Governor Riley has asked the Alabama Legislature to approve a stronger state ethics law. In fact, he has asked for a comprehensive rewrite of the existing law. The Governor made the proposal in his State of the State address to the Legislature on the opening night of the Regular Session on February 3rd and a bill has now been introduced in the House.
The ethics law clearly needs to be upgraded and made much stronger. I believe that any changes in the law, however, should definitely include meaningful campaign financing reforms. Until that area is really dealt with, the real problems plaguing State government won’t be solved. Hopefully, the legislators will take the Governor’s recommendations and come up with a bill that will address all of the existing ethical problems. In fact, it’s their job to make what Governor Riley proposed even stronger. My friend, Rep. Mac Gipson, from Prattville, introduced the Governor’s bill in the House of Representatives on February 24th. Mac’s bill, among other things, would:
• Give subpoena power to the Alabama Ethics Commission.
• Prohibit public officials from accepting meals over $50 and gifts valued at over $25 from lobbyists and others interested in government action.
• Require the registration of lobbyists who lobby the Executive Branch.
• Cap what lobbyists can spend on a public official’s meal to $50 or an aggregate value of $200 from any one source during a calendar year.
• Prohibit public servants from accepting gifts or any thing of value over $25 from lobbyists, state contractors, and others interested in government action.
• Require lobbyists to report all spending and financial transactions with public officials.
In addition to this bill, there are several other pieces of ethics legislation before the Legislature this year. They include bills to require the registration of executive branch lobbyists, give the commission subpoena power, make it easier for the commission to initiate investigations and require more detail on economic disclosure forms filed by public officials. This legislature has an opportunity to pass legislation that will cover all of the problem areas. Passing an incomplete package that fails to attack the real problems, however, would be a mistake. Hopefully, this will be the year when ethical behavior is made a real priority in the Alabama Legislature. If so, the citizens of our State will be the winners.
Source: Associated Press
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