The Alabama House of Representatives approved a bill distributing more than $1 billion in federal funding under the American Rescue Plan Act Tuesday with very little debate.
The bill passed on a 102 to 3 vote, with all three no votes coming from Republicans. Rep. Arnold Mooney, R-Indian Springs, Rep. Ben Harrison, R-Elkmont and Rep. Ernie Yarbrough, R-Trinity, all voted against the bill.
Mooney made his concerns known when the bill passed committee last week, but it was two Democrats who express concern on the House floor.
Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, questioned leaving the decision making to the general fund committee instead of hashing out the distribution in the full body, echoing a similar sentiment from Mooney.
House General Fund committee chair Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, said members have had plenty of opportunity to be involved in the discussion over recent months.
“I had a lot of the members calling, texting, meeting with me, and every member had that opportunity to do that,” Reynolds said.
Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, also questioned how much would specifically be coming to Jefferson County.
“I think as a legislator, I represent a district, and my district is House District 60,” GIvan said. “When I come here, my folks don’t necessarily care what’s going on in this county or that county, but they want to know how much bacon is coming back to my respective district.”
Reynolds reiterated earlier comments that the bill does not distribute funds by county, but leaves funding open according to need.
“Really you wouldn’t want that pre-set,” Reynolds said.
Givan also criticized the body for spending $400 million to build new prisons, but not allocate many less millions to keep Birmingham Southern College from going under.
“We can take ARPA funds to make sure we can house inmates who’ve killed, who’ve beaten, who’ve raped, who robbed … but yet we can’t find a way to find $37.5 million out of all this ARPA money for Birmingham Southern to save an educational institution,” Givan said.
House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, made it clear on the floor though that the bill had his support, and no Democrats ultimately voted against the bill.
The bill is primarily split between infrastructure and medical needs, with about $660 million total allocated for water, sewer and broadband infrastructure and $339 million for health care. An additional $55 million will be open for a variety of other grant programs set out to help communities with a number of other issues.
The House can now consider the Senate’s version of the bill repaying the Alabama Trust Fund, which the House unanimously passed its own version of on the floor Tuesday. It is now up to the Senate to get the ARPA distribution bill across the finish line this week, as the regular session is set to resume next Tuesday.