March 5, 2021

Ivey Q&A: Governor discusses gambling, prisons and COVID

Alabama voters should be the ones who decide whether to expand casino offerings or create a state lottery, Gov. Kay Ivey said Wednesday as she vowed to not negotiate a compact with a federal Native American tribe unless voters approve expanded gambling.

“I just strongly believe the people have the final say in that issue,” Ivey told reporters in an interview in her office.

Republican Sen. Del Marsh is expected to introduce a lottery and casino bill in the coming weeks. The governor said her office does not plan to negotiate with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians for casino games unless Alabamians approve Marsh’s constitutional amendment to expand gambling.

“Voters have to approve to expand gambling before we can do a compact,” she said.

Ivey said her primary role in the upcoming debate will be to monitor, but said locations should be limited because the state doesn’t need “gaming on every corner.”

“We need it regulated. And if we do it in the right way, I think not only we’ll become the envy of other states, but also our people will benefit in a responsible way,” Ivey said.

The governor sat down Wednesday for a brief interview with reporters from The Associated Press, al.com and the Montgomery Advertiser. Ivey also defended her plan to lease new prisons instead of building them. Lawmakers have criticized the proposal that could cost $3 billion over 30 years.

Ivey, a Republican, expressed doubt about a Senate bill that would limit the power of the state health officer and governor during a pandemic. The bill comes as a reaction to lengthy public health orders. Ivey did not commit to legislative proposals to change sentencing laws or to alter the state law that prohibits the removal of monuments.

Here is how she answered questions on a range of subjects. Some answers have been condensed for brevity.

Q. As you’re aware there’s been a lot of frustration among people in the early rollout of the COVID vaccine, people unable to get appointments. Where do you think the downfall has been?
A. “I don’t focus on downfalls. Let’s find out what we can do to fix it. (The Health Department) has recently released the online portal. You can go there and sign up for an appointment, even though it may not be immediate. …. So that’s easier to get than just the telephone number.”

Q. What have you been telling the feds about what the state needs to get more people vaccinated?
A. “We need more vaccine. Actually, we were promised a whole lot more (vaccine) than what’s been delivered and even with the slight increase that we got, it’s still not nearly enough to meet our needs.”

Q. This morning the Senate committee passed a bill that would limit the time for a state of emergency from 60 days to 14 days and require essentially the Legislature to approve any further renewal of a state of emergency. How do you feel about that bill?
A. “I don’t know that we need to limit the hands of decision makers, especially when they’re guided by health people trying to give us good advice too. We’ll just have to see where that goes.”

Q. Governor, can you respond to the criticisms from lawmakers from both parties that signing these prison leases is a whole lot of debt to get the state into with the stroke of a pen, and that it should be a legislative decision?
A. We’re not incurring debt. We’re not borrowing money. We’re not raising taxes. We’re operating on savings. … We’ve not maintained our prisons through the years for decades, hence our problem. So, doing nothing is absolutely no option. You’ve got the DOJ and the federal government breathing down our necks on that issue. And we’ve just got to have new prisons as the base to get us started, to provide safety for the inmates and the officers, and to start rehabilitating instead of just warehousing prisoners.”

Q. Would you support any changes to the Memorial Preservation Act?
A. “I haven’t dwelled on that yet. It’s important to preserve our past. Maybe we need to do some other things to honor civil rights leaders. I’m certainly open to that, but I haven’t spent much time yet on that issue.”