective way for farmers to accomplish the same jobs as they do with larger pickup trucks. Mini-trucks are classified as “four-wheeled, reduced-dimension trucks” that are not less than 48 inches wide.

The bill requires tagged mini-trucks to be equipped with a speed governor to prevent the truck from attaining a speed of more than 25 miles per hour. These trucks also must have a fully enclosed metal cab and be equipped with head lamps, stop lamps, front and rear turn signal lamps, tail lamps, reflex reflectors, a parking brake, rearview mirrors, windshield, seat belts and a nonconforming vehicle identification number. AFF supports.

Bills In Brief

HUNTING PRESERVES, HB 302 AND SB 76, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, and Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, would provide licensed bird-hunting preserves the option of buying an annual license for $500 that would cover hunters on the property who do not already have the appropriate license. The legislation is supported by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and would benefit the state’s growing quail-hunting tourism business. HB 302 has passed the House and awaits action in the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. SB 76 awaits consideration by the full Senate. AFF supports.

SURPLUS-LINE INSURERS, HB 220 AND SB 10, sponsored by Rep. Steve McMillan, R-Bay Minette, and Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, would encourage competition in the coastal insurance market by eliminating a rule requiring surplus-line insurers to do business five years in Alabama before writing certain business. HB 220 passed the House on Tuesday, and SB 10, which had previously passed the Senate, was given a favorable report Thursday by the House Banking and Insurance Committee. AFF supports.

ENERGY GRANTS, HB 80 AND SB 194, sponsored by Rep. Betty Carol Graham, D-Alexander City, and Sen. Ted Little, D-Auburn, would establish the Alabama Public Interest Energy Research and Development Grants Program to provide funding for energy-related projects in Alabama. SB 194 passed the Senate on Wednesday and has been assigned to the House Government Appropriations Committee. HB 80 passed the House earlier in the session and has been assigned to the Senate Finance and Taxation, General Fund Committee. AFF supports.

IMMIGRATION, PUBLIC BENEFITS, HB 131, SB 39 and SB 67, sponsored by Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, Sen. Hinton Mitchem, D-Union Grove, and Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, would require any person 19 years of age or older to provide proof of being lawfully in the United States before receiving certain public benefits. On Thursday, the Senate began debate but delayed action on SB 39, sponsored by Mitchem. HB 131 has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, and SB 67 has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee. AFF supports.

HUNTING LAND REPLACEMENT, HB 330, sponsored by Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, would require the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to find replacement acreage for hunting lands when existing hunting lands owned or managed by the department are closed. This would ensure no net loss of land acreage available for hunting. The bill passed the House on Tuesday. AFF monitoring.

GREENHOUSE GASES, HB 195, sponsored by Rep. Mac Gipson, R-Prattville, would prohibit a state agency from limiting or regulating greenhouse gas emissions or motor vehicle fuel economy, or from implementing a cap-and-trade program, without express legislative authorization. The bill has been assigned to the House Commerce Committee. AFF monitoring.

TRAILER SAFETY, HB 339 and SB 69, sponsored by Rep. Mike Curtis, D-Florence, and Sen. Larry Means, D-Attalla, would require use of a safety device to connect a trailer to a vehicle and would provide penalties for violations. HB 339 passed the House Public Safety Committee, and SB 69 passed the Senate Industrial Development and Recruitment Committee. AFF monitoring.

TIMBER THEFT, HB 175 and SB 185, sponsored by Rep. Charles Newton, D-Greenville, and Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, would allow law enforcement officers to seize equipment in the possession of a person charged with a felony offense involving the theft of timber or lumber. SB 185 passed the full Senate on Thursday. HB 175 passed the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee earlier in the session. AFF supports.

ARTICLE-BY-ARTICLE, HB 434 AND SB 451 AND HB 435M, sponsored by Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood, and Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, would revise Alabama’s 1901 Constitution using the article-by-article approach. HB 434 and SB 451 would revise the railroad article, and HB 435 would revise the banking section. HB 434 and HB 435 have both passed the House Constitution and Elections Committee and are expected to go before the full House on Thursday. SB 451 has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee. AFF favors this method of revising the constitution.

ADEM APPOINTMENT, HB 511, sponsored by Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, would require that one member of the seven-member Alabama Environmental Management Commission be certified by the National Water Well Association Certification Program or its successor, the National Ground Water Association, or must be a geologist licensed to practice geology by the State of Alabama, or must be a certified professional hydrologist or hydrogeologist. Currently, this member can only be a person certified by the National Water Well Association Certification Program. AFF monitoring.

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