Lottery, gaming bills revived
On Wednesday, the Senate Tourism Committee pumped new life into the gambling debate less than a week after a constitutional amendment to create a lottery and provide up to ten casino gaming locations failed on the floor of the Senate by a vote of 19 ayes to 13 nays. Constitutional amendments require a full two-thirds vote of the chamber, which is 21 votes.
The Tourism Committee, which includes gaming proponents Sen. Del Marsh (R – Anniston) as chairman and Sen. Bobby Singleton (D – Greensboro) as vice chairman, favorably reported the following bills:
SB 309 by Marsh authorizing a lottery in Alabama.
SB 310 by Marsh providing legislative intent and creating an Alabama Gaming Commission.
SB 311 by Marsh prohibiting certain campaign contributions by gaming operators.
SB 319 by Sen. Jim McClendon (R – Springville) authorizing a lottery in Alabama. The bill was substituted in committee with support of the sponsor.
SB 320 by McClendon providing legislative intent and creating an Alabama Lottery Commission.
During consideration of the bills, Sen. McClendon and Sen. Marsh both indicated that all options are still on the table including a “simple, plain lottery bill” and “some type of casino gaming.”
Marsh indicated several senators that represent gaming facilities (Victoryland, Greentrack and Birmingham Race Course) remain unwilling to support a straight lottery bill without some accommodation to the owner/operators of those facilities and the constituents who are employed there.
McClendon also stated that the path forward is unclear and that the appetite of the House of Representatives for a complicated, multifaceted gaming bill may be less than the Senate.
Rumors also continued to swirl in Montgomery this week that the Governor is working on a plan with key members of the House of Representatives for a gaming special legislative session. The disconnect between the Senate, House of Representatives, and the office of the Governor continues to be a stumbling block preventing the bills from moving forward during this regular session.
Most political observers believe that the gaming issue will continue to be a priority in the Senate, with the very real possibility that another vote on gaming will take place on the floor of the Senate when the legislature returns from spring break on March 30.
Senate approves education trust fund budget
On Thursday, the Senate unanimously approved the $7.6 billion Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget for FY 2022.
The proposal includes a 2% across-the-board cost of living pay increase for K-12 and community college employees and two other more targeted pay increases for teachers.
The Senate also approved Senate Bill 327 to create a program to offer increased pay to middle and high school math and science teachers who meet certain qualifications. Additional money would also be available to those teachers who work in hard-to-staff schools. Bill sponsor Sen. Donnie Chesteen (R – Geneva) said his proposed program would mean $15,000 more per year for participating teachers, depending on where they live. The bill requires that participating educators give up the option of tenure that would otherwise be available to them.
New in this budget is a $95 million “Teacher Stabilization Program” to help K-12 systems keep teachers next year even if they lost student enrollment this year because of COVID-19. School leaders have said they were concerned that their 2022 funding would be hurt because of a drop in enrollment this year. Systems are funded on prior year attendance numbers.
In all, the budget includes about $5.3 billion for K-12 and nearly $2 billion for higher education. The budget is $455 million more than the current year’s spending plan.
The legislature will be off this week for Spring Break and return on March 30, 2021.