MONTGOMERY — A statewide lottery proposal was in jeopardy in the Alabama House late Tuesday, as advocates tried to overcome objections from opponents during floor debate.
At one point, the bill appeared dead after a procedural vote failed, but supporters were trying to revive it as the evening wore on.
Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, who is carrying the bill in the House, said Tuesday evening he thought he had enough votes to at least get the bill back on the floor, but final passage was another question.
"We’re going to talk with Democrats in the next hour to see what their mood is and see if we can go forward with it tonight, and if we can’t tonight then possibly wait until (Wednesday)," Clouse said.
Objections to a lottery as a source of government funding, disagreements about how the revenue would be spent and a lack of legal protections for existing dog track casinos were the main points of opposition to the bill.
Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, criticized the "paper lottery" proposal, which would generate an estimated $167 million a year when electronic lottery games would bring in more.
"It is ridiculous that we are piecemeal-ing together this paper lottery and the citizens really think they are going to the polls to vote on an actual lottery," Givan said. "This is a bad bill. Why doesn't 75% go to the (Education Trust Fund) and 25% goes to the General Fund? I would rather see all of the money go to the education budget."
A House committee last week amended the proposal to send 25% of the revenue the education budget and 75% to the General Fund and debt service. Several House members said 25% for education wasn't enough.
The bill first failed Tuesday afternoon on a procedural vote to get enough support to continue debate. Budget Isolation Resolution votes are required on every bill that's debated and voted on prior to the Legislature's passage of the state's two budgets.
Lottery bill supporters then tried to get a second BIR vote via a seldom used rule to allow for reconsideration of an item.
Bill sponsor Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, said he hoped House members would "do the right thing" while he waited to see if they'd again take up his bill.
He also defended the Senate's proposal to spend all the revenue on the General Fund, saying it would allow the state to fully fun the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.
"(Having) $167 million in the General Fund means the pressure to fund CHIP is off," he said. "We can fund that. It means we have some growth in the General Fund instead of being stagnant. It means that we’ll be no longer stealing from the education fund every single step."
The bill did not have enough support to continue, failing 53-36, with 14 members not voting, and one abstention. Fifty-six votes were needed to advance the bill.
Republicans and Democrats alike were split over the constitutional amendment. Overall, 50 Republicans and three Democrats voted “yes,” while 14 Republicans and 22 Democrats voted “no.”
The Senate narrowly passed the bill with the 21 votes needed and dedicated 100% of the revenue from ticket sales to state debt and the General Fund, which supports non-Education agencies and departments.
Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, said she is in favor of letting people vote on a lottery proposal, but would vote against the bill unless she could amend it so 50% of revenue went to scholarships for workforce development training and education.
"I’m not in favor of a lottery that allows that much (revenue) to go to prisons and Medicaid when we have a need in our state for half of million more people with industry-recognized certifications or degrees to reach our attainment goals but they can’t afford to enter those schools," Collins said.
She said needs-based scholarships are not funded enough by the state.
"We’ve got workforce needs that need to be addressed, and (my amendment) will help do that," Collins said. "They will be earning a higher wage because of the certificate which will then put more income into the state, so it’s a great return on investment. Prisons and Medicaid will add no return on that investment.