MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate on Tuesday considered SB 214, a comprehensive gaming proposal that would have made a historic investment in broadband expansion, rural health care, mental health care and education. A substitute version of the bill, as amended on the floor, failed to garner the necessary 21 votes needed for passage.
As a constitutional amendment, SB 214 required 3/5 of the Senate’s 35 members to vote in favor of the bill. However, only 19 senators voted “aye,” while 13 dissented. There is one vacant Senate seat, in addition to two senators who have not been present this session due to respective illnesses.
Sen. Malika Sanders-Fortier (D-Selma) has been absent this session due to a serious illness coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, Sen. Priscilla Dunn (D-Birmingham) has been absent for the entirety of this quadrennium, which began in 2019.
Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston), the sponsor of SB 214, told reporters after the vote on Tuesday afternoon that he believes both of those Democrats would have supported the bill if they were able to be there. The rest of the Democratic Caucus voted to support SB 214.
Senators voting “nay” on Tuesday were Sens. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa), Will Barfoot (R-Pike Road), Tom Butler (R-Madison), Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville), Chris Elliott (R-Daphne), Sam Givhan (R-Huntsville), Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman), Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), Dan Roberts (R-Mountain Brook), Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville), David Sessions (R-Grand Bay), Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville) and Larry Stutts (R-Tuscumbia).
Marsh afterwards said he now regrets waiting a few extra weeks on the bill before moving to pass it on the floor.
“I made a rookie mistake,” he lamented.
He said he had 25 senators committed to voting in favor of the legislation last month. Marsh outlined that the six senators who allegedly bailed on supporting the bill (he would not name names) did not attempt to engage in the process by offering amendments or attempting to improve SB 214.
“No good deed goes unpunished,” said Marsh. “I take full responsibility for that. I think it was a good bill. As you heard on the floor today, I did everything to give everybody the ability to participate in the legislation.”
“The fact is that there were people that just weren’t honest brokers,” he later decried. “When someone makes a statement to you, ‘Del, if you will give me the enabling legislation, in two weeks I’m a yes.’ I produced enabling legislation, sent it out last week to the members. I introduced it as three bills today. That person voted ‘no’ today. So, let me tell you — what you have in this business is your word. … I feel I held my end of the bargain up.”
As a constitutional amendment, SB 214 would have gone before the people of Alabama via a referendum if it had passed the legislature; Marsh and other proponents of the bill had stressed that any legislator voting in favor of the measure was in effect voting to allow their constituents to have the final say on the matter. Of course, it can also be argued that senators voting against SB 214 in effect voted against their constituents being able to do the same.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed,” Marsh added. “But it is what it is. … I think the people of Alabama deserve a chance to vote on this issue. They want to vote on this issue.”
He said polling, even among Republican primary voters, showed a clear “mandate” to allow Alabamians to vote on the lottery and gaming issues.
“I don’t understand why my colleagues don’t understand that,” Marsh noted. “It’s pretty obvious, the polling data.”
“I just think that there was a lot of upside for the state. And, at the end of the day, it was the people that were going to make this decision. It always has been that — for the people. I hope, I will say this, I hope that people paid attention to that. And they need to look at how the [senators] voted on this issue. Because when you have 78% of Republican primary voters supporting the right to vote on this issue, that’s pretty strong,” he emphasized.
The Senate’s action came after Governor Kay Ivey (R-AL) the same day had urged them to keep the bill alive and moving through the legislative process.
Ivey released a statement to Yellowhammer News on Tuesday evening after the vote.
“Today’s vote by the Alabama Senate confirms more work must be done, because this issue is too important to not get it right,” the governor said. “No doubt gambling is complex and challenging, but I remain committed to giving the people of Alabama the final say. I also believe the work of my Study Group last year can continue to be helpful in finding the right path as we move forward.”
“Should the Legislature wish to continue discussions on this topic, I stand ready and willing to engage,” she concluded.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn