When the Alabama Legislature convenes this month in Montgomery, lawmakers are expected to be working with less growth in the education and general fund budgets than in previous years as they tackle a variety of issues, including funding for Medicaid and coastal insurance. Also on the agenda will be legislation that affects farmers including water policy, immigration reform and renewable energy incentives.Paul Pinyan, director of the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Governmental Affairs Department, said the record-setting drought of 2007 has amplified discussions about a statewide water management plan.”There is renewed interest among legislators to pass bills ranging from safe dam legislation to water use permitting,” Pinyan said. “The Federation will be monitoring all such bills, and is already working with its members as well as other agricultural groups to develop recommendations that would ensure farming is given a high priority in state water policy.”In December, Federation President Jerry A. Newby appointed a 15-member Water Resource Planning Committee to study agriculture’s water needs. That group will also meet with university scientists, state and federal agencies and other agricultural stakeholders to develop strategies to better utilize Alabama’s abundant water resources.Meanwhile, legislation passed last year exempting agriculture from Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration intrastate commerce regulations is expected to be back on the table as lawmakers and regulators write enforcement guidelines. Pinyan said maintaining the agriculture exemption will be a priority for the Federation this year as it works with the Legislature and state agencies to implement the new law while maintaining current funding levels.Other priorities for the Federation will include state immigration laws and renewable energy incentives. The Joint Interim Patriotic Immigration Commission, which includes four Alabama farmers, is expected to present its report to the Legislature, governor and members of Alabama’s congressional delegation the first week of the session.Throughout the fall and winter, Federation members have testified before the commission at public hearings regarding the need to strengthen border security while providing an adequate, legal labor force for agricultural jobs. During the session, the Federation will be closely monitoring all immigration bills, particularly those that could usurp federal immigration enforcement authority or that would be punitive toward farm owners and operators who employ migrant workers.On the renewable energy front, the Permanent Joint Legislative Committee on Energy was to kick off its legislative agenda Jan. 22 with an Alabama Energy Day at the State House. Pinyan said Federation staff have been involved in the committee meetings and will continue to push for farm-to-fuel incentives during the legislative session.”Renewable energy holds great promise for the farmers of Alabama. Expanding the use of alternative fuels not only will create additional marketing opportunities for Alabama agricultural crops, but it also lessens our dependence on foreign oil and benefits the environment,” Pinyan said. “Our priority will be to make sure the state’s renewable energy initiative includes incentives for farmers who produce and use these fuels.”The Federation also will support the reintroduction of the Family Farm Preservation Act in the Senate as well as a bill that would require country-of-origin labeling for catfish sold in restaurants. Alabama Farmers Federation leaders will have a chance to discuss these priorities and others with legislators Feb. 13 when the organization hosts its Taste of Alabama Agriculture legislative reception in Montgomery. The annual event gives legislators an opportunity to sample Alabama-grown food products while visiting with state board members and county presidents.For legislative updates during the session, visit www.AlfaFarmers.org.
LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES: Water Policy, Energy, Immigration Among Issues