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In final days of 2021 session, House may tackle three heated issues

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – With three voting days remaining in the Alabama Legislature’s 2021 regular session, State House leaders are preparing for a final push on some of the most controversial bills of the session.

The House of Representatives has yet to vote on bills allowing medical marijuana, a comprehensive gambling package and a ban on medical treatments, including puberty blockers and surgery, for transgender youth.

House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, told reporters that the prospect of floor votes on the gambling and medical marijuana bills was “promising” in the House, but wasn’t as certain for the transgender medical bill.

“We’re working with Senate leadership so I can’t speak as firm on that one as we can the gaming or the medical marijuana, but it is being considered,” McCutcheon said. The Legislature has already passed and Gov. Kay Ivey has signed a bill requiring high school athletes to only compete in sports as their gender assigned at birth.

McCutcheon wasn’t certain on what a vote outlook would be on the gambling legislation. The bill right now would allow for six casino locations, not including the three federal trust locations already operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. All state tax and licensing revenues would go toward education initiatives, rural health care and expanding access to high-speed broadband internet.

A House committee has changed some of the enforcement and gaming commission language from the Senate-passed bill. Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper, told reporters on Thursday he has been pleased with the amount of collaboration between the House and Senate on the issue and thinks it has helped persuade those who may have been against expanding gambling in the state altogether.

“On this topic, sometimes you can find that people are just instantly either all for it or all against it,” Reed said. “That’s not the case and I’ve seen a lot of effort by members of the Senate, and now I’m seeing much of that same effort from members of the House of Representatives that are working together to try and find ways to move the legislation forward.”

Neither of the three bills is on the proposed House agenda for Tuesday. That means bill proponents will have two days to get the proposals passed by the House and work out any differences with the Senate: Thursday, May 6 and Monday, May 17.

After this week, there will be a break until May 17, the last possible day of the constitutionally set 105 calendar day session. The May 17 meeting date will give lawmakers a chance to override any vetoes by Ivey between now and then, McCutcheon said.

“It also gives us a chance to work with the governor, to see if the governor’s office might want to put an executive amendment on the bill, we can get prepared for that and when the bill comes back over to us we can address it,” McCutcheon said.

McCutcheon said he didn’t know of any bills that were at risk of being vetoed.

With such a small window of time, it is not just the vote count that matters but also the threat of a filibuster on the House floor, which could happen on any of the three bills.

Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, said he’s been promised by House leadership a vote on the medical marijuana bill. Reed also said while the House will likely garner most of the attention in the remaining weeks of the session, the Senate will still be working through remaining House bills.

Some Senate bills the House will be working on Tuesday include education retiree bonus checks, a ban on vaccine passports and the prohibition of using artificial intelligence to arrest people.

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