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April 02, 2010   Email to Friend 

Family Farm Preservation Act wins final passage in House

Alabama farmers may rest easier following passage of the Family Farm Preservation Act Thursday in the House of Representatives.

The long-awaited legislation will prevent law-abiding farms from being declared a public nuisance. SB 61, sponsored by Sen. Kim Benefield, D-Woodland, passed the House by a 98-1 vote and will now go to the governor for his signature.

“This is one of the best things the Legislature could have done this session,” said Benefield. “For our farmers, this will hopefully give them peace of mind when they go to bed at night. Maybe now they will only have to worry about the weather — things only God can control.”

About 20 Alabama farmers, as well as representatives from a coalition of farm organizations, filled the House gallery to watch the vote.

Alabama Farmers Federation President Jerry Newby said the legislation is needed because of increasing challenges to the right to farm by people who don’t understand production agriculture.

“As development spreads farther into the rural areas of Alabama, this legislation has become more important,” Newby said. “Often, newcomers don’t understand modern agricultural practices and seek legal action to stop farmers from earning a living. Despite farmers’ efforts to be good neighbors, they can find themselves spending a fortune in legal fees to defend their way of life.”

Rep. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, presented the Family Farm Preservation Act to the House.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Ward. “Farmers in this state deserve to be able to work and operate without fear of being sued out of business.”

On the House floor, Ward stressed that the legislation does not protect those who break the rules, nor does it infringe on anyone’s right to file a lawsuit. It does, however, give law-abiding farmers some degree of assurance that they will not be forced out of business.

Newby credited the farmers, legislators and staff who’ve worked for passage of the legislation over the years for the victory.

“As always, it took all of us working together to pass this bill,” Newby said. “We appreciate all the farmers who talked to their legislators and gave testimony on behalf of the Family Farm Preservation Act. We also want to especially thank Senator Benefield for getting this bill through the Senate for the first time in 10 years and Representative Ward for his guidance in the House.”

Retired Federation Governmental Affairs Director Freddie Patterson worked on the Family Farm Preservation Act for several years before retiring in 2007. He called passage of the legislation “historic.”

“It’s a great day for the Alabama farm community, equal to when the lid bill and current use were passed in the 1970s,” Patterson said. “I’m proud to have been associated with the farm community all those years and excited about passage of this bill. More importantly, I’m happy for the farmers of this state.”

The bill was amended in Senate committee to exclude new and expanding concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) that raise pork. Opponents of the bill have argued that its passage would promote the expansion of large-scale livestock operations. However, there has not been a new swine CAFO built in Alabama since strengthened CAFO rules were adopted in 1999.

In addition to providing added peace of mind for farmers who follow the rules, 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.

House passes bills supported by farmers

Operators of bird-hunting preserves in Alabama will soon have a more streamlined process for licensing guests following passage of a bill in the House of Representatives Thursday.

SB 76, sponsored by Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, provides 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 bill now goes to the governor for his signature. The House version of the legislation is sponsored by Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville.

The House also passed a bill Thursday that would provide uniform rules governing the care and handling of livestock across the state.

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 strengthen penalties for animal cruelty by establishing minimum fines for repeat offenders. The bill was amended on the House floor to clarify a judge’s authority to levy fines for the first offense of animal cruelty. The companion bill, SB 413 by Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, awaits action by the full Senate.

Meanwhile, the governor signed SB 97 Tuesday, which allows producer-funded 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.

Sponsored by Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, the bill passed the full House on March 11. The companion bill was sponsored by Rep. Tammy Irons, D-Florence.

The checkoff audit was enacted as Act 2010-57 and will go into effect beginning with the 2010 calendar year audit.

Seven of the Alabama Farmers Federation’s 17 commodity divisions administer voluntary checkoff programs. The new law will save money without sacrificing accountability.

Senate votes against mandatory health care

The Senate passed a proposed constitutional amendment Thursday that would prohibit mandatory participation in any health care system. The 23-8 vote is a direct response to passage of the federal health care reform bill, which would require coverage for millions of uninsured Americans.

SB 233, sponsored by Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, was amended on the Senate floor to change the date voters would consider the constitutional amendment from the November general election to a special election on July 31. The companion bill, HB 47, is sponsored by Rep. Mac Gipson Jr., R-Prattville.

The bill states that no law or rule shall compel any person, employer or health care provider to participate in any health care system.

AFF is monitoring the impact of federal health care reform on farmers and small businesses.

Senate passes bingo

The Alabama Senate passed a constitutional amendment Tuesday that would call a statewide referendum in November to legalize and tax electronic bingo.

SB 380, sponsored by Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, passed on a 21-13 vote less than a month after the Senate defeated a similar bill on a procedural vote. Following the earlier defeat Bedford told reporters “the issue is over,” but he later resurrected the legislation by stripping language that would have given a monopoly to 10 gaming locations across the state.

Under the revised bill, the Legislature would meet in special session in January to iron out details about gaming locations and regulatory oversight. Opponents argue the legislation would legalize slot machines and expose the state to corruption from gambling interests.

Voting in favor of SB 380 were: Sens. Barron, D-Fyffe; Bedford, D-Russellville; Benefield, D-Woodland; Coleman, D-Birmingham; Denton, D-Muscle Shoals; Dunn, D-Bessemer; Figures, D-Mobile; Holley, R-Elba; Keahey, D-Grove Hill; T. Little, D-Auburn; Z. Little, D-Cullman; Means, D-Attalla; Mitchell, D-Luverne; Mitchem, D-Union Grove; Penn, D-Union Springs; Preuitt, D-Talladega; Ross, D-Montgomery; Sanders, D-Selma; Singleton, D-Greensboro; Smith, R-Slocomb; and Smitherman, D-Birmingham.

Voting “no” were: Sens. Beason, R-Gardendale; Bishop, R-Jasper; Brooks, R-Mobile; Butler, D-Madison; Dixon, R-Montgomery; Erwin, R-Montevallo; French, R-Birmingham; Marsh, R-Anniston; Orr, R-Decatur; Pittman, R-Daphne; Poole, D-Tuscaloosa; Sanford, R-Huntsville; and Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills.

Glover, R-Semmes, did not vote.

AFF opposes legalizing gambling in any form.

Bills in Brief

Bad checks for livestock, HB 765 and SB 574, sponsored by Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, D-Red Bay, and Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, would make writing bad checks to a livestock market or person selling livestock a Class C felony when the check is $1,000 or more. HB 765 passed the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday, and SB 574 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday. AFF supports.

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. Last week, the House delayed action on HB 339, effectively killing the bill for the session. SB 69 awaits action in the full Senate. AFF monitoring.

Food Sales Tax, HB 1, sponsored by Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, would propose an amendment to the constitution to limit the income tax deduction for federal income taxes and exempt food from the state sales tax. HB 1 passed the House Education Appropriations Committee Wednesday. AFF supports lowering the tax on food but opposes raising taxes on income.

Farm-Raised Perch, HB 667 and SB 494, sponsored by Rep. Jeff McLaughlin, D-Guntersville, and Sen. Hinton Mitchem, D-Union Grove, would allow perch raised in farm ponds to be sold provided the seller is permitted by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. SB 494 passed the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee Thursday. HB 667 awaits action in the full House. AFF supports.

Fertilizer Preemption, HB 303 and SB 83, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville and Sen. Kim Benefield, D-Woodland, would affirm the state’s authority to regulate fertilizer and prohibit local governments from regulating the registration, packaging, labeling, sale, storage, distribution or use of fertilizer. HB 303 has been assigned to the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee. SB 83 passed the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee Thursday. AFF supports.

Energy Committee, HB 128 and SB 252, sponsored by Rep. Greg Wren, R-Montgomery, and Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, makes the Joint Legislative Committee on Energy Policy a permanent committee and provides for the hiring of staff and creation of the Legislative Energy Office to administer the duties of the committee. HB 128 is now law as Act 2010-232. AFF supports.

Deer Hunting Season Extended, SB 460, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, would extend the hunting season for male whitetail deer through the first two weeks after the close of regular gun season and would impose additional fees for hunting during the extended period. The Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee delayed action on the bill on Thursday. AFF monitoring.

Conservation Advisory Board, HB 551 and SB 489, sponsored by Rep. Pat Moore, R-Pleasant Grove, and Sen. Rusty Glover, R-Semmes, would provide for the appointment of two additional members to the advisory board who would be commercial fishermen. These members would be appointed by the governor from a list of three nominees for each position nominated by the Organized Seafood Association of Alabama, Inc. HB 551 has been assigned to the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee. The Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee on Thursday delayed action on SB 489. AFF monitoring.

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