A special session to address farm labor issues under Alabama’s pending immigration law is unlikely.
That’s the message state Sen. Paul Bussman, R-Cullman, brought back following the caucus meeting late last week.
Bussman said many senators were focused on Jefferson County’s mounting financial problems. Leaders of the state’s most populous county been seeking the state’s financial backing as a means of easing the budget strain.
Nonetheless, senator left the caucus meeting without reaching a consensus on the matter. Bussman said the Jefferson County legislative delegation, at this time, doesn’t even know what option to consider.
“It’s a real stretch for many of us. We don’t even know the extent of the problem. And if it didn’t work, we would be stuck with the problem,” Bussman said.
Bussman said the farm labor issue was met with mixed feelings.
“Some feel we need to be very firm. We did learn the governor doesn’t have the power to overturn anything,” Bussman said. “I talked about the issue. Without a special session I don’t see anything we can do. I told the governor and staff that we have tremendous concerns in our area.”
Bussman and state Reps. Mac Buttram and Jeremy Oden met with area farmers last week to discuss the farm labor issue. Many farmers say the immigration law, which is being held up by a federal judge, would sweep away the laborers who do most of the harvest in Cullman County and throughout the state.
Farmers, such as Keith Smith in Gold Ridge, said they have attempted to hire labor locally, but without success.
The federal judge who is expected to make a ruling about on various challenges to the law has said her decision will be issued by Sept. 28. Challenges to the law are focused on immigration being an issue of federal jurisdiction and on concerns that the law hinders religious organizations’ freedom to conduct mission work.
“The only option we have at this time is what the federal judge rules,” Bussman said. “I know that in the regular session we could come back and pass some exemptions for the agriculture community, if enough of the lawmakers are in favor of revisiting the issue. I think we always have to be willing to re-evaluate the laws we pass.”
Farmers are worried that if the law holds up in its present form, laborers who are undocumented will leave before harvest can be completed.
* David Palmer may be contacted at 256-734-2131, ext. 213, or by email at email@example.com.