For more than a year, you’ve heard from Conservation Alabama, our members, and our partners about the importance of our state parks. You’ve written your state representative, state senator, and the governor asking them to protect our parks. And you celebrated with us on April 20 when the House passed Senate Bill 260, guaranteeing that voters will have the chance to vote YES for our parks in November.
So what now?
Election Day is Tuesday, November 8. As temperatures climb and we head into the summer it may seem hard to believe, but before you know it, it will be time to go to the polls in support of our state parks. The constitutional amendment that was called for by SB 260 will be on the ballot, and we encourage you to vote YES so that the funding earned by and allocated to state parks is spent only on parks.
Conservation Alabama will be traveling across the state this summer sharing information about our parks and the enormous value they contribute, not only to our ecosystem, but also to our economy. We’ll be meeting with people that love our state parks, including birders, cyclists, and hikers, as well as the towns that rely on park visitors for their economic health. Our goal is the same as it was in 2015 when attacks on our parks first started: to make sure each Alabamian knows how important it is to protect our parks.
Would you like us to speak to your group or community? Let us know!
On Wednesday night, the Alabama State Legislature adjourned sine die, meaning the 2016 session has come to an end. The final two days were a whirlwind, with debate continuing well into the night. The focus was primarily on Gov. Bentley’s prison construction plan and a bill allocating the $1 billion the General Fund will be receiving as a result of the settlement with BP and other parties responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Neither of these bills passed. The BP bill’s death has further consequences for Medicaid, which is experiencing a budget shortfall that could have been made up in part by $70 million from the BP settlement.
For conservation voters, the 2016 session brought a huge victory in the passage of SB 260, which calls for a vote on a constitutional amendment to protect state parks’ funding. If voters approve this constitutional amendment in November it will put an end to the practice of administrative transfers, which the legislature used in the past to take money earned by state parks and move it to the General Fund to be spent elsewhere. SB 260 was passed by a vote of 29 to 1 in the Senate and 87 to 8 in the House. The governor’s signature is not required on bills that call for constitutional amendments. Once both chambers passed SB 260, the constitutional amendment to protect parks was automatically on the ballot.
Perhaps the best part of this victory was that it was the result of so many Alabama voters getting involved in the legislative process and letting their elected officials know just how important parks are to our state. All told, 4,800 messages were sent since the beginning of the 2016 legislative session. That is a huge outpouring of support for state parks, and there’s no doubt the state legislature voted with your messages in mind.
While engaging voters was the best strategy to raise awareness about our state parks and advocate for a permanent funding source, the best way to stop a bad bill is to do so before it gets started. As the only full-time environmental lobbyists in the state, Conservation Alabama was able to stop SB 289, which would have prohibited the Forever Wild Land Trust from advertising its properties to potential visitors. Many of Forever Wild’s properties are in rural parts of the state, and publicizing their availability is an important way to attract visitors to enjoy public lands and spend money in neighboring communities. In partnership with The Nature Conservancy, Conservation Alabama was able to explain the economic importance of Forever Wild’s marketing efforts and the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Montrose) did not take the bill any further.
Now that the legislative session has come to an end, Conservation Alabama is focused on passing the constitutional amendment to protect state parks in November. We’ll be asking for your help just like we did this session and we know that keeping up the momentum for parks will be a big part of our shared success. Thank you for standing up for our public lands both this session and in 2015. Now let’s get to work on a landslide victory in November!
After years of threats to Alabama’s state parks, a constitutional amendment protecting their funding once and for all will be on the ballot in November. Senate Bill 260, which calls for a statewide vote on an amendment to specify that any funding earned by or designated for Alabama’s state parks can only be spent on parks, passed the House on April 20. This means the administrative transfers that decimated state parks’ budgets in the past will no longer be allowed to take place. It will now be up to voters to show their support for Alabama’s state parks in November.
The campaign to protect state parks’ funding has been underway for a year, and by our last count more than 11,000 messages were sent to the governor and the legislature during that time. Our elected officials heard your voice; this constitutional amendment is the direct result of the public outcry in response to closing Alabama’s state parks.
Last year our state parks experienced a funding crisis that closed five of Alabama’s 22 parks and required an additional six parks to reduce their services and hours. These park closures were caused by legislators transferring money from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) into the General Fund. These administrative transfers have occurred for the last five years, taking money generated from hunting and fishing licenses and park entrance fees from DCNR and delivering it to the General Fund.
Without your voice, our parks would still be under threat. But we’re not quite done yet. Your support is needed to pass this final hurdle. Your vote in November will protect state parks and keep them open for all of us to enjoy. Let’s ensure our public lands are there now and for future generations.