There is no gambling bill, because Alabama Republicans tried to play dirty. There are likely more astute, reserved ways to say it, but the truth is the truth. And that’s the truth: Republicans didn’t just get a little dirt on themselves, they wallowed in the mud.
In the 11th hour — literally — of a debate over a priority gaming bill, House Republicans submarined more than four days of talks, debates and negotiations and tried to ram through a surprise piece of legislation. It didn’t work, because their deceitfulness was somehow outweighed by their incompetence.
But nevertheless, there is no gambling bill. And there likely won’t be one. Because the Alabama GOP decided to kill it.
“From this point forward, good faith means nothing in this body,” said normally reserved and calm Rep. Chris England, the chair of the state’s Democratic Party, following the failed attempt.
He had every right to feel that way. And Republicans — while they likely won’t care at all about the loss of respect of their colleagues across the aisle — should at least face some hard questions from their constituents about this abysmal, embarrassing failure to pass bipartisan legislation that is extremely popular with voters.
Because passing it should have been simple by Thursday.
The gaming package would have allowed for six casino sites — at the four dog tracks, Dothan and a northeast Alabama location — a statewide lottery and sports wagering. It had been debated for weeks, and the bill’s sponsors and interested parties were relatively sure the votes were in place to pass it.
Except, when the House version of the bill that had already passed the Senate came floating out of the governor’s office (for some reason) on Saturday night, it was a trainwreck of a bill. There were massive problems all throughout and pretty much everyone involved was unhappy.
Over the next 48 hours, much of that was rectified. Except for the demands of one group — Alabama Democrats.
On the grand scale, their demands were relatively minor: include minority vendors, make sure minority owners get a fair shot, provide current operators who will be shut down with at least a two-year grace period and offer some assurances that the money allocated for “rural health care” in the bill would actually go towards Medicaid expansion.
That’s nothing. The only big ask was Medicaid expansion, and the Dems were perfectly willing to compromise on how the assurances were provided.
But getting those items in the bill was like pulling teeth. Over the course of the last 36 hours, as it became apparent to Republicans that Dems were holding strong in their demands, there were dozens of different meetings. The back and forth stretched into late Thursday evening, and by around 5 p.m., several Democratic lawmakers believed that a compromise had been struck.
The problem at that point, however, was time. There wasn’t enough time to get the bill on the floor, debate it and pass it — because there was still opposition to it, mainly from the same guys who spent a full day disparaging Colorado during the medical marijuana debate.
So, most everyone resigned themselves to the fact that gambling was going to occupy the Legislature’s final day on May 17th.
Everyone but a handful of people in House Republican leadership.
Led by rules chairman Mike Jones, a plot was hatched to submit a new legislative calendar at nearly 11 p.m. That calendar had only one bill — a lottery-only bill that also authorized a compact between the state and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
Republicans were literally going to try to ram through a bill that no one even had a copy of at nearly midnight. A bill that would dramatically alter the gaming landscape of Alabama. A bill that would reduce Alabama’s revenue from gaming by half. A bill that would kill more than two years of negotiations and compromise.
But they forgot one thing: There are still some rules they can’t break.
House rules require up to an hour of debate if you change the calendar. The new calendar had been submitted at 10:53. When Democrats and some hardline Republicans indicated they planned to use the entire hour — leaving just seven minutes to adopt the calendar and pass the lottery bill — Republicans quickly realized their mistake and withdrew it, claiming there was a “paperwork error.”
Democrats, as you might imagine, were not pleased. And you shouldn’t be either.
We can disagree on a lot of things, but following the rules and being decent humans shouldn’t be among them. And helping the poorest and most vulnerable in our state shouldn’t be either.
Look at the lengths to which Alabama Republicans are willing to stoop to keep from giving poor people health care. Because that’s what this is all about — their desire not to expand Medicaid, even in the face of every fact and figure saying they’d be dumb not to do so.
But here we are. There is no Medicaid expansion. There is no gambling bill.
All we have is what we started with: A bunch of incompetent fools in charge.