By Kim Chandler, Associated Press
Alabama lawmakers in the final days of the session will face decisions on gambling, medical marijuana as well as legislation that would ban the use of drugs to help transgender youth make the transition.
House Speaker Mac McCutcheon has said he expects the three measures, which have already authorized the Alabama Senate, to secure votes in the House of Representatives in the final days of the session. . Lawmakers plan to meet for two more weeks and then return to Montgomery for a final day on May 17.
Here’s a look at the three questions that lawmakers grapple with in the final days of the legislative session:
The Alabama Senate has approved sweeping gambling legislation that would establish a state lottery and license nine casino sites in the state.
But familiar sticking points emerge as the bill moves towards voting at Alabama House: where the casinos will be located, and how the state will use gambling revenues. If approved by lawmakers, l The proposed constitutional amendment would be submitted to voters.
In addition to a state lottery, the casino sites would be located in Jefferson, Mobile, Macon, Greene and Houston counties; a site in northern Alabama in Jackson County or DeKalb; and the three sites belonging to the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
Casino licenses would be auctioned. However, existing dog tracks and electronic bingo operations, such as Greenetrack and VictoryLand dog tracks, would have the ability to enter and make a final bid to overtake the highest bidder to win the license in their respective county. Poarch Brooks will have the right to bid for the site in northern Alabama.
In trying to muster enough votes for passage, the bill gives the largest existing gaming operators an advantage, although the courts have ruled against the legality of electronic bingo machines, but excludes smaller operators.
Democratic Senator Malika Sanders Fortier, who was absent from the session because she is undergoing cancer treatment in Texas, is urging lawmakers to also include an existing bingo operator in Lowndes County, who has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state.
“How do we forcefully shut the doors of a business that has been around for 20 years (in one form or another) in a small, poor rural community like Lowndes County?” she said in an emailed statement.
The legislation of Republican Senator Tim Melson of Florence would allow people with a qualifying medical condition to purchase marijuana after receiving a doctor’s referral. More than a dozen conditions, including cancer, terminal illness, and chronic pain, would qualify a person.
The bill would allow marijuana in forms such as pills, skin patches and creams, but not in smoking or vaping products.
The House has always been more skeptical of the medical marijuana proposals. A 2013 medical marijuana bill won the “Shroud Award” for “deadliest” bill that year in the House of Representatives. Melson expressed optimism about the chances of the bill this year after years of setbacks.
“I think it will be a close vote. I really do this because there are a lot of members who support the medical aspect. Some think this could be an opportunity for marijuana to enter our state and be an entry drug, ”McCutcheon said.
PROHIBITION OF TRANSGENDER PROCESSING
Arkansas this year became the first state to ban gender-confirming treatment for transgender youth. Alabama could become the second.
The Alabama bill would make it a felony, punishable by 10 years in prison, for a doctor to prescribe puberty blockers or hormones or perform surgery to help with the gender transition of people 18 years or less.
“Children are not mature enough to make these decisions about surgeries and medications. The goal is to protect children, ”Bill’s sponsor, Republican Senator Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, said after the Senate vote.
Supporters say they are trying to protect children from decisions that should wait until adulthood. Opponents, including parents and trans youth, say such measures interfere with medical decisions and target trans people for political reasons.
“I ask you to take a look at our family. How do I hurt myself or someone else by wanting medical hormone treatment? I don’t want to be a pawn on a political agenda in which I have never been consulted, ”Phineas Smith, a 16-year-old transgender boy, told a press conference.
Opponents say the bill will almost certainly be challenged because it distinguishes one type of medical decision.