By Jeff Helms
State lawmakers were focused on developing plans to spend federal infrastructure and COVID-19 stimulus money when the Alabama Legislature convened Jan. 11 for the 2022 Regular Session.
Alabama Farmers Federation External Affairs Department Director Brian Hardin said the state’s largest farm organization is working to ensure rural economic development remains a priority as elected officials plan for the future.
“The state has received $580 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and is expected to receive another $1 billion this spring,” Hardin said. “Potential uses include infrastructure, public health and assistance for those hurt by the pandemic. We are working with legislators and the governor’s office to make sure plans for this one-time money address the needs of rural Alabama.”
In addition to ARPA allocations, Alabama will have an opportunity to compete for broadband funding through the infrastructure bill signed in November. Alabama Finance Director Bill Poole told lawmakers in December the influx of federal money is an “opportunity of a lifetime” to improve the state’s competitive position for the benefit of its citizens.
Poole noted the complexity and requirements of federal funding necessitate a thorough plan and accountability.
Meanwhile, some lawmakers are betting on gambling to provide additional revenue for state coffers. Despite a failed attempt to pass gaming legislation in 2021, proponents plan to introduce legislation related to a statewide lottery, casino gambling and a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. At the Federation’s December annual meeting, almost 500 voting delegates representing all 67 counties affirmed the organization’s opposition to gambling.
“Our county presidents discussed gambling legislation at length during their summer conference, and several county Federations proposed policy changes that were considered at the September Policy Development Meeting,” said Federation Agriculture Counsel John Allen Nichols. “The delegate body ultimately solidified the Federation’s opposition to gambling in all forms.”
While gambling and federal funding are expected to garner headlines during the session, Federation Agricultural Legislation Director Preston Roberts said some of the organization’s most important work for members happens behind the scenes.
“Hundreds of individual bills will be introduced this legislative session, and any one of them has the potential to affect farmers and their families,” Roberts said. “Our staff reviews every bill for immediate impacts and any potential long-term consequences.”
Roberts said the Federation’s legislative priorities for 2022 include preserving state funding for agriculture, forestry, and career and technical education. The Federation also is working to clarify tax laws related to grain storage bins and equipment used in producing value-added farm products.
Hardin recently returned to lead the External Affairs Department after serving as director for the Governmental and Agricultural Programs Department. Russ Durrance, the Federation’s former Dairy, Pork and Poultry divisions director, was promoted to state legislative programs director in December. The 2022 Regular Session also is the first for department Administrative Assistant Hayden Harris, who joined the Federation in September.
For legislative updates during the session, visit AlfaFarmers.org/capitolconnection.