2016 Legislative Session in the Books
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!