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Ethics bill seeks to clarify law; faces uncertain future

February 28, 2018

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A proposed revamp of Alabama’s ethics law is getting a mixed review and faces an uncertain future days after being introduced in the Alabama Legislature.

The bill, drafted by Attorney General Steve Marshall and his staff, was introduced in the wake of high-profile ethics cases in the state, including the 2016 prosecution of then-House Speaker Mike Hubbard.

The bill would require public officials to list more detail about their incomes, and list any consulting contracts, including the identity of who is paying them and how much. It also makes clear that an exemption for gifts between friends cannot be used for business transactions. The bill also spells out that lawmakers cannot be paid to lobby other government agencies or for consulting services related to their political office.

“Prosecutors, who worked on the former Speaker Hubbard ethics case, assisted in writing the new bill to ensure that it would not be disruptive to that case,” Marshall spokesman Mike Lewis said in a statement. “In fact, our ethics reform legislation closes loopholes that were brought to light during the Hubbard case and others.”

Hubbard was convicted of using his office to solicit contracting jobs and investment for his companies. He is appealing his conviction.

Alabama Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton gave the bill a mixed assessment.

“There are provisions in there that are a step forward for ethics and there are provisions that are a step backwards in my view,” Albritton wrote in an email.

Albritton praised attempts to clarify aspects of the law, such as the limits of the friendship exemption. However, he said he was uncomfortable with some proposals, such as enabling public officials to create a legal defense fund or to exclude economic development professionals from the definition of lobbyist.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, the bill’s sponsor, said Tuesday he introduced the bill at the request of the attorney general. Marsh said he was seeking feedback from legislators and planned to meet with Marshall.

“At that point, we’ll decide whether to move forward with any of these bills,” Marsh said.

The bill has only a few weeks to win passage this session. Lawmakers are hoping to adjourn by the end of March.

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Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com

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