Gambling bill in doubt with three days left in the legislative session

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Miranda Fulmore, WBHM

Alabama lawmakers are coming down to the finish line for this year’s legislative session. Many bills await passage, but perhaps the biggest one up in the air is a lottery and gambling bill.

“All bets are off, so to speak, when it comes to this issue,” said Todd Stacy, host of Capitol Journal on Alabama Public Television.

Stacy offered an update on that and other legislative work in Montgomery this week.

Gambling – not dead yet

Lawmakers appointed a conference committee to work out differences between House and Senate versions of the bill. On Tuesday, the committee proposed a compromise that would authorize a state lottery and allow “electronic games of chance” including slot machines and video poker, but not table games, at seven locations. The seven locations would be the dog tracks in Macon, Jefferson, Greene and Mobile counties, plus existing bingo halls in Lowndes, Houston and Greene counties. 

The conference committee proposal would also direct the governor to negotiate a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. It would not authorize sports betting.

The House voted 72-29 for the conference committee proposal. However, the measure stalled in the Alabama Senate, where a motion to concur with the conference committee failed by one vote.

“The Senate could still act on this bill,” Stacy said. “But as of right now, they’re one vote short.” 

Stacy said one interesting turn of events involved Sen. Greg Albritton. He sponsored the original gambling bill in the Senate and said he personally supported the compromise legislation.

“But he voted against it because his district includes the Poarch Band and Creek Indians. They were unhappy with some of the details of the bill,” Stacy said. “That alone was enough for him to vote no even though he supports the concept.” 

A new state house

Around the Alabama State House, there’s been more noise than usual. That’s because construction is underway on a new state house building nearby. 

“Alabama has needed a new state house for a long time. The current building was never meant to be a state house,” Stacy said.

A panel of lawmakers heard an update on plans for the new building on Wednesday. Construction will cost about $300 million to $325 million. Related projects, which include a parking deck, a green space, a new voting system, the demolition of the old building and drainage improvements, will add another $75 million to $100 million to the project’s cost.

Officials said the cost estimates are “on track” with initial projections.

Alabama lawmakers are shown architectural drawings of what a new Alabama Statehouse will look like when it is complete in 2027 during a meeting of the Alabama Legislative Council in Montgomery, Ala. on Wednesday, May 1, 2024. The project also includes a new parking deck and a green space where the current building is located (AP Photo/Kim Chandler)

“This is going to be a really grand building,” Stacy said. “Something the state can be proud of.” 

Stacy said the building will be more hospitable to visitors and constituents with larger meeting rooms and gallery space. Plans call for lawmakers to meet in the new state house for the 2027 session.

The final days

Just three days left in the 2024 legislative session leaves little time for any remaining bills to make it out. Stacy said both the Education Trust Fund and the General Fund budgets are in line to pass with little controversy.

One bill worth watching, according to Stacy, is a rewrite of the state ethics law. The bill made it out of the House in April, but has sat dormant since then. Stacy said it appears the Senate is ready to take up that bill.

“That would be a pretty significant bill to pass in the last couple of days of the session. So that’s something to look for next week,” Stacy said.

Includes reporting from the Associated Press

 

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