The Alabama Farmers Federation was eyeing property owners' rights as a major priority as the state's Legislature convened Jan. 10 for its regular session. A constitutional amendment to further protect owners from the government seizing their land for development is expected to be considered by lawmakers.

The stage was set for the amendment in last summer's special session when the federation led a grassroots effort that resulted in passage of a bill limiting eminent domain, said Federation Governmental Affairs Director Freddie Patterson. The bill was considered much stronger than a similar one proposed by Gov. Bob Riley.

“When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that government could seize land for private development, most Americans — and especially federation members — demanded greater protection. In Alabama, the federation led an effort that resulted in more than 1,400 phone calls to legislators in a single day,” says Patterson. “The bill that passed in the special session was a step in the right direction, but it left some questions unanswered. This year, the federation will lead an effort to pass a constitutional amendment that will give property owners even greater peace of mind.”

Another priority

Another priority for the federation will be the Family Farm Preservation Act and other efforts to protect law-abiding farms from being sued for nuisance. In past years, the bill passed the House of Representatives but stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Other bills supported by the federation include one that would allow cotton module haulers to purchase seasonal tags at roughly one-third the cost of a 12-month tag. A bill that would standardize weighing practices for catfish will be introduced as well as a bill that would simplify the electronic filing system for liens against commodities.

The federation also is working to change diesel fuel taxes from a percentage-of-cost formula to a cents-per-gallon calculation, and the organization is proposing incentives for farmers who grow crops used for ethanol production.

A bill that more clearly defines agriculture also is being considered. Currently, many people don't consider agri-tourism activities and greenhouse, nursery and sod operations as “agriculture.” In addition, the federation is seeking the passage of bills to update state fencing laws and to stiffen penalties for those who fail to pay for agricultural goods.

The federation is supporting two initiatives, but monitoring them for potentially harmful amendments — the creation of a rural development center, and a law requiring the registration of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). Patterson says he is encouraged that lawmakers are seeking to address the economic, educational and social issues of rural Alabama through the creation of a rural development center. To ensure the center serves rural residents, the federation will propose that farmers serve on its board of directors and that those directors live and work in rural areas.

Federation policy, says Patterson, supports the registration of ATVs as an aid to theft recovery and the prosecution of trespassers. However, the organization will propose that any ATV registration bill be revenue neutral and not put an undue burden on taxpayers.

In addition to these specific bills, Patterson says the federation's governmental affairs department will work to preserve current use, stop attempts to revise the Alabama Constitution by convention, preserve funding for vital agriculture-related programs, and insure good stewardship by those who spend taxpayer money.

Budget surplus

“Alabama finished its last fiscal year with a $229 million budget surplus, thanks to an 11-percent increase in tax collections,” says Patterson. “This is a shining example of how businesses and a strengthening economy grow revenue, not by higher taxes. We will continue to vigorously oppose tax hikes like the $1.2 billion Amendment One, which voters overwhelmingly rejected in 2003.”

In other federation news, voting delegates to the Alabama Farmers Federation's 84th Annual Meeting held in Mobile in December voted overwhelmingly to apply for membership in the American Farm Bureau Federation — a move approved Dec. 12 by the AFBF's board of directors in Washington, D.C.

“We're delighted AFBF accepted our application,” says Federation President Jerry A. Newby. “Our members are looking forward to the mutual benefits of affiliating with the nation's largest farmers' organization. This will greatly increase our voice in Washington, strengthen our position internationally, and provide more opportunities for Alabama farmers.”

The move also means that the American Farm Bureau Federation, with 5.5 million members, is now represented in each of the 50 states and Puerto Rico. The Alabama Farmers Federation has more than 460,000 members.

Newby says the affiliation with AFBF “ultimately increases our ability to fulfill our mission to ensure unlimited opportunities for Alabama's rural and agricultural communities. With fewer and fewer farmers, it becomes even more important for us to speak with one voice.”

AFBF President Bob Stallman echoed similar sentiments, saying that the Alabama Farmers Federation's leadership in Alabama's agriculture sector further strengthens AFBF's position as the nation's leading and most influential general farm organization.

“The American Farm Bureau takes a lot of pride in being affiliated with the top farm organization in every state, and this move ensures we will continue with that tradition,” Stallman says. “The Alabama Farmers Federation has long been a force for agriculture in that state, and we are excited about extending the full rights of Farm Bureau membership to them, their county (organizations), and their individual members.”

e-mail: phollis@prismb2b.com