Jay Hare/Dothan Eagle

DOTHAN - An overwhelmingly positive poll supporting a state lottery cast by attendees at the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual Eggs & Issues meeting Monday was perfectly timed for Ala. Rep. Steve Clouse’s announcement that he plans to introduce a state lottery bill tied to education when the Legislature convenes next week.

“A vast majority of the people want to vote” on a lottery and the timing is right with Mississippi’s lottery starting next week and Alabama now being surrounded by states that have a lottery, Clouse told those at the breakfast featuring area legislators.

The longtime Ozark lawmaker and chairman of the House Ways and Means committee said his proposed bill will be split two ways to fund education. Fifty percent will fund Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program and the remainder with go toward needs-based scholarships.

The Eggs & Issues poll conducted via attendees’ smart phones, showed around 88% support a lottery and 83% believe funds should go to education. There were more than 200 chamber members in attendance at the event held at the Wiregrass Rehabilitation Center’s Sterling Event Services Rotary Hall.

Funding for First Class Pre-K provides access for more children to attend high quality pre-K and enhances the quality of existing classrooms by providing funding and support to meet high quality standards, according to the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education.

After the meeting, Clouse noted the Alabama’s Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI) have made funding proposals tied to the building of new casinos, exclusive rights for the tribe of gambling rights in Alabama, and supporting a statewide paper lottery, but his bill is for a constitutional amendment voted on by residents and does not deal with other aspects of gambling in the state.

He believes state leaders interested in the PCI proposal, which has been touted to pay the state around $1 billion in the first year and millions each year to follow, will have to deal with those issues outside the Legislature. Currently, PCI operates casinos in Atmore, Wetumpka, and Montgomery.

Clouse said early financial estimates for his lottery package will generate between $180 and $200 million annually in state funding.

He also said there’s a possibility other lottery bills will surface during the session, and those will be reviewed before working to move a strong bill from the House to the Senate.

Among the other legislators at the meeting, none commented on Clouse’s bill. Other lawmakers attending were House Reps. Paul Lee, Jeff Sorrells, and Dexter Grimsley, and State Sen. Donnie Chesteen. David Cole of the Business Council of Alabama also spoke to the group.

All legislators said the state is currently in good financial shape due to the strong economy and the additional sales taxes now collected related to online sales, but there always a need to be diligent in future spending. And, the lawmakers concur that the issues dealing with prisons, mental health, the use of medical marijuana, internet broadband, and workforce development will be some of the topics the legislative agenda.

Several legislators also said the 10-cent-per-gallon fuel tax authorized last year to finance the Rebuild Alabama infrastructure program is providing funding for road projects throughout the Wiregrass and more funds will be forthcoming.

Other poll questions asked at the start of the meeting showed:

» A move to create a statewide minimum wage higher than the current $7.25 an hour rate is too close to call, although the poll showed around a 51% approval rating

» About 79% believe there is a need for legislation dealing with the use of medical marijuana in the state

» 94% favor the ongoing move to increase funding for broadband internet services in all parts of the state, especially in rural areas

» Around 56% support Gov. Kay Ivey’s plan to build three new prisons through bond issues

» The group overwhelming believes President Donald Trump will win re-election against former Vice President Joe Biden, who they say will win the Democratic nomination

» And the U.S. Senate race is a toss-up between Tommy Tuberville who held a slim lead over Jeff Sessions, while Bradley Bryne finished third, and Roy Moore fourth.

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