No lottery in Alabama: Vote to move forward with lottery, casinos fails by 1 vote

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A plan to allow voters to decide whether to authorize a lottery and casinos died Thursday with the end of the annual legislative session.

The proposed constitutional amendment fell one vote short in the Senate on April 30.

There was a chance for another vote if a senator who voted “no” had a change of heart, but that did not happen. The Senate adjourned to end the session at about 6:13 p.m. Thursday.

It was the closest the Legislature has come to sending the lottery question to the ballot since voters rejected Gov. Don Siegelman’s lottery plan in October 1999 by a vote of 54% to 46%.

The legislation was a priority for the Republican leadership in the House and Gov. Kay Ivey. An ad hoc committee appointed by House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter spent more than a year developing the plan.

The House passed it first in February. The Senate passed a scaled-back version three weeks later. The House passed a compromise plan approved by a conference committee. That moved it within one step of final passage. But the vote in the Senate was 20-15, one vote shy of the three-fifths majority required for a constitutional amendment. The amendment would have been on the ballot Aug. 20.

The Senate’s failure to pass the gambling and lottery package loomed over floor debates in the House over the past two days.

COLAs

One of the more spirited debates occurred Thursday morning over the removal of $5 million dedicated toward a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for teacher retirees. State Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, who oversees the education budget in the House, said the appropriation amounted to $50 for a 25-year retiree and was “an insult, honestly.”

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House said that Alabama could afford offering retirees a more substantial COLA had a gambling and lottery bill been approved by the Alabama Senate.

Rep. Chris Blackshear, R-Smiths Station, who sponsored the gambling and lottery bills in the House, said the $5 million was akin to “throwing a little bone to retirees,” but that the approval of a gambling and lottery bill would have offered “a new piece of funding.” He said the Senate’s actions hurt retirees.

“It frustrates me when we have colleagues, who are not in this body, but they think every four years (them getting elected) is the best decision (voters) will ever make. But why don’t we think they can’t make a good decision on anything else? That is what I struggle with.”

Blackshear said more revenue would have been raised by the gambling and lottery package to support retirees, pay for rural health care, among other things. His comments drew applause on the House floor.

“So don’t pour something on my leg and tell me it’s raining,” Blackshear said. “(The voters) are not as ignorant as they think they are.”

Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, quoted biblical scripture and criticized the Senate for not pushing through a lottery and gambling bill leaving Alabamians to continue doing what they always do if they want to purchase a lottery ticket – travel to an adjacent state.

“They tell me, ‘since you all won’t pass the lottery bill, we’ll continue to support the children in Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee,” Jackson said, referring to people who live in his district and elsewhere in Alabama about traveling to other states to buy lottery tickets where revenues go toward funding another state’s services, such as education.

“We are hypocrites,” Jackson said. “That is what we are.”

Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, said her phones “rings off the hook” over issues like cost of living raises and “will we get a lottery?” She blamed the Senate for the lack of action and urged the Alabama House to “take back our power.”

“This lottery bill has come before this House more than any piece of legislation in Alabama history,” Givan said.

Rep. Brett Easterbrook, R-Fruitdale, suggested the House play a bit of political hardball and hold up the state’s education budget during the final day of session if the Senate did not adopt a lottery and gambling package.

“We had a solution,” Easterbrook said. “It’s the bill we passed. It was the gambling bill and the lottery. We’ve kicked that can down the road for years and years and years. This body push it through this year. I would like to see (the education budget) bill carried over and let the governor call a special session and let’s fixed this problem.”

He added, “We are required to pass this budget. I would postpone it.”

Ivey, speaking to the media while in Montgomery earlier on Thursday, said she was not inclined to call a special session to deal with lottery and gambling.

“Why would I do that?” Ivey said. “They cannot come to a consensus among themselves. Why would I spend the time and effort and money on a special session?”

Ivey said she was disappointed with the Senate’s vote last week.

“Every year, it’s always wait till next year,” she said. “I think people are tired of waiting until the next time.”



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