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Gambling proposal, state budget next up in second half

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(The Center Square) – A busy legislative session in Alabama has hit the halfway point, with a gambling bill and putting together a state budget next for lawmakers.

Gov. Kay Ivey has already signed into law a ban on diversity, equity and inclusiveness for state-funded schools and another measure that would create an education savings account program.

With the session down to its final few weeks once it reconvenes on Tuesday, a bill that would bring casino gambling to the state is stalled.

Two bills that deal with the issue, House bills 151 and 152, were rewritten by the Senate before lawmakers took off a week for spring break. HB151 would put a lottery and gambling measure on the ballot for voters to decide, while HB152 would create the Alabama Gaming Commission to manage the state’s gambling industry.

The original two House bills would have created an expansive gambling industry with a lottery, sports betting and table games at multiple locations statewide.

The Senate’s rewritten plan is much more basic, with only a state lottery and expanded gambling at three casinos owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. It would also allow some limited gaming at horse tracks statewide but wouldn’t implement sports betting.

The last time Alabama voters cast ballots on creation of a lottery in 1999, it was defeated.

The rewritten gambling plan was approved by the Senate 22-11 on March 6, but hasn’t received a floor vote in the House.

Bill cosponsor Rep. Andy Whitt, R-Harvest, told Huntsville TV station WHNT that he believes there is plenty of time for a bill to pass the Legislature and that the House considered the Senate plan during the break.

Ivey supports the creation of a state lottery and said as much in her State of the State speech in February.

Two-education related bills took center stage earlier this month.

Ivey signed into law on March 21 a ban on “divisive concepts of diversity” at public universities and community colleges, local school boards and state agencies. The bill was the subject of protests by students and has exceptions for taxpayer-supported student groups, as well as publicly funded workers and contractors that answer questions about diversity concepts as part of their job duties.

Ivey also signed into law a bill on March 7 that created an education savings account program worth $7,000 per year to Alabama families. The law creates a $100 million fund for annual scholarships of $7,000 used by parents for tuition to approved private schools and other educational costs, such as tutoring and software.

Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, sponsored the Creating Hope and Opportunity for Our Students’ Education Act, making Alabama the 14th state with a program.

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