Authorizing Statewide Vote on Gambling
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey has announced her support for gambling legislation that is currently being developed in the Alabama House of Representatives. The proposed legislation would authorize a statewide vote on a state lottery and a select number of casino sites. This would be the first statewide vote on gambling since former Governor Don Siegelman’s proposed lottery failed in 1999. The previous bills on gambling have faced opposition from conservatives who oppose legalized gambling as a revenue source and disputes over who would receive casino licenses.
Governor Ivey stated, “Now is the time for Alabama voters to have another say on this issue,” emphasizing the importance of giving the voters a voice in deciding the future of gambling in the state. The draft versions of the bill indicate that it would authorize a lottery and up to 10 casino sites in Alabama. Republican Representative Chris Blackshear, who is sponsoring the legislation, anticipates introducing the bill soon, acknowledging that the process is unfolding day by day.
Blackshear stated, “We’ve kicked the can down the road too long. All we are trying to do is put a good package together that allows the people to decide what they want. Ultimately, their votes decide.” For the bill to pass, it would require bipartisan support. Currently, the Alabama Constitution prohibits lotteries and casinos. To change this, the measure would need to be approved by three-fifths of members in both legislative chambers and then a majority of voters in a statewide vote.
Democratic Representative Kelvin Lawrence, whose district includes a long-running gambling hall, hopes that the legislation will provide equitable treatment and fairness to locations where voters have previously approved some form of gambling. Lawrence expressed the need to review the full bill before committing to voting yes, stating, “The devil is always in the details.”
Education Savings Accounts Proposal
In addition to supporting gambling legislation, Governor Ivey also announced a proposal for the creation of an education savings account. The proposed $100 million fund would allow families to use public funds for private school tuition or other education-related expenses. Initially targeting low- and middle-income families and families of students with disabilities, the program would provide up to $7,000 tuition vouchers.
Governor Ivey stated, “My goal is to put us on a trajectory to make our program fully universal, while also maintaining our full and total support for public education.” The proposed bill, titled the Creating Hope and Opportunity for Our Students’ Education Act, or the CHOOSE Act, would allow families earning up to 300% of the federal poverty level to access public dollars for private school tuition or other expenses. After three years, the income cap would be removed, but lower-income families and families with students with disabilities would have priority for receiving funds.
State Senator Arthur Orr, the sponsor of the bill, expressed satisfaction with the proposed funding amount, calling it a “healthy but manageable amount” for initiating the program. He expects the bill to be in committee next week. Democrats have expressed concerns about using public dollars for private schools, while some Republicans may desire a more comprehensive proposal. A rival bill introduced on Tuesday, similar to the one from last year, would provide up to $400 million in vouchers.
Support for Absentee Voting Bill
Governor Ivey also expressed support for a Senate bill that aims to make it a crime to assist someone in voting by absentee ballot unless they are close family or a household member. The bill, up for a committee vote soon, is seen by its Republican supporters as necessary to combat voter fraud. However, opponents argue that it would make it harder for people to vote and is unnecessary, as Alabama does not have a significant issue with ballot harvesting.
The proposed bill would classify ordering, prefilling, requesting, collecting, or delivering an absentee ballot for someone who is not a household member or family as a misdemeanor offense. If the person is paid, the penalty would increase to a felony. Election officials would be exempted from this law, along with individuals who are blind, disabled, or unable to read, who may seek assistance in voting.
Governor Ivey believes that the bill would close “loopholes that allow unaccountable, paid political operatives to pressure folks through the absentee voting process.” However, Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton questioned the need for the bill, suggesting it is a national Republican issue being adopted by the state. Singleton stated, “Ballot harvesting is not an issue in this state.”