Alabama House Democrats want COVID-19 funds spent on health care, oppose unlicensed portering

The Alabama House Democratic Caucus released its legislative platform on Wednesday that urges Republicans who enjoy supermajority status in the Legislature to spend federal relief funds on health care.

The caucus also renewed calls to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, repeal the state’s 4% grocery tax, implement early voting and offer wage increases to retired teachers and educators.

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The agenda, titled “Pro-Growth, Pro-Innovation, Pro-Alabama,” was announced at a press conference at the State Capitol in Montgomery. It was rolled out a day after Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, during his annual state of the state address, called for a 4% pay rise for teachers and urged lawmakers to act quickly by prioritizing how the pot of more than $1.5 billion from the US State Rescue Plan Act funds should be allocated. Lawmakers were due to begin discussing how to appropriate the funds on Wednesday.

Discussions over ARPA funds come after Alabama leaders agreed to allocate $400 million of ARPA funds toward a $1.3 billion plan to build two large prisons in state in Escambia and Elmore counties. State officials are analyzing whether federal funding rules will prohibit them from using it for a prison expansion project.

“I think it’s important to get advice from Treasury and the White House on our limits with COVID dollars,” said state Rep. Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, the Minority Leader at bedroom.

Daniels said he urged lawmakers to consider any grant programs they authorized with federal funds. He said local matching funds, while often available in cities with a high revenue base, are often not a solution in cities where budgets have been hit hard during the pandemic.

“There are communities across the state of Alabama that are not getting revenue at the level they had in the past,” Daniels said. “We need to look at this problem holistically so that communities have a fair chance at all levels and not just communities that can afford it.”

Daniels said he supports ARPA funds for health care, and Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, advocated using the new money to incentivize doctors to move to Alabama. She has also pushed for proposals to increase telemedicine and help struggling hospitals avoid closures.

‘We know that a healthy Alabama is the foundation of our well-being,’ she said, warning of a shortage of healthcare workers and calling for the expansion of Medicaid to meet the needs . “Simply put, there has never been a more important time to expand Medicaid. We must do everything we can to ensure access to quality, affordable health care.

Democratic lawmakers also criticized Republicans for backing anti-vaccine legislation during last fall’s special session. Daniels said the GOP activity amounted to responding to federal vaccine mandates “with an added mandate and tax.”

The new measures allow employees to seek civil penalties against employers who follow through on the authorization of federal vaccination mandates.

Daniels said lawmakers must find a way to help small businesses and minority-owned businesses recover from the pandemic.

“We saw about 40% of minority businesses not being able to come back because the pandemic evaporated them,” he said. “We need to find out how to help these businesses survive, but also in a way to withstand the pandemic and we haven’t discussed any of that.”

Daniels also criticized Republicans for focusing on issues like banning critical race theory and promoting unlicensed carry. Republicans in Alabama have made it a priority this session to make the state the 22nd in the United States to remove the requirement to purchase a license to possess a concealed handgun.

The measure is opposed by a bipartisan coalition of sheriffs, who say permits are an essential tool for providing background checks. Sheriffs also receive revenue each year from annual permits.

“It is detrimental to our public safety,” Daniels said. “This is the issue that we are on the side of law enforcement and we are working with them. It’s dangerous.”

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