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/.
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.
Two weeks after former U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was confirmed as the U.S. Attorney General, Sessions’ score of 0% on the League of Conservation Voters’ (LCV) 2016 National Environmental Scorecard offers insight into what his priorities may be in his new role.
Sen. Richard Shelby and former Sen. Jeff Sessions each earned a score of 0% by voting against clean water, energy efficiency, and public lands. Both senators voted to void the Clean Water Rule that protects the drinking water consumed by one in three Americans. Sessions also voted for a bill that would have gutted the Antiquities Act, a key piece of legislation that is used to preserve public lands from the Statue of Liberty to the Grand Canyon.
“Time and again we’ve seen that conservation can and should be a bipartisan issue,” said Tammy Herrington, Executive Director of Conservation Alabama. “We hope that Attorney General Sessions is mindful of that, and that he remembers his former constituents in Alabama were protected by laws like the Clean Water Act in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.”
LCV’s 2016 National Environmental Scorecard publishes the environmental voting record for each member during the second session of the 114th Congress. This year, a record-breaking 38 House votes are included in the scorecard. The Alabama congressional delegation’s scores are being released by Conservation Alabama in partnership with LCV. The full scorecard is available in English and Spanish here.
Once again, Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Birmingham) maintained her position as the highest scoring member of Alabama’s delegation by voting to protect the laws that safeguard our drinking water and public lands. The remainder of the state’s delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives scored no higher than 3%.
House District: Member – Score
AL-1: Byrne – 0
AL-2: Roby – 3
AL-3: Rogers – 3
AL-4: Aderholt – 3
AL-5: Brooks – 3
AL-6: Palmer – 0
AL-7: Sewell – 82
Senator – Score
Sessions – 0
Shelby – 0