Legislators: Ethics laws will not be diluted

Lobbyists meet on Jan. 24 for mandatory ethics training.
Lobbyists meet on Jan. 24 for mandatory ethics training.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Two Republican leaders in the Alabama Legislature concerned that some lobbyists are looking for ways to get around strict new ethics laws said Monday a resounding "no" would greet anyone thinking lawmakers might back track on the laws.

House Speaker Mike Hubbard of Auburn and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh of Anniston held a news conference in the Old House Chamber of the State Capitol to promise the laws would stand.

"The reforms passed in the special session moved Alabama forward by leaps and bounds in ensuring accountability in government," Speaker Hubbard said. "In seven days, we went from having some of the weakest ethics laws in the nation to having some of the strongest. Some obviously liked the system the way it was, and they would like nothing more than to go back to the days of unlimited lobbyist spending on public officials. For the sake of the future of this state, we simply cannot go back, and the House leadership is committed to blocking any attempts to take us there."

Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh echoed the Speaker's comments saying the Senate leadership is equally committed to protecting the stricter code from attempts to weaken it.

"Anytime you fundamentally change the status quo, as these new ethics laws have done with the culture in Montgomery, you will have some who are uncomfortable," Senator Marsh said. "However, these reforms are fundamentally changing government in Alabama for the better, and we can assure the taxpayers that we will fight to protect the transparency that we brought them in the special session."

Speaker Hubbard and Senator Marsh said their respective houses of the Legislature would be open to considering revisions to the Ethics Code that made the law easier to understand and enforce. Lawmakers would welcome advice from the Ethics Commission and Attorney General Luther Strange on such revisions, they said.

"If parts of the Code need to be clarified or reinforced through legislation, we will certainly consider it," Speaker Hubbard said. "But, we're not going to weaken the law. This Legislature is going to be a productive, responsive body that is accountable to the people. We're committed to moving Alabama forward, and never back."

Alabama Ethics Commission Executive Director Jim Sumner said last week that lobbyists "need to get used to the new reality that spending freely on lawmakers, including lavish hunting and golf trips are a thing of the past."

There are more than 650 registered lobbyists in the state of Alabama, and each is required to attend at least one of the three mandatory meetings in Montgomery that will teach them about the new ethics laws.

The first meeting, held last week, saw approximately 250 of the lobbyists in attendance.

WSFA 12 News' political reporter will be at Monday's meeting and will have a full report in our evening newscasts.

Copyright 2011 by WSFA 12 News. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All Rights Reserved.