MONTGOMERY — House and Senate members in a conference committee voted to advance legislation creating a corporation to govern an Alabama Farm Center property in Jefferson County on Wednesday.

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.

SEE ALSO: 'Gambling interests aren’t getting their way': Shelnutt defiant as pro-gambling House members target Alabama farmers

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. 

State Sens. Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville), Jack Williams (R-Wilmer) and Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) all approved of advancing the bill out of conference committee on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Only one House member, State Rep. Danny Crawford (R-Athens), voted to approve advancing the bill on Tuesday. 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 on Tuesday. 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. The constitutional amendment could still come up again in the final two days of the session.

Shelnutt, the Alabama Farm Center bill’s sponsor, said the bill stalled on Tuesday due to disagreements about gambling.

"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 said on Tuesday.

However, the House portion of the conference committee relented on Wednesday, and Crawford and Whitt signed on to the farm center bill. Whitt said he didn’t show up to the Tuesday meeting because he was only notified about it a few minutes before it started.

Whitt noted during the meeting the corporation would be exempted from state and local taxes and could ask for state funding in the future.

The bill would still have to be approved by the full House in the final two days of the session. The Senate approved the bill from the conference committee on Wednesday morning.

“Right now, it’s costing the county a lot of money to maintain (the farm center property) and it’s not generating any taxes,” Shelnutt said during the conference committee on Wednesday.

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