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New poll shows that voters oppose Monsanto/Bayer Ag merger

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Monday, December 18, Farmers and Families First, Inc. today released a comprehensive nationwide survey of voters who supported President Donald Trump in 2016, finding substantial opposition to the mega-merger between Bayer AG and Monsanto.

According to the poll, 54 percent of voters oppose the pending $66 billion merger over concerns of increased food prices and impact on farmers. After voters are presented arguments for and against the merger, opposition among President Trump’s base that increases to 78 percent.

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Older and low-income women, households with an annual income of less than $50,000 per year, and rural householders hold the strongest views against the merger.  Trump voters’ opposition to the merger centers around concerns about a company becoming too large and too powerful, and increasing costs for consumers.

Dan Conston is the Chairman of Farmers and Families First.

“President Trump carried the day last November because voters believed he would promote policies that helped working families, rural communities, and American small businesses,” said Conston. “The proposed merger would hurt the very people who elected President Trump by handing over disproportionate control of an industry to one company and in turn raising both operating costs for farmers and the cost of food for middle class families. We believe the Department of Justice should carefully review the proposed merger and ask the tough questions to ensure it doesn’t negatively impact American families or businesses.”

Last week, Farmers and Families First released a Texas A&M white paper showing how the proposed merger would raise aggregate seed prices by 5.5 percent and raise cottonseed prices by more than 20 percent.  A merged Bayer-Monsanto would control over 35 percent of the global market for corn seeds, roughly 28 percent of the global soybean market, almost 70 percent of the global cottonseed market and up to 69 percent of U.S. approved herbicide-tolerant seeds for alfalfa, canola, corn, wheat, soybean and cotton.

The merger was proposed in the fall of 2016 and is currently under review by the European Commission, Brazil and the U.S. Department of Justice.  Monsanto initiated the merger as an opportunity to combine seeds, traits, crop protection biologics and digital farming into a single “globally integrated agricultural platform.”

Late in the twentieth century, scientists with Monsanto discovered that a gene for herbicide resistance.  Glyco-phosphate – tradename Roundup- kills plants.  In 2001, Monsanto developed a genetically modified organism corn variety.  Farmers could plant the Roundup ready corn and let it and the weeds come up; then spray the field with Roundup and everything died but the corn.  It was far more effective and cheaper than mechanical cultivating the field to remove the weeds or tilling the soil to the point where there were few if any weeds left.  In 2002, Roundup ready soybeans hit the market.  Roundup Ready cotton and other products followed.  By 2005, there was a billion acres of the new crops planted – all of it planted in seed purchased from Monsanto.

The result of these crop innovations has been greater integration of the seed and agricultural chemical markets and tighter consolidation of the entire agriculture industry which, according to research by Texas A&M, has already led to significantly higher seed prices.

Researchers at Texas A&M warn that allowing the merger of Monsanto and Bayer would create a single company with the largest share of the global market for all grain seeds and the seeds of a substantial number of vegetables, like broccoli, green beans, carrots and onions.

All of this is a new phenomenon.  Before 1990, there were 600 or more small, independent seed businesses, many of them family-owned in the world.  The corporations began to buy out the smaller companies.  By 2006, there were only 250 left. By 2009, only about 100 survived on the planet.  Meanwhile the introduction of traited seeds means that seed prices of more than doubled.

Historically many farmers, especially soybeans farmers, kept back a portion of their harvest as seed for next year.  Since Monsanto has patents on its seed, that became illegal and Monsanto has been zealous in the lawsuits that they have brought against farmers who plant Monsanto’s patented seeds without buying them from a Monsanto dealer.

More and more farmers are switching from conventional seeds to seeds that have been genetically modified and the cost of seed as an input has soared.

Today most of the seed on the planet is produced by just four companies: Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta and Dow DuPont.  In 1994, the top four seed companies had 21 percent of the total global commercial seed sales.  By 2009, they had 54 percent of all sales.

Monsanto is already the biggest of the big four.  Combine it with Bayer Ag and the multi-national corporation would be by far the biggest seed company on the planet.  A merged Monsanto/Bayer would also be the world’s largest agrochemical company, constituting roughly one-quarter of the global market and reaping annual revenues of more than $67 billion.

Monsanto has even greater dominance in the U.S. market.  In 2009, 77 percent of all U.S. acres of cotton, 82 percent of all American acres of corn, and 95 percent of U.S. soybeans were planted with seed varieties containing Monsanto traits.

According to researchers at Texas A&M’s Agricultural and Food Policy Center the Monsanto-Bayer merger would result in farmers currently using Monsanto’s brands of cottonseed should expect seed prices to rise by 19.23 percent on average, and those using Bayer’s brands can expect price increases around 17.41 percent on average.  Moreover, the Center’s calculations revealed a 75 percent probability that the seed prices of both companies would increase by almost 14 percent on average, and a 25 percent probability that combined seed prices would rise by an average of over 20 percent.

A combined Monsanto/Bayer would have enormous control over both the seed and agro-chemical businesses that farmers depend on and at least in theory could demand a disproportionate share of total food dollars.  Something no-one one else has ever come close to achieving.

Many farm groups, including Farmers and Families First, are urging the U.S. Department of Justice, the European Union, and the Brazil government not to approve the merger.

 

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House passes General Fund Budget

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama House of Representatives passed the state General Fund Budget on Tuesday.

The General Fund Budget for the 2019 fiscal year is Senate Bill 178. It is sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose. State Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, carried the budget on the House floor. Clouse chairs the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee.

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Clouse said, “Last year we monetized the BP settlement money and held over $97 million to this year.”

Clouse said that the state is still trying to come up with a solution to the federal lawsuit over the state prisons. The Governor’s Office has made some progress after she took over from Gov. Robert Bentley. The supplemental we just passed added $30 million to prisons.

The budget adds $50 million to the Department of Corrections.

Clouse said that the budget increased the money for prisons by $55,680,000 and includes $4.8 million to buy the privately-owned prison facility in Perry County.

Clouse said that the budget raises funding for the judicial system and raises the appropriation for the Forensic Sciences to $11.7 million.

The House passed a committee substitute so the Senate is either going to have to concur with the changes made by the House or a conference committee will have to be appointed. Clouse told reporters that he hoped that it did not have to go to conference.

Clouse said that the budget had added $860,000 to hire more Juvenile Probation Officers. After talking to officials with the court system that was cut in half in the amendment. The amendment also includes some wording the arbiters in the court lawsuit think we need.

The state General Fund Budget, SB178, passed 98-1.

Both budgets have now passed the Alabama House of Representatives.

The 2019 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, 2018.

In addition to the SGF, the House also passed a supplemental appropriation for the current 2018 budget year. SB175 is also sponsored by Pittman and was carried by Clouse on the floor of the House.

SB175 includes $30 million in additional 2018 money for the Department of Corrections. The Departmental Emergency Fund, the Examiners of Public Accounts, the Insurance Department and Forensic Sciences received additional money.

Clouse said, “We knew dealing with the federal lawsuit was going to be expensive. We are adding $80 million to the Department of Corrections.”

State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow, R-Red Bay, said that state Department of Forensics was cut from $14 million to $9 million. “Why are we adding money for DA and courts if we don’t have money for forensics to provide evidence? if there is any agency in law enforcement or the court system that should be funded it is Forensics.”

The supplemental 2018 appropriation passed 80 to 1.

The House also passed SB203. It was sponsored by Pittman and was carried in the House by State Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton. It raises securities and registration fees for agents and investment advisors. It increases the filing fees for certain management investment companies. Johnson said that those fees had not been adjusted since 2009.

The House also passed SB176, which is an annual appropriation for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The bill requires that the agency have an operations plan, audited financial statement, and quarterly and end of year reports. SB176 is sponsored by Pittman and was carried on the House floor by State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatham.

The House passed Senate Bill 185 which gives state employees a cost of living increase in the 2019 budget beginning on October 1. It was sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville and was being carried on the House floor by state Rep. Dimitri Polizos, R-Montgomery.

Polizos said that this was the first raise for non-education state employees in nine years. It is a 3 percent raise.

SB185 passed 101-0.

Senate Bill 215 gives retired state employees a one time bonus check. SB215 is sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville.

Rich said that retired employees will get a bonus $1  for every month that they worked for the state. For employees who retired with 25 years of service that will be a $300 one time bonus. A 20-year retiree would get $240 and a 35-year employee would get $420.

SB215 passed the House 87-0.

The House passed Senate Bill 231, which is the appropriation bill increase amount to the Emergency Forest Fire and Insect and Disease Fund. SB231 is sponsored by Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette.

State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chathom, said, “Thank you for bringing this bill my district is full of trees and you never know when a forest fire will hit.

SB231 passed 87-2.

The state of Alabama is unique among the states in that most of the money is earmarked for specific purposes allowing the Legislature little year-to-year flexibility in moving funds around.

The SGF includes appropriations for the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the courts, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Department of Corrections, mental health, and most state agencies that are no education related. The Alabama Department of Transportation gets their funding mostly from state fuel taxes.

The Legislature also gives ALEA a portion of the gas taxes. K-12 education, the two year college system, and all the universities get their state support from the education trust fund (ETF) budget. There are also billions of dollars in revenue that are earmarked for a variety of purposes that does not show up in the SGF or ETF budgets.

Examples of that include the Public Service Commission, which collects utility taxes from the industries that it regulates. The PSC is supported entirely by its own revenue streams and contributes $13 million to the SGF. The Secretary of State’s Office is entirely funded by its corporate filing and other fees and gets no SGF appropriation.

Clouse warned reporters that part of the reason this budget had so much money was due to the BP oil spill settlement that provided money for the 2018 budget and $97 million for the 2019 budget. Clouse said they elected to make a $13 million repayment to the Alabama Trust fund that was not due until 2020 but that is all that was held over for 2020.

Clouse predicted that the Legislature will have to make some hard decisions about revenue in next year’s session.

 

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Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday

Sam Mattison

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By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

The day care bill, which would license certain day care centers in Alabama, was once again delayed on the state Senate floor after one lawmaker requested more information.

Its brief appearance Tuesday ended with state Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, saying a compromise had not yet been worked out with the bill’s detractors.

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Alabama’s Senate has been hesitant to act on the legislation because of complaints of state Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, who has been an opponent of the bill since its introduction last year. The bill’s delay on Tuesday marks the second time its been taken off the Senate’s agenda.

The bill has had a rocky time in this year’s session, but the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said she is still confident about its passage out of the Legislature.

Warren, D-Tuskegee, filed the bill this session with the support of influential lawmakers including Gov. Kay Ivey, who told reporters last year that she though all day cares should be licensed.

Mainly sparked by the death of 5-year-old boy in the care of a unlicensed day care worker, the bill had great momentum coming into this year’ session.

Despite the growing support from lawmakers, Religious groups had concerns that the bill would increase state-sponsored reach into religious day cares in churches and non-profit groups.

Spearheading the dissenters was Alabama Citizens Action Program, a conservative religious-based PAC.

Warren, proponents, and ALCAP announced a compromise to the bill while it was still in the Alabama House.

Announced by ALCAP originally, the new bill was a weaker version in that it did not require that all day cares in the state be regulated. Instead, religious-based day cares would only need to be registered if they received federal funds. At a Senate committee meeting in February, Warren said a similar requirement was about to come from federal law in Congress.

The bill moved through the House in a overwhelming vote in favor of the proposal and passed unanimously out of a Senate committee a few weeks ago.

Warren, speaking to reporters after its passage from the House, said she was unsure if the bill would encounter resistance in the upper chamber.

It was the Senate that killed the daycare bill last year amid a cramped last day where senators took the bill off the floor. The bill may face similar complications this year, as lawmakers seem to be preparing to adjourn within a few weeks.

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Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor

Sam Mattison

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By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

Would-be Fantasy Sports players in Alabama will have to wait to legally play in the state following a Senate vote on Tuesday.

The Alabama Senate decisively killed a bill to exempt fantasy sports from the state’s prohibition on gambling.

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Not even entertaining a debate on the Senate floor, the proposal was killed during a vote for the Budget Isolation Resolution, which is usually a formality vote preluding a debate.

Fantasy sports are contests where participants select players from real teams to compete on fantasy teams using the real-world players’ stats.

Since 2016, the practice has been illegal in Alabama following a legal decision by the Attorney General’s Office that categorized it as gambling.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, predicted the bill’s failure during a committee meeting two weeks ago, where the bill passed unanimously.

Sen. Paul Sanford speaks to reporters after a Senate Committee meeting on Feb. 28, 2018. (Samuel Mattison/APR)

Speaking to reporter’s after the committee meeting, Sanford said the decision to file the bill was mainly a philosophical belief that the practice shouldn’t be illegal.

Sanford, a fantasy sports player before its ban, said that fantasy sports are a way to bring people closer together and not a means to win money. The Huntsville senator is not seeking re-election.

The bill’s failure in the Senate follows its trajectory last year too. A similar version of the bill, also sponsored by Sanford, failed in the Senate during the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session.

Since Sanford is retiring, it is unclear if the bill will even come back next session, or if it will even have a Senate sponsor.

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New poll shows that voters oppose Monsanto/Bayer Ag merger

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 5 min
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