April 23, 2021 | Regular Session
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Gambling Legislation Should Give Alabamians Pause
By John Allen Nichols, Federation Agriculture Counsel 

Alabama has a complicated history with gambling. But for the greater part of the last 50 years, the state has opposed legalized gambling in most forms. There are of course exceptions to this rule, notably dog tracks and bingo halls, as well as the Indian-operated casinos scattered across the state.

Efforts to legalize gambling are the reason those isolated locations exist. However, in its most recent attempt to bring legalized gambling to the state, the Alabama Legislature has opened wide the doors to a variety of gambling enterprises, many of which should give Alabama citizens pause.

SB 319 and SB 320, by Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, purport to authorize a lottery in the state to raise revenue for a scholarship program, similar to the Hope Scholarship program in Georgia. SB 319, a constitutional amendment (CA) gives a structure, albeit barebones and basic, to the lottery. SB 319, however, also authorizes casino-style gaming at “authorized locations.”

Loose Commissions

The Alabama Legislature is currently considering a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in the state. The bill is comprehensive and provides structure and detail to every aspect of this potential industry. There are strict standards as to the individuals who could be appointed to the “Medical Marijuana Commission” – the regulatory agency that would govern medical marijuana in the state. For example, under the proposed legislation, the governor has two appointments to the commission, one of whom must be a registered physician and another who must be a licensed pharmacist. The Alabama Gaming Commission as proposed by SB 319 includes no such language. There are no parameters as to who could be appointed to the commission. It even lacks a clear prohibition from appointing an individual who has an economic interest in a gambling enterprise in the state, or elsewhere for that matter. This loose structure indicates a prime opportunity for corruption to plague the system even as it begins.

Potentially Excessive Operational Costs

Although the CA contemplates how and where lottery and casino revenue would be spent – like to fund scholarships in the state – it contains no provisions preventing covered operators or even the commission itself from inflating operational costs to avoid those obligations. In other words, the commission or covered operators could spend excessive amounts on salaries, bonuses, even upgrades and decorations at facilities, to avoid having to pay gaming revenue into the designated funds. Under the current structure, gaming revenue could be used to pay a gaming commission executive director millions of dollars instead of funding scholarships.

Wily Bidding Process

The CA establishes a bidding system that allows would-be casino operators to bid for a license at one of several approved locations. This means any company wishing to operate a casino at one of these locations could make a bid (minimum bids are established in the bill). The CA allows the current operator of the “covered location” to make the final bid at a higher rate than any other offer. This seems to give Alabama residents who are already operating a gambling enterprise an advantage, however, this is likely “just for show.” Gambling enterprises outside Alabama are much more sophisticated and economically viable than those operating in state. Whatever advantage this provision seems to give Alabama citizens is lost when the expendable capital of gambling interests coming from places like Las Vegas or Atlantic City is considered.

More Than Alabamians Bargained For

Many Alabamians seem to be comfortable with the idea of “just a state lottery” and not casinos. However, Alabamians should be careful what they ask for. Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), a lottery is considered Class III gaming. Under the IGRA, when a state allows Class III gaming to occur, the state may also be authorizing other forms of Class III gaming at Indian casinos. At the very least, allowing Class III gaming allows an Indian tribe to force the state to enter into a compact which, up to this point, they have been unable to do.

Alabamians should approach SB 319 and SB 320 with abundant caution. These pieces of legislation seem to authorize far more than many citizens are aware. Allowing such a strong flow of external investment into Alabama could fundamentally change the way our state operates for years to come. 
Farm, Forestry Tag Bill Passes Senate
The Senate unanimously approved a bill Tuesday which would ease restrictions on the purchase of license tags for farm and forest-product trucks. 

HB 460 by Rep. Wes Allen, R-Troy, was amended in the Senate to change its effective date to Oct. 1, 2021. It now goes back to the House of Representatives for concurrence before being delivered to Gov. Kay Ivey for her signature. 

The bill would lift limits on the purchase of F4 farm tags for larger trucks. It also would allow log trucks to purchase L tags and be exempt from the International Registration Plan. Currently, forest product haulers over 42,000 pounds must carry a commercial license plate. Existing rules put Alabama farmers and loggers at a competitive disadvantage with their counterparts in neighboring states. 
Agricultural Lime Bill Heads To Governor
Legislation requiring agricultural lime to be labeled with its effectiveness in neutralizing soil acidity achieved final passage this week. 

SB 173 by Sen. Larry Stutts, R-Sheffield, unanimously passed the House of Representatives Thursday and awaits Gov. Kay Ivey’s signature. The companion bill, HB 11, was sponsored by Rep. Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville. 
Broadband Expansion Bill Passes House With Changes
Legislation creating structures for the governance, administration and financing of broadband expansion efforts in Alabama passed the House of Representatives Thursday. 

SB 215 by Sen Del Marsh, R-Anniston, passed the Senate last month and was originally tied to Marsh’s comprehensive gaming legislation, which included a provision to fund broadband expansion. The measure was amended in the House of Representatives to make legal and technical changes. It now goes back to the Senate for concurrence before being submitted to the governor.

This bill establishes the Alabama Digital Expansion Authority to oversee the expansion and availability of high-speed broadband in the state. It would require the authority to develop and execute a Statewide Connectivity Plan and establish and administer the Connect Alabama Program, including the awarding of broadband accessibility grants. The legislation also would create the Alabama Digital Finance Corporation and the Digital Expansion Division within the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA).
Small Farm Winery Bill Nears Finish Line
Legislation allowing licensed small farm wineries to sell their products directly to retailers and consumers was on the special order calendar Thursday when the House of Representatives adjourned for the week. Sponsors will work to get the bill back on the calendar for a final vote before the end of the legislative session. 

SB 294 by Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre, defines a Small Farm Winery as one producing fewer than 50,000 gallons of wine a year from fruit that’s at least 50% Alabama-grown. Under existing law, small wineries may only sell to distributors and wholesalers or in limited quantities to consumers at the farm.
A Century of Service as the Voice of Alabama Agriculture
1972 In perhaps one of the most controversial legislative battles in Alfa history, the Alabama Farm Bureau championed legislation known as the “Lid Bill.” After several federal court rulings, Alabama’s property tax system was deemed unconstitutional. Reform became necessary, but there were widely varying ideas about how to fix the problem. The Lid Bill established that land would be classified into various categories, each taxed at a specific rate. Farmland was set at 15%, and was then lowered to 10%. (Photo courtesy Alabama Department of Archives and History.)
Your Voice Is More Important Than Ever

With COVID-19 precautions limiting access to the State House for the public and Alabama Farmers Federation External Affairs team, it's vital members develop and maintain strong relationships with legislators in the district. Contact the External Affairs team (below) if you have questions or need assistance contacting your senator or representative.

Capitol Connection | Alabama Farmers Federation | (334) 288-3900 | Alfafarmers.org

 Matthew Durdin - Director, External Affairs Department
 Preston Roberts - Director, Agricultural Legislation
Casey Rogers, Director, State Legislative Programs
John Allen Nichols, Agriculture Counsel
Beth Chapman, Beth Chapman and Associates, LLC