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In the Weeds: What’s eating Garlan Gudger?

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Sen. Garlan Gudger, one of the Senate’s primary negotiators this past session on the gambling legislation, said  Thursday another bill could and should come back in the 2025 session.

Gudger, R-Cullman, was one of the three senators and three House members on a conference committee that tried to work out the differences between bills allowing a lottery and expanded gambling in the state. The House-passed version was broader, allowing online gambling and sports betting and more casino-style gambling in the state. Senators wouldn’t go that far and a scaled-back compromise ultimately failed by one vote in the Senate.

That was discouraging, Gudger said, but a lot was learned and lawmakers got closer to allowing Alabamians to vote on a lottery constitutional amendment than they had in 25 years.

“I’d like to see it come back up,” he said on Alabama Daily News’ podcast, In the Weeds. “We were only one vote short. It’s not like we’re, you know, 10 votes short. And so we’ll see what happens with the leadership, if they want it to come back up. I think there will be some people that want it to.”

He said he thinks small changes to the bill could flip some of the 15 no votes in the Senate.

“Having a few tweaks would bring us a vote or two back … and I think it doesn’t take too much to do it. The question is, do we bring it up at all? I would like to see it come back, personally.”

He’s not alone. David Bronner, the Retirement Systems of Alabama’s CEO, this week said he’d like Gov. Kay Ivey to call a special session on gambling, citing how the revenue could fund raises for state retirees. 

While lawmakers got close on gambling, the bill’s failure this year caused more tension between the House and Senate than in previous years. Still, Gudger says he sees a chance for communication and work before February 2025.

“The house was a little frustrated, obviously, with us because they had passed that bill multiple times and we had not passed it at all,” Gudger said. “We gave them a different bill but they didn’t like it, non-concurred and brought it back up. So, we are at odds, kind of fighting each other. The reality is, that’s politics. We’re gonna have grudges and that’s going to linger for a little while. But the key is, in the end, how do we get something done for the people of Alabama, in my opinion, so they can have the opportunity to vote.” 

He also warned that some things said in frustration could come back to haunt members.

“This is politics and politics in Alabama runs deep and people have a long memory,” he said.

Gudger also talked about the need in 2025 for a dedicated funding stream for mental health care, particularly the 988 crisis hotline. More money could guarantee calls from those considering suicide would be answered by professionals in Alabama, who could better connect them to local resources. Currently, about 25% of calls are answered out of state. 

“We were hoping to get funding through the gambling legislation, it didn’t happen,” Gudger said. “So what do we do now?

“… We’re trying to figure that out.” 

Gudger said one of his best friends committed suicide right before the start of the session.

“I am passionate about trying to find funding for this,” he said. “I do think that this is becoming a large epidemic in the state of Alabama and by not having consistent funding for this, I think that we’re hurting Alabamians …”

Gudger is the chairman of the Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee and sponsored this session one of the priority bills to over tax credits to employers who help provide child care to workers. It was part of a package of legislation leaders hope will get more Alabamians in the workforce. 

In his second term, Gudger has made a name for himself as someone who can bring his colleagues together, hence his placement on the gambling conference committee. Mary and Todd also asked the two-term senator what else might be in his future.

Gudger said he didn’t know yet what might be next when this quadrennium ends in 2026, but likely will at the end of the 2025 session. He said he’s happy in his current role representing the North Alabama district and working on economic development efforts, but if the stars and moon align for another opportunity, he’ll consider it, he said. 

“Right now, I’m happy where I am,” he said.

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