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
The state legislature met on Tuesday and Thursday of this week, spending Wednesday in committee meetings. On Tuesday, more than three hours of the House’s legislative time was spent debating a resolution to encourage the U.S. Congress to support the president’s “government reform agenda.” There was also debate on both the prison reform plan and the state’s policy of judicial override; the House Judiciary Committee passed a bill that would end a judge’s ability to override a jury’s verdict.
Of the bills Conservation Alabama is currently tracking this session, HB 7 passed out of its committee, bringing us a step closer to allowing Alabamians to donate part of their income tax return to our state parks. This new avenue for contributions gives us another way to support our parks, and thanks to the passage of Amendment 2 on Election Day 2016 we can be sure that any money we donate will stay within the state parks system.
SB 113 passed the Senate and will now be sent to the House Ways & Means Committee. This bill streamlines the process that wastewater treatment facilities have to follow in order to be licensed by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM). Currently, facilities have to have a bond in case ADEM needs to take over the facility and/or close it. Facilities also have to pay a fee into an account that is for the same purpose. This bill removes the fee element and redefines the bond requirement to make sure that the state can afford to safely close a facility if necessary.
Federally, confirmation hearings are continuing for the president’s cabinet-level positions. This includes the hearing for Scott Pruitt, the president’s nominee for head of the EPA. As Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) noted in her announcement that she would oppose this confirmation, during Pruitt’s time as attorney general of Oklahoma he filed lawsuits against the EPA in an attempt to restrict the agency’s ability to protect our natural resources and public health. To voice your opinion on Pruitt’s nomination, click here. The full Senate vote on Pruitt’s confirmation is expected to be held this afternoon.