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July 01, 2012   Email to Friend 

Legislative Session Ends With Major Successes On Ag Bills
Mary Johnson

Alabama farmers fared well during the legislative regular session with laws passed that discouraged theft of copper and other metals, clarified timber harvest notification requirements and secured funding for the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries.

State Sen. Ben Brooks, R-Mobile, and State Rep. Bill Poole, R-Northport, sponsored the new law that requires metal recyclers to collect additional information from sellers and enter the data into the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center for official use.

The timber harvest notification law, sponsored by Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, and Rep. Mark Tuggle, R-Alex City, repeals all current county notification ordinances and allows for voluntary adoption of the rules by each county. In counties adopting the provision, timber owners must notify the county government before using county roads for timber harvesting.

Bills regarding agritourism liability (see page 23 of this issue for a full story), irrigation tax incentives (page 20) and a new farm-to-school procurement act (page 19) also became law during the session.

Gov. Robert Bentley signed into law a set of bills providing additional funds for the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries. The laws will repeal an outdated bond for weighmasters in the state; increase the department’s share of the petroleum fees it collects; create a mechanism to provide additional funds for the state seed lab through a seed inspection fee; and create additional funds for the department’s Pesticide Management Division by increasing pesticide registration fees. Reps. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, and Chad Fincher, R-Semmes, sponsored bills in the package.

The Legislature also tackled constitutional reforms and immigration law revisions during the session. Sponsored by Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood, constitutional amendments revising the corporations and banking sections of Alabama’s constitution will appear on the November ballot. The Federation supports an article-by-article process for constitutional revisions over a costly convention.

Meanwhile, the governor signed an immigration revision bill sponsored by Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, and handled by Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, in the Senate. The law still requires employers to register with and use the electronic verification system. The Federation continues working with state and federal officials to improve the complicated federal H-2-A agricultural guest-worker program.

Two bills addressing Federation policies did not pass during the session. A measure sponsored by Sen. Paul Bussman, R-Cullman, would have provided funds for repair and construction of rural bridges and roads. However, the governor’s GARVEE bonds plan for road and bridge construction and repairs is moving forward. For a list of the first round of approved projects, go to http://tinyurl.com/786slnh.

A supplemental deer-feeding bill supported by the Federation never came up in the Senate for a vote.

The General Fund (GF) budget and the Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget were approved in the final hours of the regular session. The GF includes $350,000 to offset farmer fees for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) and $90,000 for the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP). The Career Tech Initiative will receive $2.3 million from the ETF, with an additional $5 million for Career Tech Operations and Maintenance. The Poultry Technology Center at Auburn University will receive $250,000, and the Rural Medical Scholars Program at the University of Alabama is set to receive $441,000.

The Legislature redrew district lines for the House and the Senate based on 2010 census data during a special session. The new maps, signed into law by Bentley, will go into effect before the 2014 elections.

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