The Alabama Legislature is quickly running out of excuses for failing to let the people vote on a state lottery.
Last summer, Gov. Robert Bentley called a special session specifically for the purpose of passing a lottery. After passing out of the state Senate, the lottery went to the House, where it passed on its second vote after a few changes had been made. Those changes meant the bill had to go back to the Senate and the senators didn’t agree with the changes the House had made. So, the lottery once again died without getting a chance to go before the people.
After the special session, Gov. Bentley formed a gambling study committee (on which I was proud to serve on) to research the entire gaming issue and come up with a recommendation for the governor and the legislature. But that commission’s work has been put on hold following Gov. Bentley’s resignation.
The next missed opportunity came in this year’s legislative session. While legislators certainly had their hands filled with issues like the budgets, roads, prisons and the autism bill, legislators still found plenty of time to address issues that were hardly pressing, such as changing the name of the Board of Pharmacy’s “inspectors” to “investigators.”
But just like it did with our infrastructure and prisons, the legislature chose not to address the lottery.
Unfortunately, our state legislature has become famous for procrastinating on major issues. You could say that legislators never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. And that is certainly true when it comes to the lottery. Once again, legislators failed to pass – or even consider bringing up – a lottery during the legislative session. And this would have been the perfect time to do it, too.
When Gov. Kay Ivey made the decision to call a special election for our U.S. Senate seat, she created the perfect opportunity to hold a referendum on the lottery. It wouldn’t have cost us any additional money because we already are spending it for the senate race. It would have removed any concerns about the lottery benefiting either political party, because it could have been held during the primary election instead of the general election.
But the opportunity may not be entirely lost just yet. Gov. Ivey will most likely call a special session at some point later this year to address the prison issue. The question is when the session will be called, and that will largely depend on when a federal judge makes his ruling on a lawsuit regarding mental health treatment conditions in our prisons. How he rules will determine what action the state needs to take to address our prison problems, so the special session likely won’t take place until after that ruling is given.
But once the special session is called, the lottery can be brought back up and put on one of the special election ballots (the primary, runoff and general elections will be held on Aug. 15, Sept. 26 and Dec. 12, respectively). All Gov. Ivey needs to do is include the lottery in her call for a special session and legislators can have one more shot at doing the right thing and finally letting the people vote.
Even if the governor doesn’t include a lottery in the call for a special session, legislators can still put one on the ballot, though it would require more votes in the legislature if she doesn’t include it in the call.
It’s a mistake for legislators to ignore the people and refuse to let the voters vote. It would be an even bigger mistake to keep kicking the can down the road and miss another opportunity to pass a lottery. And if the legislature does miss this opportunity, the voters should hold their legislators accountable for failing to do their jobs.
Now more than ever, we need leaders – especially in the State Senate where the lottery died last year – who will make the lottery a priority. It’s time for legislators to quit making excuses and listen to the people who elected them. Enough of kicking the can down the road – let the people vote!
Craig Ford represents Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives. He served as the House Minority Leader from 2010 – 2017.