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April 16, 2010   Email to Friend 

Senate sends livestock care bill to governor

Alabama farmers soon can be assured that livestock care and handling regulations will be uniform throughout the state, following the Senate’s passage Wednesday of HB 561.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ralph Howard, D-Greensboro, updates the state veterinarian’s responsibilities to include “care of livestock, animal husbandry practices and control of contagious and infectious diseases of livestock.” It also strengthens penalties for animal cruelty by establishing minimum fines for repeat offenders. The companion bill, SB 413, was sponsored by Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne.

“Passage of this bill will prevent local and county governments from establishing a patchwork of different laws governing livestock care and handling,” said Brian Hardin, assistant director of the Department of Governmental and Agricultural Programs. “Without this protection we could see regulations that would cripple the state’s livestock industry and hinder economic growth.”

In passing HB 561 by a 28-0 vote, the Senate acknowledged that the state veterinarian is best equipped to administer rules related to livestock care and handling.

The bill was changed by the sponsors to address concerns by farmers, law enforcement officers, the state Department of Public Health and county commissioners. The changes define livestock and clarify that the bill doesn’t affect the authority of law enforcement agencies. The revised bill also clarifies that it doesn’t relieve farms of the need to comply with health laws and clarifies that the bill doesn’t supersede local ordinances that are not related to livestock care.

The bill also was amended on the House floor to restate the judge’s authority to levy fines for the first offense for animal cruelty.

The bill was supported by a broad coalition of agricultural and veterinarian organizations including the Alabama Farmers Federation.

Governor signs family farm, bird hunting bills

Alabama farmers finally have the protection they need from nuisance lawsuits with Gov. Bob Riley’s recent signing of the Family Farm Preservation Act (Act 2010-397). The governor also signed a bill making it more convenient for bird hunting preserves to license groups of hunters (Act 2010-398).

SB 61, sponsored by Sen. Kim Benefield, D-Woodland, prevents law-abiding farms from being declared a public nuisance. The bill was amended to exclude new or expanding CAFOs that raise pork and to restate the judge’s authority to require the plaintiff to pay the farmer’s legal fees, if the lawsuit is frivolous.

SB 76, sponsored by Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, gives hunting preserves the option of buying an annual license for $500 to cover hunters on the property who do not already have the appropriate license.

Agriculture programs fare well in tight budgets

Despite projected revenue shortfalls, agriculture-related programs and projects fared well in the education and general fund budgets passed by the Legislature.

The education budget that cleared the Legislature last week included $2.26 million for the Career Technology Initiative, which provides grants to fund extended contracts for vocational agribusiness teachers. The allocation is the same as the FY 2010 budgeted amount, but down $1 million from the governor’s recommendation. The Rural Medical Scholars Program at the University of Alabama also was funded at the 2010 budgeted level of $454,545.

The Alabama Agricultural Land Grant Alliance saw its funding increase by 11 percent to $6.2 million. Within the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station budget, fire ant research and eradication was again funded at $147,073, and poultry research remained unchanged at $40,854, but the poultry technology center received a new appropriation of $250,000.

The news wasn’t as good in the general fund budget, which passed Tuesday. Although lawmakers balanced the $1.57 billion budget using federal funding the state expects to receive, many state agencies experienced cuts.

The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries’ $14.8 million budget reflects about an 11 percent cut from last year. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management received $277,200 to reimburse farmers for concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) registration fees. The amount represents a 12 percent reduction from the 2010 budget and is 21 percent less than the $350,000 approved for 2009. The Alabama Farmers Market Authority saw its budget cut by 29 percent from last year and 56 percent, when compared to two years ago.

The Soil and Water Conservation Committee was funded at $4.7 million, about 2 percent less than last year. Within that appropriation is $150,000 in state matching funds for the Agriculture Water Enhancement Program (AWEP). Last year, $200,000 was budgeted for the program, which is designed to increase the development of on-farm irrigation.

Funding for the Alabama Forestry Commission was cut $860,000 or about 6 percent, when compared to the 2010 budget.

Both budgets will now go to the governor for his signature.

Gambling bill looms in House during final days

With only two working days left in the regular session of the Legislature, gambling proponents are scrambling to secure enough votes in the House of Representatives to pass a constitutional amendment legalizing electronic bingo.

On Wednesday, the House delayed action on SB 380, sponsored by Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville. The House sponsor, Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, told reporters that supporters are delaying any vote until next week in order to spend the weekend “explaining the bill” to lawmakers. Proponents need 63 votes in the House to pass the bill. If approved by the House, a statewide referendum would be held in November, and a special session of the Legislature would convene in January to iron out details about gaming locations and regulatory oversight.

In March, the Senate rejected a version of SB 380 that would have granted a monopoly on electronic bingo to 10 locations. Bedford later substituted a shorter version of the bill that would legalize and tax electronic bingo with no restrictions.

Federation members are encouraged to contact their representatives this weekend and ask them to vote “no” on SB 380. AFF opposes legalizing gambling in any form.

Passage of Federation-supported bills still possible in final two days

Among the Federation-supported bills with an opportunity of winning final passage before the end of the legislative session, three have been identified as priorities. Members are encouraged to contact their representatives and urge support of SB 83, SB 165 and SB 451.

Fertilizer Preemption, SB 83, sponsored by 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. SB 83 passed the Senate by a vote of 28-0 on Wednesday and has been assigned to the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee. The companion bill is sponsored by Rep. Thomas E. Jackson, D-Thomasville. AFF supports.

Mini Trucks, SB 165 anD HB 78, sponsored by Sen. Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill, and Rep. Spencer Collier, R-Irvington, would establish a license plate category for mini-trucks and exempt such vehicles from title requirements. SB 165 awaits final action in the House, and HB 78 awaits action by the full Senate. AFF supports.

Article-by-Article – Railroads, SB 451, sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, would rewrite the railroad section of the Alabama Constitution using the article-by-article approach. SB 451 passed the House Constitution and Elections Committee Wednesday and awaits final action in the House. The companion bill is sponsored by Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood. AFF favors an article-by-article approach to revising the constitution.

Bills Passed This Session

Copper Theft, HB 298 AND SB 297, sponsored by Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, and Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, increases the penalties for the theft of copper and other metals. It also allows the cost of repairing damage to the victim’s property to be considered in determining the severity of the offense. HB 298 passed the Senate Wednesday by a 28-0 vote. It now goes to the governor for his signature. AFF supports.

Timber Theft, HB 175 and SB 185, sponsored by Rep. Charles Newton, D-Greenville, and Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, allows 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 House Wednesday by a vote of 100-0. It now goes to the governor for his signature. AFF supports.

Hunting Land Replacement, HB 330, sponsored by Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, requires 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 ensures no net loss of land acreage available for hunting. The bill was signed by the governor as Act 2010-213. AFF neutral.

Forest Arson, HB 301 and SB 150, sponsored by Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, and Sen. Rusty Glover, R-Semmes, makes it a crime to attempt to burn or set fires in a forest not under the control of that person. It also makes it a crime to start a fire with reckless disregard for safety. SB 150 has passed both the Senate and House with an executive amendment and now goes back to the governor for his signature. AFF supports.

Trails Commission, HB 376 and SB 258, sponsored by Rep. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, and Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, creates the Alabama Trails Commission to advance development, interconnection and use of cultural, historic and recreational lands and water trails. The advisory board includes an appointment by the Alabama Farmers Federation. HB 376 passed the Senate Tuesday and awaits the governor’s signature. AFF neutral.

Roads and Bridges, SB 121, sponsored by Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, would authorize $100 million a year for 10 years from the Alabama Trust Fund for road and bridge work. The House passed an amended version of the bill Tuesday, and a conference committee was appointed to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions. AFF neutral.

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