By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Sometime today, Gov. Robert Bentley is expected to call a Special Legislative Session to begin on August 15.
Last week, Gov.Bentley announced he was going to call a Special Legislative Session in late summer or early fall. On Wednesday, his office released a video in which Bentley said, he was going to call a Special Session to address a lottery, but he didn’t say when. He did say he would be visiting folks around the State over the next few weeks. Then a few hours later he told insiders the date of the Special Session would be August 15.
Last week Bentley announced there would be an announcement about a Special Session, this week he announced there would be a Special Session. If the pattern had held there would have been an announcement to announce a date then an announcement for the date. Thankfully that didn’t happen.
Over the past several weeks Bentley has flip-flopped on the date, one minute wanting a September Special and next an August 1. Just hours after Bentley released what is being dubbed a bizarre announcement of an announcement, Sen. President Del Marsh (R-Anniston) weighed in on the Governor’s statement saying, “In my discussions with Governor Bentley, I have, and will continue to encourage him to call the session in early August. This will leave the window open for the legislature to consider a lottery proposal and put it on the ballot this November.” He further added, “Any referendum passed by the legislature after August 24 would require a special election costing taxpayers $4 million, which is an unnecessary expense to the state at a time of budget shortfalls.”
The lottery bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jim McClendon (R-Springville), echoed Marsh’s advice to the Governor adding, “What I am seeking and what I want is to have the highest voter participation to give the greatest number of our 3.1 million voters a chance and make it easy for them to express themselves, He said. “It is expected to have a 75 percent turnout which will certainly give strong direction to the Legislature whether the people of Alabama want a lottery or don’t want a lottery.”
Gov. Don Siegelman in 1999, against the advice of some of his senior staff, placed the lottery constitutional amendment on a free-standing referendum and suffered a stunning defeat.
Many, who were consulting Bentley, were worried he was making the same mistake as Siegelman.
McClendon who was pushing for an August Session expressed concern the later date would play to the advantage of special interests on both sides of the issue. “The very best way to take the pulse of the citizens of Alabama is to have this at the General Election where we expect at least a 75 percent turnout of our 3.1 million voters,” said McClendon, stressing the need to have the greatest number of citizens cast their ballot up or down.
In his statement, Marsh emphasized the need for a special session to address funding for Medicaid and the Regional Care Organizations (RCOs). “The legislature made a commitment to fund the RCOs and in speaking with my colleagues in the Senate and House, I am hopeful that we will continue to make progress toward achieving that goal,” said Marsh. “It important that we continue this revolutionary transformation of the Medicaid system, which is acting as a pilot for continued healthcare reforms and is projected to save the state millions of dollars over time.”
Several individuals with close ties to the governor are worried that he wants to barnstorm the State, so when the lottery passes he can take credit for fixing Medicaid. They also say Bentley has failed to grasp the public’s disdain for his behavior, related to an alleged “nonphysical” affair with his then senior advisor, Rebekah Caldwell Mason.