Senate Bill 260, which calls for a vote on a constitutional amendment to protect state parks’ funding, was not taken up by the House this week. With only eight legislative days left in the 2016 session, we will be watching closely as the legislature returns on Tuesday, April 19. The full House vote is the final legislative hurdle for SB 260, and once the bill is passed the constitutional amendment will be on the ballot in November.
It has been almost exactly one year since we began working to protect funding for Alabama’s state parks. Administrative funding transfers from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources had decimated parks’ budgets for five years, and in 2015 the transfers proposed by the legislature would have closed 15 of our 22 parks. When we shared that information with voters, the response was overwhelming. The very first action alert sent prompted more than 1,000 messages to Governor Bentley and our legislators in support of state parks.
From there, the campaign to save our parks continued through the 2015 regular legislative session and two special sessions called in an attempt to fix Alabama’s budget crisis. Support for our parks never wavered, and as a result the amount of administrative transfers required from DCNR was reduced so that only five of our parks had to close. While even one park closed is too many, keeping ten parks open that were slated to close was a victory for the parks themselves and the people who rely on them for their livelihoods.
Time and time again, Alabama’s voters have demanded in more than 10,000 messages that our state parks keep the funding they’ve rightfully earned. Our elected officials have heard that message loud and clear. During the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ budget hearing earlier this year, Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) referenced the messages he had received about parks. SB 260 sponsor Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) did the same when he spoke on behalf of SB 260 in the House Committee on Constitution, Campaigns, and Elections, saying he knew the committee had received “gobs and gobs” of messages. We are grateful to Sen. Scofield for his leadership on SB 260, and to all the legislators so far who have heard what you had to say and voted for the bill.
It is clear that when we work together for our natural resources, we can win. The next step is to make sure that your state representatives know: vote YES on SB 260!
On Wednesday morning, the State House Committee on Constitution, Campaigns, and Elections convened to take up several bills including SB 260, which calls for a vote on a constitutional amendment to protect state parks’ funding. The bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville), spoke in support of SB 260, saying that he had never seen an issue resonate with so many people from all walks of life. “I’m sure you all received gobs and gobs of messages about our parks,” Scofield told the committee.
Committee Chair Rep. Randy Davis (R-Daphne) told Scofield the committee was well-acquainted with the bill and quickly called for a vote. All of the committee members present voted in support of the bill, and in less than a minute, SB 260 was passed by the committee.
As Sen. Scofield noted, voters’ support of state parks has been unwavering since budget talks began in 2015 and 15 of our 22 state parks were slated to be closed. In total, more than 11,000 messages have been sent to elected officials in support of state parks since March 2015. Almost 4,000 of those messages were sent during the 2016 legislative session, which began February 2.
This committee vote brings Alabama one step closer to protecting the funding that state parks earn. By preventing the administrative transfers that have decimated the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ budget for the last five years, the constitutional amendment proposed by SB 260 will give our parks the ability to stay open and operational.
With just ten legislative days left in the 2016 regular session, it’s vital that the House pass SB 260 so that voters can have the opportunity to go to the polls and once again show our support for Alabama’s state parks. Click here to send a message to your state representative and ask them to vote YES on SB 260.
There has been no movement this week on Senate Bill 260 or its companion bill House Bill 249. Both bills call for a vote on a constitutional amendment that would ensure any funding earned by or allocated to state parks is only spent on parks. Since these bills were introduced on February 17, more than 2,500 messages have been sent by voters to their state elected officials to voice their support for the bills and the protection they would offer state parks funding. All told, almost 4,000 messages have been sent since January 1 expressing the necessity of preserving parks’ funding.
SB260 was carried over to the call of the chair last week, meaning that it does not have to be added to a formal calendar to be debated again and can be brought up at any point. Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville), a sponsor of the bill, made this motion after discussing potential changes or amendments to the bill with Speaker Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston). Voters have urged the Senate to avoid adding any further amendments to this bill, in particular one suggested by Sen. Marsh that would restrict state park funding to the park that earned it. Fifteen of our 22 state parks would be in danger of closing if that amendment was added to this bill.
The House version of the bill, HB249, was listed on the House Special Order calendar on Thursday. However, the House did not debate the bill before it adjourned for the week at noon. It is our hope that HB249 will be taken up early next week, passed by the House, and sent to the Senate to be passed so Governor Bentley can sign this bill and the voters in our state can go to the polls in November to protect parks’ funding.