AL Special Session – Lottery, Casino Proposals Could be on Table

Gov. Robert Bentley can help make legislators focus on his priorities during a special session by what he puts in his resolution calling the session.

Under the state Constitution, legislation about any subject not included in the governor’s special session resolution requires a vote of two-thirds of the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate to pass.

That would be at least 24 of 35 senators and 70 of 105 representatives.

Legislation to expand gambling, such as to allow a lottery and casinos, is different. It would require a constitutional amendment.

The state Supreme Court ruled in the 1950s that the passage of constitutional amendments is governed by Section 284 of the Constitution, even during a special session.

That means it requires approval of three-fifths of members of the House and Senate.

That sends the issue to voters, who have the final say on whether to change the Constitution.

So the bar, at least in the sense of the number of votes needed, is not any higher for gambling measures during a special session than a regular session.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh of Anniston, who proposed a constitutional amendment to allow a lottery and casinos at the state’s four greyhound tracks during the regular session, said he’s planning to see if the measure has support during a special session.

“It will depend on what options we have on the table and how inclined senators are to create revenue,” Marsh said. “There’s no guarantee they’re going to change their minds on revenue measures.”

Marsh said he’s not convinced senators are going to support tax increases, especially a package as large as the $541 million plan Bentley offered during the regular session.

“I would hope that if we’re looking at revenue, at least some part of the gaming package is considered,” Marsh said.

He noted that a lottery alone, according to an Auburn University at Montgomery report commissioned by his office, would generate about $300 million a year in state revenue after prizes and expenses.

The House minority leader, Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, introduced two lottery bills this year, including one to help fund Medicaid, the agency that spends the most from the General Fund.

Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, the chairman of the House General Fund committee, signed on as a co-sponsor of that bill, but it never came up for a vote.

Bentley has not said when he will call the special session.

Lawmakers have said they expect it to be in August.

The budget year begins Oct. 1.

On Thursday, Bentley vetoed the budget passed by the Legislature that would have cut spending from the General Fund by $200 million, 11 percent, from this year.

The House voted to override the veto, but the veto stood because the Senate had already adjourned for the session. Marsh said he called for early adjournment because he did not want the Senate to have to override the veto.

Even before the veto, leaders in the House and Senate had said they expected to return for a special session on the budget shortfall.

Special sessions can last up to 12 meeting days within a 30-day period.

Special sessions cost an estimated $321,000, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office.

This story and headline was corrected at 9:22 a.m. on June 10 to say that gambling proposals, as constitutional amendments, require the same vote during a special session as during a regular session.