March 22, 2024

Farmers Testify on Need for Alfa Health Plan

Above: Jefferson County farmer Evan Nelson, left, and Barbour County young farmer Shelby Easterling, right, discuss rising health care costs before a Senate committee regarding Alfa Health Plans Wednesday. Below: Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell presented the need for Alfa Health Plans to counteract rising health coverage prices.

Legislation aimed at giving Alabama Farmers Federation members a reasonably priced option for quality healthcare was introduced Tuesday. 

Modeling plans of other Farm Bureaus, SB 232 by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, would allow the Federation to offer health coverage through an Alfa Health Plan. The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee held a public hearing on the bill Wednesday. 

“There is a gap in affordable health insurance for farmers and others who aren’t covered by employer plans but do not qualify for federal subsidies,” said Federation President Jimmy Parnell. “Alfa Health was formed 56 years ago to provide health coverage for members. The Alfa Health Plan is the next step in our mission to provide farmers and other members affordable protection backed by extraordinary service.”

Parnell said health plan coverage is typically 30-60% less expensive than unsubsidized health insurance. It is not unusual for an Alabama farm family to pay $18,000 or more annually for health coverage. Some farmers are being forced to take off-farm jobs to access health insurance. Others are living without coverage.

Joining Parnell in testifying in support of the legislation were young farmers Evan Nelson of Jefferson County and Shelby Easterling of Barbour County. 

“We began growing our farming business, and the unsubsidized cost of health coverage doubled. The next year, we grew a little more, and our cost doubled again,” said Nelson, who raises hay and beef cattle with wife Christy. “What wakes me up at 2 a.m. are the thoughts about caring for Christy and our three sons. The cost of healthcare is at the top of the list of my concerns.”

Easterling said the full cost of health insurance for her and husband Cade would equal what she spends to protect her $2 million investment in four poultry houses. 

“When I turned 26, I took out a major medical policy. It was less expensive, but I felt like I was on my tiptoes all year — worrying whether I could go to the doctor or just hope there was nothing serious wrong. We can’t live like that, especially when we have children,” said Easterling whose farm includes a total of eight poultry houses as well as beef cattle, sheep and goats. “We pay the higher costs for better coverage, but that’s money we won’t have to invest in our farm or children’s future.”

Easterling told the Senate committee an off-farm job was not an option for their family.


“Our animals depend on us. We spend 6-8 hours every day taking care of the routine chores in our poultry houses. These often become 12-hour days when equipment breaks down or maintenance is needed,” she said. “If one of us had to work off the farm, we wouldn’t be able to provide our animals the care and attention they need.”

Tennessee Farm Bureau Health Plans (TFBHP) has been offering coverage similar to what SB 232 would authorize since 1986. Ben Sanders, executive director of government affairs for the group, was on hand to answer senators’ questions. 

He explained Tennessee’s plan covers all essential health benefits including preventative care, prescription drugs, maternity, hospitalization, emergency room services, newborn and pediatric care, outpatient surgery, mental health, substance abuse treatment, rehabilitation and cancer care. Sanders said health plans are no different than self-funded employer plans with regard to regulation and taxation. He added the third-party administrator of an Alfa Health Plan would be regulated by the Alabama Department of Insurance.

In addition to Tennessee, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota and Texas have enacted state laws to allow health plans. Six other states are currently considering health plan legislation.

Unlike traditional insurance, health plans are individually rated, which controls costs. Sanders said TFBHP accepts about 90% of members who apply. Once accepted, members can’t be canceled for claims history or change in medical status. 

SB 232 cosponsors include Sens. Jack Williams, R-Wilmer; David Sessions, R-Grand Bay; Larry Stutts, R-Florence; Josh Carnley, R-Ino; Keith Kelley, R-Anniston; and Dan Roberts, R-Mountain Brook. The legislation will be back in the Senate Business and Insurance Committee for a vote after next week’s spring break. 

Federation External Affairs Director Brian Hardin urged members to contact their senators during the recess and ask them to support SB 232. 

“It’s critical for senators to hear how the rising cost of health insurance is affecting their constituents,” Hardin said. “Whether you are paying high premiums, going without insurance, or have a spouse who’s taken a job off the farm to access coverage, your story is important. Legislators need to know how healthcare is affecting Alabama farm families and how the Alfa Health Plan could provide a reasonably priced option for Federation members.” 

SB 232 is expected to have a vote in Seante Banking & Insurance Committee on Wednesday, April 3. Members of the committee are Chair Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville; Vice Chair Jack Williams, R-Wilmer; Ranking Minority Member Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham; Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Pike Road; Sen. Josh Carnley, R-Ino; Sen. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove; Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Josephine; Sen. Kirk Hatcher, D-Montgomery; Sen. Jay Hovey, R-Auburn; Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre; Sen. Wes Kitchens, R-Arab; Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro; Sen. Randy Price, R-Opelika; Sen. Dan Roberts, R-Mountain Brook; Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro; Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills.

Closing the Gap fact sheet

Alabama Ag Authority Bill Introduced, Awaiting Senate Vote

A bill leading to the creation of the Alabama Farm Center was introduced Tuesday and reported favorably out of committee Wednesday. 

SB 219 by Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, would create the Agriculture Exhibition Center Corporation to operate the Farm Center. Cosponsors are Sens. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham; Dan Roberts, R-Mountain Brook; and Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills.

The corporation would consist of a five-member board of directors with one member each appointed by the governor, commissioner of Agriculture and Industries and the county commission of the county in which the center will be located. Two members would be appointed by the Federation with one from the northern half of the state and one from the southern half.

SB 219 gives the state farm center the same powers and abilities that county ag authorities already have under current law. It simply designates this entity as the statewide Farm Center to serve the entire state.

Federation Agriculture Counsel John Allen Nichols said this legislation was a step in the right direction. 

“We are excited to move forward in the process of bringing a state-of-the-art farm center to Alabama,” Nichols said. “Establishing the governing structure and board for the farm center is another important step and brings us even closer to that reality.”

SB 219 was amended in the Senate Ag, Conservation and Forestry Committee Wednesday. A vote by the full Senate could take place in early April after the legislative spring break next week. 

Federation Agricultural Legislation Director Preston Roberts thanked everyone who's worked to bring the farm center into existence.

"We appreciate Sen. Shelnutt, Sen. Smitherman, Sen. Waggoner and Sen. Roberts for their commitment to promoting agriculture in Alabama," Roberts said. "We look forward to working with more legislators as we move ahead."

Gambling Decision Expected After Spring Break

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives did not address Senate-amended gambling legislation this week before going on spring break. 

HB 151, a constitutional amendment, and HB 152, the enabling legislation, by Rep. Chris Blackshear, R-Phenix City, would expand gambling in Alabama if passed by the Legislature and approved by voters.

The Senate-amended versions were sent back to the House for concurrence March 7 before the legislature went on break for Legislative Constituent Services week. The Senate versions of the bill are still problematic, according to the Alabama Farmers Federation. 

Federation policy opposes all forms of gambling.

The Senate versions provide for a state-run lottery, the establishment of a gaming enforcement division and amnesty for existing gambling establishments operating under local constitutional amendments. Sites in Greene, Houston, Jefferson, Lowndes, Macon and Mobile counties would be “grandfathered” in and could continue operation. Those sites would be authorized to conduct live horse or dog racing and operate historical horse racing machines, which allow players to bet on historical races digitally. These machines are the functional equivalent of slot machines.

The legislation could also expand gambling on tribal lands under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The federal law allows Indian Nations to engage in numerous types of gambling activities on tribal lands. By authorizing a state lottery, Alabama would open the door for federal authorities to authorize the Poarch Band of Creek Indians to operate full-scale casinos on any tribal lands they currently possess or acquire in the future. Under this framework, Alabama could have numerous casinos across the state in addition to the state lottery.

Federation External Affairs Department Director Brian Hardin said this is bad public policy that takes advantage of all Alabamians. 

“Gambling will affect our society in ways we’ve never seen in Alabama,” Hardin said. “This legislation opens the door for more crime, addiction, and financial insecurity, along with a host of other issues. Everyone would be affected in some way.”

HB 151 and 152 are expected to be taken up by the House when the Legislature returns after spring break next week. If concurrence is not reached, a conference committee could convene to address the issues. Those amended versions would be voted on by the House and Senate without opportunity for amendments. 

Members are urged to contact legislators and ask them to vote 'no' on any gambling legislation.

Alabama FFA Students Experience Day on Capitol Hill

FFA students from over 25 schools across Alabama attended FFA Day on the Hill Tuesday in Montgomery, where they learned about the legislative process from state leaders and lawmakers. 

“I'm a farmer, my kids are growing up on a farm, and I think agriculture is an important part of our society,” said Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth. “One of the most important factors to success is having grit. No matter what career or goal you're aspiring to, you've got to have grit."

Students began the day on the Capitol steps with Gov. Kay Ivey before splitting into two groups to hear from lawmakers. 

Students who stayed at the capitol heard from Ainsworth, Rep. Barbara Drummond, D-Mobile, Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, and members of the Federation’s External Affairs team. 

The other group traveled to the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association where students heard from Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, Sen. Josh Carnley, R-Ino, Sen. Donnie Chesteen, R-Geneva, Rep. Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville, and Rep. Van Smith, R-Clanton. 

“You don't stand before me only as FFA students, but as the ones who will take the reins,” Drummond said. “I have so much faith in your generation and I know you will take Alabama to where it has never been before.”

Federation State Legislative Programs Director Russ Durrance praised lawmakers for committing time to speaking to the students. 

“We want to thank every speaker, every teacher and every student for taking time to learn more about Alabama government,” Durrance said. “We believe everyone should understand how the Legislature runs and works with other branches of government, and these students got to experience that firsthand. These are some of the brightest kids in the state, and now they’ve seen some of the opportunities available in the future. 

Watch the video below to hear more from students and guests.

New ‘Working for Alabama’ Legislative Package Introduced 

A legislative package aimed at reforming workforce, economic and community development across Alabama was unveiled during an event Thursday at the Capitol. From left to right: House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville; Business Council of Alabama President and CEO Helena Duncan; Senate Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper; Gov. Kay Ivey; House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville; Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro; and Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth.

Gov. Kay Ivey and legislative leadership introduced a comprehensive set of bills coined ‘Working for Alabama’ on Thursday to strengthen workforce, community and economic development. 

Ivey, along with Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper, House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, and House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, unveiled the package during a ceremony on the Capitol grounds. 

According to Ivey’s office, the seven-bill package aims to streamline and make more efficient and effective the state’s efforts and strategies in workforce, community and economic development. This represents over a year’s worth of hard work and collaboration from these leaders of state government, multiple members of the Legislature, the Governor’s cabinet, and Alabama’s business community, she said.

“In 2015, major reforms were made within the state’s workforce development sector, and as governor, I am calling on our Legislature to once again make the needed reforms so that our workforce development programs work better for its two customers – our jobseekers and our employers,” Ivey said. “‘Working for Alabama’ is the next big step, and I look forward to seeing the benefits it will have on Alabama for years and decades to come.”

Bills included in ‘Working for Alabama’ are:

  • Alabama Workforce Transformation Act: SB 247 by Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, and HB 344 by Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, would merge and consolidate duplicative workforce development agencies, programs, and funding mechanisms into a single, repurposed state agency. The Alabama Workforce Board would develop a statewide workforce development plan, review budget requests for workforce development activities, and work with the Secretary of Workforce to make consolidated workforce development funding recommendations based on the needs of the business community and Alabama workers. This should increase state budget accountability and help eliminate barriers to employment by prioritizing recruiting, training, and employing workers.
  • Workforce Pathways Act: SB 253 by Sen. Donnie Chesteen, R-Geneva, and HB 373 by Rep. Kelvin Lawrence, D-Hayneville, would establish a Workforce Pathways diploma at the K-12 level and reinvest in Career & Technical Education (CTE) centers across the state. This pathway would better prepare those students to enter the workforce and/or earn credentials that will help lead directly to employment in their chosen field.
  • Childcare Tax Credit: HB 358 by Rep. Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, and a companion bill to be carried by Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, would create tax credits to incentivize employers to fund childcare options. It also incentivizes childcare providers, both for-profit and non-profit, to expand access and quality.
  • Workforce Housing Tax Credit: SB 250 by Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Josephine, and HB 346 by Rep. Cynthia Almond, R-Tuscaloosa, would leverage private, state, and federal dollars to address Alabama's workforce housing crisis. The proposed state workforce housing tax credit, which is similar to programs implemented in 29 other states, complements the existing federal housing tax credit program created by the Reagan Administration designed to incentivize private capital investment in the development of affordable workforce housing. Under the program, developers receive tax credits in exchange for committing to cap rental rates.
  • Alabama Growth Alliance Act: SB 252 by Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, and HB 372 by Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Baileyton, would establish a public-private partnership focused on the state's long-term economic development efforts.
  • Innovation District Act: SB 242 by Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro; SB 243 by Sen. Dan Roberts, R-Mountain Brook; HB 349 by Rep. James Lomax, R-Huntsville; and HB 368 by Rep. Neil Rafferty, D-Birmingham; would authorize local governments to create a new type of local entity to undertake and incentivize economic development projects in certain business sectors identified by the Alabama Department of Commerce. The district would be functionally similar to a cooperative district or industrial development board and have bonding authority to raise funds for projects in the district. 
  • Budget Items: New investments to strengthen communities - particularly those in rural areas - through making transformative investments in industrial site development, workforce development, and rural broadband.

Federation Director of State Legislative Programs Russ Durrance said these bills are a step in the right direction to growing the economy, developing a stronger workforce and building better communities.

The Legislature will prioritize these items the first week of April after they return from spring break next week. 

Press Release - Office of Gov. Ivey

Turk Testifies for Property Tax Cap

Federation Young Farmers Committee Chair Dillon Turk testified before the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee Wednesday in support of property tax caps. 

SB 110 by Sen. David Sessions, R-Grand Bay, would cap annual ad valorem tax increases at 5% for Class II commercial and business property and at 3% for Class III residential, agricultural, forestry and historic property. The committee will vote on the bill following next week’s spring break. 

A companion bill, HB 73 by Phillip Pettus, R-Killen, would cap taxes at 5% for both property classes and is awaiting action in the House. 

Turk spoke in support of SB 110 before the committee, citing the negative impact sharp property tax increases in recent years can have on farmers and forest landowners. 

“This is particularly important to our farmer members as it would insulate vital property, including barns, fencing and other improvements, from rapidly increasing valuations,” Turk said. “In our current agricultural landscape, every dollar saved holds immense significance, far beyond what it did just five years ago. By capping property tax valuation increases, we can ensure that farmers have more stability in their financial planning and can allocate resources more effectively towards essential farm needs.”

Senate Confirms Appointees to Ag-Related Boards

The Senate confirmed four Gov. Kay Ivey appointees to the Auburn University (AU) Board of Trustees and two to the Alabama State Port Authority Board of Directors. 

Elizabeth Huntley, Quentin Riggins and Timothy Vines were re-appointed to the AU board with the addition of Walter Woltosz. In addition, Carl Jamison and Zeke Smith were confirmed to the Alabama State Port Authority Board. 

The AU appointees will serve seven-year terms while Port Authority appointees will serve four-year terms. 

Bills in Brief

Agricultural Fencing Sales Tax Exemption Bill - SB 73 by Sen. Jack Williams, R-Wilmer, passed the Senate unanimously Tuesday with an amendment and is awaiting action in the House Ways and Means Education Committee. SB 73 would exempt the sale of fencing materials used in agricultural livestock operations from the state sales tax. The amendment exempts up to $25,000 in materials per year, and will end in 2029. SB 73 was created by the Alabama Cattlemen's Association and is supported by the Federation.

Ballot Harvesting Prevention Bill - SB 1 by Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman,will make 'ballot harvesting' illegal in Alabama. The bill was signed by Gov. Ivey Wednesday. 'Ballot harvesting' is when an individual pays someone for assistance in filling out an absentee ballot, which is linked to voter fraud. Proponents of the bill argued its necessity in securing Alabama elections. Secretary of State Wes Allen said the bills' passage was a victory for Alabama elections. “Free and fair elections are the foundation of our constitutional republic. The passage of SB1 signals to ballot harvesters that Alabama votes are not for sale,” Allen said. Rep. Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville, carried a companion bill in the House. SB 1 is supported by Federation policy.

Seafood Labeling - HB 66 by Rep. Chip Brown, R-Hollingers Island, would require food service establishments to display country of origin for seafood products, use correct/common names for products, and inform consumers if fish and shrimp are farm-raised or wild. HB 66 was reported favorably out of the Senate Ag, Conservation and Forestry Committee Wednesday with an amendment.

ATV/UTV Titling - HB 233 by Rep. Jeff Sorrells, R-Hartford, would require every off-road vehicle manufactured on or after January 1, 2026, to receive a certificate of title at the time of purchase. This bill would also require dealers of off-road vehicles to obtain a master dealer license and would authorize the dealer to issue certificates of title for off-road vehicles. HB 233 passed the House with a vote of 93 to 6 Thursday. HB 233 is opposed as written by the Federation, but work is being done to address the concerns for agriculture.

Animal Disposal - SB 202 by Sen. Josh Carnley, R-Ino, would allow for the disposal of dead animals in accordance with rules adopted by the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries. Under existing law, animals that are killed or otherwise die must be burned or buried within 24 hours of death. The bill was reported favorably out Senate Ag, Conservation & Forestry Committee on Wednesday. A companion bill, HB 297 by Rep. Matthew Hammett, R-Dozier, was reported favorably by the House Ag and Forestry Committee Wednesday.

Bovine Activity Liability - SB 164 by Sen. Randy Price, R-Opelika, would provide limitations of liability for certain actions taken by bovines and their owners.

Bee Sales Tax: SB 94 by Sen. Josh Carnley, R-Ino, would exempt the gross proceeds from the sale of honeybees and their byproducts from state sales and use tax. SB 94 is expected on the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee agenda during the first week of April.

State Leaders Recognize Farmers on National Ag Day

Alabama elected officials recognized National Ag Day Tuesday with visits from local FFA students and messages on social media.

Federation Agricultural Legislation Director Preston Roberts said we're blessed to have leaders committed to farmers and forest landowners.

"We want to thank everyone who honored farmers across the state Tuesday on National Ag Day," Roberts said. "We appreciate the leaders in Alabama who work to help farmers every day."

Upcoming Events:

  • March 25-29: Legislative Spring Break

The Legislature will reconvene on Tuesday, April 2, for day 18 of a possible 30 days. 

The House will convene at 1 p.m. while the Senate will convene at 2 p.m.

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Capitol Connection | Alabama Farmers Federation | (334) 288-3900 |


 Brian Hardin - Director, External Affairs Department

 Preston Roberts - Director, Agricultural Legislation

Russ Durrance - Director, State Legislative Programs

John Allen Nichols - Agriculture Counsel

Beth Chapman - Beth Chapman and Associates, LLC

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