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House, Senate compromise over BP bill

A plan to spend most of the $1 billion oil spill settlement with BP on state debt repayments, Medicaid and road projects in Baldwin and Mobile counties has now made its way to Gov. Bentley’s desk.

The Senate voted 22-8 to approve the BP Bill on the heels of a contentious two-hour debate Wednesday afternoon.

With the lottery issue now dead at the hands of the Alabama Senate, the BP bill remains the sole means of recouping the state’s debt.

State Rep. Chris Sells (R–Greenville) said that the death of the lottery bill caught him by surprise.

“After a long, hard day, it passed the House,” Sells said. “And when it got to the Senate, I think only seven members up there voted for it.”

Though Sells could only speculate on what was the final nail in the coffin once the bill hit the Senate.

“One thing that happened in the House was that an amendment was put on it that defined it as a game where you buy a paper ticket and you have a weekly, daily or monthly drawing,” Sells added. “In the code of Alabama, a lottery is defined as a game of chance.  So what they were looking at was if you’re just passing a lottery bill, you’re opening it up to everything because a game of chance is hard to define.

“I don’t know if that’s one of the things that killed it when it got to the Senate, but something happened in the House that the Senate definitely didn’t like.”

The BP bill similarly underwent a number of changes as it changed hands from the House to the Senate.

It designated $400 million of the settlement to repay the Alabama Trust Fund for transfers to support the state budget since 2009, down from the $450 the House proposed.

The original bill also had $190 million headed to fund highway projects in Baldwin and Mobile counties, though the final number rests at $120 million. Another $120 million would go to Medicaid during the next two years.

Sells said that the final bill is a result of several compromises between the House and the Senate and, though it’s changed along the way, he still sees the bill as a major benefit to the people of Alabama.

“A lot of us wanted to pay off all the debt we could pay off, but right now we just couldn’t pass that,” Sells said.

“We had to negotiate and compromise until we got something that enough of us could agree on passing, and that’s what we ended up with.  It was a lot of contention—the people of North Alabama said that ‘you’re giving South Alabama some money; you’re not giving us anything,’ but when you pay off a lot of the debt, everybody gains from that.  And assisting Medicaid helps hospitals, nursing homes and people on Medicaid in every county in the state.”