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Mississippi governor has September deadline on lottery bill

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has a mid-September deadline to sign a bill creating a state lottery to help pay for roads and bridges, and he has promised to do so.

Bryant said getting a lottery up and running will take at least six months. Some lawmakers said it could take a year.

The governor will appoint five people to serve on a lottery corporation.

“We’re going to take our time. … It’s going to be a very careful and deliberate process of picking just the right people,” Bryant told reporters Wednesday as lawmakers finished a five-day special session.

Creating a lottery was one part of a transportation funding plan approved during the session. Legislators agreed to give cities and counties a portion of the sales tax revenue that the state collects from people who shop online. They also agreed on a plan to divide money the state is collecting because of the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, with most of it going to the southernmost counties.

Mississippi is currently one of six states without a lottery, and churches have long opposed the game of chance in the Bible Belt state.

Bryant, a Republican, was elected in 2011 and 2015 with the support of evangelicals. He started advocating creation of a lottery more than a year ago, and in recent months he has pushed it as a possible source of money for transportation. More than 430 local bridges are closed with structural problems, and the state transportation department has long said it needs hundreds of millions more dollars.

Bryant points out that Mississippi residents drive to Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee to buy millions of dollars of lottery tickets each year.

The lottery bill was opposed by politically powerful Baptist and Pentecostal groups and some people who called it a regressive tax on poor people in one of the poorest states in the U.S. The state’s influential casino lobby did not oppose a lottery but fought some lawmakers’ ultimately unsuccessful efforts to allow video lottery terminals in places such as truck stops.

Seven House members changed their lottery vote after the bill had passed. Rules allow any representative to change a vote the same day or the next day, with unanimous permission from colleagues. Vote changes are only allowed if they do not alter whether a bill passes or dies.

Six Democrats who voted “no” on the final version of the lottery bill Tuesday changed to “yes” by Wednesday: Kevin Horan of Grenada, Robert Johnson of Natchez, Kabir Karriem of Columbus, Kathy Sykes of Jackson, Cheikh Taylor of Starkville and Adrienne Wooten of Jackson.

Republican Brad Touchstone of Hattiesburg did not vote Tuesday. He changed to “no.”

The final House vote was 64-49 . The Senate vote was 31-17 .

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