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March 05, 2010   Email to Friend 

Gambling bill fails to muster enough votes to allow debate in Senate

Efforts to legalize gambling at 10 locations in Alabama were dealt a major setback Wednesday when the state Senate failed to muster the 21 votes needed to allow full debate on the proposed constitutional amendment.

SB 380, sponsored by Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, calls for a statewide referendum in November to decide if the state should grant exclusive licenses to operate electronic bingo casinos at 10 locations in Alabama. In recent days, Bedford tried to garner support for the legislation by making changes that would raise the tax rate for the casinos to 27 percent.

Following defeat of a procedural vote that would have allowed the bill to be considered prior to the state’s budgets, Bedford told reporters “the issue is over.” He also delayed consideration of another bill that would allow closed casinos to reopen, pending a vote to legalize electronic bingo.

Gambling supporters, however, were not ready to fold. Ronnie Gilley, developer of Country Crossing in Dothan told The Associated Press he hopes to get a simplified version of the bill back in front of the Senate before the session ends.

Senators opposed to the bill argued the legislation is flawed because it would give 10 establishments a monopoly on gambling in the state. Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, told reporters that, if the goal is to let voters decide the legality of electronic bingo, the Senate should pass a constitutional amendment he sponsored to make gambling illegal. SB 333 awaits action in the Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee. Meanwhile, Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, introduced SB 507 Thursday, which proposes an amendment to the constitution giving the Legislature the authority to pass laws authorizing, taxing and regulating electronic bingo.

Voting to allow debate on SB 380 were: Sens. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe; Roger Bedford, D-Russellville; Kim Benefield, D-Woodland; Linda Coleman, D-Birmingham; Priscilla Dunn, D-Birmingham; Vivian Figures, D-Mobile; Jimmy Holley, R-Elba; Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill; Ted Little, D-Auburn; Zeb Little, D-Cullman; Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne; Hinton Mitchem, D-Union Grove; Myron Penn, D-Union Springs; Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery; Hank Sanders, D-Selma; Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro; Harri Anne Smith, R-Slocomb; and Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham.

Voting “no” were: Sens. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale; Charles Bishop, R-Jasper; Ben Brooks, R-Mobile; Tom Butler, D-Madison; Bobby Denton, D-Muscle Shoals; Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery; Hank Erwin, R-Montevallo; Steve French, R-Birmingham; Rusty Glover, R-Semmes; Del Marsh, R-Anniston; Arthur Orr, R-Decatur; Trip Pittman, R-Daphne; Phil Poole, D-Moundville; Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega; Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville; and Jabo Waggoner, R-Birmingham. Sen. Larry Means, D-Attalla, did not vote.

Alabama Farmers Federation opposes legalizing gambling in any form.

House Agriculture Committee to consider three bills

The House Agriculture and Forestry Committee is set to consider three bills Wednesday supported by the Farmers Federation. The bills would protect farmers from frivolous lawsuits, strengthen the state veterinarian’s authority to oversee livestock care issues and provide a streamlined process for licensing hunters at bird preserves.

SB 61, sponsored by Sen. Kim Benefield, D-Woodland, would prevent farms that abide by current rules and regulations from being declared a public nuisance. The Family Farm Preservation Act was amended in a Senate committee to exclude new and expanding concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) that raise pork. The bill reiterates the judge’s discretion to require the plaintiff to pay the farmer’s legal fees, if the lawsuit is deemed frivolous. SB 61 passed the Senate last month by a 30-0 vote. If approved by the House Agriculture Committee, the bill could be placed on the House calendar the week after spring recess, which is March 15-19.

HB 561, sponsored by Rep. Ralph Howard, D-Greensboro, would update the state veterinarian’s responsibilities to include “care of livestock, animal husbandry practices, and control of contagious and infectious diseases of livestock.” It also would provide uniform rules governing the care and handling of livestock across the state. The bill strengthens penalties for animal cruelty by establishing minimum fines for repeat offenders. The companion bill, SB 413 by Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, awaits action by the full Senate.

SB 76, sponsored by 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 companion bill, HB 302 by Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, passed the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee on Wednesday and is on the Senate calendar.

Federation members are encouraged to contact members of the House Agriculture Committee and urge them to give a favorable report to SB 61, HB 561 and SB 76. The committee is chaired by Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville; Rep. Steve Hurst, D-Munford is vice chair; and Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, is the ranking minority member. Members are: Reps. Robert Bentley, R-Tuscaloosa; Spencer Collier, R-Irvington; Randy Davis, R-Daphne; Chad Fincher, R-Semmes; Alan Harper, D-Aliceville; Earl Hilliard Jr., D-Birmingham; Ralph Howard, D-Greensboro; Jamie Ison, R-Mobile; Benjamin Lewis, R-Dothan; A.J. McCampbell, D-Demopolis; Henry White, D-Athens; and Phil Williams, R-Huntsville.

Constitutional reform bills make little progress

An effort to call a convention to rewrite the constitution stalled last week when a House resolution was tabled. Meanwhile, bills that would revise portions of the document on an article-by-article basis also have hit roadblocks.

HJR 54, sponsored by Rep. Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham, was tabled in the House of Representatives by a vote of 58-32. The House also delayed action on HB 434, sponsored by Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood, which would revise the railroad article. Rep. Spencer Collier, R-Irvington, and Rep. James Buskey, D-Mobile, both spoke in favor of the article-by-article approach during last week’s debate. A second bill by DeMarco, HB 435, would rewrite the banking article. It also awaits action by the full House.

In the Senate, a public hearing has been called in the Banking and Insurance Committee on SB 458 by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne. The bill is similar to HB 435. Pittman also has introduced SB 451, which is similar to HB 434. It awaits action in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

AFF favors an article-by-article approach to revising the constitution.

Bills In Brief

Copper Theft, HB 298 AND SB 297, sponsored by Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, and Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, would increase the penalties for the theft of copper and other metals. It also would allow the cost of repairing damage to the victim’s property to be considered in determining the severity of the offense. HB 298 unanimously passed the House of Representatives Thursday. SB 297 awaits action in the Senate Finance and Taxation, General Fund Committee. AFF supports.

Checkoff Audits, HB 121 and SB 97, sponsored by Rep. Tammy Irons, D-Florence, and Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, 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. HB 121 passed the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee Wednesday. It lacks only a vote by the full Senate before heading to the governor. SB 97 passed the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee last week and is up for a vote in the House March 11. AFF supports.

Mini Trucks, HB 78 and SB 165, sponsored by Rep. Spencer Collier, R-Irvington, and Sen. Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill, would establish a license plate category for mini-trucks and exempt such vehicles from certain title requirements. Mini-trucks are classified as “four-wheeled, reduced-dimension trucks” that are not less than 48 inches wide. SB 165 passed the House Public Safety Committee Wednesday and needs only to pass the full House before going to the governor. HB 78 has cleared a Senate committee and awaits action by the full Senate. AFF supports.

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. HB 175 passed the House of Representatives on Tuesday. SB 185 has passed the Senate and awaits action in the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee. AFF supports.

Forest Arson, HB 301 and SB 150, sponsored by Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, and Sen. Rusty Glover, R-Semmes, would make it a crime to attempt to burn or set fires in a forest not under the control of that person. It also would clarify existing law making it a crime to possess incendiary paraphernalia for the purpose of setting fire in a forest and would make it a crime to start a fire with reckless disregard for safety. SB 150 has passed the Senate and cleared the House Judiciary Committee last week. HB 301 has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee. AFF supports.

Policyholder Bill of Rights, HB 445, SB 264 AND SB 352, sponsored by Rep. James Buskey, D-Mobile, Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, and Sen. Steve French, R-Birmingham, would require insurance carriers to provide homeowner policyholders an outline of specific rights. The legislation has the potential to increase costs for policyholders and encourage unnecessary litigation. The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee held a public hearing on SB 264 and SB 352 Wednesday. HB 445 has been assigned to the House Banking and Insurance Committee. AFF opposes as currently written.

Discount Disclosure, SB 208, sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, would require insurance carriers to provide their homeowners policyholders an itemized disclosure of discounts. This already occurs within the insurance marketplace, making the bill unnecessary. SB 208 failed in the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee Wednesday for lack of a second. AFF opposes.

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 Senate Banking and Insurance Committee Wednesday and needs only to pass the Senate before going to the governor. SB 10 has cleared the Senate and a House committee and awaits action in the full House. AFF supports.

Hunting Land Replacement, HB 330, sponsored by Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, would require the state 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 Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee Wednesday. AFF monitoring.

RC&D Funding, SR 66>, sponsored by Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, urges the U.S. Congress to fully fund the Resource Conservation and Development Program. The resolution has passed the Senate. AFF supports.

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