Goat Hill Report- Week Ending 3/12/21

Gaming legislation fails

This week saw the defeat of Senator Del Marsh’s effort to pass comprehensive gambling legislation. Just a few weeks ago, I would have bet the legislation would have passed. However, when the roll was called Tuesday, the legislation failed to reach the required 21 votes for a constitutional amendment.

Thirteen republican senators including Albritton (Atmore), Chesteen (Dothan), Holley (Elba), Jones (Centre), Livingston (Scottsboro), Marsh (Anniston), McClendon (Springville), Melson (Florence), Price (Opelika), Reed (Jasper), Waggoner (Vestavia), Whatley (Auburn), and Williams (Wilmer) voted for the bill. They were joined by 6 democrats including Senators Beasley (Eufala), Coleman-Madison (Birmingham), Figures (Mobile), Hatcher (Montgomery), Singleton (Greensboro), and Smitherman (Birmingham).

The thirteen no votes were all republican senators including Allen (Tuscaloosa), Barfoot (Pike Road), Butler (Madison), Chambliss (Prattville), Elliott (Fairhope), Givhan (Huntsville), Gudger (Cullman), Orr (Decatur), Roberts (Mountain Brook), Scofield (Guntersville), Sessions (Red Bay), Shelnutt (Trussville), and Stutts (Sheffield).

Two democrat Senators, Sanders-Fortier (Selma) and Dunn (Birmingham), were absent due to serious illness and did not vote.  Sen. Marsh said after the vote that the loss of those two, presumed favorable democrat votes, probably doomed the measure to failure.

SB 214 would have provided the people of Alabama an opportunity to vote on a constitutional amendment on a traditional statewide lottery. Recent polling data indicate upwards of 70% of Alabama voters support such a measure.

As introduced, the bill also provided a mechanism to legalize casino gaming at four current gaming sites including Victoryland, Mobile Greyhound Track, Birmingham Race Course, and a new, greenfield casino site in Jackson or Dekalb Counties to be owned and operated by the Poarch Creek Indian Tribe.

The legislation also included language that directed the Governor to engage in good faith negotiations to create a statewide gaming compact with the Tribe, ultimately leading to casino gaming at tribal owned facilities in Atmore, Wetumpka and Montgomery.

During the debate on the bill, Marsh also agreed to allow casino gaming at Whitehall in Lowndes County and another facility in Houston County.

The bill also created a statewide Gaming Commission and allowed comprehensive sports book wagering on three platforms controlled by nationally recognized sports betting companies. Unlike some states including Mississippi which require sports betting to be done at physical gaming facilities, SB 214 would allow these activities to be conducted at will using a cell phone or personal computer.

Sen. Jim McClendon (R – Springville), Sen. Garlan Gudger (R – Cullman) and Sen. Marsh introduced a “clean” statewide lottery bill late Tuesday evening after the failure of SB 214. It remains to be seen whether this bill will gain political momentum during the final half of this legislative session.

In addition, Governor Kay Ivey could call the legislature into session later this year to deal with this issue, should she decide to do so.

House passes General Fund budget

The House of Representatives passed the General Fund budget Tuesday, sending a bill to the Senate that increases funding across the board for state agencies and programs for the next fiscal year.

As passed, the $2.47 billion budget is an increase of $78.9 million over the current fiscal year’s General Fund and $15 million more than Gov. Kay Ivey’s original budget proposal from February. It includes a 2% pay raise for state employees.

One of the most significant increases in the budget is a $26.3 million-plus up for the Alabama Department of Corrections. Ivey and ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn have said most of the new funds would be directed toward improving health care, including mental health care, in state prisons. Last year, a federal judge ruled that the medical health care in Alabama prisons was “horribly inadequate” and ordered the state to make improvements.

The Department of Mental Health would see a $10 million increase in the House-passed budget, much of which would go toward establishing another crisis diversion center in the Birmingham-Tuscaloosa region, according to Finance Director Kelly Butler. The state is in the process of opening three crisis diversion centers in Mobile, Montgomery and Huntsville.

Bills of Interest to the Concrete Industry

Senate Bill 220 by Senator Clay Scofield passed the Senate 29-0 on Thursday. The bill would prohibit indemnification clauses in contracts on public roads and bridges. Indemnification clauses are extremely unfair to suppliers and subcontractors as they require the groups to pay for legal defense of a contractor or owner even when they had no negligence. 

The Alabama Legislature will reconvene on Tuesday, March 16, 2021.

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