We’re almost at the halfway point of this legislative session, and our legislators will be on Spring Break the next two weeks, returning on Tuesday, April 4. The most notable accomplishment this week was the House passing of the budget late Tuesday night. It will now go to the Senator for consideration, without the pay raise for state employees promised by the Governor. Additionally, several bills we are tracking had movement this week.
Wednesday the House passed HB 288 by Rep. Margie Wilcox (R-Mobile). The bill would allow the owner of a vessel to purchase one-year distinctive vessel ID stickers, showing support for approved organizations. Half the proceeds would be allocated to Alabama’s state parks. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.
HB 328 by Rep. Alan Baker (R-Brewton) passed out of the House County & Municipal Government Committee Wednesday. The bill alters the local governing bodies’ approval process for siting a new solid waste management facility located within the jurisdiction of the governing body. The Senate companion bill, SB 259 by Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Bay Minette) also received a favorable report in the Senate committee this week.
HB 345 – Historic Tax Credit: Rep. Victor Gaston (R-Mobile) would renew the tax credit for the preservation, renovation, or development of historic properties had a public hearing in committee this week. It is expected to be voted out of committee and ready for debate on the House floor when the legislature returns in two weeks.
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This week, the state legislature juggled prison reform, historic monuments, judicial override, health insurance, the potential impeachment of Governor Bentley, and the General Fund budget during their two legislative days and one day of committee meetings. Several of the bills we’re following also came up for debate.
SB 255 – Agricultural Irrigation: A public hearing was held on Wednesday to discuss the bill that would allow agricultural landowners to access the Tennessee, Tombigbee, and Alabama Rivers for irrigation purposes even if their land is not connected to those rivers. The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry heard comments from a farmer, a scientist from the University of Alabama-Huntsville, and Mitch Reid of the Alabama Rivers Alliance. Reid noted that expanding access to irrigation will impact downstream watersheds, and suggested the bill be amended to include protections for stream flow to the Mobile-Tensaw Delta and Mobile Bay. There was no committee vote on this bill.
SB 262 – Historic Tax Credit: Sen. Jabo Waggoner’s (R-Vestavia Hills) bill to renew the tax credit for the preservation, renovation, or development of historic properties was also in committee this week. A substitute bill was offered to specify that qualifying properties must be at least 75 years old. The original bill only required that the property be listed or eligible for listing by the National Register of Historic Places. The Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee passed the substitute bill by a vote of 12 to 1.
HB 328 – Solid Waste Siting: The House Committee on County and Municipal Government discussed a bill to change the process for approving a site for a solid waste landfill. Previously this responsibility was given to Regional Planning Commissions, but the commissions have not always had the funding or the staff expertise to properly evaluate sites. This bill gives the authority for approval or denial of landfills to circuit courts, and also requires more public notification for the communities where landfills have been proposed. The committee did not vote on the bill.
While this year’s legislative session is notable so far for its small number of new bills, this week several bills relating to Alabama’s natural resources were introduced. Below are the new bills along with their sponsors and a brief explanation of their potential impact. We’ve also included bills introduced earlier in the session that we’re continuing to track. Click on the bill’s number to read the full legislation, and view a full list of the bills we’re following on Conservation Alabama’s Bill Tracker page.
Water & Agriculture
Senate Bill 255, Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), Sen. Gerald Dial (R-Lineville), Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa): Under current law, landowners can’t use rivers for agricultural irrigation unless their land touches the river. This bill would create a system to authorize a landowner whose land is not contiguous to the Alabama River, the Tennessee River, or the Tombigbee River to use water from these rivers for agricultural irrigation. Questions remain about the measures in place to protect downstream communities that rely on these rivers as well as the effectiveness of the Office of Water Resources and the State Climatologist serving as the monitoring agencies.
Senate Bill 262, Sen. Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills): This bill would renew the income tax credit that expired in 2016 for the rehabilitation, preservation, or development of certified historic structures. Historic preservation encourages walkable, livable neighborhoods in small towns and big cities alike and attracts economic development.
House Bill 53, Rep. Elaine Beech (D-Chatom): A program allowing schools to purchase food from Alabama farms has already been adopted, but has not yet been implemented. This bill specifies that federal funds for school meals can be used to purchase farm products, and exempts these products from the competitive bid process.
House Bill 288, Rep. Margie Wilcox (R-Mobile): This bill would allow boat owners to purchase a pair of one-year distinctive vessel identification stickers, showing support for an organization that has requested and has been approved to be included in the distinctive vessel program, and would provide for a distinctive license plate. One half of the proceeds from these identifications would be allocated to Alabama’s state parks.
House Bill 7, Rep. Tommy Hanes (R-Scottsboro): Taxpayers are offered the option to contribute a portion of their income tax refund to various programs. This bill would add Alabama’s state parks, the Alabama Department of Mental Health, and the Alabama Medicaid Agency as potential recipients for that contribution.
House Bill 30, Rep. Craig Ford (D-Gadsden): This bill would require each county to provide at least one early voting center to be open four to six days during the week preceding Election Day so that registered voters can vote prior to Election Day.
House Bill 31, Rep. Craig Ford (D-Gadsden): This bill establishes an early voting procedure through which qualified voters may vote, without excuse, at a designated early voting center before Election Day. Currently, all Alabama voters are required to vote on Election Day with the exception of absentee ballots.