The 2021 legislative session is on the books. I would say it’s a success. When you adopt balanced budgets, every session is a success. In fact, the only constitutional mandate given to the legislature is to pass both budgets.
The astonishing revelation that is almost difficult to comprehend is the fact that the budgets of the General Fund and the Education Fund were not only the status quo, but were growing rapidly after a year of the COVID pandemic. Civil servants and teachers have both benefited from budget increases.
Alabama is one of the few US states that has not been financially devastated by the pandemic.
Much of the credit for this good fiscal stability goes to the chairmen of the House and Senate budget committees. They worked and diligently strived to pass conservative budgets with reserve accounts that allowed the state to avoid rainy days.
The state owes a debt of gratitude and a tip of the hat to House Budget Speakers Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) and Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) and Senate Finance Speakers Arthur Orr (R-Decatur ) and Greg Albritton (R -Escambie).
The legislature has dealt with many high-profile issues. One of the lingering issues was not allowing doctors to prescribe medicinal marijuana for pain relief for their patients. This requirement has been permitted for years in many states. Now doctors in Alabama will be able to prescribe this drug to their patients.
The question of the game dominated the whole session. The state Senate passed the game proposal to be sent to the people for a vote. However, he failed in the House of Representatives. This is a constitutional amendment and therefore needs 21 votes in the 35-member State Senate and 63 votes in the 105-member State House. He doesn’t even go to the governor for a signature but goes straight to the ballot. The governor is very supportive of this initiative. However, it probably needs to be dealt with in a special session for it to be adopted. Governor Ivey really needs to promote the issue in a special session where it’s the only issue dealt with and focused. She has plenty of time. The amendment, if approved by lawmakers, is not expected to be passed until the general election in November 2022.
This proposed constitutional amendment is a very comprehensive game plan. It institutes a lottery, authorizes sports betting and legalizes casinos throughout the state. This is a constitutional amendment that will also be accurate and detailed and with authoritative gaming policy enforcement procedures. This gambling regulation has been necessary for years because we already have gambling in Alabama.
The new state gaming regulatory commission would oversee the lottery, as well as the five existing casinos in Macon, Mobile, Greene and Jefferson counties, and one to be determined in northeast Alabama. This new location would be located in the pristine mountains of northeastern Alabama and would be donated to the Poarch Band of the Creek Indians. It would have the potential to be a destination tourist attraction.
Poarch Creek casinos would continue to be regulated by federal laws, but the state would be allowed to enter into an agreement with the tribe for Class III table games.
All lottery proceeds would go towards education, including scholarships for higher education and business schools and a loan cancellation program for graduates who move to Alabama. The annual revenues of casinos and sports betting would be distributed for several uses. Almost 50 percent would go to the legislature to allocate capital or other non-recurring expenses. Forty percent would be allocated to “improved health care services”, and 10% would be distributed among counties and cities for “capital or other non-recurring expenses”.
Under the All Gambling Income Legislation, up to 5 percent would be set aside for initiatives to help problem gamblers.
This legislation roughly follows the recommendations of Governor Kay Ivey’s proposal and does not even require his signature. She has been lobbying high profile for its passage and will approve its ratification by voters in Alabama. It will reap a significant amount of revenue for the state of Alabama.
You may very well see him return this year in a special session.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in more than 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve can be contacted at www.steveflowers.