While much of our work happens during the annual legislative session, Conservation Alabama is always keeping an eye on our state’s changing political landscape. This year’s regular session will begin March 3rd and end some time in June, but legislators met in Montgomery last week to hold an organizational session to elect leadership and determine rules for the next four years.
No major rule changes were made from the previous four years. We are watching one minor debate over the rule that allows the Senate President Pro Tem to send bills related to the environment to a second committee for review at his discretion. Several senators opposed the rule because there is no legal or legislative definition of “environment,” which they said meant that any bill could be deemed an environmental bill by the President Pro Tem. It is expected that this rule will be revisited once the legislative session begins, and we’ll keep you posted on any changes.
Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, who pleaded not guilty to 23 felony ethics charges, was re-elected Speaker of the House, 99-1. Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, nominated himself for Speaker and cast the lone dissenting vote against Hubbard. Elected to his second term as speaker pro tem was Rep. Victor Gaston, R-Mobile. Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, remains House majority leader and Jeff Woodard was re-elected House Clerk. Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, will remain House minority leader.
The Senate unanimously re-elected Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, to another term as Senate president pro tem. Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, replaces Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, as majority leader. Waggoner did not seek a second term for the post, but will remain chairman of the powerful Rules and Confirmation committees. Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, is the new minority leader. Pat Harris was re-elected as secretary of the senate.
We’re looking forward to seeing what the 2015 legislative session will hold. If you want to receive weekly updates on the bills that are progressing through the legislature, sign up for Conservation Alabama’s Hot List. We’ll also post regular updates here on our blog to make sure you’re informed about how the legislature is voting and the work Conservation Alabama is doing to protect the people and places you love.
For now, here’s a full list of the new legislative committees’ leaders:
Committee Chairmanships in the House
Rules: Rep. Mac McCutcheon, R-Madison
Ways & Means-Education: Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa
Ways & Means-General Fund: Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark
Judiciary: Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia
Agriculture & Forestry: Rep. David Sessions, R-Bayou La Batre
Boards, Agencies & Commissions: Rep. Howard Sanderford, R- Huntsville
County & Municipal Government: Rep. Steve McMillan, R-Gulf Shores
Constitution, Campaign & Elections: Rep. Randy Davis, R- Daphne
Children & Senior Advocacy: Rep. K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville
Commerce & Small Business: Rep. Jack D. Williams, R-Vestavia Hills
Economic Development & Tourism: Rep. Alan Harper, R- Northport
Education Policy: Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur
Ethics & Campaign Finance: Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison
Financial Services: Rep. Lesley Vance, R-Phenix City
Health: Rep. April Weaver, R-Brierfield
Internal Affairs: Rep. Alan Boothe, R-Troy
Insurance: Rep. Mike Hill, R-Columbiana
Local Legislation: Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton
Military & Veterans Affairs: Rep. Barry Moore, R-Enterprise
Public Safety & Homeland Security: Rep. Randy Wood, R- Oxford
State Government: Rep. Mark Tuggle, R-Alexander City
Technology & Research: Rep. Phil Williams, R-Huntsville
Transportation, Utilities & Infrastructure: Rep. Lynn Greer, R- Rogersville
Committee Chairmanships in the Senate
Rules: Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills
Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry: Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn
Banking & Insurance: Sen. Slade Blackwell, R-Mountain Brook
Confirmations: Sen. Clay Scofield, R- Arab
Constitution, Campaign & Elections: Sen. Bill Hightower, R-Mobile
County & Municipal Government: Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville
Education & Youth Affairs: Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery
Finance & Taxation-Education: Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose
Finance & Taxation-General Fund: Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur
Fiscal Responsibility & Economic Development: Sen. Phil Williams, R- Rainbow City
Health: Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville
Judiciary: Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster
Governmental Affairs: Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba
Transportation & Energy: Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa
Tourism: Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston
Veteran & Military Affairs: Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison
Last week I attended a public meeting about the future of Alabama’s coast. I sat at a table with some of the smartest people we have working to protect it. We discussed the importance of monitoring the health of the Gulf, our bays and rivers. We talked about projects that would benefit our fisheries and our beaches, and the importance of educating our communities about how to protect our natural resources. But we kept coming back to our stories. Stories of how we enjoyed being on the water when we were kids, how walking on the beach or just sitting on a pier is so much a part of who we are that it shocked us to our core after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill to discover we could lose it.
If you talk to people who live along Alabama’s coast, you will discover what came of the disaster four years ago is a deep passion to protect our way of life. For me, it is simple. I grew up in south Louisiana, and from an early age I was exposed to the abundance that came from our waters. I had crawfish boils in my backyard with friends and family, learned to make gumbo with my grandmother and how to fish at my grandfather’s side. Now it’s my children’s turn to scoop fish and crabs out of the water, learn to prepare those local delicacies and spend time discovering the joy of our beaches and waterways here along the Gulf Coast.
Until now, the Gulf of Mexico has never been given the funding opportunities of the Chesapeake or Great Lakes. The RESTORE Act mandates that 80% of fines collected for the oil spill under the Clean Water Act must return to the Gulf Coast to pay for restoration. This is a unique opportunity to solve environmental problems, and we should not let it go to waste. Whether you live on Alabama’s coast or elsewhere in the state, this funding impacts you. Our coastal counties bring in significant tax revenue that help support our state, and many of you who live in Huntsville, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Auburn or elsewhere vacation on Alabama’s Gulf Coast.
On Wednesday, October 15 the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will host a webinar on the RESTORE Act from 3:30 – 5:00 p.m. with information on these funds, how they can be spent, and how you can be involved in these decisions. Time will be provided for your questions, and we hope you will participate. You can register for the online webinar here. This is our state, our coast, and our once in a lifetime opportunity to make a difference.
Editor’s Note: Conservation Alabama thanks Claire Guest for her service as an AmeriCorps VISTA. She left us a blog post on her experience with the organization, what she learned from living in Birmingham, and her future plans. Best wishes, Claire!
Almost a year ago, I signed a contract with AmeriCorps and the YWCA to serve as a Programs and Outreach Assistant with Conservation Alabama and the Conservation Alabama Foundation. On August 8th, I officially finished my year of service with Conservation Alabama. It is hard to believe my time here has come to an end. Before this experience I knew little about the social and environmental issues that affect Alabamians. I had spent the last six years earning my Bachelors and Masters degrees in Tuscaloosa and then Pennsylvania. Academic study, despite its obvious merits, created a veil between myself and what I perceived to be the “real world.” One of the greatest gifts AmeriCorps and Conservation Alabama has given me over the past year is the total dissolution of that veil.
Though Conservation Alabama advocates for sound environmental public policies at the state and local levels, much of my service focused specifically on the city of Birmingham, where I have been based. I got the incredible opportunity to collaborate with the United Way’s Community Impact department on projects involving urban agriculture and planning. It became clear to me through this collaboration that public policies affect city planners and residents in profound ways.
I consulted with community gardeners about applying for permits with the city of Birmingham. Before a new urban-ag ordinance was passed last year, all forms of farming and gardening were illegal in the city limits. Many gardeners and operations had already sprung up, but the ordinance had the potential to legitimize these efforts and protect more productive uses of our city’s land.
Through educating city planners on Complete Streets policies, I also learned firsthand how inclusive road designs can affect transportation and local economies. Complete Streets advocate taking existing roads and making them safe for multiple users, including cyclists, buses, and pedestrians. It makes people the focus of design, which automatically shifts the idea of what, or better yet, who our roads are for.
In June, I served as a staff member at Anytown Alabama, a social justice leadership camp for teens from all over Birmingham and other parts of the state. At Anytown, I learned to think of community in a way that has totally enriched my worldview, and through my service with Conservation Alabama, I got to see that refined definition in action. Public policy has the potential to change the way we relate to our communities and to our environment. It can reframe the conversation about what we need and want for our communities in a productive way. It can even change the way individuals feel about themselves. Good policies empower individuals. In one small, personal example: a bike lane on a busy road offers me a safe space to ride. It acknowledges my existence as a cyclist and says, “This road is for you.” It also acknowledges that transportation isn’t limited to cars and trucks – that not everyone has access to these things but they should still feel empowered to get to where they need to go, whether that’s a job or the grocery store or the bank, etc. Public policies and good design have the potential to create a city that feels safe for people in a multitude of different circumstances, as well as address current public health and social justice issues that have plagued Birmingham and Alabama throughout its history.
When we create policies that seek to acknowledge the multi-faceted circumstances of all people – especially those with different abilities and socioeconomic circumstances – we’re helping to create a local culture that’s beginning to acknowledge how valuable every person, every community, is to Birmingham and Alabama.
Through AmeriCorps and Conservation Alabama, I’ve had such incredible opportunities to live lessons outside of a classroom setting. This has been one of the most valuable experiences of my life. I plan on serving a second year with a conservation corps out West, and I can say that I would have never known about that opportunity had I not served this year. I would have never known about the incredible work people throughout Alabama are doing every day to make this little corner of the South a more inclusive and just place to live and play and work. It has been an honor to do my small part. Thank you so much for letting me.