How We Lifted Your Voice on the First Day of the Alabama Legislative Session
From Curt Chaffin, Policy DirectorYesterday, March 3, 2019, marked the first day of the 2019 Legislative Session in Alabama. The State House was bustling with excitement, stress, and countless busy lobbyists. It was the first of many days over the next few months in which our elected officials will make decisions that will affect us for years to come—on issues like pollution, energy efficiency, smart infrastructure and drinking water protection.
After talking with our partners and members throughout the year, I spent the first day of the session discussing our various issues.
Here’s a brief update of what I did:
10 am: The day started with a rally on the steps of the State House coordinated by the Poor People’s Campaign of Alabama. The Poor People’s Campaign is a national movement originally started by Martin Luther King Jr. and now pushing for equality and justice in all facets of life. The Alabama Rivers Alliance has proudly partnered with the Campaign on several occasions over the past year to shed light on environmental justice problems facing many Alabama communities. We have repeatedly spoken about coal ash, sewage overflows, and the vital importance of protecting clean water.
Yesterday, dozens of us delivered the Campaign’s “demands” for this legislative session, including “clean water, clean air, and to have our poorest communities free of pollution.” I am excited about this important intersection between environmental activism and social justice; there has never been a more inspiring start to a legislative session than by singing “like a tree down by the CLEAN water, we shall not be moved” in the hallways of the State House.
11:30 am: After the rally, I walked the halls and began to talk with Representatives and Senators for the first time this session. As you know, one of the major issues this legislative session is the “gas tax” that seeks to put an additional excise tax on gasoline, as well as hybrid and electric vehicles. Yesterday, Rep. William Poole introduced HB 81, the Rebuild Alabama Act, to implement that gas tax. The proceeds of this proposed tax would fund infrastructure maintenance and development.
While infrastructure is a broadly supported issue, environmental groups have multiple criticisms of the proposal. First, the additional tax on hybrid and electric vehicles unfairly burdens owners of those automobiles, placing a major barrier on low-emissions cars in Alabama. Second, there is a fear that the infrastructure projects that emerge from the gas tax funds will be harmful to the environment. For example, will these funds go to fund projects like the Northern Beltline or the Cahaba Beach Road? As it stands, environmentalists are calling for clearer and more environmentally conscious provisions to be in any gas tax bill.
12:15 pm: Next, I worked with legislators to prepare for the re-introduction of the Water Security and Conservation Act. 2019 will be the third year that the WCSA will be introduced. The bill seeks commonsense changes to the state’s water management regime—protecting us in times of emergency and clearing up disputes over the right to use water.
After receiving bipartisan support for HB 416 last year, citizens sent more than 1,000 emails to the House Agriculture Committee in support of the bill. Multiple organizations and individuals supported the bill at a public hearing, but ultimately the Legislative session ended before further action could be taken. This year we hope to continue that momentum and push for these sorely needed changes. Stay tuned for how YOU can help during the session.
2:30 pm: I ended my day in the State House by focusing on other issues vitally important to our state waters. Alabama is plagued with poisonous coal ash contamination, improper protection of our fishermen, and a lack of funding for our state environmental agencies. As the session continues, the Alabama Rivers Alliance will advocate for improvements in all of these areas and more!
Evening: The evening concluded with the “State of the State” address. Onlookers observed that both parties failed to mention the environment or environmental issues in their addresses. That big omission showed me how much further we still have to go as a state and an environmental movement.
The address was still an emotional experience for me. Seeing Alabama come together after the tragic tornado ravaged East Alabama reminded me how strong we can be when we unite.
My Conclusion: The Alabama Legislative Session is confusing and stressful, but it represents perhaps our best chance as a movement to get the protection our rivers, environment, and people deserve. I urge you to follow the session, learn about the issues that arise, and take action to #DefendRivers.