The Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday advanced three gambling bills out of committee. Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, told reporters that the gambling bills will be on the floor of the House on Thursday, which is day 29 of the 30-day legislative session.
“The House has only had the gambling bill for five legislative days and already we are ready to vote on it on the floor,” McCutcheon said.
While there are three gambling bills, McCutcheon said that one, the constitutional amendment, was the most important: “We can work on the enabling legislation next session if we have to.”
The House Rules Committee had released a complex special order calendar with 21 priority Senate bills last Thursday.
Rules Chairman Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, explained that a “clerical error” was made in how one of those bills was numbered. The Rules Committee met on Tuesday before the House convened to fix that error. At that meeting, the speaker ordered that Senate Bill 46, sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, be added to the calendar as the first bill on the list. SB46 is the medical marijuana bill. It was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison. Jones explained that picking his bill and placing it first is a prerogative of the speaker of the House under House rules.
The House spent more than nine hours on that one bill Tuesday as conservatives filibustered the bill to make Alabama the 38th state to legalize medical cannabis. The marathon session continued even through a severe thunderstorm, a tornado warning and a weather-related power outage that left members briefly in the dark, the Statehouse computers having to reboot, members’ iPads out of commission for 20 minutes, the legislative electronic board out for nearly an hour and a member of the Capitol press corps trapped in the Statehouse elevator for 45 minutes. The debate on medical marijuana continued until the end of the legislative day just before midnight.
McCutcheon explained that several members talked to him about cloture — an order of the three-fifths of the members of the body, ordering that debate be ended and that the body vote on the matter at hand.
“I told them to make sure that you have the votes first because you don’t want to bring it and have it fail,” the speaker said.
McCutcheon explained that SB46 will be the first item on the agenda when the House meets on Thursday as “unfinished business.”
McCutcheon predicted that SB46 will ultimately prevail and cited the three votes that have already occurred on the legislation: to pass the budget isolation resolution for debate to begin, to table the Health Committee substitute bill and to adopt the Judiciary Committee substitute for the bill. The last vote was 71 to 20.
“We will continue debate,” McCutcheon said. Following passage, the House Rules Committee will bring a new special order calendar. That will be the gambling legislation. Conservatives told reporters that they intend to filibuster the gambling legislation as well.
The Alabama Republican Assembly announced their opposition to the gaming legislation.
“It is 100% unacceptable for the Republican legislature to pass the full scale gambling bill that was substituted and passed corruptly out of the State Senate in place of a rather clean lottery bill,” Alabama Republican Assembly President Don Wallace said in a statement. “We do not need to bring corruption, trafficking, neglect of children, and negative economics to our state. AS Speaker, I am personally asking you to pull this bill and cancel any votes or whatever else is necessary to defeat it, because the bill is bad for Alabama! I would hope that you will find the courage to move us toward a more family friendly state, not less of one. We elected Republicans to do the right thing. Protecting children is doing the right thing. Hurting children, women and families is absolutely the wrong thing and if Republicans pass this bill, they will be held accountable by the voters in 2022.”
The gambling bill also faces challenges from the left. The bill in its current reform guarantees minority participation. State Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, told the body that he will kill the bill if that is not changed from minority to Black.
There are a number of illegal gaming establishments in Greene County that could be forced to close under one reading of the legislation. Greenetrack near Eutaw, owned by the powerful Winn family, would be allowed to remain open and would be expanded to a full casino with table games and slot machines in addition to the greyhound betting, bingo and quasi-legal electronic bingo played there presently.
State Rep. Ralph Howard, D-Greensboro, said: “I would never come to your district and take away anybody’s jobs. We should not be picking winners and losers here.”
“I have my own opinion on gaming, but we could write a better bill than this,” Howard said.
The gambling bill, in its current form, would allow six casinos around the state. It would also create an Alabama Gaming Commission to regulate gambling in the state and would tell the governor to make a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians who already operate three electronic bingo casinos in Wetumpka, Atmore and Montgomery. It would establish sports wagering as well as a state lottery.
McCutcheon said that the Alabama Firearms Protection Act by Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Northport, was another priority bill that would be introduced on Thursday, presumably after gambling. The speaker was asked about a permitless carry bill, frequently called constitutional carry.
“I don’t anticipate constitutional carry coming to the floor,” McCutcheon said.
The Child Protection Act, a bill that would ban doctors from prescribing puberty blockers and gender altering levels of hormones to minors, is another Senate priority bill that will be addressed by the House on Thursday, according to the speaker.
A member of the conservative faction that was filibustering told APR that the other 21 bills on Tuesday’s special order were dead for this session.