As you already know by now, the 2020 legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly has temporarily suspended its meetings. Amid the growing concerns of the coronavirus pandemic, lawmakers decided to stop the legislative session after Friday, March 13, the 29th day. This means the legislature has an official 10 days left to complete the allotted 40 days.
As far as the timing goes, it was good that they were able to get through the 28th day, which is “Crossover Day.” Crossover is the last day that a bill can be passed out of one chamber in order to be passed out of the other before the session is over. Needless to say, it was very busy leading up to the 28th day. The House was in session and passed legislation even after midnight!
As Georgia Baptists, we ended up monitoring over 10 bills leading up to the crossover date. However, gambling had become a major topic among social issues as we looked toward the 28th day. The Sports Betting Senate Bill legislation had bogged down in the Senate Regulated Industries Committee and did not get a vote to proceed.
On the day before the 28th day, the House Regulated Industries Committee met and voted out a bill (House Resolution 378) that they had added Sports Betting, Para-mutual Betting, and Casinos. It was a constitutional amendment that had been originally introduced by Rep. Ron Stephens (See my testimony here.). This last-minute move was an attempt by gambling proponents to get something before the House to vote on before the Crossover Day was over.
Around 7 p.m. on Crossover Day, the Rules Committee voted out of committee House Resolution 378, the constitutional amendment that would be placed before the people, as a ballot initiative to legalize the three forms of gambling added the day before. This bill was placed upon the Rules Calendar to be brought up for a vote at the Speakers discretion. I was interviewed on Georgia Public Broadcasting about the bill.
The legislation would require a 2/3 majority vote to pass. This means it would take a minimum of 120 votes in favor. It never happened! There were not enough votes between Republicans and Democrats to even put it to a vote. All of the attempted dealmaking did not work, and the votes were simply not there.
This action last Thursday night (March 12) marks six years of fighting off the intense efforts by the gambling industry to push the expansion of predatory gambling on Georgians. See this video from 2016 and Georgia Baptists’ response.
The industry is constantly telling us that the people of Georgia want more gambling. If this was a top priority with the people, then why did they have to hire approximately 84 lobbyists to push an issue at the State Capitol that so many citizens already wanted?
The final push by legislators in favor of more gambling was: “Just let the people vote!” The idea of having the people vote would just add insult to injury because of the lobbying activity that has already been done at the Capitol. It would move the conflict to the citizens. The gambling industry would continue to seek the highest manipulation possible and now place it on the public!
And here’s the problem! It is true the people have a right to vote, but the legislators have a responsibility to decide what does and does not go before the people. Why is this important to remember?
It is important because most constitutional ballot initiatives always pass. Why? Because the people believe (trust that) the General Assembly wants it or they would not have let it get on the ballot in the first place! Legislators need to remember that they cannot distance themselves from this responsibility just because they place it on the citizens. Legislators cannot wash their hands of the responsibility they have by merely allowing controversial ballot initiatives to go before the people.
Unless you are for gambling expansion as a legislator, you need to know that studies show that gambling ballot initiatives are promoted $250 to $1 … in favor of gambling. The gambling industry will pour in so much money that it will be virtually impossible to get the truth out above the gambling propaganda. This is why we all must remain vigilant against gambling “Under the Gold Dome” if we are to ever combat it in our communities.
While we are all waiting and praying for relief from the coronavirus pandemic in our state, we can be thankful that for now we have stopped the expansion of gambling!
Thank you all for reaching out to your legislators and letting them know your concerns! You are making a difference for generations to come.
Mike Griffin serves as Public Affairs representative for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.