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Melson delaying farmland ownership bill

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, is no longer pushing this session a bill to restrict ownership of agriculture and forest land in Alabama to U.S. residents, but he said he’s not giving up on the issue.

Citing opposition from many groups, Melson this week moved to carry over his bill in committee, effectively stalling it.

Last month, Melson told Alabama Daily News he thinks there is a major problem with foreign countries buying farmland in the U.S. and he worries about potential food supply issues.

Alabama has the third-highest amount of foreign-held agricultural land in the U.S. at nearly 1.8 million acres.

His Senate Bill 14 said “a nonresident alien, foreign business, or foreign government, or an agent, trustee, or fiduciary thereof, may not purchase or otherwise acquire agricultural land in this state.”

He told Alabama Daily News on Thursday he needs more time to discuss the bill with organizations that represent clients from other countries.

He said he doesn’t want to hurt foreign companies that have made investments in Alabama.

“All I’m asking is that we treat other countries like they treat us,” he said.

Opposition to the bill included Alabama Association of Realtors, who spoke against it at a public hearing this week.

Organization Executive Director Jeremy Walker told Alabama Daily News his group had multiple concerns about the legislation, including a required registration of property by foreign owners. It would also have a significant impact on private property rights, Walker said.

“The bill as drafted would limit the property rights of an owner to sell his or her land to whomever they choose to sell it to,” Walker said. “As an organization, we philosophically are opposed to the state or federal government putting limits on who a landowner or property owner may choose to sell to.”

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