Legislative Report – March 17, 2023

Volume 24 Number 2 – March 10, 2023

Last week, Governor Kay Ivey called lawmakers into a special session to distribute the last of the American Rescue Plan Act relief funds. Final votes were widely expected to occur on Thursday. 

On Tuesday, the House Chamber took up the bill and passed it with overwhelming support by a vote of 102-3. The House also unanimously approved HB 2, which uses $60 million from the budget surplus to finish repaying an old debt that was borrowed a decade ago during a budget shortfall.

Despite not being on the Special Order calendar, the Senate discussed SB 2, sponsored by Sen. Garlan Gudger (R – Cullman) which addresses visitation restrictions in healthcare facilities across the state. Many senators spoke at the mic to convey their support and appreciation for Sen. Gudger’s work on this bill as visitation restrictions affected many Alabamians throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other healthcare facilities have concerns with the bill and continue to work with Sen. Gudger to improve it. He has said he plans to re-file the bill next week when the Regular Session reconvenes.

On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Finance & Taxation modified the proposed $1.06 billion spending plan with an amendment that was offered by Sen. Chris Elliott (R – Josephine) to adjust how some of the nearly $400 million for water and sewer projects can be spent. The proposed amendment specified that up to $200 million of that could be spent on stormwater projects, as well as clean water and sewer infrastructure projects. Separately, $100 million  would require local communities to put up matching funds of at least 35% in order to receive  the federal money. The amendment was approved unanimously. Democrats had previously mentioned wanting some of the ARPA money to target stormwater improvements, which they say is an issue in larger cities. The amended bill was approved in committee with a 12-0 vote, but three senators – Arthur Orr (R – Decatur), Sam Givhan (R – Huntsville), and Larry Stutts (R – Russellville), abstained. 

On Thursday, the Senate took up the bill and Sen. Arthur Orr and Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D – Birmingham) immediately took up the mics for quite some time to allow for sidebar conversations to occur on the floor. Senate leadership gaggled to the side to hammer out some last minute qualms and concerns over the committee amendments and potential floor amendments. Some of these concerns addressed how the water and sewer funds would be divided between rural and urban areas. 

Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison (D – Birmingham) had questions regarding the matching funds in the committee amendment. She specifically mentioned the language “in-kind contributions” in hopes to add it to the legislation, but ultimately withdrew her amendment after discussing with Sen. Greg Albritton (R – Atmore). 

Senator Smitherman also voiced his concerns that Alabama needs to address stormwater in the way that Boston needs to address snow. Smitherman said that smaller areas need ways to access that money in ways that will not be overly complicated or strenuous.

The bill ultimately passed with widespread support by a vote of 29-3, then headed back to the House for concurrence with the Senate’s changes. The House voted 96-0 to concur.Later Thursday afternoon, both the ARPA funding bill and the Trust Fund repayment bill went to Ivey’s desk for her signature.

“I commend the Alabama Legislature for, once again, answering the call to invest these one-time funds wisely to make improvements in Alabamians’ quality of life, including water, sewer and broadband expansion projects, as well as health care,” she said. “Alabama can now look to a future of greater promise thanks to the steps we have taken this week to invest these funds wisely.” 

The Alabama Legislature reconvenes its regular session next Tuesday where they will begin addressing general bills. They will adjourn on Thursday for a week-long Spring Break beginning March 27. When they return on April 4, we expect to see the Governor’s budget recommendations for the Education Trust Fund and General Fund and the widely anticipated economic incentives renewal legislation, which is a priority for the business and economic development communities, as well as the legislative and executive leadership.