Lawmakers returned to the Capitol today for the first time since a break on March 18 to offer an amendment on a bill that would allow them to appropriate the $1.25 billion in funds from the CARES Act.
The amendment was added to SB 2772 which handles the state budget transfer of funds. The amendment offered was a strike all that would transfer $1.15 billion of the CARES Act dollars to the Budget Contingency Fund.
Rep. Jason White, Speaker Pro Tempore, urged members to vote for the amendment so that the legislative process can do what it was designed to do by representing the people’s interests.
Rep. Omeria Scott expressed concerns for “essential workers” who have been at risk during the pandemic, wanting them to be compensated for their troubles. She and Rep. White had a heated discussion about whether or not the Legislature would look after those workers. Little was confirmed from the conversation, as her time for questions ran out.
The House gaveled in at 1:00 p.m. to begin discussing the bill and were voting by 2:00 p.m. The vote on the strike all was unanimous, 112-0 in favor. The bill was immediately released to the Senate.
When the bill made it to the Senate, Sen. Briggs Hopson, Appropriations Chairman, brought it before the members. He was challenged by Sen. Chris McDaniel who said he was worried about the speed in which this bill was traveling.
McDaniel argued that this was a pretty important crisis and asked if it wouldn’t be easier to find abuse, fraud, neglect or abuse of finances if one person was held accountable, like the Governor. Hopson said that is what the State Auditor and Attorney General are tasked with overseeing.
Hopson said he believes that the legislature is designated to appropriate this money. Like many of the rest of the members who have spoke on the bill he said he is a friend of the Governor and is ready and willing to work with him on this legislation and others in the future.
From the Lt. Governor to the Speaker to the members, all who are in favor of the Legislature appropriating the funds have urged that this is not a personal attack on the Governor.
Sen. John Horhn like Rep. Scott also asked if they would be appropriating funds for those in need. Specifically, he expressed concern for increased testing in African American communities, distance learning, tele-health and financial assistance for those on the frontlines to receive hazard pay.
Sen. Hopson said they would do what was allowed of them within the CARES Act to help everyone severely impacted by the pandemic.
The Senate concurred on the bill with only two no votes, McDaniel and Sen. Melanie Sojourner.
The bill will now go to the Governor. The Legislature is not set to return again until May 18, but there is potential they will be brought back in the event there is a veto or need for funding allocations.