Alabama House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, clarified the status of a bill he introduced affecting future appointments to the board of directors of the Fort Payne Improvement Authority. He also offered his thoughts on bills concerning gambling and medical marijuana.
Ledbetter said he asked the Fort Payne City Council to consider a resolution supporting HB223 to expand terms on the FPIA board to six years and permit city council members to serve.
Ledbetter stated it was inaccurately reported that the bill had passed the House of Representatives and made its way to the Senate, but he said the measure is effectively killed in committee since two of the city council members, Phillip Smith and John Smith, voted against it at Fort Payne’s March 2 meeting.
“I did ask [Fort Payne] to vote on a resolution, but I don’t support bills affecting our municipalities unless there is unanimous support in favor of them,” Ledbetter said.
Fort Payne Council President Walter Watson thanked Ledbetter and his staff for the work they put into introducing the bill, along with all who serve on boards and donate their time to serving the city.
“Unfortunately, we do have mixed opinions within our council team concerning having elected officials serve on our boards of directors,” Watson said. “From my experience, having an elected official serve on these boards has in times passed, proven to be an effective tool in producing real-time monthly joint efforts, for meeting the collective needs of the city. I would hope these board appointments will never be reduced to a pay check and who is afforded them, over what is best for our city.”
Watson said a future council now has the clarity of knowing that FPIA bylaws can be amended with a unanimous council consent by resolution. “That alone, may assist a future council team, if the subject matter is ever revisited,” he said.
While reached for comment on Monday, Ledbetter also offered comments about bills under consideration to regulate and tax gambling in the state as well as permit the use of medical marijuana.
Since 2010, Fort Payne has been a proposed site for a casino. The topic has come up again due to a bill, SB214, proposing an amendment to the Alabama Constitution overturning Alabama’s ban on gambling and games of chance.
According to reports, casinos could be operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI), the only federally recognized tribe in Alabama. There is no indication that PCI has a site selected, but the early version of the bill specified two counties where they could build a casino, DeKalb and Jackson, selected due to their proximity to Chattanooga.
Ledbetter said the bill’s sponsor, State Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, has done a good job of bringing various parties to the table to work out details and the measure stands a chance of advancing.
In a statement last week, Dist. 8 State Sen. Steve Livingston assured constituents he will study the proposal and follow any amendments to it carefully.
Last summer, Gov. Kay Ivey’s Study Group on Gambling Policy explored various impacts of a regulated expansion of gambling. Ledbetter said there is currently no way of regulating gambling in the state, which is already happening, and Marsh’s bill would establish the Alabama Gaming Commission to enforce compliance with state laws, such as proper licensing and fee payment. It would also establish the Alabama Education Lottery Corporation and generate an estimated $500 million for funding state programs.
The measure would still have to be ratified by Alabama voters on the Nov. 2022 ballot. A 1999 referendum on a constitutional amendment to create a state state lottery and to earmark the resulting revenue for use in education failed 54% to 46%.
Ledbetter was less optimistic about the Senate Bill 46 sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, called the “Compassion Act.” It would allow doctors to recommend medical cannabis products for a variety of chronic illnesses. The bill would not allow patients to smoke marijuana, but it would allow forms including pills, oils, patches, nebulizers and inhalers.
Ledbetter said he cannot support a House version, which would face an uphill battle getting passage. The same bill passed the Senate the previous two years but stalled in the House of Representatives.