As the legislature continues its organizing session, House leadership is not closing the door on a possible special session to allocate federal COVID-19 relief funds.
American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) is a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by Congress in 2021 that distributes federal funds to be allocated by state governments.
In January 2022, Gov. Kay Ivey called a five-day special session in the middle of the regular session to appropriate the funds. Lawmakers approved $772 million in appropriations, $400 million of which went toward constructing new prisons.
Legislators have yet to allocate $1.06 billion in the second round of ARPA funds. According to House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainesville), a special session before March's regular session is still possible.
"I don't know, Ledbetter said. "We'll see. We met with the Governor yesterday; we had a really good conversation. "There's not a definite answer on when that could be. We talked a little bit about it yesterday. I think we'll have something in the next few weeks probably.
With over 30 freshman legislators in the house, Ledbetter intimated that a special session would give new lawmakers a chance to get their feet wet in the legislative process.
"That's what I told [Senate] Pro Tem Reed," Ledbetter continued. We've got so many new members. We need to give them the opportunity to see what it's all about. We need to give them the opportunity to understand what the ARPA funds are really for and what we can do with them and what we can't do with them. So, I think they need a little time so that they can educate themselves. It gives us a chance to get the departments that's going to be receiving the funds in front of them and let them ask any question they want to ask."
Ledbetter said that if a special session is not convened, the appropriations of ARPA funds would likely be decided in a special session within the March regular session as it was in 2022.
"If you think about it, with everything that goes on on the floor, with all the bills that get dropped, with both budgets, if you can just isolate that one issue, I think it gives us the opportunity to really debate that issue and not let it get hung up with something else," Ledbetter concluded. "And, it's important that we do, like the Governor says, we invest in our state. And I think we did last time; I feel good about what we did. We put money in rural water and sewer, and mental health, and hospitals, and nursing homes, and I think we'll do the same thing this time."
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