On Tuesday, HB 362, the anti-Forever Wild bill, was defeated in the House. We all breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that the attempts to tax Alabama’s public lands were done once and for all this session. Unfortunately, like something right out of a horror movie, the bill very briefly came back to life on Thursday night.
Conservation Alabama learned of a plan by the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mark Tuggle (R-Alexander City) to bring HB 362 back from the dead Thursday. Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham) filed a motion in writing within the first hour of the House convening requesting HB362 be reconsidered despite the bill having been defeated on Tuesday. This is an uncommon occurrence, but one that is allowed by House rules. Thursday evening the bill was brought up before the full House for reconsideration. Rep. Tuggle, who had been working members all day, offered an amendment to the bill in an attempt to appease some House members who voted “no” on Tuesday. A bill like HB 362 that calls for a constitutional amendment requires three-fifths of the vote to pass, and despite his best efforts Rep. Tuggle could not muster the 62 votes he needed. HB 362 was defeated again Thursday night by a margin of 49-12, putting the last nail in its coffin for this legislative session.
The attempted resurrection of HB 362 is a perfect example of the importance of Conservation Alabama’s work at the State House. During session, things can happen quickly, and without a careful eye on the legislative process our natural resources are at risk.
We want to give a special thanks to Rep. Randy Davis (R-Daphne), who went to the podium during Tuesday’s debate on HB 362 and eloquently explained the Forever Wild Land Trust and the threat this bill posed to the program. Rep. Davis was also a sponsor of the legislation to renew Forever Wild in 2012, and we are grateful for his leadership when it comes to protecting Alabama’s public lands.
As always, we’ll be watching the legislature for the rest of the session to make sure your conservation values are protected. For now we’re celebrating – and we hope you are too.
On Wednesday, the House State Government Committee passed a revised version of HB 362. This bill calls for a constitutional amendment to require the Forever Wild Land Trust to pay property taxes on lands purchased through the program. Currently these lands are exempt from property taxes, as are all lands owned by the state. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mark Tuggle (R-Alexander City) introduced a substitute during the committee meeting that provides for these taxes to be paid from the Forever Wild Stewardship Fund in the event the program is not reauthorized in 2032. The stewardship fund was set up through the initial passage of Forever Wild to ensure the program was self-sustaining in perpetuity. Funds are deposited into the stewardship fund each time a piece of property is purchased so that money is available for maintenance of purchased lands. If these funds are used to pay property taxes before the cost of maintaining those lands, it jeopardizes the sustainability of the program.
The only members of the committee to vote “No” on HB 362 were Rep. Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) and Rep. Harry Shiver (R-Stockton). The other twelve committee members all voted “Yes” despite receiving more than 300 emails each from voters like you asking them to protect Forever Wild.
The House will be back in session on Tuesday, February 13, and we will be watching closely to see if they take up HB 362 for consideration. Ask your state legislators to vote NO on HB 362 so we can preserve our state’s public lands!
The Forever Wild Land Trust board held its quarterly meeting on Thursday, providing a prime chance to see the program’s value. Landowners and community members from around the state came to Montgomery to advocate for new acquisitions by the program and to give examples of the its impact. A representative from the Tannehill Ironworks State Park spoke in favor of adding a new tract adjacent to the park, where it will be used to extend trails that are currently used by mountain bikers from across the country. “If you go to the Alabama Visitors Bureau,” he noted, “the #1 thing people are interested in is trails.”
A member of the Village Point Foundation in Daphne spoke in favor of a new addition in the D’Olive Creek area, which would provide public access to a boat launch and a connection to a popular existing park as well as habitat conservation and beneficial stormwater drainage. This sort of project is a great example of how public lands can be helpful for our environment, our economy, and our communities.
It’s clear that Alabamians care about Forever Wild and appreciate what it brings to our state. As the legislative session progresses we will keep you up-to-date on any bill that threatens our public lands and ask you to speak up at strategic moments to advocate for our state.
Yesterday, Rep. Mark Tuggle (R-Alexander City) reintroduced his bill to tax Forever Wild as House Bill 362. In 2017, thanks to the help of our partners and members, Conservation Alabama defeated this bill, which would have made Forever Wild properties the only state lands to pay property tax. If the bill had passed, it would have meant the end of our public land conservation program, as each dollar spent on property taxes would have left less money for acquisition and maintenance of state lands.
More than 9,000 emails were sent to state legislators in opposition of Rep. Tuggle’s bill during the 2017 legislative session, and it was soundly defeated. Despite that outpouring of support for Forever Wild, Rep. Tuggle chose to bring this bill up for consideration again, but we are already seeing Alabamians’ staunch support for our public lands. It has not even been 24 hours since the bill was introduced, and already more than 2,500 emails have been sent to the House State Government Committee asking them to vote NO on HB 362.
We beat this bill once and we can do it again. We’ll keep you updated on HB 362 and any other bills that threaten our state’s public lands.