By Glynn Wilson –
It just goes to show that just about anything can happen in a place where nobody really knows what they’re doing.
After just about every news corporation in Alabama had reported in print and on television that Governor Robert Bentley’s plan to bring the legislature back to Montgomery to pass a lottery bill in an effort to shore up the general fund and the Medicaid health care program was dead in a train wreck, a deal was struck late Friday afternoon and a different lottery plan emerged from the ashes and was approved in the Senate by a nose — with no votes to spare.
After intense negotiations and votes on amendments to Senate Bill 3, critics ended thir filibuster and let the Senate vote. Supporters of the bill needed 21 votes for passage, which they got, while 12 senators still voted no.
There’s still no guarantee that voters will get a chance to vote for a lottery. Sources in Montgomery say there’s only a 5-10 percent chance the House will go along and approve the bill by next Wednesday, the drop dead date for getting the lottery amendment on the ballot November 8.
The exact details of all the deal making are still not entirely clear, but two of the amendments that passed in the final hour are telling. While previous reporting had shown that lawmakers from Jefferson County and the Alabama Black Democratic Caucus were opposed to the governor’s lottery plan and had vowed to filibuster it to death unless Bentley accepted federal money to expand Medicaid, Senator Rodger Smitherman of Birmingham offered an amendment asking for a guarantee of $100 million a year of lottery money for Medicaid. It passed by a vote of 25-4, with one abstention.
Of course that will not help shore up the Medicaid program this year or next, which the governor and legislature left $85 million short in the regular session this winter and spring. If the bill passes the House and makes it on the ballot, and the people vote to approve it — no guarantee — it will be a couple of years before lottery proceeds start rolling in.
In another last minute deal, the Senate voted 22-7 to approve an amendment offered up by Jasper Republican Greg Reed, the Senate Majority Leader, to dedicate 10 percent of any lottery proceeds to the Education Trust Fund. The governor’s original plan when he made the call for the special session would have allowed all the money to go into the general fund, from where he said they could pull $85 million for Medicaid.
According to some sources, the biggest surprise “yes” vote came from Senator Phil Williams, the Republican from Rainbow City in St. Clair County. He had been a staunch opponent of gambling legislation in the past, fighting for “budget reform” and going along with Christian conservatives who had publicly opposed the lottery as “a tax on the poor,” really the same old strategy of opposing gambling because of their belief that it robs the Sunday collection plate.
A group of Senators from both parties voted to approved the lottery bill, including Beasley, Blackwell, Coleman-Madison, Dial, Dunn, Figures, Holley, Holtzclaw, Livingston, Marsh, McClendon, Melson, Reed, Ross, Sanford, Scofield, Singleton, Smitherman, Ward, Whatley, and Williams.
Republicans Albritton, Allen, Brewbaker, Bussman, Chambliss, Hightower, Glover, Orr, Pittman, and Waggoner were joined by independent Harri Anne Smith and Democrat Hank Sanders, who voted no.
It comes as no surprise that Trip Pittman of the Point Clear Mafia, referred to by the mainstream media as a Republican from Montrose, on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay in Baldwin County, voted against the measure. He has made it clear that his position is: “We all die sometime.”
See our previous reporting and this video on that.
Senate Minority Leader Quinton T. Ross Jr., a Democrat from Montgomery, heralded the bill’s passage.
“Today, the Alabama Senate in a bipartisan effort heard the voices of the people of the state of Alabama,” Ross said. “We are giving the people in the state of Alabama what they’ve been asking for, which is an opportunity to vote on the lottery.”
At the end of the day on Friday, the governor emerged from the Capitol and held a press conference praising the Senate for passing a lottery bill. Television news reporters, rather than asking any tough questions about the back room deal making that made passage of the bill a reality, focused their reporting on Twitter on a cat which walked nonchalantly through the news conference.
“It’s a relief,” Bentley said. “In fact, I think I am going just to go home tonight and for the first time just relax. And maybe tomorrow I am not going to think of anything, except cutting grass.”
Like Bentley actually has to cut the grass around the governor’s mansion in Montgomery.
The tough work of negotiating the bill through the House will start back up next week, when the lower chamber returns on Tuesday at 3 p.m. According to the rules, they will have seven more legislative days left in this special session to get the job done.
Who knows what other mischief they may get into in Montgomery next week? While some critics of the governor were expecting some talk of impeachment to arise, apparently deals have been made to tamp all that talk down. It wasn’t even a whisper this week. And no one is reporting why.
Enquiring minds want to know. What happened to all the big talk about impeachment of the “Luv Gov” that was going around on Facebook? Maybe the cat knows? Perhaps we will hear something about that next week? Stay tuned…
© 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.