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Lottery bill to be considered in committee this week

Brandon Moseley

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The lottery bill is expected to be voted on in committee this week.

AL.com has reported the vote would take place in committee Tuesday, but later reporting by the Alabama Daily News stated that the vote would be Wednesday afternoon in the House Tourism and Economic Development Committee.

As of press time, the legislature is not reporting any of their committee agendas to know who is meeting at what time and what will be on their agenda.

Senate Bill 220 is sponsored by State Senator Greg Albritton, R-Atmore.

The bill states: “The Legislature finds that lotteries have been enacted in many states and the revenues generated from those lotteries have contributed to the benefit of those states. Many Alabamians already participate in other state lotteries.

Therefore, the purpose of the proposed 16 amendments is to establish and provide for a lottery statewide to generate revenue for the state.”

Originally the profits from the lottery were to be split between the Alabama Trust Fund  — the state’s savings account — and the state general fund but that was modified by the Senate to the SGF.

The House committee has further amended the bill to send 75 percent of the profits to the General Fund and 25 percent to the education budget.

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SB220 would allow for Alabama to participate in multi-state lotteries like the Power Ball and do daily scratch-offs at convenience stores. Gambling advocates claim that the Albritton lottery leaves money on the table by not expanding to computer games.

Senator Jim McClendon, R-Springville, had introduced a more freewheeling lottery bill that included video lottery terminals (VLTs) at the state’s four dog tracks. Senate Majority Leader Del Marsh, R-Anniston, however, preferred the paper lottery only Albritton proposal so the McClendon bill has languished in a committee in the house of origin.

The Alabama Constitution of 1901 forbids games of chance and other forms of gambling, thus to allow a lottery means that the Albritton bill requires a three-fifths supermajority to pass in both Houses of the legislature.

If the bill somehow gets out of committee, it faces an uncertain path in the House.

State Representatives Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, and Artis “A.J” McCampbell, D-Livingston, have both introduced local constitutional amendments to legalize electronic bingo machines at Victoryland in Shorter and Greentrack in Eutaw.

Warren has said that she will not vote for the lottery unless the Republican approve her constitutional amendment.
Some Republicans have said that they will support a paper lottery only and will not vote to allow electronic bingo in Alabama.  It is not known if the entire Democratic caucus would follow that course; but it is difficult for a gambling bill, even the lottery, to pass the House without Democratic support.

It is estimated that at least twenty-two conservative Republicans are opposed to any expansion of gambling in the state to include SB220.

Earlier this year, Democrats allied with establishment Republicans to pass a fantasy sports contest bill in the House and to pass a massive fuel tax increase both over the objections of conservative Republicans. The leadership will need to hold that moderate GOP-Democrat coalition together to pass the lottery in the house. If the House were to allow the expansion of legalized gambling at the dog tracks, there is a strong likelihood that the bill would be dead on arrival when it comes back to the Senate. The version that passed the Senate only passed 21 to 12.

Some critics of SB220 complain that by not expanding electronic bingo it makes the Poarch Creek Indians, a sovereign tribe whose electronic casino games are protected by the federal government’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, a monopoly and that would be protected by the state constitution.

Some lottery supporters will vote for any lottery bill; while others argue that since it is unlikely that a second constitutional amendment will pass any time soon that a lottery amendment has to be “right” (and different legislators have different definitions for what a right lottery bill looks like).

Then Gov. Robert Bentley called a special session in 2016 to pass a lottery. Then both Houses passed different versions of the lottery, but could not reach agreement on what kind of a lottery bill they wanted.

Conservatives argue that the government should not be funded on an untrustworthy source like a lottery that requires that government exploit the personal weaknesses of the citizenry to fund its operations. Generally, only the citizens who can not understand mathematics play lottery games frequently enough to make the games pay and often those citizens become gambling addicts and they are often the ones least able to afford it.

75 percent of the cost of running a lottery would go to prizes, promotion, the convenience stores that sell the tickets, and the company that runs the lottery for the state. Albritton estimates that his lottery would return $167 million to state coffers annually. Critics like Senator Larry Stutts, R-Sheffield, reject that estimate as far too high. Stutts opposes any lottery; but said that if we were to pass a lottery, this was the wrong lottery.

If a lottery bill does pass the legislature, it still has to be approved by voters during the March presidential primaries. While many voters support a lottery, like Georgia’s that funds Hope Scholarships for college kids, this lottery does not do that. Instead, all the money goes back to the government. That could be a harder sell to voters, who rejected the lottery the last time that the legislature passed one.

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House

Alabama Legislature plans to return to work briefly March 31

Eddie Burkhalter

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The Alabama Senate is planning to get to only a few big, constitutionally mandated items before calling an end to the year’s legislative session amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but whether they’ll get those tasks accomplished remains to be seen. 

Senate leadership is advising lawmakers who fall into “at-risk” categories because of their age or pre-existing medical conditions to not attend the Senate’s meeting when it resumes.

Among the items legislators tentatively plan to tackle before gaveling the session closed sometime in the future are the passage of the Education Trust Fund budget and the General Fund budget, which is the Legislature’s only constitutionally mandated duty.

And “other bills deemed necessary.” 

The state Senate’s Plan of Action, obtained by APR Friday, states that the Senate will meet at 2 p.m. on March 31 for its 14th legislative day. 

“The intent for this legislative day is to advance only essential attendance items and then to adjourn to a date certain for the 15th Legislative Day. April 28 has been discussed with the House,” the plan reads. 

The State Senate’s plan: 

“As leaders, it is imperative that we demonstrate that the business of this state carries on in an orderly and systematic fashion while adhering to the recommendations of our public health officials.

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The Alabama Senate will meet on Tuesday, March 31 at 2:00 pm at the Statehouse in the Senate Chamber as scheduled. This will be the 14th Legislative Day.

The intent for this legislative day is to advance only essential attendance items and then to adjourn to a date certain for the 15th Legislative Day. April 28 has been discussed with the House.

Below is a draft agenda for Tuesday, March 31.

  • Gavel In
  • Pledge and Prayer
  • Roll Call
  • Excuse all Senators
  • Points of Personal Privilege
  • President Pro Tem Marsh
  • Majority Leader Reed
  • Minority Leader Singleton
  • Adjourn to date certain for 15th Legislative Day.

“It is highly recommended that any Senator that falls into any of the at-risk categories stay away from the March 31 Legislative Day,” the plan advises. “However, each Senator’s personal wish will be accommodated.”

Any Senator or staff member that is ill, has been ill, or has been in the same room of anyone that has had any symptom of illness in the 72 hours preceding the March 31 Legislative Day must stay away from the March 31 Legislative Day, according to the Senate’s leadership.

A disinfecting station will be provided under the canopy of the second-floor rear entrance for each senator to disinfect hands and cell phones as they enter the State House and as they leave the Statehouse.

“We must ensure that we practice all Health Department recommendations while at the Statehouse,” the plan reads.

Social distancing will be accomplished by having senators report to their offices by 1:45 p.m. They will then walk into the chamber as the roll is called and then go back to their offices.

“As much separation as possible is required therefore greetings must be verbal only from a distance of 6 feet or greater,” the plan reads.

The remainder of the session will be held possibly Tuesday, April 28 through Monday, May 18.

This timeframe includes three weeks of the session plus the last day of May 18.

A specific plan for meeting more days than normal will be developed and provided prior to the next legislative meeting date.

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House

$200,000 in campaign finance penalties deposited into State General Fund

Staff

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Act 2015-495, which went into effect beginning with the 2018 Election Cycle, allows the Secretary of State’s Office to issue penalties to Political Action Committees (PACs) and Principal Campaign Committees (PCCs) that fail to timely file campaign finance reports.

As of today, the Office of the Secretary of State has collected $202,504.20 which has been deposited into the State General Fund to benefit the people of Alabama.

Conversations with the Senate and House General Fund Chairmen are currently underway to determine the best way to allocate these resources to counties.

Anyone who receives a campaign finance penalty is able to appeal their penalty to the Alabama Ethics Commission who has the authority to overturn a penalty.

“When I campaigned for this office in 2014, I made a promise to the people of Alabama that I would work to see that it is easy to vote and hard to cheat in this state. Since then, we have worked to make the electoral process more fair and transparent through requiring the honest reporting of all PACs and PCCs,” stated Secretary of State John H. Merrill.

Anyone who suspects an individual may be in violation of the Alabama Election Fairness Project is encouraged to report suspicious activity to StopVoterFraudNow.com.

 

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Economy

Daniels: We have to get help to those who need it most

Josh Moon

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There is not enough help coming fast enough to the people struggling the most. 

That was the message from Alabama House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, who was asked on the “Alabama Politics This Week” podcast about the efforts of Alabama’s state government to address the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“If you’ve never been poor, you don’t fully comprehend how things like this affect the poor and the unique problems the poor people face,” Daniels said. “I commend Gov. (Kay) Ivey and her staff for working to try and address this crisis the best they can, but I just think there’s a lack of understanding among all of us in some cases of how people need help.” 

To address those issues, at least in part, Daniels is writing a series of letters to different entities, including Ivey, to explain how they can best help the state’s most vulnerable. 

Daniels plans to ask the Alabama Supreme Court to order lower courts to halt foreclosure proceedings and evictions for those affected by coronavirus job losses and illnesses. He also will ask Ivey to intervene with banks on behalf of customers who are falling hopelessly behind on mortgage, car loans and other installment loans. And he will seek additional assistance from the state for borrowers with overwhelming student loan debt. 

“I want people to understand that I’m not criticizing what’s being done or trying to take control, I just hear from these folks on a daily basis and believe there are some better ways to help people,” Daniels said. “President Trump has addressed student loan debt by knocking the interest of those loans, but what does that really do for a person who just lost a job? Or someone who’s had hours and pay cut? We need to pause those payments and give people substantial forgiveness. 

“Otherwise, it’s going to be ugly.”

Democrats in the House also have been putting together potential legislation that could be passed to help the state’s poorest citizens and those who have been laid off from jobs. The specifics of those pieces of legislation weren’t available, but Daniels said they would have the same focus — providing real help for those who need it most. 

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If those bills are anything like the measures taken during the last economic downturn, you can expect a relaxing of rules on social programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and unemployment assistance programs. 

One of the first moves could be overturning a measure passed during the last legislative session that cut the number of weeks of unemployment pay in the state from 26 to 14. State Sen. Arthur Orr sponsored that legislation, and critics argued at the time that a downturn, such as the one that occurred in 2008, could suddenly leave thousands in the state without jobs and job prospects. It passed anyway.

 

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House

Alabama House cancels March 25 committee meetings due to coronavirus

Jessa Reid Bolling

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The Alabama House of Representatives announced on Monday that committee meetings scheduled for Wednesday, March 25 will be cancelled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

The legislative day on March 26 has not technically been cancelled but the House is not expected to have a quorum for that day.

A “quorum” is the minimum number of House members that must be present at any meeting to make the proceedings of that meeting valid. If there are not enough members present, then the meeting cannot proceed and House rules state that the speaker of the House is allowed to set a new date for the meeting. 

The Legislature is currently on an annual spring break. The House and Senate are both expected to reconvene on March 31. According to the statement from the House, a joint decision will be made regarding the future legislative meeting days.

The full statement reads:

“The leadership of the Alabama House of Representatives has made several changes to the upcoming meeting calendar because of the coronavirus crisis in the state.

House committees that were scheduled to meet on Wednesday, March 25, 2020 have been cancelled.

The House is scheduled to meet on Thursday, March 26, 2020 at 9:30 a.m. but no quorum is expected that day.

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Under House Rule 5(b), if there’s no quorum to conduct business during a state of emergency declared by the governor, the speaker of the House is allowed to set the date and time of the next meeting day. 

Both the House and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, March 31, 2020 and at that time a joint decision will be made as to future legislative meeting days.”

 

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