2024 Alabama Legislative Update: Regular Session - Week One
During her “State of the State” address, Governor Ivey announced that the much-anticipated gaming legislation will be a priority during this year’s legislative session. The legislation was filed by Representative Chris Blackshear on Thursday. Gaming proceeds would generate revenue for education, scholarships, and other public purposes. The gaming legislative package is over 150 pages in length and is expected to be voted on by the Economic Development and Tourism Committee and, subsequently, the full House next week. Some of the key provisions include:
Casinos and Gaming:
- The bill proposes the establishment of a limited amount of casinos in Alabama, including the license reserved for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Licenses will be reserved for certain counties throughout the state and operators would be selected through an open bidding process.
- Casinos would be allowed to offer various gaming machines, including slots, table games, and sports betting.
- The Alabama Gaming Commission would regulate and oversee these operations.
- The legislation establishes a lottery and specifies the types of lottery type gaming allowed, such as instant tickets, draw games, and multi-state games.
- The Alabama Lottery Corporation would administer the lottery.
- The bill prohibits political contributions from gaming operators, owners of greater than one percent, certain employees, and certain related entities. The purpose of this section is to prevent corruption and to maintain the appearance of integrity when considering the authorization of any form of gaming in the State of Alabama.
- The bill legalizes both in-person and online sports wagering in Alabama.
- The Alabama Gaming Commission would oversee sports betting activities.
During a Wednesday press conference, members of the legislature, including Representative Andy Whitt, Representative Chris Blackshear, Representative Sam Jones, and Senator Greg Albritton, voiced their support for gaming legislation. Senator Albritton further urged his Senate colleagues to vote for comprehensive gambling legislation if and when it makes its way to the Senate during a speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday. He stated that gambling is already widely occurring in Alabama, and the state is currently missing an opportunity to increase state revenues without raising taxes at a time when inflation is driving up costs. Even if the legislation passes the House, there will likely be serious opposition in the Senate.
If passed in the legislature, this legislation would be voted on by the citizens of Alabama, the first time in over 20 years for Alabamians to vote on this type of legislation.
Excise Tax Deduction
Senator Gerald Allen has filed a bill removing all federal, state, and local excise taxes to calculate a municipal business license. The Petroleum and Convenience Marketers Association supports this legislation as its members believe they are being over-taxed. The League of Municipalities and individual cities have voiced concerns over this legislation as they think it, if passed, will reduce a critical revenue source for municipal budgets. The Senate County and Municipal Government Committee, chaired by Senator Chris Elliot, held a public hearing on this legislation on Wednesday and carried this bill over to a later date to allow for critical data related to the financial implications of this legislation to be gathered.
Governor Ivey’s School Choice Bill, the CHOOSE Act, allows for a $7,000 tax credit for private school education. This bill allocates a minimum of $100 million annually to create education savings accounts (ESAs). Families can utilize up to $7,000 per year for private schools and $2,000 for certain homeschooling expenses. This program is accessible to families with gross earnings up to 300 percent of the federal poverty threshold. The program would begin during the 2025-2026 academic year if enacted.
Other pieces of school choice legislation have been filed, but the Governor's plan appears to have the most support at this point in the legislative session. Senator Arthur Orr and Representative Danny Garrett will carry the CHOOSE Act in their respective Chambers;
this legislation is pending committee action in both chambers. Governor Ivey stated that "[p]assing an education savings account bill that works for families and for Alabama is my No. 1 legislative priority."
This week, a piece of legislation coined the “ballot harvesting” bill was introduced by Senator Garland Gudger, and a substitute was given a favorable report with a 7-3 vote by the Senate State Government Affairs Committee. This bill will now go to the full Senate for a vote where it is expected to pass next week, likely along partisan lines, and be sent to the House for consideration. The legislation primarily focuses on absentee voting and proposes prohibiting assistance in preparing absentee ballots, with certain exceptions for those with disabilities. Specifically, the legislation forbids anyone from engaging in activities such as assisting another individual with ordering, requesting, gathering, pre-completing, acquiring, or distributing an absentee ballot. It also prohibits giving or receiving payment while carrying out these actions.
Governor Ivey has voiced her support for the ballot harvesting bill and commended Secretary of State Wes Allen for working to keep Alabama’s elections free and fair. Senate Pro Tempore Greg Reed stated, “The main goal of these efforts will be to make sure that your vote counts and that those who try to cheat our system are held accountable.”
On Wednesday, the Governor sent her 2025 proposed and supplemental budgets to the legislature for review, modification, and approval. The General Fund budget is the funding mechanism for Alabama’s non-education-related expenditures, and the Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget is the mechanism for education-related expenditures. During this legislative session, the General Fund budgets will begin in the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee chaired by Senator Greg Albritton, and the ETF budgets will begin in the House Ways & Means Education Committee Chaired by Representative Danny Garrett.
Status of the Legislature
The legislature used three of its allotted thirty legislative working days this week. As of February 9th, 157 bills were filed in the House, and 85 bills were filed in the Senate.
The House will reconvene on Tuesday, February 13th, at 1:00 PM, and the Senate will reconvene on the same day at 2 PM. Next week, the legislature is expected to use three legislative working days.
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