The Alabama Legislature’s two special sessions this fall brought mixed results on Alabama Arise issue priorities. Lawmakers improved the state’s post-incarceration reentry policies in the first special session in September. And in the second session, which ended in November, they allocated $80 million of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for costs related to COVID-19. Hospitals and nursing homes will split that amount.
But the first session ended with a misguided appropriation of $400 million – nearly a fifth of Alabama’s ARPA money – toward prison construction. (See page 2.) And the second session saw a rush to pass bills that will slow COVID-19 vaccinations in a state with one of the nation’s lowest vaccination rates.
The second session’s primary purpose was to draw new districts for the Legislature, U.S. House and state school board. Lawmakers approved maps after little debate, in part because they understand litigation is nearly certain. Concerns about diluting Black voters’ power will be a major aspect of those suits.
Federal funds to be major topic in 2022 session
Next up is the 2022 regular session, beginning Jan. 11. One pressing issue the state faces is ensuring equitable, transformative use of federal funds. That includes remaining ARPA money, plus funds from the infrastructure package and potentially the Build Back Better (BBB) Act. The U.S. House passed BBB in November, and the Senate may vote on it later this month.
That money could advance several Arise issue priorities. Public transportation, Medicaid expansion and adequate emergency relief for people facing eviction are a few ways those funds could improve life for every Alabamian.
Alabama also faces a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit over atrocious conditions in the state’s broken prison system. Arise will advocate for expanded safe releases for older and severely ill people, alongside sentencing and death penalty reforms. And we will continue beating back attacks on voting and democratic participation.
Legislators’ desire to hit the campaign trail means this session likely will be fast-paced. Advocates must act quickly to move policy decisions toward an Alabama that works for everyone.