On Tuesday, the State Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs voted to pass Senate Bill 260, which calls for a vote on a constitutional amendment to protect state parks’ funding and is sponsored by Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville). The companion bill, House Bill 249 sponsored by Rep. Kerry Rich (R-Albertville), was passed out of the House Committee on Constitution, Campaigns, and Elections. The bills will now move to their respective chambers, where they will be voted on by the full House and Senate membership.
Since the bills were introduced last week, almost 900 messages have been sent to our state elected officials to let them know to vote YES on SB 260 and HB 249 and protect our parks’ funding. Once again, voters are making it clear just how important state parks are to Alabama’s communities, economy, and natural resources. If you haven’t already, tell your elected officials to stand up for our parks and preserve their funding.
We’ll keep you updated on these bills as they make their way through the legislature. Follow their progress on our Bill Tracker, or sign up for our weekly Hot List email to get the latest news on environmental bills sent directly to your inbox.
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.
Last week local bills passed for both Cherokee and Etowah counties that would regulate Wind Energy Conversion systems in both of these counties. These local bills contain language from the original version of Senate Bill 12 and impose strict regulations on wind energy providers. SB402 and SB403 require noise levels of no more than 40 decibels, setbacks of 2500 feet from the center of the device to the nearest property’s edge and permission from the local governing body before installing wind turbines that provide power for resale. Due to the level of restrictions these bills impose, their passage means there is little chance of any wind projects in those two counties.
In addition to the passage of these local bills, Senate Bill 12 makes its way to the House committee on Commerce and Small Business on Wednesday for a public hearing. In its current form, SB12 is much less restrictive than the local bills passed last week. The noise levels were increased to 50 decibels and setbacks are now 5 times the height of the system from its center to the edge of the nearest commercial or residential building. SB12 also allows for neighboring properties to waive these setbacks and eliminates Cleburne county altogether.
However, SB12 still provides no protections for birds and other wildlife. Conservation Alabama is working with partners at Birmingham Audubon to include language for both land based and offshore protections in wildlife corridors.