Farmers Brace For Challenges During Legislative Session
Farmers likely will be targets of proposed tax increases when the Alabama Legislature convenes for its regular session March 4, according to Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, who serves as chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation Committee. Little said he plans to make sure farmers are protected.”… Unfortunately, there aren’t many of you–there aren’t many farmers left,” Little told farmers during the opening day of the Alfa Farmers Commodity Producers Organizational Conference on Feb. 3 in Montgomery. “And when you look at the budget, you look at cutting off the exemptions, that’s one of the first things that comes up. People say if we did away with all the exemptions that we give, then we’d raise enough money. But I represent a district that is a farming district, and I know how important the exemptions on feed, seed and fertilizer are to your industry. I know how important current use is in keeping your property taxes at a reasonable level. You can count on me to be an advocate for you to protect you, the family farmer.”The Family Farm Preservation Act along with property tax issues will be at the top of the legislative agenda for the Federation, said Freddie Patterson, director of the Federation’s Governmental Affairs Department.”Even though the Alabama Legislature doesn’t begin its regular session until March 4, we’re already positioning ourselves to pass the Family Farm Preservation Act and to monitor any tax legislation and constitutional changes that may arise,” Patterson said.This will mark the third year that farmers in the state have sought help from legislators by asking them to pass the Family Farm Preservation Act. The proposed bill is aimed at keeping farm operations from being declared a public nuisance so long as they abide by current rules and regulations.In the 2001 session, a similar bill passed the House of Representatives by a large margin but failed to come up for a vote in the Senate after it stalled in committee. Last year, the Senate Rules Committee failed to assign the bill to a committee, effectively killing the legislation for that session.However, past defeats haven’t weakened the Federation’s resolve to pass this much needed legislation.”This bill is extremely important to the future of agriculture in Alabama,” Patterson said. “It’s important that farmers be protected and not live under the threat of being litigated out of business. As more and more people migrate to rural Alabama, farmers will have new neighbors who want the peace and quite of country living but don’t necessarily appreciate the sights and smells of production agriculture. We see this legislation as an insurance policy for our state’s largest industry to continue to grow.”The Family Farm Preservation Act would prevent city or county governments from being able to adopt rules that would classify a farm as a public or private nuisance so long as the farm is operating by all state and federal regulations.The proposed legislation more clearly defines what a farm is, allows an operation to remain classified as a farm if it is transferred to another farmer and allows a farmer to expand his or her operation within the current regulations while maintaining the farm’s original established date.The Family Farm Preservation Act also stipulates that any person or group who sues a farmer abiding by current rules and regulations for public nuisance and loses, must pay the farmer’s attorney’s fees and expenses associated with the case.Farmers also will be allowed to maintain the right to farm if there is a change in the use of property located adjacent to or in the vicinity of their farms.Constitutional reform, water resource management, legislative appropriations and insurance issues also will be monitored closely by Patterson and other Federation and Alfa lobbyists.”As this legislative session begins, it’s more important than ever for our members to communicate with their legislators,” Patterson said. “Legislators pay attention to their voters and what they’re saying. We can’t afford to take a wait-and-see attitude. We have to be vocal and out front about what we want.”The Alfa Farmers website provides a tool to help members monitor and communicate with state and congressional leaders. Visit www.alfafarmers.org and click on “Capitol Connection.” Periodic alerts will be posted to inform members about important upcoming votes and legislation. The site also contains addresses, phone numbers and email addresses for all state legislators and state constitutional officers.