By Steve Flowers
Folks, I have been observing and participating in the legislative process for over 50 years. Lest you think I am real old, I started paging in the legislature when I was 12, served in the House of Representatives close to two decades, and have been reporting on the legislative process for now close to two decades and I am here to tell you I have not seen a more up and down roller coaster ride than the recently completed special session to deal with the lottery issue.
Extraordinary special sessions of the legislature are the way to go to get something accomplished if you are governor. The legislature has to address the topic for which the governor has called the special session. It is called “the call.”
During a regular session there are 500 bills introduced, granted a good many are local bills. However, there are a great many significant bills as well as the budgets. Therefore, there are a myriad of issues that the legislature can hide behind or get lost in the shuffle.
The lottery issue has been looming for years. In fact, the Democrats in the House have been proposing it for close to a decade with the proceeds going to education, much like the Georgia lottery. Don Siegelman’s lottery would have passed in 1999 if the opponents had not created doubt at the last minute about sweetheart deals and chicanery hidden in the proposal. It has now been asleep for 16 years. In the interim, every state around us has started a lottery or full-fledged casino gambling with substantial money being reaped by our sister state’s governmental coffers.
Over the years, there has been an incremental weakening of moral opposition in the Heart of Dixie to purchasing a lottery ticket. There is still a 30 percent pious opposition in the state. That same percentage would also oppose drinking, dancing, and listening to secular music.
Interestingly, there was about a one third bloc of senators and representatives, almost all Republican, who refused to let their constituents vote on the issue based on their piety. Even though the majority of the folks they represent would vote for the lottery if given the opportunity. My political observation is that their vote to disallow their people the right to vote may come back to haunt them come reelection time in 2018. People are actually incensed that the legislature could not simply pass legislation to let them keep their money at home.
The lottery issue is a constitutional amendment and requires a three fifths vote in both chambers to get on the ballot. That is 21 out of 35 votes in the senate and 63 out of 105 votes in the House. Then it would go on the ballot and you would vote yes or no. Polling indicates it would pass by a two-thirds vote.
Our good ole Dr. Governor Robert Bentley decided that the money eating monster in the General Fund, Medicaid, needed feeding. Therefore, he called the special session and requested that the legislature address more funding for Medicaid. Ole Bentley really is a good man, being a doctor he believes in providing adequate medical care for Alabama’s indigent older and younger people. Sixty-six percent of nursing home residents are on Medicaid and most of the children in the state are on Medicaid.
Bentley is a good ole guy but he is not much of a politician or governor. The legislature has pretty much relegated him to being about as relevant as he was as a back bench member of the House. However, in the past year he has become not only irrelevant, but somewhat of a joke.
Bentley called the session and most of the legislators heard about it on the news. A special session can last 30 calendar days and 12 legislative days. There was an August 24 deadline to get the initiative on the November general election ballot. He should have called the special session for July 15, not August 15. That is about the only input he would have anyway.
On another note, Bentley has pretty much been a failure in the legislative process. However, he deserves credit for showing resolve and statesmanship when it comes to standing up to the Vegas/Indian casino gambling interests and not succumbing to their intimidation. His decision to follow the constitution and leave the promulgation of the local casinos in the hands of the local sheriffs is to be commended.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.