By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama Legislature convenes Thursday for the start of a special session to approve new voting district maps and appropriate another $80 million of federal pandemic relief funds.
Both chambers will gavel into order at 4 p.m. as called by Gov. Kay Ivey. Committee meetings will begin Friday.
The district maps for congressional districts, Alabama Senate, Alabama House and state school board seats were approved by the Joint Legislative Committee on Reapportionment along party lines Tuesday. General statewide maps can be viewed online but more detailed maps of individual districts remained unavailable as of Wednesday evening.
Legislative leaders expect plenty of debate over the various district lines. Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said he plans to bring forward his own congressional map that attempts to create two majority-Black districts instead of the current one.
Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, will sponsor the congressional maps which will start in the House. Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, will sponsor the state board of education map, starting in the Senate. As for the state legislative maps, the House will start in the House and the Senate will start in the Senate.
One change to the congressional map is Montgomery County would only be split among congressional districts seven and two, instead of the current three-way split between districts two, seven and three. Rep. Barry Moore, R-Enterprise, would take over the portion of east Montgomery County currently represented by Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks.
Another change would see congressional district five, currently represented by Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, shrink by landmass and contain only half of Lauderdale County. McClendon said on Tuesday that was to account for the massive growth the Huntsville area has seen in recent years.
In her special session call, Ivey asked lawmakers to also use the time to appropriate $80 million from the state’s portion of the American Rescue Plan Act funds to support hospitals and nursing homes recently ravaged by the COVID-19 delta variant.
Senate General Fund committee Chairman Greg Albritton, R-Range, said that legislation will likely start in both the House and the Senate so as to draw out early any concerns from either body.
“Everybody has needs, so the wild rush for money that is supposedly on the table may occur,” Albritton told Alabama Daily News on Wednesday. The money comes from about $2.1 billion in federal funds sent to the state for its use.
Albritton, who said he would likely be handling the appropriations in the Senate, said $40 million will go to hospitals and $40 million to nursing homes.
Drafts of the legislation were not available as of Wednesday afternoon.
Danne Howard, deputy director of the Alabama Hospital Association, said her organization appreciates that hospitals’ concerns were being considered during the special session.
“The most recent surge of COVID-19 related to the delta variant placed another layer of significant stress on Alabama’s hospitals struggling to find stability since the onset of the pandemic,” Howard said in a statement. “Alabama’s hospitals must be able to remain prepared for and responsive to the ongoing healthcare needs of patients suffering from COVID-19 and provide care for non-COVID-19 conditions as well.”
Association President Dr. Don Williamson on Wednesday said that hospitals haven’t gotten any federal funding help since June. He said a survey of hospitals showed $200 million in COVID-19 related expenses or lost revenue for July, August and September.
“So, if we’re getting $40 million, it will go in large part to offset expenses that hospitals have already incurred for which they have not received any other reimbursement,” Williamson said.
Brandon Farmer, president and CEO of the Alabama Nursing Home Association, also said more financial support is needed for nursing homes in the state.
“We look forward to working with them during the special session and into next year,” Farmer said. “The pandemic has shifted the operating environment for nursing home providers and we’re fortunate to have leadership that recognizes these needs.”
In a recent ANHA member survey, 26% of Alabama nursing homes said that without an increase in funds by the end of the year, they may have to close wings or entire buildings, which could impact more than 7,000 employees and almost 4,800 residents.
The special session could last up to 12 legislative days — days when the House and or Senate meet — spread over 30 calendar days, but state house leaders said they are hoping for a five-legislative-day special session.
Lawmakers are free to introduce bills not on the agenda, but it takes a three-fifths majority vote to bring them up for debate.