Lottery bill stalls in Alabama House

Alabama lawmakers today rejected a plan to allow voters to decide whether to establish a state lottery, a question that was last on the ballot 20 years ago.

The legislator handling the bill said it could be reconsidered tonight or Wednesday.

The bill fell one vote shy of the three-fifths margin required on a procedural vote in the House of Representatives. The vote was 53-36 with one abstention. Most of the Republicans voted yes, while most Democrats voted no.

Legislators had said they expected a close vote today.

Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, is handling the lottery bill in the House. It would direct 75 percent of net revenue to the state General Fund and 25 percent to the Education Trust Fund.

Rep. Louise Alexander, D-Birmingham, was one of the first up to talk about the bill. Alexander said she would propose an amendment to split the revenues equally between the General Fund and Education Trust Fund.

Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, spoke after Alexander and said she also supported sending more of the money to education.

After that, the House voted on the procedural motion called the budget isolation resolution, which is required on every bill before the state budgets pass. Approval requires a three-fifths margin, which the bill did not receive.

House rules allow reconsideration of the budget isolation resolution, called the BIR, one time.

When the House recessed for dinner tonight, Clouse said he was working to round up the votes to bring the bill back up. He said that could happen tonight or Wednesday.

Clouse said he believes the House would approve the BIR if it votes on it again. But passing the bill is harder, requiring three-fifths of the House membership, or 63 votes.

“The question is, as we move forward with different amendments and different arguments, do we have enough votes to get to 63,” Clouse said. “We’ve got to have 63 yes votes. I just don’t know if we’ve got that yet or not.”

Fifty Republicans voted in favor of the budget isolation resolution, while three Democrats voted for it. Those voting against it included 21 Democrats and 15 Republicans.

Clouse said an amendment to direct more of the lottery revenue to education is probably necessary to attract the votes needed to pass, even though he said the General Fund has the greatest need.

“I realize that for the general public, though, they that think more needs to go to education and the General Fund is just some kind of black hole,” Clouse said. “But when you start identifying all the areas of the General Fund, from Medicaid, to prisons, to mental health, to DHR, state troopers, at the point people begin to realize how important it is for public safety.”

If the bill makes it through the Legislature, the question would go on the ballot for voters during the presidential primary in March.

Alabama voters last had their say on a lottery in 1999, when voters rejected the plan by Gov. Don Siegelman.

In 2016, Gov. Robert Bentley proposed a lottery plan to support the General Fund, but it did not pass the Legislature.

https://www.al.com/news/2019/05/lottery-bill-up-for-debate-in-alabama-house-today.html