AUSTIN, Tex. — What a turnaround.
In the 2013 session the Texas House passed a bill aimed at abolishing the state lottery.
But after some soul-searching — mainly confronted with the fact the state would lose $1.1 billion a year for public education — some representatives who wanted to eliminate the Texas Lottery Commission reversed their vote, in essence resuscitating the game.
Now House members may go a step further.
On Tuesday the 150-member chamber will consider a bill that would allow winners of more than $1 million to remain anonymous. Under current Texas law they can't.
Rep. Ryan Guillen said the personal safety and peace of mind of lottery winners were key considerations for filing House Bill 108.
"This actually came to me from a constituent who told me she aspires to win the lottery but she lives on the border and she is afraid of somebody kidnapping her for a ransom" Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, said.
"But beyond that, we all have heard many stories about being hassled a great deal, folks who win the lottery are hassled" by people asking them for money, Guillen said. "This will give them the opportunity, the option, that if they want to be anonymous they can be anonymous."
Rep. John Kuempel, a member of the House Licensing & Administrative Procedures — the panel that screened HB 108 — likes Guillen's bill for similar reasons.
"The large part of it is public safety and personal safety," Kuempel, R-Seguin, said. "If I win $100 million I certainly want to remain anonymous...it is a personal right you should have."
Kuempel, who last year chaired a special committee that looked into the impact the abolition of the lottery would have on the state budget, emphasized the game is staying.
"If there is a bill (aimed at abolishing it) I don't know about it," he said.
Actually, Rep. Scott Sanford filed one but did not pursue it.
"We decided not to push on it because it would not have been successful," Sanford, R-McKinney, said. "The House isn't there yet."
Kuempel said the vote in the previous session was reversed the same day because even representatives opposed to gambling realized the severe impact the elimination of the Texas lottery would have on the public education budget.
Where would the state get the 1.1 billion it gets from the lottery? he asked.
Veteran Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, who voted against the creation of the Texas Lottery in the early 1990s, said though he also doesn't expect a push to abolish the lottery in this session, it is something the Legislature should keep considering.
One of the possibilities is a gradual phase out, Smithee, Sanford and other lottery critics said.
"We've got to do it in way that doesn't hit the education budget real hard," Sanford said.
Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, said there was no major attempt to abolish the lottery this session because it was not a Sunset bill.
This was in reference to a review of every state agency, usually every 12 years. A joint legislative panel named the Sunset Advisory Commission recommends to the Legislature whether an agency it reviews should be abolished, overhauled or unchanged.
"There are a lot of opinions on how the commission operates and whether there should be a lottery at all," Price, vice chairman of the Sunset Commission, said.
But since the Lottery Commission was reviewed in the previous legislative cycle, no Sunset bill is expected this year or in the foreseeable future, Price explained.
But even if a regular bill to abolish the lottery advances, the near death of the Lottery Commission in 2013 showed — unless there is a well-thought plan to replace the revenue loss — the lawmakers won't mess with the state lottery anytime soon because, even in prosperous times, it's hard to replace lost revenue.
Moreover, pass or fail, the fact Guillen's bill has come this far is yet another indication — in the Texas Legislature — reliable revenue carries more weight than political ideology.