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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On Wednesday night, the Alabama State Legislature adjourned sine die, meaning the 2016 session has come to an end. The final two days were a whirlwind, with debate continuing well into the night. The focus was primarily on Gov. Bentley’s prison construction plan and a bill allocating the $1 billion the General Fund will be receiving as a result of the settlement with BP and other parties responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Neither of these bills passed. The BP bill’s death has further consequences for Medicaid, which is experiencing a budget shortfall that could have been made up in part by $70 million from the BP settlement.
For conservation voters, the 2016 session brought a huge victory in the passage of SB 260, which calls for a vote on a constitutional amendment to protect state parks’ funding. If voters approve this constitutional amendment in November it will put an end to the practice of administrative transfers, which the legislature used in the past to take money earned by state parks and move it to the General Fund to be spent elsewhere. SB 260 was passed by a vote of 29 to 1 in the Senate and 87 to 8 in the House. The governor’s signature is not required on bills that call for constitutional amendments. Once both chambers passed SB 260, the constitutional amendment to protect parks was automatically on the ballot.
Perhaps the best part of this victory was that it was the result of so many Alabama voters getting involved in the legislative process and letting their elected officials know just how important parks are to our state. All told, 4,800 messages were sent since the beginning of the 2016 legislative session. That is a huge outpouring of support for state parks, and there’s no doubt the state legislature voted with your messages in mind.
While engaging voters was the best strategy to raise awareness about our state parks and advocate for a permanent funding source, the best way to stop a bad bill is to do so before it gets started. As the only full-time environmental lobbyists in the state, Conservation Alabama was able to stop SB 289, which would have prohibited the Forever Wild Land Trust from advertising its properties to potential visitors. Many of Forever Wild’s properties are in rural parts of the state, and publicizing their availability is an important way to attract visitors to enjoy public lands and spend money in neighboring communities. In partnership with The Nature Conservancy, Conservation Alabama was able to explain the economic importance of Forever Wild’s marketing efforts and the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Montrose) did not take the bill any further.
Now that the legislative session has come to an end, Conservation Alabama is focused on passing the constitutional amendment to protect state parks in November. We’ll be asking for your help just like we did this session and we know that keeping up the momentum for parks will be a big part of our shared success. Thank you for standing up for our public lands both this session and in 2015. Now let’s get to work on a landslide victory in November!
On Wednesday, February 17, a press conference was held by Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Arab) and Rep. Kerry Rich (R-Guntersville) to announce the introduction of a bill that calls for a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment. This amendment would specify that any funding earned by or designated for Alabama’s state parks can only be spent on parks. This means that the administrative transfers that had decimated state parks’ budgets in the past will no longer be allowed to take place. This is a great step towards protecting the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ funding, and giving parks the financial security they need to be able to stay open.
In addition to Scofield and Rich’s legislation, other bills have been introduced to add new streams of revenue for parks. Below is a list of the bills related to state parks that Conservation Alabama is supporting this session. If you’d like to receive weekly updates on the progress of these bills, sign up for our Hot List email. You can also find out more information on these and other bills on our Bill Tracker tool.
These companion bills call for a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment to protect state parks’ funding from further administrative transfers. It specifies that any funding earned by parks or designated for parks cannot be used for any purpose other than parks’ support, maintenance, and upkeep.
HB 144 (Hanes)
Taxpayers are offered the option to contribute a portion of their 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.
HB 146 (Wilcox)
All boat owners are required to register their vessels with the state. This bill would require the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency to issue five-year ID stickers for boats, the proceeds from which would go to DCNR to be earmarked for state parks. License holders would also have the option to purchase more expensive stickers that support various programs, with half of the money ($25) going to that organization and half ($25) going to DCNR for parks.