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Gambling issue hovers over the last day of the legislative session

If the House tries to take up gambling on the last day of the session, it would likely kill dozens of other priority bills.


Monday is the 30th and final day of the 2021 Legislative Session. Any legislation that has not passed both houses of the Alabama Legislature in the exact same form before the end of the session on Monday will be dead and will have to be reintroduced next year in the 2022 Legislative Session, barring the governor calling a special session to address it.

Almost every Republican politician in the state likes to campaign on a strong pro-Second Amendment platform. Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, told reporters on Thursday that Senate Bill 358, the Second Amendment Preservation Act, sponsored by Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Northport, would be addressed by the Legislature during this session. If House leadership tries to resurrect the gambling bill, SB319, then priority bills like SB358 could fail from lack of time.

The Alabama House of Representatives faces a logjam of legislation that it was supposed to address that it has not addressed in the previous 29 legislative days. All of day 28 and most of day 29 were spent on medical marijuana legislation, SB46. The House then wasted six hours negotiating on yet another substitute version of the gambling bill SB319.

Finally, on Thursday night, the House adopted a 25 bill special order calendar that included SB358 as well as other items including civil asset forfeiture reform, a ban on vaccine passports, postponing implementation of a rule that would fail every third-grader who performs poorly on standardized testing regardless of their grades, a ban on puberty blockers and hormone treatments to minors, a plan for blind people to vote absentee and reforms to give the Legislature some oversight on future extended public health emergency orders.

While the house did pass legislation putting Alabama on year-round daylight savings time, if Congress allows it, most of that ambitious calendar was torpedoed when Rules Committee Chairman Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, tried to adopt a new special order calendar late in the night to introduce yet another House substitute version of the gambling bill – this one creating a state lottery.

Of course, he and the gambling faction in House leadership did not bother to release the text of this surprise new version of the bill to members, the press or the public until after 10 p.m., and they expected the membership to vote on that proposed constitutional amendment by 11:45 p.m. That effort was so late and so clumsily orchestrated that that request for a second special order calendar was ultimately withdrawn in the face of strong bipartisan criticism.

Now the Alabama Legislature has one day left to finish all of its business. The House still has not published a special order calendar for the last day of the session. Both houses of the Legislature still have to vote on the conference committee version of the state General Fund budget. That has not yet been released.

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The House leadership is keeping all of their plans closely guarded secrets, as they have done throughout the debate on SB319. Instead of just passing the Senate version of SB319, the House insisted on writing a substitute version of the bill prior to it going to committee, without having all major factions in agreement on what should be in it.

That substitute apparently satisfied no one so a new substitute was written.

That second substitute was ultimately given a favorable report by the House State Government Committee on April 28. House leadership and Democratic leadership were still far apart on what actually would be in the bill, substitute No. 3, which would have been introduced on the House floor after tabling the committee substitute.

A 21-bill special order calendar that included civil asset forfeiture reform and the Daylight Savings Time bill was to be addressed on May 4. Instead, the Rules Committee adopted a new special order calendar that had SB46, the medical marijuana bill, at the top of the calendar.

The debate on marijuana and a determined filibuster by House conservatives led by Rep. Carns, R-Vestavia, and Rich Wingo, R-Tuscaloosa, slowed progress on the bill to a crawl. Meanwhile, negotiations between the House leadership and the Democrats continued through late Thursday on substitute No. 3 that they would introduce on the House floor, ultimately achieving nothing.

When the House Minority Leadership took a hard-line stand on their demands, the Republican House leadership chose to go to a lottery, which they felt could pass without Democratic support. Reporters asked the House speaker if he had a lottery bill already written.

“We have five,” he told the reporters as he left to meet with a member of his leadership team while the members worked on day 29’s special order calendar. Jones’s one-bill special order calendar introduced at 11:53 p.m. included substitute No. 4.

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If the House leadership intends to bring SB319 to the floor, there are a least four possibilities. It could be a gambling bill with:

  • A simple lottery.
  • A lottery and a gambling monopoly for the Poarch Band of Creek Indian.
  • A lottery, a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians, a sportsbook, and allow casinos at the four dog tracks, Dothan, and a site near Chattanooga.
  • A lottery, Indian compact, six casinos, sportsbook, and legalize as many as 18 arguably illegal gambling halls for a period of 2 to 5 years until the newly created Alabama Gaming Commission can deal with it.

Three of those have actually been written as bills at some point in this process and the fourth is being discussed. Nobody knows what is in the gambling bill to even coherently discuss it at this point. Unless the House votes to table the committee sub and passes the Senate version of SB319 unamended whatever passes out of the House will have to go back to the Senate for their consideration.

Ultimately, that could be so late in the legislative day that the Senate may have to take the House version of the bill, whatever that ultimately is, and take it or leave it. Meanwhile, dozens of other pieces of legislation will die in the House from lack of consideration on the House floor.

If a gambling bill is ultimately passed by the Legislature, voters will have an opportunity to vote it up or down into the state Constitution in the 2022 general election.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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