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House skips lottery vote; Democrats say it's still alive

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Democrats in the Oklahoma House let a self-imposed deadline pass Thursday without voting on a lottery plan, but House leaders said the lottery proposal is still alive.

House Speaker Larry Adair said the House is expected to vote next week on a measure that would send to a vote of the people a plan for a statewide lottery to raise revenue for public schools.

``We're very hopeful that we are going to get the votes. We thing we are very close,'' Adair, D-Stilwell, said after the House adjourned until Monday without considering the measure.

The House was scheduled to vote on the bill last week but laid it aside when officials realized they did not have enough votes to pass it. It takes 51 votes to pass a measure in the 101-member House.

At the time, the measure's author, Rep. Ron Kirby, D-Lawton, said the legislation would be dead if no vote was taken this week.

``I certainly wish I had not made that statement,'' Kirby said Thursday. ``We're not dead 'till it's over. People's positions on this can change.''

Gov. Brad Henry, who has made a statewide lottery the centerpiece of his plan to raise revenue for financially ailing public schools, renewed his call for a statewide vote during a bill-signing ceremony for a $25.5 million supplemental appropriation measure for education.

``We are not relenting. We are not letting up,'' Henry said. He said a statewide lottery ``will bring hundreds of millions of new dollars'' to public education.

``I am asking the state Legislature to let the people decide,'' Henry said. ``We're going to work hard until the end to get the votes.''

Henry indicated he will support a petition drive to put a lottery on a statewide ballot if lawmakers reject the plan.

A pro-lottery group, Citizens for a Better Oklahoma, said a new statewide poll indicates Oklahoma churchgoers overwhelmingly want a chance to vote on an education lottery.

Supporters have cited intense lobbying by the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and other religious groups for softening legislative support for the lottery.

The poll of 1,000 of Oklahoma's most consistent voters, conducted by Campaign Research and Strategy Feb. 7-9, found that 90 percent believe the people should have a right to vote on the lottery issue. The poll has a margin of error of less than 4 percent.

It also found that 85 percent of Oklahoma Baptists, 98 percent of Methodists, 91 percent of Presbyterians, 97 percent of Catholics, 92 percent of members of the Jews faith and 93 percent of other religious faiths support the idea of a vote.

Meanwhile, House Republicans said heavy emphasis on passing the lottery bill has diverted attention away from GOP priorities, including cutting the size and cost of government.

``We feel like the Legislature has veered off-track,'' said Minority Leader Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville. ``Everyone else in the Legislature seems to be focused on increasing taxes and passing a lottery.''

Democrats said they are counting on Republican support to pass their lottery plan. But Hiett said the House GOP caucus remains opposed.

``I think it would be wrong for me to send a message that I support this proposal. I don't think it's a good way to raise revenue in Oklahoma,'' Hiett said.
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