MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — After five days, the Alabama legislature’s special session is over.
On Thursday, lawmakers officially agreed on how to spend $1.06 billion of federal American Rescue Plan Act Money, with Gov. Kay Ivey signing it into law hours later.
Overall, there was widespread bipartisan support for the bill. It passed in the Senate 29-3, and in the House 96-0 with six abstentions.
The area that drew the most debate on the final day dealt with the section receiving the most money: $400 million for water and sewer projects.
Lawmakers say the funding will transform the state.
“We’re talking about significant increases of water and sewer lines in Alabama that’s going to make generational differences,” Sen. Greg Albritton (R- Atmore) said.
Two amendments passed in the Senate dealing with the funding. One says that stormwater infrastructure must be included in the projects. It also says that a portion of those funds ($100 million) must receive a 35% match by localities that apply.
That was argued as a way to ensure cities and counties have “skin in the game” when applying for grants and also to stretch the money out further.
Some House Democrats argued that’s too high a percentage for poorer communities.
“35% in some areas might be half their budget, their whole budget for the whole entire city,” Rep. Sam Jones (D- Mobile) said.
The other amendment says agencies distributing the funds for the projects, like ADEM, cannot deny an application because of technical deficiencies with it. Those agencies must work with the applicant to resolve the issues.
Sen. Rodger Smitherman brought the amendment, saying smaller communities may not have adequate staffing to properly apply for grants.
“It gives them some advice to help them, so they won’t lose the opportunity to get the grant,” Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D- Birmingham) said.
The second biggest funding allocation goes to healthcare services at $339 million. That includes $100 million for hospitals — a number that’s faced criticism by some medical associations for being too low.
Lawmakers say during the regular session they will aim to address healthcare needs not fully met by this bill.
House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter says overall the state should be grateful to have this money.
“Sometimes, I find it interesting, I guess, that people argue over free money. I don’t get that,” Rep. Ledbetter (R- Rainsville) said.
Gov. Ivey signed the bill into law Thursday afternoon. The regular session convenes on March 21.