By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Thursday, August 25, as the debate in the Alabama House of Representatives raged on, about what their version of lottery bill SB3 should look like, and as more amendments were added, it became increasingly doubtful that the House and the Senate would be able to bridge the chasm between the two and concur.
The Senate appointed a conference committee just after midnight, when the House finally passed the bill on a reconsider motion (it originally failed). Instead, the Senate recessed until 10 am and promptly recessed again for two hours. When they came back, Democratic Senators, whose support had been essential to passing the bill in the first place, began filibustering the bill. After another recess the Senate voted “NO” on concurring with the bill and did not appoint a conference committee to resolve the issues with the House. SB3 is dead and there is not enough legislative days left in the Special Session (three) to pass a new bill from scratch or even those other lottery bills that were introduced but not yet acted upon by committees in their house of origin.
House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D from Gadsden) said in a statement, “After years of fighting for a lottery and finally getting it through the legislature last night, the senate killed it today and denied the people of Alabama the right to vote. It’s a shame that democracy has lost to attitudes, personalities and egos from the Senate body.”
Ford has been advocating for an education lottery to provide scholarships for graduating seniors to go to trade schools or college. His lottery bill did not even come to the floor of the House this session.
The first $100 million of the Governor’s lottery bill would have gone to Alabama Medicaid, which claims it is facing another budget crisis.
An upset Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) told reporters afterwards that the legislature, “voted against a half million children in poverty.”
State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R), who has been a vocal critic of Bentley, said in response in Huntsville Saturday at the state meeting of the Alabama Republican party: “Gov. Benedict continues to waste taxpayer money but blames others for a shortfall in the Medicaid program.”
Auditor Zeigler said, “The $1.8 million Gov. Benedict diverted for his Gulf beach house could have gone for those poor children. The 80 percent pay raises he sneaked through for his cabinet could go for those poor children. The hundreds of thousands he is wasting on his aircraft fleet could go for those poor children. The $35 million in BP funds he is holding hostage could go for those poor children.”
Zeigler added, “The legislature should have moved aggressively forward with impeachment so the Feds won’t have to come here and do for us what we should do for ourselves — oust an incompetent, deceitful excuse for a governor.”
Many legislators thought the lottery amendment was not detailed enough.
Rep. Will Ainsworth (R-Guntersville) wrote, “We only considered the constitutional amendment and we would have to consider the enabling legislation in next year’s regular session, once the lottery has been approved. Approving that kind of blank check amendment is a recipe for mismanagement, special interest domination, and possible corruption.”
Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville) who sponsored SB3 said, “I tried. The bill allowing you to vote on a lottery actually passed the Senate and House. Surprised a lot of people. SPECIAL INTERESTS joined forces to sabotage the effort.”
It is possible that Gov. Bentley could call another Special Session to consider the lottery and that lottery advocates could schedule a referendum on the lottery as early as January; but at this point there is still an enormous amount of organized opposition to the lottery in the legislature as well as some state senators who will not a lottery unless it is open to electronic gaming at Alabama’s dog tracks, which is unacceptable to many Republicans that would support a clean lottery bill.
There are only three legislative days left in the Special Session.