MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives voted to concur with a conference committee substitute creating a corporation to govern an Alabama Farm Center property in Jefferson County after a brief standoff surrounding votes on the likely-dead gambling legislation.

On Tuesday, a conference committee comprised of House and Senate members met to resolve disagreements over the Farm Center bill's provisions. Senate Bill 219 (SB219) by State Sen. Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville) would establish a governing corporation and tax and regulatory breaks for the Alabama Farm Center project in Jefferson County.

The Alabama Farmers Federation (ALFA) supported the legislation after opposing the lottery and gambling package that failed in the Senate by one vote last week.

In what appeared to be retribution against Shelnutt, who voted against the gambling legislation, State Rep. Sam Jones (D-Mobile) did not vote to approve the Farm Center bill, and State Rep. Andy Whitt (R-Harvest) did not attend the meeting at all. Both Whitt and Jones are co-sponsors of the gambling legislation. However, both Jones and Whitt deny that their actions were retaliatory.

The failed conference vote led to filibustering in the Senate chambers, with Shelnutt causing gridlock and threatening not to allow another House bill to pass.

The conference committee met again Wednesday, this time receiving sufficient votes to advance. The Senate approved the committee substitute without debate. The bill later passed the House, but not without significant complaints from House lawmakers against the Senate's actions this session.

The conference substitute changed the appointment of the Agriculture Exhibition Center Corporation created by the bill. The amendment would allow minority leaders in the House and Senate to appoint one member between the two. State Rep. Danny Crawford (R-Athens) presented the bill before the House.

State Rep. Napoleon Bracy (D-Prichard) objected to watering down minority representation in the appointment process, claiming it was a step back for the state.

State Rep. Chris Blackshear (R-Phenix City), the sponsor of the gambling package, also objected to the bill, steering away from criticizing the "no" votes on gambling and focusing instead on the possibility of ALFA later asking for state funds and seemingly juxtaposing that with the perceived revenue gambling would have brought to the state.

"The more money you have to give, the more people's hands and palms come up," Blackshear said. "And we're getting to the point here in this body where our hands are about to have to go downward because we're not going to have dollars left. And we're going to have some serious conversations of how we fund things that are already being funded in this House today to historical levels. We increase. We increase. We increase. The days of increasing are about to stop, and, unfortunately, we're going to have to start decreasing if we don't find other means of revenue to come in."

State Rep. Juandalynn Givan (D-Birmingham) took direct aim at Senate leadership and State Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham), who she claimed blamed her for the collapse of Birmingham-Southern College. She also claimed that Smitherman had been holding up her bill, which would make Juneteenth a state holiday.

"I just think we need to stop this foolery, and we need to garner a level of power," Givan said. "And if they want to treat me like a slave upstairs [in the Senate] and beat me, that's fine. My back is made for it. And I stand wholeheartedly with Representative Blackshear and anyone else who comes to this microphone with a problem with what's going on up there. And I'm very disturbed by the Pro Tem. [Sen. Greg Reed] up there. I came into office when he came in and he has really shocked me."

State Rep. Mary Moore (D-Birmigham) joined Givan in levying criticism against the Senate's actions this session. 

"They hold our bills hostages, and we pass the things that they send to us," Moore said. "The way that we show our strength in this body is that we unify as one and we do the same thing to them, because there's more of us, that they've been doing to us. How many of our bills up there are they holding hostage right now? They're not even going to look at it."

"Sometimes, we got to show the Senate that we are just as powerful and just as equal as they are. But when it gets to the point that you diminish  what our wishes are in this body, and you reduce the number of minorities, we would be remiss if we would not fight to maintain the number of minorities that we originally put in that bill."

House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) then chimed in to assure House members that the Senate was swiftly passing House bills in an apparent effort to quell the persistent grumblings on the Senate's actions.  

The bill ultimately passed 92-7, with three abstentions. It will now go to Gov. Kay Ivey's desk to be signed into law.

After the bill passed both bodies, ALFA released a statement praising the legislation for its perceived benefits to the state.

"We appreciate Sen. Shay Shelnutt and Rep. Danny Crawford sponsoring this important legislation and the members of the Legislature who voted for passage," the statement read. "The Alabama Farm Center will provide educational opportunities for young people and strengthen the local and state economies. This legislation will ensure governance of the Alabama Farm Center represents the diverse agricultural interests of the state, including our historically black land grant universities. We also thank the city of Warrior, Jefferson County, Gov. Kay Ivey and a growing list of corporate supporters for their dedication in making this dream a reality."

The Jefferson County Commission also lauded the bill's passage.

"The development of this new state agricultural center is not only good for the County, it's good for the entire region," said Jefferson County Commission president Jimmie Stephens. "It will make northern Jefferson County a family fun destination for people across the southeast."

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