Monday the House Judiciary Committee began impeachment hearings in an attempt to oust Governor Robert Bentley. Because of the impeachment process, the legislature had been preparing for a major disruption of the legislative session with anticipation of at least one special session. Late Monday afternoon that disruption was removed when Bentley agreed to plead to two misdemeanors, relinquish his security detail, forfeit the remainder of his campaign account and promise to never run for public office again. Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey was sworn in as the 54th Governor of Alabama late Monday afternoon.
With fewer distractions the legislature can now focus its remaining time on the budgets, reapportionment, prisons, Medicaid and other legislative matters. When the legislature convened for the start of the second half of the legislative session it was back to business as usual, including the introduction of bills that once again threaten the future of Forever Wild.
House Bill 502 by Rep. Mark Tuggle (R-Alexander City) was introduced this week. Under existing law, property that has been acquired by the Forever Wild Land Trust is not subject to ad valorem taxation, as is the case with any land owned by the state. HB 502 proposes a constitutional amendment that would require Forever Wild to annually reimburse the amount to each county of any ad valorem tax revenue lost as a result of property previously subject to such that is acquired by Forever Wild.
The constitutional amendment has been assigned to the House Committee on State Government.
Rep. Ron Johnson (R-Sylacauga) introduced HB 490, a similar constitutional amendment with only local application for Coosa County. This bill calls for lost ad valorem taxes paid directly from the Alabama Trust Fund. It has been approved by the local delegation and awaits a vote by the full House.
The Forever Wild Coosa Wildlife Management Area (WMA) Cahaba and Columbiana Tract consists of 9,746 acres of mountain longleaf pine and hardwood habitat within the Weogufka and Hatchet Creek watersheds in Coosa County. This acreage contributes to the 32,624 total acres within the Coosa Wildlife Management Area WMA, one of Alabama’s oldest established public hunting areas. The Forever Wild Land Trust section of the Coosa WMA provides recreational opportunities including hunting, fishing, canoeing, hiking and camping.
Conservation Alabama sees these bills as a threat to the purchase of additional lands through Forever Wild, as it creates a financial burden for the program. These bills also unfairly target Forever Wild, though all state-owned lands are exempt from payment of ad valorem taxes.
To sign up for our weekly Hot List to stay up to date on the progress of these bills and others we are tracking, or to sign up for future action alerts, visit http://www.conservationalabama.org/hot-list/.
The legislature seems primed to return on Tuesday from their spring break recess with a new focus: Governor Bentley’s alleged affair with his former advisor. Several legislators have indicated that they will introduce bills that would attempt to remove the governor from office. While this scandal has consumed state and national coverage of Alabama politics in the last week, we hope that when the legislature returns they take quick action on the bills that will improve our state and its citizens’ quality of life.
On Tuesday, March 22, the State Senate passed SB 260, which calls for a constitutional amendment to protect state parks. The House must pass the bill before the amendment can be on our November ballot. There has been overwhelming support for finding a solution to state parks’ funding since the budget crisis first threatened our parks in 2015; thousands of voters have spoken up for the natural places that make Alabama truly special.
With more than half of the 2016 legislative session complete, it is vital that the State House takes up SB 260 and passes it quickly so voters can go to the polls in November to protect our parks. The media may be consumed by Governor Bentley, but voters haven’t forgotten about state parks.
Please take a moment to remind the House of the importance of passing SB 260. The clock is ticking and distractions are plentiful, but we need a permanent solution to keep our state parks open for generations.
Last week was quiet in Montgomery as legislators took their spring break, but this week we are back in full swing with a packed agenda. The current schedule is for legislators to meet Tuesday and Thursday of this week and wrap up next Monday. With only a few days left to pass legislation, we can expect a flurry of activity, including movement of many conservation related bills.
First up this week, Senate Bill 9 goes before the House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security Tuesday at noon. As part of an effort to make our streets friendlier for bicycles, SB9 proposes a safe passing distance of at least three feet for vehicles overtaking bicycles. Conservation Alabama supports this bill as part of our “Complete Streets” policies, which maintains that transportation should accommodate the needs of all users. If the bill passes through committee, it could pass in one of the two final days of this legislative session. Before the break last week, Senator Ward of Birmingham also introduced statewide resolutions that would include Complete Streets planning policies for the state.
Another positive bill for conservation with the potential to pass is House Bill 292, dealing with solid waste landfills and how they are approved. HB292 would eliminate the automatic approval process that currently exists when municipalities do not respond to permits for landfills, and instead replaces it with an automatic denial after 120 days. This change in the permit approval process also requires applicants to provide fact-based information supporting their proposal.
SB355, a bill that restricts local governments’ ability to control pollution into nearby waterways is also moving quickly. As it stands right now, this bill that compromises our water quality could pass this week. Water protection groups throughout the state have sent action alerts this week asking members to contact their legislators. To contact your Representative and ask them to vote no on this bill, visit our action center.
Last up on our watch list is SB12, the wind bill, which may come up for vote on Tuesday. Two local bills regulating wind energy in Etowah and Cherokee counties have already passed, and several wind companies are now pushing for this statewide bill to supersede the local bills. Conservation Alabama has proposed an amendment that includes language for both land based and offshore protections in wildlife corridors in addition to the changes already made to the bill.