Gaming stumbles at the finish line
Legislation to allow Alabama citizens to vote on whether to legalize gambling including a lottery, casino games, and sports betting failed as the 2021 regular legislative session concluded.
Despite the efforts of former Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R – Anniston), Governor Kay Ivey, her chief of staff former Congressman Jo Bonner, Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D – Greensboro), House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R – Huntsville), House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R – Rainsville) and House Financial Services Chairman Rep. Chris Blackshear (R – Phenix City), the gaming package never made it to the floor of the House of Representatives.
The issue took a number of unexpected twists and turns as it worked through the process; failing on the Senate floor by two votes, being resurrected/changed and finally passing the Senate, and a last minute attempt to bring a “clean lottery” bill to the House on a one bill special order calendar late in the night on the 29th legislative day before being hastily withdrawn by the House leadership.
The “put it all in one package” political calculus upon which the multi-bill gaming package was based proved too heavy a lift. Rumors continue to swirl in Montgomery about whether Gov. Ivey will call a special session to address gaming either later this summer or in the fall.
Medical Marijuana bill becomes law
On Monday May 17th, Gov. Ivey signed SB 46 by Sen. Tim Melson (R – Florence) into law. This legislation legalizes limited, permitted medicinal use of cannabis in the state of Alabama.
The legislation creates a complicated regulatory system to govern the cultivation, processing, transporting, testing, and dispensing of medical cannabis. Only patients with a listed qualifying medical condition would be granted a valid medical cannabis card allowing the use of marijuana.
Proponents of the bill cited studies and testimony from medical experts which indicate that the use of medical marijuana can significantly benefit individuals suffering with chronic conditions including Alzheimer’s, ALS, cancer, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, seizures, hepatitis C, AIDS, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, and others.
Opponents of the legislation argued forcefully that marijuana is a “gateway drug” that leads to further illegal drug use and that passage of this bill would eventually lead to legalization of recreational marijuana in Alabama.
Passage of this legislation was far from certain at many stages in the legislative process. Credit is due to both bill sponsors, Sen. Melson who is a licensed, practicing physician and Rep. Mike Ball (R – Madison) who is a former Alabama state trooper.
Both legislators devoted countless hours to educating themselves and their fellow members on the medicinal benefits of cannabis leading up to the debate.
The regulatory system created by the legislation will not be fully implemented until late 2022, so the medical use of marijuana in Alabama will not be available until that time.
Tax credit for storm shelters receives final passage
What was supposed to be a simple tax credit for the construction of storm shelters in the state hit a major snag on the last day of the session. HB 227 by Rep. Joe Lovvorn (R – Auburn) would establish an income tax credit for eligible taxpayers who incur costs for the construction, acquisition, or installation of a qualified storm shelter.
Under the legislation, Alabamians building a storm shelter on their personal property would qualify for a $3,000 credit or 50 percent of the total cost of the construction, whichever is less.
The bill passed the House unanimously on a one-bill Special Order calendar in early March; the Senate Finance and Taxation – Education committee approved the bill with a clarifying amendment in mid-April. On Monday, the final day of the session, the bill came up as the first bill on the Senate Special Order calendar.
During the Senate debate, two floor amendments were added to the bill. The first, by Sen. Dan Roberts (R – Mountain Brook), inserted language to ensure that federal restaurant revitalization grants are excluded from Alabama income tax. Despite the original bill not dealing with restaurants at all, the sponsor was amenable to the amendment due to the time sensitive nature of the issue.
The second amendment was much more problematic. Sen. Arthur Orr (R – Decatur) added a seven-page amendment that he described as a reporting requirement for tax credits. The amendment was adopted quickly with no discussion. After review, business and economic development entities sounded the alarm that the amendment, if signed into law, would completely overhaul the economic development incentive landscape in the state.
When the bill was returned to the House, Rep. Lovvorn moved to non-concur and go to conference. The conference committee, made up of Rep. Lovvorn, Rep. Rodney Sullivan (R – Northport), Rep. Jeremy Gray (D – Opelika), Sen. Clay Scofield (R – Guntersville), Sen. Tom Whatley (R – Auburn), and Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D – Birmingham), unanimously moved to remove the Orr amendment.
Late Monday night, the House and Senate voted to approve the conference committee report, which allowed for final passage.
The Alabama legislature adjourned sine die at midnight on Monday, May 17. There is much talk of multiple special sessions this summer and fall on issues such as the disbursement of federal relief funds, prison construction/funding, and redistricting. The timing of those special sessions is not yet known.