Gambling, virus bills before lawmakers in 2021

Alabama News

Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama lawmakers returned to Montgomery on Tuesday for the regular session that could see gambling debate later this year.

Republican Sen. Del Marsh said he hopes to introduce his planned lottery and gambling bill as soon as possible. Marsh said he believes voters are “ready to address this issue.”

“The gaming issue in this state has gone unresolved in my opinion for years, and I think the gaming issue is a way to resolve some of our other problems — scholarships for our young people and young adults wishing for career changes, perhaps. I think it’s a way to find a way to finally get statewide broadband for the state of Alabama,” Marsh said.

Alabama voters must approve any change to the state Constitution to allow gambling. Alabamian last voted on gambling in 1999 when they defeated a lottery proposed by then-Gov. Don Siegelman.

“All I’m going to do is put something before the people of Alabama,” Marsh said.

The first day of the session brought a change in leadership.

Marsh resigned as Senate president pro tem and was replaced by Sen. Greg Reed of Jasper. Marsh, who is not seeking reelection, previously announced his plans to resign the position to focus on his attention on certain bills, including the gambling bill and an education bill.

Reed said three pieces of legislation will take priority for the first weeks of the session. Those include a bill to shield companies and others from civil lawsuit liability during the COVID-19 pandemic. The others would exempt COVID-19 relief funds from state income tax and extend state industrial incentives.

“Those are going to be the three priorities,” Reed said of the first weeks.

Lawmakers this year will have to draw new congressional districts but that may occur in a special session later in the year.

The session is being conducted differently this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Members wore masks on the chamber floors and greeted each other with elbow bumps instead of the usual hugs and handshakes. Access to the Statehouse was limited and temperature scanners were installed at Statehouse entrances to monitor people for fever.

Members are getting periodic COVID tests. A House of Representatives spokesman said one representative returned home after getting a positive COVID-19 test.

Legislators plan to meet for two weeks and then take a break to review COVID-19 precautions.

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