The state legislature met on Tuesday and Thursday of this week, spending Wednesday in committee meetings. On Tuesday, more than three hours of the House’s legislative time was spent debating a resolution to encourage the U.S. Congress to support the president’s “government reform agenda.” There was also debate on both the prison reform plan and the state’s policy of judicial override; the House Judiciary Committee passed a bill that would end a judge’s ability to override a jury’s verdict.
Of the bills Conservation Alabama is currently tracking this session, HB 7 passed out of its committee, bringing us a step closer to allowing Alabamians to donate part of their income tax return to our state parks. This new avenue for contributions gives us another way to support our parks, and thanks to the passage of Amendment 2 on Election Day 2016 we can be sure that any money we donate will stay within the state parks system.
SB 113 passed the Senate and will now be sent to the House Ways & Means Committee. This bill streamlines the process that wastewater treatment facilities have to follow in order to be licensed by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM). Currently, facilities have to have a bond in case ADEM needs to take over the facility and/or close it. Facilities also have to pay a fee into an account that is for the same purpose. This bill removes the fee element and redefines the bond requirement to make sure that the state can afford to safely close a facility if necessary.
Federally, confirmation hearings are continuing for the president’s cabinet-level positions. This includes the hearing for Scott Pruitt, the president’s nominee for head of the EPA. As Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) noted in her announcement that she would oppose this confirmation, during Pruitt’s time as attorney general of Oklahoma he filed lawsuits against the EPA in an attempt to restrict the agency’s ability to protect our natural resources and public health. To voice your opinion on Pruitt’s nomination, click here. The full Senate vote on Pruitt’s confirmation is expected to be held this afternoon.
The Forever Wild Land Trust held its first quarterly board meeting of the new year on Thursday. Conservation Alabama was on hand to present the results of a return on investment study recently completed by the Trust for Public Land that quantified the economic impact that Forever Wild brings to the state. The study found that for every $1 spent on conserving land in Alabama, Forever Wild contributes $5 in natural goods and services to our economy.
While we all know how vital public lands are to the state, this dollar figure helps policymakers see the true value of investing in conservation. Beyond services like wildlife habitat and flood control, the public lands preserved by Forever Wild also serve as the foundation for our state’s recreation industry, which generates more than $2 billion in spending each year. Forever Wild also improves the quality of life in communities by attracting businesses and new residents and providing public place for outdoor exercise.
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Gunter Guy noted that the study’s results confirmed the state’s message that investments in conservation pay off. Alabama relies on its natural resources for tourism and recreation in addition to industries like forestry and commercial fishing, and without public lands our state’s economy would suffer along with our communities and our environment.
The full return on investment study can be read here. Along with our partners at The Nature Conservancy in Alabama we will be sharing the study with the state legislature so that our elected officials have the best possible information when making decisions about Forever Wild during the 2017 session, which began on Tuesday, and beyond.
Editor’s Note: Sophie Herrington is a senior at Murphy High School in Mobile.
As a first time voter, I am so excited to head to the polls this year. I’m eager to take advantage of our democracy and have a say in what happens to my country. My dad ran for political office when I was in second grade, and my mom works for Conservation Alabama, so the importance of voting has been stressed to me my whole life. I assumed this would prepare me to hit the polls; however, I didn’t realize November’s ballot went farther than voting for President and Vice President until recently. To my surprise, there are more ballot initiatives like local and statewide amendments that are voted on in addition to the presidential election. Not only am I affecting what happens in our country, I can also impact what happens right here in Alabama. Amendment 2, which will secure funding for our state parks, can improve our communities by protecting areas right here at home.
Amendment 2 is designed to preserve our state parks and keep funding earned within the park system from going to fund other areas of government. Over the past five years, more than $15 million has been transferred from the state parks to the state’s General Fund. This has caused five Alabama parks to close and many others to reduce service hours. As someone who spent the average childhood day climbing trees or bike riding in the park, this was something I was devastated to hear. Accessibility to parks gives children so many more opportunities to appreciate nature, stay healthy and have fun.
I was surprised to learn our state parks are mostly self-funded. User fees contribute more than 80% of their budget. Right now this money earned by the parks is easily transferred to other departments. Amendment 2 would keep that money where it belongs, in our state parks. I have always taken pride in the beauty of our state parks, like Gulf State Park – right here in coastal Alabama, allowing people from all over the chance to spend time on the beaches I’ve grown up enjoying. Sadly, this transfer of funding is depreciating their value. Voting yes for Amendment 2 will allow our parks, beachfronts, camping and hunting sites to remain open. It will allow you to take advantage of our state parks and continue hiking, hunting and fishing locally.
If you’re a first time voter like me, get educated on the ballot initiatives you can vote on. The ballot goes farther than voting for President. The Secretary of State’s website has a sample ballot, so you can review your options before you go to the polls. When I look back on my first election, I want to know that each vote I cast mattered. I want to know that I did everything I could. I want to know that I helped preserve something important to me. So help me make a difference in my community by voting yes for Amendment 2.