That’s a Wrap

State HouseThe 2017 legislative session ended on Friday, May 19. There were many distractions and controversies, including prep for an impeachment trial that ended in the resignation of Governor Bentley, and a battle over redistricting that caused days of delay as the redistricting bill was read aloud in both chambers. Despite these delays, both the education and general fund budgets were passed, and the redistricting bill now goes to Governor Ivey. Other notable bills that passed this session include legislation that abolishes a judicial override in death penalty cases and a bill ensuring insurance coverage of autism therapies.

Three bills were introduced this year requiring payment of lost ad valorem (property) taxes on lands purchased through the Forever Wild Land Trust. HB 473 and a local bill, (HB 490) focusing on property in Coosa County, sought these payments from the Alabama Trust Fund. HB 502, introduced later in the session, would have required these taxes come directly from Forever Wild. Defeating these bills was our top priority this session. All state lands are exempt from ad valorem taxes, but these bills targeted a popular land protection program overwhelmingly supported by Alabama’s voters. After thousands of emails, letters and phone calls, HB 502 stalled in the House, and HB 490 was defeated in the Senate. Forever Wild remains safe.

Protecting public lands was not the only progress this session. A hearing on HB 577 drew a crowd in support of a statewide water management plan for Alabama. The Alabama Water Conservation and Securities Act would facilitate the coordination of plans, laws, regulations and decisions pertaining to water allocation. Under current Alabama state law, no state agency is tasked to assess stream flows to ensure that water uses are sustainable, and no agency is empowered to step in when water uses threaten the integrity of Alabama’s water resources. HB 577 would ensure that water resources are protected during times of drought or water shortage and clearly defines the conditions that that would trigger state action. While it was too late in the session to advance HB 577, this outcry of support keeps the conversation going about how we create a real plan to protect our limited water resources.

Other bills advancing this session were HB 288, which creates a distinctive boat decal with half of the proceeds supporting our state parks. Also passing and going to the governor’s desk for signature is HB 328, which removes the automatic approval for landfills if there is no action taken by the local planning and zoning board.

Overall, this session was a victory for the conservation community. Once again voters came out in support of public lands and waters, impacting decisions being made in Montgomery. These wins show the power that we as voters have to hold our elected officials accountable. At Conservation Alabama, we work to ensure decisions made by our local, state and national elected officials protect the people and places you love. Your voice matters and makes a difference to protect our great state.

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