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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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.
Most of the bills Conservation Alabama supports or opposes during the legislative session are directly related to environmental and public health. We support SB 4/HB 128 because we want people to feel safe on their roads, whether they’re on a bike or driving a car. We support HB 61 because companies who violate pipeline safety regulations need to receive more than a slap on the wrist for putting our communities in danger. At first glance, it might seem like our support of HB 214, which extends an existing tax credit for rehabilitating buildings that are eligible to be on the National Register of Historic Places, has nothing at all to do with the environment. In fact, it’s a crucial step to making our communities greener and more livable.
The most obvious benefit of making use of buildings that already exist is that it reduces waste. When property owners decide to fix what’s already there instead of tearing down a building, they’re also deciding not to send materials to a landfill. We’re not saying it’s always easy to bring an old building up to modern standards, but it’s worth doing well to preserve not only the materials but also the personality of your community.
Older neighborhoods, particularly in small towns, are also built to accommodate people first and cars second, if at all. Sidewalks, even if they’re cracked, encourage you to walk through your neighborhood. Front porches that were designed to catch cool breezes in the summer encourage conversation with your neighbors and interaction with your community. Small towns and urban centers are experiencing new growth across the country as families and businesses are choosing to live with a smaller footprint and closer connections.
Think about towns you like to visit in Alabama. Maybe you’re planning to go to Eufaula for the annual Tour of Homes, or you take a detour on your way to the beach to drive under the live oaks on Government Street in Mobile. Montgomery’s Garden District, Talladega’s Silk Stocking District, and Fairhope’s Fruits and Nuts neighborhood are all places that resonate with us because they are working to preserve their unique historical character. It can be difficult for communities to do this, and they have to know that families and businesses will be able to buy into their historic neighborhoods and make them active, viable communities.
HB 214 continues the assistance the state provides to people willing to make an investment in their historic communities. A tax credit might make all the difference for a young family that wants to live in a historic neighborhood but needs space to grow, or a small business owner who wants to be a part of the community but has to meet building codes. Conservation Alabama believes these investments are worthwhile, not just for the environmental benefits of using existing materials and structures, but also for the social and economic benefits of supporting existing neighborhoods that reflect the history and culture of our state.
Correction: This post initially provided incorrect information about the buildings that are eligible for tax credits. It has been updated to reflect that all buildings eligible for the National Register of Historic Places are also eligible for rehabilitation tax credits. We regret the error.