By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
The Alabama Senate debated the lottery for four days of this Special Session. On Tuesday, August 23, it took the Alabama House of Representatives just a few minutes to effectively kill the lottery, without ever even discussing it in a committee.
Freshly energized lottery opponents used the tight timeline and a rarely used parliamentary maneuver to kill the lottery bill for the November 8 ballot. Wednesday, August 24, was the last day for the lottery bill to pass out of the House in time for the November 8 Presidential election. Inexplicably the House chose not to meet on Saturday or Monday. It was a fatal mistake by the House leadership. The leadership had assigned State Senator Jim McClendon’s (R-Springville) Senate Bill 3 to the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee; but there was no scheduled meeting of the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee.
At 3:00 p.m. the full House went into session. One of the first items of business was a motion by the Chairman of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee Rep. Alan Harper to suspend the rules so that the House Tourism Committee can meet at 3:30 pm on Tuesday. These measures pass all of the time by voice vote and there is no opposition to committees being allowed to meet, even when they are meeting to consider very controversial bills. This time a state representative demanded a formal roll call vote. Taking new Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Madison) completely by surprise lottery opponents voted against the motion to suspend the rules to waive the 24 hour notice rule before the chair of a committee can call a committee meeting.
House Information Officer Clay Redden later explained the technical maneuver to the news media. A motion to suspend the House rules requires passage of at least four fifths of the members present. Only 92 of the 103 House Members were present on the floor (there are two vacancies). Passage required that four fifths vote for in favor of suspending the rules. Only 59 members voted for the procedure. This doomed HB3 to never come to the floor before Wednesday’s deadline because the House also has a rule that a bill can not be voted on by the full House on the same day that it comes out of committee. The earliest the Economic Development and Tourism Committee can even meet is Wednesday.
State Representative Christopher John England (D-Tuscaloosa) said in a statement afterwards, “The House has effectively killed the lottery for this special session. It will not be on the November ballot. It was not done on the bill itself but done on a procedural vote.”
The Alabama Political Reporter confirmed this interpretation of the arcane Alabama legislature rules with Senator McClendon. We asked McClendon if he would be able to resurrect the lottery for a special election in January. He said that he did not think so because some of his Senators that voted for the measure would not support spending $3.1 million for a special election. Because the lottery was a state constitutional amendment it must pass each House with a three fifths majority. McClendon only had 21 yes votes on Friday. The defection of even one Senator would doom the controversial legislation.
That at least 33 members of the House are actively opposed to McClendon’s controversial lottery amendment means it had little chance, if any, of passing the House anyway with the three fifths number required for passage.
A source close to the legislature’s leadership told the Alabama Political Reporter that a revolt by Jefferson County Republican legislators doomed the lottery. Jefferson County Republican Party Chair Sallie Bryant had warned that a lottery vote would bring out more Democrats to the polls on November 8, and doom Republican candidates in the State’s largest county, which has been trending Democratic in the last two presidential elections. Lottery proponents were skeptical of the theory that more Democrats will come out to vote if they can vote for a state lottery, however a late and determined push by local party leaders turned the Jefferson County delegation decidedly against any November 8, lottery referendum.
Lottery opposition was dogged and determined throughout this Special Session, while lottery supporters were few beyond the normal cadre of lobbyists for the healthcare industries that stand to profit from increasing state Medicaid dollars.
Alabama Citizens Action Patrol (ALCAP) fought the lottery every step of the way. ALCAP director Joe Godfrey said in a statement, “As I posted earlier, a procedural vote to allow the House Tourism Committee to meet today (Tuesday) failed. That means the lottery amendment will NOT be on the November ballot!”
Godfrey warned, “This is a temporary victory for opponents of the lottery, but there is still a lot of work to do. Keep contacting House Members and urge them to vote NO on SB3!” “The House Tourism Committee will now meet at 4:00 PM tomorrow (Wednesday, August 24) in Room 200. I have called for a public hearing on SB3, the Governor’s lottery bill. I know it is Wednesday evening and many will be involved in church activities, but if you can come to the State House it would be helpful.”
The Alabama Political Reporter has not spoken to any source who thinks that any form of gambling expansion is going to pass out of the legislature during this Special Session now.
If Senators continue to oppose a special election, then the earliest the people of Alabama could see a lottery bill on the ballots would be the party primaries in 2018. If voters approved a lottery for the general fund amendment (and that was always doubtful) the state general fund would likely see little lottery revenue until fiscal year 2020, long after Governor Robert Bentley (R) is gone from office.
There are six legislative days left in this Special Session.
The biggest question left in this Special Session is if the legislature really wants to go through the motions of using all of those legislative days or just sine die and go home.