We’ve just finished the third week of the 2015 Legislative Session, and the focus in the state house has been on the governor’s revenue bills and charter schools. However, a handful of conservation bills have been introduced, and one has made it out of the Senate.
Senate Bill 4 was introduced by Senator Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) to create a safe passing distance of three feet between automobiles and bicycles on the road to make roads safer for all users. During the debate on the bill, Senator Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison County) requested an increase in the required passing distance to ten feet. After further discussion this week, the Senate agreed to a compromise that requires a distance of five feet between cars and bikes. The bill was passed by a 16-11 vote, and will now be debated by the Alabama House of Representatives.
In the House, Representative Lynn Greer (R-Rogersville) introduced HB61, a bill that would increase the penalties for violations of the safety standards for gas and hazardous liquid pipelines. The current penalty is $10,000 for each violation, and HB61 allows for a maximum penalty of $200,000 for each violation on each day that violation exists. It also increases the maximum civil penalty for any related series of violations from $500,000 to $2 million.
Also introduced was SB69 – the Hire Alabama First Bill. This bill will ensure that when disasters occur in Alabama, the first workers hired for clean up and/or restoration projects related to those disasters are Alabama residents. Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) introduced the bill, which was drafted as a result of efforts by the communities most impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Disaster.
As the legislative session continues, we can expect further debate on these bills, and the introduction of more bills that could impact the people and places you love. We’ll continue to post our weekly blog to update you on what’s happening at the state house, and in the meantime you can use our Bill Tracker or follow us on Twitter @ConservationAL to keep up with the latest developments.
Editor’s Note: Conservation Alabama thanks Claire Guest for her service as an AmeriCorps VISTA. She left us a blog post on her experience with the organization, what she learned from living in Birmingham, and her future plans. Best wishes, Claire!
Almost a year ago, I signed a contract with AmeriCorps and the YWCA to serve as a Programs and Outreach Assistant with Conservation Alabama and the Conservation Alabama Foundation. On August 8th, I officially finished my year of service with Conservation Alabama. It is hard to believe my time here has come to an end. Before this experience I knew little about the social and environmental issues that affect Alabamians. I had spent the last six years earning my Bachelors and Masters degrees in Tuscaloosa and then Pennsylvania. Academic study, despite its obvious merits, created a veil between myself and what I perceived to be the “real world.” One of the greatest gifts AmeriCorps and Conservation Alabama has given me over the past year is the total dissolution of that veil.
Though Conservation Alabama advocates for sound environmental public policies at the state and local levels, much of my service focused specifically on the city of Birmingham, where I have been based. I got the incredible opportunity to collaborate with the United Way’s Community Impact department on projects involving urban agriculture and planning. It became clear to me through this collaboration that public policies affect city planners and residents in profound ways.
I consulted with community gardeners about applying for permits with the city of Birmingham. Before a new urban-ag ordinance was passed last year, all forms of farming and gardening were illegal in the city limits. Many gardeners and operations had already sprung up, but the ordinance had the potential to legitimize these efforts and protect more productive uses of our city’s land.
Through educating city planners on Complete Streets policies, I also learned firsthand how inclusive road designs can affect transportation and local economies. Complete Streets advocate taking existing roads and making them safe for multiple users, including cyclists, buses, and pedestrians. It makes people the focus of design, which automatically shifts the idea of what, or better yet, who our roads are for.
In June, I served as a staff member at Anytown Alabama, a social justice leadership camp for teens from all over Birmingham and other parts of the state. At Anytown, I learned to think of community in a way that has totally enriched my worldview, and through my service with Conservation Alabama, I got to see that refined definition in action. Public policy has the potential to change the way we relate to our communities and to our environment. It can reframe the conversation about what we need and want for our communities in a productive way. It can even change the way individuals feel about themselves. Good policies empower individuals. In one small, personal example: a bike lane on a busy road offers me a safe space to ride. It acknowledges my existence as a cyclist and says, “This road is for you.” It also acknowledges that transportation isn’t limited to cars and trucks – that not everyone has access to these things but they should still feel empowered to get to where they need to go, whether that’s a job or the grocery store or the bank, etc. Public policies and good design have the potential to create a city that feels safe for people in a multitude of different circumstances, as well as address current public health and social justice issues that have plagued Birmingham and Alabama throughout its history.
When we create policies that seek to acknowledge the multi-faceted circumstances of all people – especially those with different abilities and socioeconomic circumstances – we’re helping to create a local culture that’s beginning to acknowledge how valuable every person, every community, is to Birmingham and Alabama.
Through AmeriCorps and Conservation Alabama, I’ve had such incredible opportunities to live lessons outside of a classroom setting. This has been one of the most valuable experiences of my life. I plan on serving a second year with a conservation corps out West, and I can say that I would have never known about that opportunity had I not served this year. I would have never known about the incredible work people throughout Alabama are doing every day to make this little corner of the South a more inclusive and just place to live and play and work. It has been an honor to do my small part. Thank you so much for letting me.
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.