This was a busy week in Montgomery as legislative committees took up a variety of bills, including a few we’ve seen before. The House Judiciary Committee passed Senate Bill 13, introduced by Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore), which would end state-issued marriage licenses in Alabama. Albritton has introduced this bill each session since 2015, when the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is legal nationwide. Rep. Lynn Greer (R-Rogersville) re-introduced his bill from 2017 that would extend Alabama’s “Stand Your Ground” law to church premises.
On Wednesday, House Democrats unveiled their legislative agenda for 2018, “A Clean, Competent, & Competitive Alabama.” While specific bills related to this agenda have not yet been introduced, the agenda itself does not include any environmental priorities. The House Republicans’ agenda, “Flag, Family, and Country” was released at the end of 2017. It includes the Parks for Patriots Act that gives veterans and active duty military members free admission to Alabama’s state parks.
Here’s a look at the progress made by the legislation we’re watching:
HB 78, introduced by Rep. Ron Johnson (R-Alexander City), calls for a constitutional amendment to require payments from the Alabama Trust Fund to Coosa County to cover property taxes from the county’s Forever Wild lands. On Thursday, this bill was carried over in the Senate. Conservation Alabama is opposed to HB 78 and we’ve been talking behind the scenes with legislators and our partners to find a better solution. This is currently the only introduced bill that would impact Forever Wild. We’ll continue to keep you updated – let your legislators know that you oppose any bill that would negatively impact the Forever Wild Land Trust.
HB 58, the Parks for Patriots Act, was passed by the House and approved by the Senate Committee on Veterans and Military Affairs. It is in line to be passed by the full legislature next week.
HB 5, which allows Alabamians to donate part of their tax refunds to the state parks system, is pending a third reading in the House Ways & Means – General Fund Committee.
HB 217 would add a licensed geologist to the state’s Environmental Management Commission. It has not progressed since being introduced in the House Committee on Boards, Agencies, and Commissions.
SB 180/HB 224 are companion bills to require municipalities to notify the state if they plan to reduce the amount of fluoride in their public water supplies below the level recommended by the CDC. They have been passed out of the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services and the House Committee on Health.
Montgomery – along with much of the state – was transformed into a winter wonderland this week. (Check out these great photos, including some shots of the snow-covered Capitol, from the Montgomery Advertiser.) While the legislature was unable to hold committee meetings on Wednesday because of hazardous road conditions, they made some progress on House Bill 58, the Parks for Patriots Act, in spite of a short week.
Under the current law, state residents who are veterans or active duty military members receive free admission to state parks on holidays only. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources changed their policy last fall to allow Alabama veterans and military free admission to parks any day of the year. This bill will make that new policy the law, reflecting our state’s gratitude for the service of our military men and women.
House Bill 58 was overwhelmingly passed by the House on Tuesday, and was sent to the Senate.
Editor’s Note: Sophie Herrington is a senior at Murphy High School in Mobile.
As a first time voter, I am so excited to head to the polls this year. I’m eager to take advantage of our democracy and have a say in what happens to my country. My dad ran for political office when I was in second grade, and my mom works for Conservation Alabama, so the importance of voting has been stressed to me my whole life. I assumed this would prepare me to hit the polls; however, I didn’t realize November’s ballot went farther than voting for President and Vice President until recently. To my surprise, there are more ballot initiatives like local and statewide amendments that are voted on in addition to the presidential election. Not only am I affecting what happens in our country, I can also impact what happens right here in Alabama. Amendment 2, which will secure funding for our state parks, can improve our communities by protecting areas right here at home.
Amendment 2 is designed to preserve our state parks and keep funding earned within the park system from going to fund other areas of government. Over the past five years, more than $15 million has been transferred from the state parks to the state’s General Fund. This has caused five Alabama parks to close and many others to reduce service hours. As someone who spent the average childhood day climbing trees or bike riding in the park, this was something I was devastated to hear. Accessibility to parks gives children so many more opportunities to appreciate nature, stay healthy and have fun.
I was surprised to learn our state parks are mostly self-funded. User fees contribute more than 80% of their budget. Right now this money earned by the parks is easily transferred to other departments. Amendment 2 would keep that money where it belongs, in our state parks. I have always taken pride in the beauty of our state parks, like Gulf State Park – right here in coastal Alabama, allowing people from all over the chance to spend time on the beaches I’ve grown up enjoying. Sadly, this transfer of funding is depreciating their value. Voting yes for Amendment 2 will allow our parks, beachfronts, camping and hunting sites to remain open. It will allow you to take advantage of our state parks and continue hiking, hunting and fishing locally.
If you’re a first time voter like me, get educated on the ballot initiatives you can vote on. The ballot goes farther than voting for President. The Secretary of State’s website has a sample ballot, so you can review your options before you go to the polls. When I look back on my first election, I want to know that each vote I cast mattered. I want to know that I did everything I could. I want to know that I helped preserve something important to me. So help me make a difference in my community by voting yes for Amendment 2.