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SB11 Gives Legislative Council Ultimate Control of State House

Susan Britt



By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—SB11, referred to as one of “the consolidation bills,” is an exhaustive re-organization of the legislative services pertaining to the State House by amending multiple sections of the Code of Alabama 1975. The bill is a mere 45 pages, but contains some substantial shifts in responsibilities and powers. It proposes to disband five committees and consolidate them under a newly-titled committee, the Legislative Council of the State of Alabama. All aspects of the State House are proposed to be controlled by a 20-member group of Senate and House legislators, with the Speaker and the President Pro Tem at the helm.

The bill, proposed by Sen. Jimmy Holley (R-Elba), is similar to HB122 that passed the House but failed in the Senate in the 2013 Legislative Session.

Currently, SB11 has passed the Senate and is scheduled for a public hearing in the House Internal Affairs Committee on Wednesday at 11:00am in Room 420.

In short, the proposed bill, SB11:

1. Abolish five committees and brings there “powers” and resources under a House and Senate Committee of 20 legislators

2. Will take charge of all Statehouse staff including “the Legislative Reference Service (LRO), the Legislative Fiscal Office (LFO), the Alabama Law Institute, the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore” offices

3. Create three new executive/director positions with six digit salaries


4. Shift the ALI under the new council and remove the powers of the Alabama State Bar Association from that entity

5. Restructure the Commission on Uniform State Laws and reduce them to an “advisory” function

6. Delete legislative automatic appropriation

7. Provide continuance of the position of President Pro Tempore of the Senate

8. Reroute presentation of annual budgets and statements of expenditures and projections to the council

9. Assume the power of the Building Authority including “title and control” of the Statehouse, all parking areas and any areas adjoined.”

10. Change the position and function of the Secretary of the Senate and Clerk of the House

11.Set salaries and compensation for the LRO, LFO, ALI, Speaker’s office and Senate President Pro Tem’s office

12. Institute annual reviews for directors of the LRO, LFO, ALI, Speaker’s office, Senate President Pro Tem’s office, the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House

13. Change the creation responsibilities for ALI’s governing council from the Board of Commissioners of the Alabama Bar to the Legislative Council.

14. Restructure the members of the governing council of ALI

15. Restrict recommendations concerning “defects and anachronism” in state law given to the ALI Governing Council to the members of the Alabama Legislature and the public

The first paragraph states that it will “abolish” the House and Senate Legislative Councils, the Joint Fiscal Committee, the Legislative Building Authority and the Permanent Legislative Committee on Reapportionment “and transfer their responsibilities to a newly reconstructed Legislative Council, the Senate Legislative Council and the House Legislative Council.”

It further states that the Legislative Council will be in charge of recommending personnel working with the Legislative Reference Service (LRO), the Legislative Fiscal Office (LFO), the Alabama Law Institute, the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore. The Council will also assume the responsibilities for determining salaries, compensations, budgeting, accounting and general administrative functions for all of the Legislative Departments including departments reporting to the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate.

The Council will create three new positions: Executive Secretary of the Legislative Council, Director of Technology and a Director of Human Resources. All three expected to be six-figure salaries. The Executive Secretary will act as liaison for the Council and perform the administrative duties. These position of the Director of Technology will oversee and manage all electronic information and documentation pertaining to the State House and its functions. Director of Human Resources will oversee all personnel and in all departments.
The Legislative Council of the State of Alabama Structure

The proposed Legislative Council of the State of Alabama will be comprised of a newly-created House Legislative Council and a Senate Legislative Council, 10 members from the House and 10 members from the Senate for a total of 20 members.

The council membership will consist of:

House Legislative Council

Speaker of the House
House Majority Leader
House Minority Leader
Chair of the House Ways and Means General Fund
Chair of the House Ways and Means Education Committees
Two members of the House appointed by the Speaker
Two members of the House, elected by the House
One member of the House elected by the minority parties
Senate Legislative Council

President Pro Tempore of the Senate
Senate Majority Leader
Senate Minority Leader
Chair of the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund
Chair of the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committees
Two Senators appointed by the President Pro Tempore
Two members of the Senate, elected by the Senate
One member of the Senate elected by the minority parties
The President of the Senate (Lt. Governor) may be a non-voting member of the Council, only voting in case of a tie.
Annual Budgets to Go to Executive Secretary of the Legislative Council

The Annual Budget is at present given to the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House. SB11 reroutes it to be presented to the Executive Secretary of the Legislative Council. The statement of expenditures and projected costs will be shifted from interim committee on finances and budgets to the Legislative Council.

Building Authority Will Give Over Control of State House

The Legislative Council would assume the powers and authority of the Building Authority previously consisting of three members of the Senate and three members of the House who were changed at the beginning of each legislative term.
If this bill is passed, beginning on October 1, 2014, the Legislative Council would accept title to the State House property and as a result “management and supervision, administration, improvement, equipping, operation, and maintenance” of the property.

The bill specifies this property to be “bordered by Union Street, McDowell Lee Lane, Ripley Street, and Washington Avenue and the building, parking deck, and improvements located thereon.” The Legislative Council will take immediate control of oversight over daily functions of the State House, including the allocation of space and security.

Changes to the Position and Function of the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate

Changes to Section 29-4-20 readjusts the chain of command in both the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate positions.

Currently, the Secretary of the Senate and the Assistant Secretary of the Senate are the subordinates of the Senate. As well, the Clerk of the House and the Assistant Clerk of the House are subordinates of the House. Compensation for the Secretary of the Senate is determined by only the elected members of Senate Legislative Council at their organizational session. Compensation for the Clerk of the House is determined by all members of the House Legislative Council.

Under the new law, the offices’ compensations will be reviewed and determined by their respective Legislative Councils, consisting of both elected and appointed members.

Under current law, both the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House, after serving for nine successive years, attain “continuing service status” and can only be removed from office by a majority vote of their respective legislative bodies. This language is proposed to be deleted and replaced by language stating that both offices “may be removed for cause by their respective councils.”

While employees of both houses will still be under the control of that body’s office, their regulation will be controlled by the Legislative Councils.

First Orders of Business

The Legislative Council will assume the responsibility for personnel, accounting and purchasing.

Working with the directors, the Legislative Council will “establish the salary schedules and other issues related to compensation for employees of the LRO, LFO, ALI, Speaker’s office and Senate President Pro Tem’s office.”

Employees will still be under the immediate direction and control of the department directors but the Council will be the final authority on all matters concerning the employees.

Changes in the Alabama Law Institute

Possibly, the department most drastically changed would be The Alabama Law Institute. It is proposed to become a “part of the Legislative Department,” and “would transfer powers previously granted to the Alabama State Bar to the department.”

It will direct the members, officers and committees. Members will serve four-year terms. The director will be a Legislative Council appointee.

Changes to the Governing Council of the Alabama Law Institute are as follows:

The members to be removed are:

One judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals
One judge of the Court of Civil Appeals
One federal judge residing in Alabama
Dean of the University of Alabama School of Law
Dean of the Cumberland School of Law of Samford University
Dean of each privately operated law school in the state whose students are admitted to the state bar
Dean of the Miles College Law School
President and Secretary of the Alabama Law Institute
Director of the Continuing Legal Education Program
All elected members of the American Law Institute

Members Remaining:

One justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, selected by the justices
One circuit court judge, selected by the Association of Circuit Court Judges
The Attorney General
The legal advisor to the Governor
The Chairs of the Judiciary Committees of both houses.
The President of the State Bar
Secretary of the Alabama State Bar
The chair of the junior bar
The attorney members of the Legislative Council of Alabama
Secretary of the Legislative Council
Not less than three or more than six attorneys appointed by the Governor
Two members elected from the members of the faculty of the University of Alabama, Cumberland, Thomas Goode Jones at Faulkner University schools of law and six practicing attorneys elected from each congressional district in the state.

New Members:

1. The Code Commissioner
2. The Speaker of the House
3. The President Pro Tem
4. Two members of the faculty of the Thomas Goode Jones School of Law at Faulkner University

Allows for designees to:

The Attorney General
The legal advisor to the Governor
The Speaker of the House
The President Pro Tem

No longer will the Governing Council receive and consider “defects and anachronisms” in the law from judges, justices, public officials and lawyers but only from the members of the Alabama Legislature and the general public.

Under current law, the studies and reports of the ALI are printed and distributed by the Secretary of State “in the same manner as acts of the Legislature.” This bill proposes to delete that language and direct that those studies and reports be submitted “to the Legislature through the president.”

Continuance of the Office of the President Pro Tempore of the Senate

Currently, there are concerns about the term of the President Pro Tempore of the Senate that the code does not address. There is a gap at the end of a quadrennium between the November election and the beginning of the next legislative session.

Right now, should a President Pro Temp be reelected to office they do not technically hold this position until the election at the beginning of the next quadrennium. Under SB11, a sitting President Pro Tempore who is reelected shall continue until a successor can be elected.

If a sitting President Pro Temp is defeated in an election, who takes on the responsibilities of the office until a new member can be elected? Another concern is should a sitting President Pro Temp need to leave office prematurely who would fulfill the duties of the office? Under the proposed bill, with the approval of the Senate Legislative Council, the Secretary of the Senate will fulfill those duties until a successor can be elected.

Commission on Uniform State Laws

The Commission will remain but only in as “an advisory commission to the Legislature.”
The proposed commission would be made up of:
Three members of the bar appointed by the Governor
A member of the Senate appointed by the President of the Senate
A member of the House of Representatives appointed by the Speaker
Director of the Alabama Law Institute
Director of the Legislative Reference Service

Removed from the Commission would be:

Any resident of this State who, because of long service in the cause of the uniformity of State legislation, has been elected a life member of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.
Any person who while a member attended 10 or more annual meetings of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.
Any resident of the State who is serving or has served as Executive Director of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.

Possible Ramifications of SB11

Council will be able to:

  • Institute salary decreases/increases for all directors and employees who work at the State House
  • Control over who can access the State House, who can use the parking lots and who can have access to the State House lawn including who is granted press credentials and lobbying credentials
  • Control over who is hired and who is fired among State House staff and directors
  • Control over all contracts pertaining to the maintenance of the State House
  • Control over the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House possibility removing their autonomy
  • Control over budgets both Statewide and internal to the State House
  • Dramatically reconstructs membership in both the Alabama Law Institute and the Uniform State Law commission



Bill Britt

Opinion | Marsh hurls accusations at Gov. Ivey. Is he barking mad?

Bill Britt



Appearing on the latest edition of Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” Sen. President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, blamed Gov. Kay Ivey for the loss of some 450,000 jobs in Alabama.

It’s an absurd accusation that any thinking Alabamian knows is a lie. But Marsh wants to hurt Ivey because she exposed him as little more than a petty, greedy-gut politico.

Still stinging from the public humiliation he suffered after Ivey revealed his “wish list” — which included taking $200 million in COVID-19 relief money to build a new State House — Marsh is leveling a cascade of recriminations against the popular governor.

However, what is astonishing is that he would spew brazen lies about Ivey during raging loss and uncertainty caused by a worldwide pandemic. This latest fiction about Ivey creating widespread economic calamity is the unseemly work of a hollow man without empathy, wisdom or decency.

This insane assertion that Ivey is somehow responsible for thousands suffering is as cravenly evil as it is politically stupid.

“The policies that have been put in place by the [Ivey] administration have 450,000 people out of work,” Marsh told show host Don Daily.

Only a fool, a nutjob or a politician would blame Ivey for losing some 450,000 jobs, but there was Marsh, on public television, showing he is perhaps all three.

In the middle of his barking-mad comments, Marsh somehow forgot to mention that he was a member of Ivey’s Executive Committee on the COVID-19 task force and helped make the very policies he now claims led to joblessness and financial ruin for many Alabamians.


Marsh is merely making it up as he goes because his fragile ego, pompous character and rank inhumanity suddenly became fully displayed for every Alabamian to see when he doubled down on building a new State House.

And so, like a guy caught with his pants down, Marsh is pointing his finger at Ivey to distract from his naked indifference toward the struggles of his fellow Alabamians.

Marsh’s plan to spend the CARES Act funds on a State House and other pet projects ignored the sufferings of hundreds of thousands of the state’s most vulnerable citizens and businesses.

Ivey wanted the nearly $1.9 billion in CARES funds to go to help those individuals, businesses and institutions affected by COVID-19. Marsh wanted it as a Senate piggybank, so, he lashes out at her rather than reflect on how he and the State Senate could do better in the future.

Anyone who blames others for their failings is a weakling, not a leader.

Marsh came to power under a scheme hatched around 2008, by then-Gov. Bob Riley. The plan was to make Mike Hubbard the speaker of the House, Marsh as pro tem and Bradley Byrne as governor. Riley would act as the shadow puppet master pulling the strings of power from behind a thin curtain of secrecy, allowing him to make untold riches without public accountability.

Byrne losing the governor’s race to the hapless State Rep. Dr. Doctor Robert Bentley was the first glitch in the plan (yes, during the 2010 campaign for governor, Bentley changed his name to Doctor Robert Julian Bentley so the title Doctor would appear next to his name on the primary ballot).

The second problem for the venture was Hubbard’s avarice, which landed him on the wrong side of the ethics laws he, Riley, Byrne and Marsh championed. Of course, the ethics laws were never meant to apply to them. They were designed to trap democrats.

Marsh has floundered since Hubbard’s grand departure and with Riley sinking further into the background, it is now apparent that Riley was the brains, Hubbard the muscle and Marsh the errand boy, picking up bags of cash to finances the operation.

Gofers rarely rise to power without the public noticing they’re not quite up for the job, and so it is with Marsh that his office has shown the limits of his abilities.

Marsh wanted to control the COVID-19 relief money to spend on pork projects as he’d done in the past, but Ivey didn’t allow it. To be outsmarted is one thing, but to be beaten by a woman is too much for a guy like Marsh.

Ivey burned Marsh like a girl scout roasting marshmallows over a campfire.

Senator Marshmallow, anyone?

Poor Marsh, with his political career in turmoil, picked the wrong target in Ivey.

Some look at Ivey and see a kind, grandmotherly figure. Ivey is as tough as a junkyard dog, and now Marsh knows what her bite feels like.

Ivey didn’t cause massive job losses. COVID-19 did that. But Marsh got his feelings hurt, bless his heart, so he wants to take Ivey down.

Just like his scheme to commandeer the COVID-19 funds from the people didn’t work, his attack on Ivey won’t either.

People see Marsh for what he is, and it’s neither strong nor competent; it’s weak and ineffectual.

Marsh stood behind Ivey when she announced the state’s health orders wearing an American flag style mask.

He voted for her executive amendment.

And now he lies.

In times of real crisis, true leaders emerge while others of lesser abilities whine. Marsh is complaining. Ivey is leading.

And so the public watches as The Masked Marshmallow takes on Iron-jawed Ivey, it’s not tricky to see how this cage match turns out.

Marshmallow, down in three.

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Opinion | It should be clear by now: Kaepernick was right

Josh Moon



A lot of people owe Colin Kaepernick an apology. 

If nothing else, surely the last few weeks of horrible, horrible racial incidents have left even the most adamant Kap haters reconsidering their positions.

Maybe, just maybe, they’re thinking the man has a point: That justice in this country isn’t color blind.

And that the promises of justice and equality, represented by the United States flag and anthem, often fall well short for black men in this country. 

Then again, if you didn’t understand before now, there’s a good chance that watching ANOTHER black man be choked to death in broad daylight on an American street by a police officer — as three other police officers defended him — then you’re probably not inclined to understand now. 

George Floyd, the man we’ve all now witnessed dying on a Minneapolis street, as he begged a cop to let him breathe, did not deserve to die. Hell, he didn’t even deserve to be handcuffed and tossed down on the street, much less to have a cop put his knee on his throat until he died. 

A store thought Floyd was forging a check. A person at the store called the cops. And a few minutes later Floyd was dead. 

This, in a nutshell, is why Kaepernick began his protest several years ago. Why he sacrificed his NFL career. Why he has endured the death threats and vitriol. 


Because these sorts of awful acts are far too common for black men in America. The prevalence of the cell phone camera has made that abundantly clear over the last several years. 

It’s hard to imagine how many of these incidents were swept under the rug in years past. Especially after the actions of other cops, district attorneys and judges to protect the dirtiest of cops have also been exposed. 

That sad fact was highlighted in the Ahmaud Arbery shooting in Georgia in February. Even with video evidence, it took a new DA and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation becoming involved before the two men who hunted Arbery down were arrested. 

All because one of the men was a retired investigator who worked for the DA’s office. 

Because why mess up the life of a white man simply for shooting one black man who might have done something at some time? 

But the deck stacking won’t stop with the arrest. 

If the murder of Greg Gunn in Montgomery back in 2016 taught us anything, it’s that the entire system is rigged to ensure the bad cops never face full justice for their crimes. 

After Gunn, who was walking home after a poker game in his neighborhood, was murdered steps from his own front porch by a white cop who thought he looked suspicious, the cop was — to the shock of almost everyone — arrested within a week and before a grand jury could rule. 

Other cops — even ones who privately admitted to me that the cop, Aaron Smith, was in the wrong — pitched one hell of a hissy fit when the arrest warrant was issued. They threatened a walk-out. They showed up to sit in the courtroom during one of Smith’s early hearings. The mayor of the city vowed to keep Smith on the payroll. 

And then the real shenanigans started. 

Judges started to bail on the case — eight in all. The Alabama Supreme Court issued an unprecedented ruling that removed a black judge from the case. The appointed judge moved the trial from 70-percent-black Montgomery to 70-percent-white Dale County. 

After all of that, and even with Smith admitting to investigators that he never had probable cause to stop, chase or shoot Gunn, the best prosecutors could do was a manslaughter conviction. 

And in one final slap to the faces of Gunn’s family, Smith was released on bond while he appeals his conviction. He’s out today, having served only a few weeks to this point for a murder committed more than four years ago. 

This is the system that black Americans must traverse in this country. One that leaves black parents rightfully concerned that the men and women all of us white people call for protection might just be the executioners of their children. 

The rights guaranteed to us in the Constitution are not based on skin color. But too often, the protection of those rights by cops, DAs and judges is. 

That’s not right. And all of us should be willing to say so. 

And maybe admit that Kaepernick had a point.

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DOJ defends Alabama absentee voting law

Josh Moon



The U.S. Department of Justice isn’t using its vast powers to ensure the country’s most vulnerable people can exercise their right to vote, but is instead focusing its efforts on defending laws that clearly violate the spirit of the Voting Rights Act, an attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center said Tuesday. 

The comments, from SPLC senior staff attorney Caren Short, came in response to a DOJ filing in a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of several plaintiffs by SPLC, The NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program. That lawsuit seeks to implement curbside voting for at-risk citizens during the current pandemic and also to remove requirements for certain voter IDs and that witnesses sign absentee ballot requests. 

The DOJ filed a brief on Tuesday stating that it is the agency’s position that Alabama’s law requiring witnesses for absentee ballots does not violate Section 201 of the Voting Rights Act, because it is not a test or device as referenced in the Act. 

“It is not a literacy test, it is not an educational requirement, and it is not a moral character requirement,” Jay Town, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, said in the brief. “Nor, contrary to Plaintiffs’ position, is it a voucher requirement prohibited by Section 201’s fourth and final provision.”

Plaintiffs in the case have argued that the requirement for a single person with a pre-existing condition could pose a grave risk and reasonably lead to them being unable to safely cast a vote. In fact, they point out in the lawsuit instances in which the DOJ, prior to the Trump administration, also had argued against states requiring witnesses. 

“Our complaint demonstrates how Alabama’s witness requirement violates Section 201 of the Voting Rights Act,” said Deuel Ross, senior counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. “In the past, the DOJ itself has objected to witness requirements, but since February 2017, it has brought zero new voting rights cases.”

The “voucher” requirement was one of many tactics utilized by whites to prevent black citizens from voting. In practice, it required that any black person wishing to vote must first obtain the signature of a white person. 

Towns argued in the brief that there were differences between voucher requirements and the witness signatures, including that the witness doesn’t have to be a registered voter and the witness is merely signing that he or she witnessed the absentee voter filling out the ballot.

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Jones calls for investigation of potential price fixing by meatpackers

Brandon Moseley



U.S. Senator Doug Jones, D-Alabama, has joined other U.S. senators in calling for an investigation into potential price-fixing by the nation’s four largest meatpackers.

Many farmers and ranchers claim what they get paid to produce beef has no relation to what consumers are getting charged in the stores and that the big four beef packers are pocketing the profits, while farmers suffer and consumers struggle to pay for the meat on the table.

“I am once again calling on the DOJ to investigate potential price-fixing in the meat-packing industry,” Jones said on social media. “In this time of uncertainty, we need to protect our nation’s food producers and make sure we can maintain our food supply.”

In April, Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Rick Pate asked Jones and Sen. Richard Shelby to ask for an investigation.

Ag commissioner concerned about collapsing beef prices

Jones and the other Senators sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

“We have heard growing concerns from cattle producers and feeders in our states about troubling practices in the cattle industry that the COVID-19 national emergency has intensified, including allegations of market manipulation and coordinated behavior harmful to competition,” the Senators wrote.

“These serious claims have been relayed in a request for further inquiry by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) from eleven state attorneys general this past week, in addition to a number of letters from Senators on the matter,” the letter states. “We support these calls to action and request that the DOJ investigate suspected price manipulation and anticompetitive behavior in the highly concentrated cattle industry, in order to identify more clearly the factors contributing to a dire situation for producers.”


Four meatpackers — Tyson Foods, Cargill/Excel, JBS Swift, and National Beef — process over half of the cattle that are butchered in this country and there are a number of regulatory barriers that make entering the industry both expensive and time-consuming.

“The lack of competition in the meatpacking industry has resulted in a vulnerable beef supply chain, which the current national emergency has destabilized further,” the senators wrote. “Recent pricing discrepancies between fed cattle and boxed beef are pushing cattle producers and feeders to the brink, adding to the longstanding concerns stemming from the state of competition among beef packers. Since February, we have seen live cattle prices slump by more than 18 percent, while wholesale beef prices have increased by as much as 115 percent during the same period.”

With warm weather and more people spending much more time at home rather than at restaurants, the demand for beef and other meat should be at all-time highs.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 outbreaks at slaughter plants have meant that fewer cattle and hogs have been butchered. This has led to a decrease in the prices that farmers and ranchers receive for their animals while the price of boxed beef that the packers sell to the grocery stores has increased substantially.

Most Alabama cattlemen own acreage of grassland and a herd of mature cows. The cows and the bull do what they do naturally and most years each cow has one calf.

The cow cares for the calf to weaning at 180 to 290 days (205 is average) and the rancher sells the calves, usually at an Alabama livestock auction.

Buyers from the plains states come to purchase the 450- to 650-pound calves, which are called “feeder calves.” They go west to be stockered and finished, usually at a feedlot. Finished, also called fat, cattle are then processed — more than 80 percent of the time by one of the big four packers.

Sunday afternoon, the Alabama Political Reporter spoke with Callahan Parrish, a fourth-generation Cattle Farmer. Callahan also owns the Cullman Stockyard and is emerging as an industry advocate.

“The pandemic has unmasked many fundamental problems associated with the current beef production model,” Parrish said. “Industry infrastructure, competitive market access for our producers and food security issues top this list.”

In 2009, the average retail price of boneless sirloin steak was $5.68 per pound. In 2010, it climbed to $6.07 per pound. By 2015, it was $8.29. In 2019, it was $8.48.

The cattle market is much more volatile from week to week, but in 2009 the average liveweight price for a feeder calf was approximately $.94 a pound. It has risen to only $1.43 by 2019.

In the last 12 months the feeder calf price has traded at a high of $1.49 on October 28 all the way down to a low of $1.08 on March 31 at the height of the COVID-19 panic, the lowest the feeder calf price has been on the exchange since October 2010.

Feeder cattle have rebounded somewhat in May and they closed on Tuesday at $1.33. There was a brief two year period from late 2013 to late 2015 where feeder calf prices soared.

When prices crashed in the winter of 2015 — and never came back — the retail price of beef stayed high even though ranchers have gotten less than $1.61 per pound in these last five and a half years.

Those are the Chicago Mercantile Exchange prices. Most Alabama cattlemen do not get those prices. The big packers are located out west in Texas, Kansas, South Dakota, Nebraska as are most of the feedlots so they tend to buy southern cattle at a discount.

Using last week’s USDA feeder calf market report, last week in Alabama steers, medium and large frame thick steers, weighting 550 to 600 pounds, were trading at between $1.20 per pound and $1.37 per pound, depending on what day and what stockyard.

At the same time in Oklahoma the same weight and classification of OK steer calves were trading at $1.4764. Advantage Oklahoma rancher $110.63 per calf.

The same week medium and large frame average heifers weighing 550 to 600 pounds were selling for $1.01 to $1.18 per pound in Alabama. In Oklahoma they were trading at $1.248. Advantage Oklahoma rancher.

The spread might not be this great every week, but in this example a rancher who sold 100 calves, 50 of them heifers and 50 of them steers, would have made $9,953 more if he were the typical Oklahoma rancher versus the typical Alabama rancher.

According to the same USDA report, there were some loads of 600 to 700 pound Alabama heifers trading at below $.90 a pound and we are off of the bottoms that farmers and ranchers experienced in March and April, where prices were disastrously low in many instances.

“We are seeing a lot of our local producers hurting right now due to extreme and unprecedented market volatility,” Parrish said.

This is because our cattle are not processed or fed out in Alabama, but instead are bought by order buyers and shipped out west at a profit. Some ranchers speculate that the Big Four packers are cooperating to set the spot or cash market price for cattle as low as they can, while selling beef at an artificially high price to American consumers.

Some cattlemen have asked for the DOJ to investigate. Last year, the producer group R-CALF filed suit against the Big Four packers alleging unfair trade practices. Southern cattle face continued price discrimination versus plains, Midwest, Texas, and western cattle.

The Big Four packers process all the cattle out west, mix it with Mexican and Canadian calves, another move some cattlemen suggest is to drive down the spot price, and then ship all of that processed beef back to Alabama and the rest of the country. Some cattlemen have suggested that Alabama needs its own packing plants and feedlots to keep the beef closer to consumers.

“Lack of state infrastructure and increasing import issues are adding insult to this injury,” Parrish said. “Alabama Cattle Farmers, retailers and consumers are feeling the heat. As the temperature continues to rise . . . the conversations are getting louder. Not only are the conversations getting louder . . . they are getting exciting.”

We have spent a lot of time talking about agriculture & the importance of protecting our food supply, but the reality is that the farming industry is being left behind & they stand a lot to lose during this pandemic. We must prioritize our farmers & protect our food supply chain.

(Original writing and research by Montgomery area writer Amy McGhee contributed to this report. McGhee’s parents own and operate an Angus beef cattle farm in Tennessee.)

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