North Alabama House member put the brakes on Alabama lottery push

Gov. Robert Bentley and State Representative Ken Johnson tour Independence Tube Corporation's new facility in Lawrence County Wednesday. (Photo: Al Whitaker, WHNT News 19)

Gov. Robert Bentley and State Representative Ken Johnson tour Independence Tube Corporation's new facility in Lawrence County Wednesday. (Photo: Al Whitaker, WHNT News 19)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama House and the plans for a state lottery bill came to a screeching halt Tuesday when a north Alabama legislator used a little-known House rule to his advantage.

Ken Johnson, R-Moulton, a lottery opponent, said he wanted to make sure the House was following the rules when the call was made to suspend “the rules of the House” and allow a committee to meet to consider the lottery bill favored by Gov. Robert Bentley.

The committee had to meet Tuesday and pass out the lottery bill, to let it be debated and voted on Wednesday.  August 24 is the last day a lottery bill could be passed in time to be placed on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

“They wanted to suspend our rules of procedure and allow a bill to be fast-tracked without a notice to the public,” Johnson said. “Part of the reason our rules do that, is so that the public will have the opportunity to know the bill, to be part of the process. And for us to properly vet a piece of legislation.”

What followed doesn’t sound too radical, but it threw the House into turmoil and likely killed any chance the lottery amendment had of being on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

It requires a four-fifths vote of the House, 80 percent, to agree to suspend the rule and allow a committee, in this case the Economic Development and Tourism Committee, to meet.

“I made a motion that that be a recorded vote,” Johnson said. “Typically it is not recorded — typically it is a voice vote.”

Johnson said it required 10 members to support the call and he had that support.

Johnson and lottery opponents were given an opening to derail the lottery bill’s momentum when the Economic Development committee chairman Alan Harper, R-Northport, failed to schedule a committee meeting.

If Harper had scheduled the meeting before the House met Tuesday, the four-fifths vote wouldn’t be needed.

Johnson said he became aware of the opening a couple of hours before the House went into session Tuesday.

“There were people who wanted to follow the rule, who actually support the concept of the lottery bill,” Johnson said. “We just wanted to be sure the rules were followed. If you’re talking about amending the Constitution of Alabama, we don’t need to be rushing.”

The vote to move the bill to committee was 59 to 33, WHNT News 19 news partner AL.com reports. The vote needed 74 votes of the 92 cast to enable the committee meeting.

Representative Phil Williams, R-Madison, has said he favors a lottery bill going to voters, but he voted to oppose moving the bill to committee, because he believes more time is needed to craft a lottery bill that makes financial sense.

Alabama Rep. Howard Sanderford, R-Huntsville, also opposed moving the bill to committee, AL.com reported.

The lottery measure is expected to be taken up today and if it ultimately wins House approval, could be voted on in a special election.