Senate committee shelves ethics law bill

Senate committee shelves bill to change ethics laws

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The Senate Judiciary committee heard a bill to change the ethics laws but ultimately carried it over Wednesday.

The chair of the judiciary committee, Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said he will not bring the bill up again in committee this session.

"I just felt like the bill’s not ready,” Ward said. “There’s a lot of questions and concerns out there.”

Ward said the Ethics Commission had said Alabama’s current ethics code was too vague. He said the bill had good intentions to fix the problem, but he didn’t see the bill moving forward this session.

Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, is the sponsor of the ethics bill and gave his pitch to lawmakers in committee.

“One clear aspect of the current law is that it lacks clarity,” he said in committee.

The bill would allow for limitless gifts from lobbyists but adds a requirement to report everything given. It changes which family members of public officials need to follow the ethics law. It also makes it a misdemeanor if someone uses their public office for public gain if the amount used is less than $6,000.

Albritton said the bill would strengthen the current code.

“SB 230 does not weaken the current law. It strengthens the ethics code by clarifying the language, by establishing each agency’s proper role, eliminating agency duplication and infighting, and by adopting well-established criminal and civil penalties," he said. “This is the right bill and this is the right time.”

The proposed ethics bill faced some criticism from top state leaders, including the Alabama Attorney General.

“Using transparency to be able to discourage criminal behavior also assumes that that same gift is going to be reported. And there is no assurance that the public will ever know that," Steve Marshall said.

During the committee, Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, said lawmakers rushed through changing the ethics laws in 2010. She said there were unintended consequences and did not want that to happen this time around.

“So if we could make sure this time that we take all of that into consideration so that we don’t have to revisit it," Figures said.

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