Two Lottery Bills Appear Destined for Vote

Saturday, March 15th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

After being stalled for weeks, Gov. Brad Henry's lottery plan is back on a fast track in the Legislature, setting up a strong possibility the issue could go to a vote late this summer.

A stalemate on a bill establishing a state-run lottery ended last Tuesday when the House approved the proposal, 52-49. The next day, the Senate adopted a joint resolution for a constitutional amendment earmarking lottery proceeds to education.

Henry has made the lottery the key item in his legislative agenda, fulfilling a promise he made in his successful 2002 gubernatorial campaign. He wants both lottery proposals to go to a special election on the same ballot.

The House-passed lottery plan, House Bill 1278, will be heard this Tuesday in the Senate Finance Committee. It sets up the rules and mechanics for the lottery. The constitutional amendment details how lottery proceeds will be spent by lawmakers.

The bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Ron Kirby, D-Lawton, and is sponsored in the Senate by President Pro Tem Cal Hobson, D-Lexington. Sen. Angela Monson, D-Oklahoma City, will handle the legislation in the Senate.

Sen. Jeff Rabon, D-Hugo, chairman of the finance panel, predicted it will receive bipartisan support. "After all, we're letting the voters and taxpayers make the decision," he said.

Henry, a Democrat, pressed that point over and over in his successful attempt to rally votes in the House, where it was voted down March 6 by the same vote by which it passed last week. Three Republicans switched to "yes" to provide the margin of victory.

A spokesman said the governor is hoping legislative action can be speeded up by the House and Senate accepting each other's amendments on the two lottery proposals.

"We believe the fastest way to get the issue before the people would be to avoid any conference committees' consideration of either measure and have them move to the ballot from their respective houses," said Paul Sund, Henry's communications director.

The general consensus at the Capitol is the lottery has momentum and should easily pass the House on the next try, while its approval in Senate is considered a lock.

About half of Senate Republicans voted for the constitutional resolution after Republican Leader James Williamson of Tulsa attached an amendment specifying that at least 30 percent of lottery proceeds would accrue to the state the first year.

In succeeding years, the state would get 35 percent after the payout for prizes and administrative costs.

Rep. Forest Claunch, R-Midwest City, the most vocal opponent of the lottery in the House, says it is not a done deal, as does Rep. Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville, House minority leader.

But they conceded the resolution ensuring that lottery proceeds will go to education should get bipartisan backing.

``I think they will probably pass it. I don't think it is a huge issue with anybody,'' Claunch said.

``From our position, I would suspect it would get quite a bit of support,'' Hiett said.

The proposal requires a two-thirds vote because it contains a special election feature.

``Given the fact that the constitutional proposal provides ironclad protection to the education funds that would be generated, we are confident that it will get the necessary support,'' Sund said.

Claunch isn't giving up. ``If they amend it (HB 1278), and bring it back, it is not a done deal,'' he said. ``It gives us another shot at it.

``I tell you something about people who change their mind, they might change their mind again. And others might change their mind, too.''

Hiett added that ``no battle is over until the end. We will have to see the Senate amendments and (assess) whatever issues come up between now and then.''

The joint resolution contains a clause that it will self-destruct if HB 1278 is not approved by voters.

A statewide lottery election could be held a little more than two months after the legislation is passed and a proclamation setting the election is issued by the governor.

State law requires 60 days of advance time to allow officials to gear up for an election, said Carol Slater, assistant Election Board secretary.

Claunch says the lottery will not ease the current financial dilemma facing schools this year or next and disputes projections it will eventually mean an additional $300 million in education dollars.

Supporters say it is the best hope for obtaining significant new revenue for schools in the near future.

Polls have shown the lottery immensely popular with rank-and-file Oklahomans, although it has been passionately fought by some church leaders.