MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate came to a virtual standstill on Tuesday after two House members declined to advance an Alabama Farm Center bill out of conference committee.

The bill establishes a governing corporation and tax and regulatory breaks for the Alabama Farm Center project in Jefferson County. Supporters of the project have said it will give Alabama a premier site to host rodeos, livestock shows and agricultural education events. 

In September, the Alabama Farmers Federation (ALFA) announced its plans to begin due diligence on the site selected for the Center at Hallmark Farm. The Federation entered into a real estate contract with Hallmark Farm Cooperative District to purchase the approximately 500-acre property located along I-65 in Warrior at Exit 280. 

SEE ALSO: House members block Alabama Farm Center legislation in possible retribution for gambling constitutional amendment failing in Senate last week

A conference committee of three members of the House and three members of the Senate met on Tuesday to consider a compromise version of the bill that would advance to final passage in both chambers. State Sens. Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville), Jack Williams (R-Wilmer) and Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) all approved of advancing the bill out of committee.

Only one House member, State Rep. Danny Crawford (R-Athens), voted to approve advancing the bill. Two other House members, State Reps. Sam Jones (D-Mobile) and Andy Whitt (R-Harvest) did not give their approval for the bill to advance. For a bill to get out of a conference committee, it needs support from two members of each chamber. 

Jones and Whitt are both supporters of a gambling and lottery package that flew through the House last week but has so far not received enough votes to pass the Senate. ALFA has opposed and lobbied against multiple lottery and gambling bills this session.

"Gambling is the main issue. It creates a lot of problems down here. It always does," Shelnutt, the Alabama Farm Center bill's sponsor, told reporters on Tuesday. "It's all because of gambling. It's all because of gambling. The gambling interests aren't getting their way. They've decided that they're going to take a stance and kill this bill."

Shelnutt slowed down most of the Senate's calendar on Tuesday, which included over 25 House bills, in response to House members blocking the Alabama Farm Center bill from getting out of committee. 

"As far as I'm concerned, we just need to pass the budgets and go home. There's no other House bills, local bills, I'm sorry for you," Shelnutt said on the Senate floor.

Shelnutt told reporters, "My plan right now unless something changes is no House bills will pass for the rest of the session."

Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) discussed ALFA's role in the gambling debate before the Senate voted to send the Farm Center bill to a conference committee last week.

"I can't understand for the life of me that this organization continues to want to have what they want, but we had a gaming bill that was out here that was going to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars into the state but they fought so hard against the gaming bill and then therefore are now going to turn around and come and ask us for about $80 million next year probably to fund this particular center," Singleton said. "How do you stop a funding source and then going to turn around and ask me for money? That is crazy. I don't understand it."

Jones told 1819 News the bill being held up in conference committee on Tuesday wasn't related to the lottery and gambling constitutional amendment not passing the Senate last week.

"I didn't really get a chance to digest it. Once we look at it again, it might be completely different tomorrow. I just want to get a chance to review and talk to some of the people down there who are involved with it," Jones said.

Whitt and a spokesman for House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) didn't return requests for comment on Tuesday night.

Jeff Helms, a spokesman for ALFA, told 1819 News on Tuesday, "Alabama Farmers Federation remains committed to the Alabama Farm Center at Hallmark Farms." 

"Our partners in Jefferson County are eager to move forward with planning, infrastructure and construction. We will continue working with the county, legislative delegation, and other stakeholders to make the Alabama Farm Center a reality," Helms said. "We appreciate Sen. Shelnutt's commitment to this project, which will benefit not only Jefferson County and SD 17 but also the entire state of Alabama."

Shelnutt said the bill not passing this session "puts a delay on (the project) of at least a year until next legislative session."

"It's going to be a great project, bring in tourism, bring in education about agriculture so it's just a great project that I'm very much for and the Senate passed it overwhelmingly and it's in my district," Shelnutt said.

Another conference committee on the bill is scheduled for Wednesday morning.

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