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Bentley Lottery Passes the Senate

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Friday, August 19, 2016, after three days spent debating a much more ambitious lottery proposal, the Senate finally agreed to pass a lottery bill similar to the one first asked for by Governor Robert Bentley (R).

Senate Bill 3 passed 21 to 12.

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A bipartisan group of Senators including Beasley, Blackwell, Coleman-Madison, Dial, Dunn, Figures, Holley, Holtzclaw, Livingston, Marsh, McClendon, Melson, Reed, Ross, Sanford, Scofield, Singleton, Smitherman, Ward, Whatley, and Williams voted for the controversial constitutional measure amending Alabama’s Constitution.

Republicans: Albritton, Allen, Brewbaker, Bussman, Chambliss, Hightower, Glover, Orr, Pittman, and Waggoner were joined by independent Harri Anne Smith and Democrat Hank Sanders in voting no to SB3.

Freshmen Republican Senators Shay Shelnutt and Dr. Larry Stutts were not present to take either side.

Gov. Bentley had originally wanted 100 percent of the proceeds from the lottery after costs and prizes to go to the State General Fund (SGF). The Senate decided instead that 90 percent would go to the General Fund, and ten percent will go to the education trust fund. An amendment for a more balanced 60:40 split was defeated. Unlike last time nobody’s children are being promised college scholarships in this bill.

A jubilant Gov. Bentley responded to the news, “It’s a relief. In fact, I think I am going just to go home tonight and for the first time just relax. And maybe tomorrow I am not going to think of anything, except cutting grass.”

Senator Jim McClendon successfully shepherded SB3 through the Senate after his first attempt, SB11 failed on Thursday. SB11 would have also allowed all the dog tracks to have something he called virtual lottery machines (VLMs). Opponents called them slot machines and killed that bill after a cloture vote.

Sen. McClendon called SB3, “A much simpler, less complex version,” of the lottery than SB11 was.

McClendon said after Thursday’s defeat of SB11, “It is my commitment to you, the voters, to do everything I can to allow you to make the final decision on having an Alabama lottery. Some lawmakers just don’t trust your judgment. Thanks for all the support you have given me.”

Sen. Paul L Sanford (R-Huntsville) said, “I voted yes. I did put an amendment that the State could not use Lottery proceeds to advertise for the lottery. 90% to General Find & 10% to Education. Restrictions on who may serve on the commission are in the bill.”

Sen. Tom Whatley (R-Lee County) said, “I’m not a lottery fan and I’m disappointed we didn’t reserve some of the dollars for our retirees and our teachers, but I’m glad we did at least get some of the dollars going towards health care – something that benefits us all. More to discuss and this bill is off to the House – and from there the people of AL will have a pretty good bill to either vote up or down.”

Senate Minority Leader Quinton T. Ross Jr. (D-Montgomery) said, “Today, the Alabama Senate in a bipartisan effort heard the voices of the people of the state of Alabama. We are giving the people in the state of Alabama what they’ve been asking for, which is an opportunity to vote on the lottery.”

During the extensive debate on the Senate floor, Ross reminded his colleagues that merely living in Alabama is a “gamble”: “Taking what they proclaim to be the moral high road against gambling, they fail to realize it is a gamble to live in Alabama each day for those who have to choose between food and medicine, and for those who do not have access to health care,” Ross stated.

Probably the biggest surprise “yes” vote was Senator Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City). Williams in the past has been a strong opponent of expanding gambling in Alabama and now he is a “yes” vote for a state-run lottery…which many experts have called a tax on the poor and people who don’t understand math.

The Conservative Christians of Alabama said in a statement: “The Lottery hurts the poor! It is a regressive tax on poor people which takes away money they need for food, housing, and basic expenses. 21 senators voted to harm and steal from the poorest people of the state in order to pretend to address their own overspending.”

One Republican source told the Alabama Political Reporter that Sen. Williams was the surprise “flip” in the group that made passage possible. Sen. Williams reportedly told the Caucus that he could not vote for a lottery unless the legislature passed budget reform. Well, budget reform has not been discussed on the floor of either House. Several $billion of state revenues remain earmarked outside of the budgeting process, over 90 percent of state revenues are earmarked before they ever get to Montgomery (far more than in any other state), and the money that actually is available in the budgeting process is split among two budgets (the SGF and ETF), and the governor lacks a line item veto. No budget reforms of any kind were passed as amendments to this, so why did Sen. Williams flip his public position on expanding gambling into Alabama’s communities?

The bill now goes to the Alabama House of Representatives. They will return at 3:00 pm on Tuesday, August 23. There are seven legislative days left in this special session.

If the House approves the amendment then at some point the people of Alabama will get to vote on whether or not they support Gov. Bentley’s lottery.

 

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House passes General Fund Budget

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama House of Representatives passed the state General Fund Budget on Tuesday.

The General Fund Budget for the 2019 fiscal year is Senate Bill 178. It is sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose. State Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, carried the budget on the House floor. Clouse chairs the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee.

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Clouse said, “Last year we monetized the BP settlement money and held over $97 million to this year.”

Clouse said that the state is still trying to come up with a solution to the federal lawsuit over the state prisons. The Governor’s Office has made some progress after she took over from Gov. Robert Bentley. The supplemental we just passed added $30 million to prisons.

The budget adds $50 million to the Department of Corrections.

Clouse said that the budget increased the money for prisons by $55,680,000 and includes $4.8 million to buy the privately-owned prison facility in Perry County.

Clouse said that the budget raises funding for the judicial system and raises the appropriation for the Forensic Sciences to $11.7 million.

The House passed a committee substitute so the Senate is either going to have to concur with the changes made by the House or a conference committee will have to be appointed. Clouse told reporters that he hoped that it did not have to go to conference.

Clouse said that the budget had added $860,000 to hire more Juvenile Probation Officers. After talking to officials with the court system that was cut in half in the amendment. The amendment also includes some wording the arbiters in the court lawsuit think we need.

The state General Fund Budget, SB178, passed 98-1.

Both budgets have now passed the Alabama House of Representatives.

The 2019 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, 2018.

In addition to the SGF, the House also passed a supplemental appropriation for the current 2018 budget year. SB175 is also sponsored by Pittman and was carried by Clouse on the floor of the House.

SB175 includes $30 million in additional 2018 money for the Department of Corrections. The Departmental Emergency Fund, the Examiners of Public Accounts, the Insurance Department and Forensic Sciences received additional money.

Clouse said, “We knew dealing with the federal lawsuit was going to be expensive. We are adding $80 million to the Department of Corrections.”

State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow, R-Red Bay, said that state Department of Forensics was cut from $14 million to $9 million. “Why are we adding money for DA and courts if we don’t have money for forensics to provide evidence? if there is any agency in law enforcement or the court system that should be funded it is Forensics.”

The supplemental 2018 appropriation passed 80 to 1.

The House also passed SB203. It was sponsored by Pittman and was carried in the House by State Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton. It raises securities and registration fees for agents and investment advisors. It increases the filing fees for certain management investment companies. Johnson said that those fees had not been adjusted since 2009.

The House also passed SB176, which is an annual appropriation for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The bill requires that the agency have an operations plan, audited financial statement, and quarterly and end of year reports. SB176 is sponsored by Pittman and was carried on the House floor by State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatham.

The House passed Senate Bill 185 which gives state employees a cost of living increase in the 2019 budget beginning on October 1. It was sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville and was being carried on the House floor by state Rep. Dimitri Polizos, R-Montgomery.

Polizos said that this was the first raise for non-education state employees in nine years. It is a 3 percent raise.

SB185 passed 101-0.

Senate Bill 215 gives retired state employees a one time bonus check. SB215 is sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville.

Rich said that retired employees will get a bonus $1  for every month that they worked for the state. For employees who retired with 25 years of service that will be a $300 one time bonus. A 20-year retiree would get $240 and a 35-year employee would get $420.

SB215 passed the House 87-0.

The House passed Senate Bill 231, which is the appropriation bill increase amount to the Emergency Forest Fire and Insect and Disease Fund. SB231 is sponsored by Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette.

State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chathom, said, “Thank you for bringing this bill my district is full of trees and you never know when a forest fire will hit.

SB231 passed 87-2.

The state of Alabama is unique among the states in that most of the money is earmarked for specific purposes allowing the Legislature little year-to-year flexibility in moving funds around.

The SGF includes appropriations for the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the courts, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Department of Corrections, mental health, and most state agencies that are no education related. The Alabama Department of Transportation gets their funding mostly from state fuel taxes.

The Legislature also gives ALEA a portion of the gas taxes. K-12 education, the two year college system, and all the universities get their state support from the education trust fund (ETF) budget. There are also billions of dollars in revenue that are earmarked for a variety of purposes that does not show up in the SGF or ETF budgets.

Examples of that include the Public Service Commission, which collects utility taxes from the industries that it regulates. The PSC is supported entirely by its own revenue streams and contributes $13 million to the SGF. The Secretary of State’s Office is entirely funded by its corporate filing and other fees and gets no SGF appropriation.

Clouse warned reporters that part of the reason this budget had so much money was due to the BP oil spill settlement that provided money for the 2018 budget and $97 million for the 2019 budget. Clouse said they elected to make a $13 million repayment to the Alabama Trust fund that was not due until 2020 but that is all that was held over for 2020.

Clouse predicted that the Legislature will have to make some hard decisions about revenue in next year’s session.

 

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Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday

Sam Mattison

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By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

The day care bill, which would license certain day care centers in Alabama, was once again delayed on the state Senate floor after one lawmaker requested more information.

Its brief appearance Tuesday ended with state Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, saying a compromise had not yet been worked out with the bill’s detractors.

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Alabama’s Senate has been hesitant to act on the legislation because of complaints of state Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, who has been an opponent of the bill since its introduction last year. The bill’s delay on Tuesday marks the second time its been taken off the Senate’s agenda.

The bill has had a rocky time in this year’s session, but the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said she is still confident about its passage out of the Legislature.

Warren, D-Tuskegee, filed the bill this session with the support of influential lawmakers including Gov. Kay Ivey, who told reporters last year that she though all day cares should be licensed.

Mainly sparked by the death of 5-year-old boy in the care of a unlicensed day care worker, the bill had great momentum coming into this year’ session.

Despite the growing support from lawmakers, Religious groups had concerns that the bill would increase state-sponsored reach into religious day cares in churches and non-profit groups.

Spearheading the dissenters was Alabama Citizens Action Program, a conservative religious-based PAC.

Warren, proponents, and ALCAP announced a compromise to the bill while it was still in the Alabama House.

Announced by ALCAP originally, the new bill was a weaker version in that it did not require that all day cares in the state be regulated. Instead, religious-based day cares would only need to be registered if they received federal funds. At a Senate committee meeting in February, Warren said a similar requirement was about to come from federal law in Congress.

The bill moved through the House in a overwhelming vote in favor of the proposal and passed unanimously out of a Senate committee a few weeks ago.

Warren, speaking to reporters after its passage from the House, said she was unsure if the bill would encounter resistance in the upper chamber.

It was the Senate that killed the daycare bill last year amid a cramped last day where senators took the bill off the floor. The bill may face similar complications this year, as lawmakers seem to be preparing to adjourn within a few weeks.

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Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor

Sam Mattison

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By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

Would-be Fantasy Sports players in Alabama will have to wait to legally play in the state following a Senate vote on Tuesday.

The Alabama Senate decisively killed a bill to exempt fantasy sports from the state’s prohibition on gambling.

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Not even entertaining a debate on the Senate floor, the proposal was killed during a vote for the Budget Isolation Resolution, which is usually a formality vote preluding a debate.

Fantasy sports are contests where participants select players from real teams to compete on fantasy teams using the real-world players’ stats.

Since 2016, the practice has been illegal in Alabama following a legal decision by the Attorney General’s Office that categorized it as gambling.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, predicted the bill’s failure during a committee meeting two weeks ago, where the bill passed unanimously.

Sen. Paul Sanford speaks to reporters after a Senate Committee meeting on Feb. 28, 2018. (Samuel Mattison/APR)

Speaking to reporter’s after the committee meeting, Sanford said the decision to file the bill was mainly a philosophical belief that the practice shouldn’t be illegal.

Sanford, a fantasy sports player before its ban, said that fantasy sports are a way to bring people closer together and not a means to win money. The Huntsville senator is not seeking re-election.

The bill’s failure in the Senate follows its trajectory last year too. A similar version of the bill, also sponsored by Sanford, failed in the Senate during the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session.

Since Sanford is retiring, it is unclear if the bill will even come back next session, or if it will even have a Senate sponsor.

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Bentley Lottery Passes the Senate

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 5 min
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