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House votes to use COVID money on phased Alabama prison project

Published: Sep. 29, 2021 at 4:05 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The Alabama House passed three bills as part of the ongoing special session Wednesday afternoon dealing with the proposed prison construction plan. Approval was given for HB4, HB5 and HB6.

The first deals with the phased construction plan for the new prison facilities. The second took up the controversial measure of using up to $400 million from the American Rescue Plan’s COVID-19 pandemic relief funds as a way of paying for part of the construction. The third deals with other funding funding for the project.

HB4 passed first with a vote of 74-27. It included a single amendment to remove the language “and construction” from the bill. The amendment passed 89-8.

A frequently mentioned issue included questions about why Tutwiler Women’s Prison is not higher on the list for the phased plan. Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, proposed an amendment that would have moved it into Phase One, but it was rejected.

Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Dothan, who sponsored HB4, said the state doesn’t have the construction capacity to add another facility to Phase One and said two new men’s prison facilities needed to be built in order to move inmates so they can renovate other facilities. He also contends the money the state will save on intertest can be put into a renovation fund “so we can pay as we go for the renovations and the rebuilding of Tutwiler.”

Up next was HB5, which passed by a vote of 75-24. Democratic leader Rep. Chris England of Tuscaloosa was the the first person to speak out on HB5, questioning why the state waited until the pandemic to find lost revenue to build prisons.

The ARP money continues to be a source of controversy, despite Gov. Kay Ivey and other lawmakers’ contention it can legally be used for such a project. A U.S. congressman from New York is asking the Treasury Department to find ways to block use of ARP money for prison construction.

HB6 passed by a margin of 78-22.

Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statement following the House passage of HB4, HB5 and HB6 saying:

“Addressing our decades-long prison infrastructure challenges is not easy, but sometimes, doing the right thing and the hard thing are one in the same. This is not a victory lap because there is more legislative work to be done this week; this is the halfway point for the prison construction bills. I am extremely proud of the members of the Alabama House of Representatives for their hard work and support. Chairman Steve Clouse has proven instrumental in crafting the bills, moving them through committee and carrying them on the floor. The work done today will help lead to solutions that will greatly benefit all Alabamians for decades to come. I offer my sincerest thanks to the members, and I continue to offer any resource needed in the next few days to get this across the finish line.”

Representatives voted to pass HB2 that would release some inmates under the supervision of the pardon and parole board until the end of their sentence. HB1 would change sentencing for around 700 inmates, was killed but sponsors of the bill say they plan to introduce it again during the regular session.

Bills that passed the House will go to the Alabama Senate on Thursday.

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