By Jeff Helms
The effectiveness of the Alabama Farmers Federation grassroots policy development process was on display at the Alabama State House this spring as the organization garnered legislative wins for members.
Federation External Affairs Department Director Brian Hardin said bills passed included measures initiated by commodity divisions, policy review and producer meetings.
“Early in the session, the Federation was successful in passing legislation to reduce administrative costs associated with two commodity checkoff programs, as well as a bill to prevent local governments from enacting livestock ordinances more restrictive than state law,” Hardin said. “In February, an Ag Labor Summit sponsored by the Federation identified another need related to short-term driver’s licenses for legal guest workers. We quickly educated lawmakers and secured passage of legislation addressing this issue. These bills demonstrate the impact Federation members can have on public policy when we work together.”
The Federation and Alfa Insurance also were instrumental in passing legislation preventing the regulation of businesses based on ideological criteria. The law aims to protect Alabama farms, nonprofits and companies from being punished through economic boycotts for not ascribing to certain environmental, social and governance (ESG) philosophies.
“This may be one of the most important things the Legislature has done in recent years,” said Federation and Alfa President Jimmy Parnell. “ESG scoring can be used to penalize agriculture, fossil fuels and other industries. It attempts to force businesses to embrace ideas which may not align with their values or be in the best interest of their customers. Giving philosophies developed by global think tanks the weight of regulation is dangerous and undermines basic economic principles.”
Another priority for the Federation was ensuring continued investment in agriculture and forestry through the state’s budgets. With lawmakers anticipating a $3 billion surplus, there were competing ideas on how to use the windfall. All Federation priorities in the Education Trust Fund (ETF) and General Fund budgets received level or increased funding. Additionally, $15 million was allocated in the ETF for college and career readiness grants.
Meanwhile, legislators agreed to eliminate state income tax on overtime pay for full-time workers; provide income tax rebates of $150 per individual or $300 for joint filers; reduce the state sales tax on food from 4% to 3% effective Sept. 1; create a new state savings account for education; and establish a grant program for kindergarten through 12th grade capital improvements.
“With projected surpluses, legislators had a tremendous challenge in navigating competing priorities but were able to pass budgets which balanced investment, paying off debt, savings and tax cuts,” Hardin said.
Other legislation of interest to Federation members included renewing the state’s economic incentives laws; a prohibition against foreign adversaries buying agricultural and forestry land or property within 10 miles of a military installation or critical infrastructure; grants for logging workforce development, research and efficiency; and a structure to administer grants to volunteer fire departments.
A special session in March allocated $1 billion in federal COVID-relief money while retiring $60 million in debt to the Alabama Trust Fund. American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) appropriations include $400 million for water and sewer projects; $260 million for broadband; and $340 million for COVID-related expenses incurred by medical facilities.
Hardin praised lawmakers for work throughout special and regular sessions to invest in the future of Alabama.
“We appreciate Gov. Kay Ivey, legislative leadership, committee chairs and bill sponsors for working with the Federation to address the needs of members and taxpayers,” Hardin said. “The Legislature — which included 31 new members in the House and six in the Senate — hit the ground running and achieved tremendous bipartisan success. From ARPA and debt retirement to passing ‘The Game Plan’ economic incentives and record budgets, they worked through differences and found common ground for Alabama voters. We especially appreciate their support for farmers, forest landowners and rural communities.”
Hardin said a special session focused on gambling is possible later this year. Speaker of the House Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, formed a committee which has met weekly on the topic. Federation policy opposes the legalization of gambling in any form. A special session will also be required soon to draw new Congressional district maps, following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June.
Alfa Farmers Legislative Wins:
Streamline Peanut and Sheep & Goat Checkoffs – Rep. Jennifer Fidler, R-Fairhope, and Sen. Josh Carnley, R-Enterprise
Limit Local Livestock Ordinances – Rep. Danny Crawford, R-Athens, and Sen. David Sessions, R-Grand Bay
Short-Term Driver’s Licenses – Rep. Van Smith, R-Billingsley, and Sen. Billy Beasley, D-Clayton
Prohibit Economic Boycotting Based on ESG – Sen. Dan Roberts, R-Mountain Brook
General Fund Budget – Rep. Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, and Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore
Education Trust Fund Budget – Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, and Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur