Despite public outcry, House committee green lights liquor sales, lottery vote

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lottery and liquor

In an overfilled room, the House Committee on Economic Development and Tourism met Wednesday to discuss two alcohol-related bills, one of which was carried over until next week’s meeting, and a bill that would put the issue of a state lottery up for a vote.

HB83, a bill that would allow wineries to obtain permits to operate an additional “on-site tasting room,” was held so lawmakers could clear up unspecified issues with the legislation.

Next on the agenda was HB46, a bill brought forth by Rep. Alan Boothe (R-Troy) to allow Alabama distilleries to sell one fifth of liquor to an individual customer each day. The bill had originally stated that only one fifth could be sold per year, but Rep. Alan Harper (R-Northport) added an amendment to change “year” to “day.” The amendment was approved and the committee began hearing feedback from the public.

Joe Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizen’s Action Program (ALCAP), spoke first in opposition to the bill.

“You’re dealing here with an addictive and mind-altering drug,” Godfrey said. “Alcohol destroys lives, it destroys families. Every time we expand alcohol sales, you’re increasing the number of people who use alcohol, you’re increasing the amount that they drink.”

Next to speak was John Sharp, owner of John Emerald Distilling Co. in Opelika, who was in support of the measure.

“This bill, obviously, would help us compete with the large out-of-state distilleries,” Sharp said, noting the vast array of spirits being shipped in from Tennessee, Kentucky and elsewhere. “We’re not going to affect the amount of alcohol actually consumed in Alabama.”

The committee voted and gave the bill a favorable report.

The next item on the commission’s agenda was Harper’s lottery bill, HB13, the senate version of which did not reach a vote in this morning’s committee hearing. The bill only requests that residents be allowed to vote on whether or not a lottery should be allowed in Alabama, where the proceeds would go will be decided by the full Legislature at a later date.

“Our vote today is on our citizen’s right to vote on a constitutional amendment,” Harper said. “It’s important that we hear the opinions of our citizens. You can never go wrong in doing that.”

Harper also assured those in attendance that he and others had worked alongside the Alabama Law Institute to ensure the legislation left no room for casino-style gambling in the state.

The opposition to Harper’s bill was widespread during the following public hearing, started first by Godfrey, who condemned the bill for preying on low-income families and claimed it “makes the government a bookie.”

Rep. Rich Wingo (R-Tuscaloosa) also spoke out against the bill, saying that the creation of a lottery would only cost the state more in Medicaid costs “because instead of buying glasses for Junior, Medicaid will do it.”

Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Birmingham) spoke out against the bill.

“I believe as a federalist, we were elected to come here and make decisions,” Mooney said. “Money spent on a lottery is money pulled from small business. We can’t grow our economy in that manner.”

In all, nine people spoke out against the bill with only one person in support of it, Mac McArthur of the Alabama State Employees Association.

“I don’t know how you could possibly draft a cleaner bill to get the issue before the people,” McArthur said.

The committee began taking a vote when Rep. Ritchie Whorton (R-Scottsboro) asked for a role call vote. Because the vote had already begun, the committee continued and gave the bill a favorable report.

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