By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—In the Special Session called for July 13, Gov. Robert Bentley employed, what magicians call, misdirection when he referred to votes needed to pass gambling legislation.
In Bentley’s proclamation he, “expressly excluded… gambling or games of chance commonly played at casinos or gambling facilities.” He further states that a two-thirds vote would be needed to consider such legislation.
The 1901 Alabama State Constitution makes it clear that any additional legislation not in the original call can only be passed by a two-thirds vote.
Clerk of the Senate, Pat Harris, has said in the past, “They can bring up anything, introduce anything they want to during Special Session. They don’t have to just introduce just what is in the call.” Harris points out it requires a two-thirds majority to pass new legislation.
But, no one has suggested passing gambling legislation.
Gambling legislation requires a constitutional amendment. According to a 1956 opinion by the Alabama Supreme Court, a three-fifths vote of the Legislature is what is necessary to pass constitutional amendment. This holds true in a Special Session according to the Court’s opinion.
Harris explains, “The opinion of the Justices in 1956, says that proposing a constitutional amendment is controlled by Section 284 and not by Section 76, it is therefore not considered legislation.”
To be clear, it takes a two-thirds vote to pass legislation, but only a three-fifths vote to pass a constitutional amendment. A constitutional amendment must then be placed on a ballot for a vote by the citizens.
Bentley is not the first governor to engage in this slight-of-hand approach. In the second Special Session of 2003, then Governor Bob Riley included similar language in his proclamation, prohibiting any gambling legislation without a two-thirds vote.
However, during that Special Session, the legislature passed a constitutional amendment named the Greene County Bingo amendment, which authorizes bingo gambling. It passed with a three-fifths majority. The final vote was 21 in the Senate and 64 in the House. “This makes it obvious that Governor Bentley’s two-thirds requirement for gambling legislation in his proclamation is meritless when dealing with a constitutional amendment,” said a highly respected gaming attorney.
In the vote for Greene County gaming amendment, as well as the Macon county amendment, then Rep. Robert Bentley voted “Yea” to both.
Bentley said that he wants to raise taxes, raid the Education Trust Fund and the Rolling Reserve.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) said that rather than raising taxes or raiding funds, he would like to propose a constitutional amendment allowing the people of Alabama to vote on a omnibus gaming bill.
Bentley wants to exclude gambling in the July 13 call. However, according to the Court’s 1956 opinion, Marsh’s lottery and gaming bill does NOT have to be in the call, and does NOT need a two-thirds vote to get it in the Special Session and can NOT be vetoed by the Governor.