News Federation Prepares For March 7 Legislative Session

Federation Prepares For March 7 Legislative Session

Federation Prepares For March 7 Legislative Session

By Jeff Helms

Economic development and education will be on the minds of Alabama lawmakers as they convene March 7 for the 2023 legislative session. 

During a recent video interview for the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Capitol Connection newsletter, new Speaker of the House of Representatives Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, said education is a priority for the Alabama Legislature and Gov. Kay Ivey. 

“We’ve got to put education at the forefront. The last few years in Alabama, our economy has grown at a pace I’ve never seen. We’re No. 2 in producing automobiles, No. 1 in commercial airlines and in the Top 5 in shipbuilding,” he said. “Alabama is growing at a tremendous pace, but we’re still lacking in education.”

Ledbetter said a package of bills passed last year, including the Alabama Numeracy Act, was a step in the right direction. He added school choice will likely be discussed as lawmakers seek ways to strengthen learning. 

Session Challenges

Meanwhile, the Legislature will face an unusual challenge — managing about $3 billion of combined budget surplus and another $1 billion in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). 

The governor is expected to call a special session, possibly within the regular session, to address ARPA. While federal restrictions have eased on how the money can be spent, health care and broadband expansion are likely to remain priorities. 

As for surpluses in the state’s Education Trust Fund and General Fund budgets, Ledbetter supports a conservative approach to spending, which he said has helped the state avoid proration in recent years. Legislators are considering returning a portion of the surplus to taxpayers, possibly through a one-time rebate. 

Federation Priorities

Federation Agricultural Legislation Director Preston Roberts said the organization’s priority will be rural economic development, including funding for a proposed Alabama Farm Center. 

“As Alabama’s economy grows and jobs are created, we want to make sure farmers and rural residents aren’t left out,” Roberts said. “We will work to extend and potentially expand the Growing Alabama Tax Credit and Alabama Jobs Act to encourage continued economic investment. The Federation also will share research funded by the Alabama Farmers Agriculture Foundation demonstrating how the Alabama Farm Center would benefit the state.”

Other Federation priorities include standardizing the referendum schedule and administrative fees for the producer-funded peanut checkoff while reducing audit expense for the sheep and goat checkoff. The External Affairs team also is working to preserve budget allocations for agriculture and forestry programs. 

Federation State Legislative Programs Director Russ Durrance said legislative leadership and key committee members include longtime friends of farmers, as well as new faces supported by county Federations in last year’s elections. 

“The Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee will be chaired by Sen. David Sessions, R-Grand Bay, while Rep. Danny Crawford, R-Athens, will continue to lead the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee. Both grew up on farms, understand the issues facing Alabama agriculture and are passionate about strengthening our state’s largest industry,” Durrance said. “We look forward to working with these chairmen, as well as Speaker Ledbetter; Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper; and leaders from both parties.”

Grassroots Network

Federation External Affairs Department Director Brian Hardin said his team is focused on educating new legislators about members’ needs and concerns. 

“With 37 new representatives and senators, the Federation can be a valuable resource in helping legislators understand how legislation discussed in Montgomery can affect farms, families and communities,” Hardin said. “Many of these elected officials already have strong relationships with county leaders. That grassroots network will be invaluable as legislators make decisions about legislation and appropriations.”

Ledbetter agreed.

“You guys work really hard to do a good job. You give us good information, and that’s what we’re looking for — the facts of the matter,” Ledbetter said. “(Farmers) feed our families, so we certainly want to continue to do things that are positive for the farmers across the state of Alabama, and as long as I am speaker, we’re going to continue to do that.” 

View Related Articles