Governor wants change to teacher gifts law

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Governor Robert Bentley is calling for lawmakers to exempt teachers from the state law that limits gifts for public employees and officials which includes education employees.

He says teachers were not the intended target of the December 2010 Special Session to pass anti-corruption and ethics reforms.

"I'm not worried about teachers and corruption with our teachers" the governor said during press availability in his office Wednesday.

Under the law, one of a handful of GOP backed measures, all public officials and employees are prohibited from accepting gifts of any significant monetary value. The law doesn't specify a dollar amount that is reasonable.

Late last week the Alabama Ethics Commission approved an opinion on the law clarifying what was acceptable for public employees, including teachers, to accept as gifts. The term "de minimis" value was adopted as the limit. In other words, gifts of nominal monetary value were acceptable. The opinion listed items like coffee mugs, homemade cookies, and Christmas ornaments as acceptable gifts.

He commission advised against students giving their teachers gift cards to restaurants or department stores with a defined monetary value. Instead, the commission recommended that a class parent collect several dollars, in $5 range, from each student toward the purchase of one such card. That way, the commission argues, each student contributed a "de minimis" or small amount to a larger gift.

Governor Bentley said teachers work too hard during the year with very few resources to be put under such a broad umbrella.

"They're not elected officials and I just don't think teachers should be included in that and you know children should be able to give their teachers a gift" Gov.  Bentley said. "That's a silly rule, one of the unintended consequences of a law."

The governor didn't specify on whether he would support a price cap for gifts for teachers, a maximum dollar value that students or their parents could spend.

"I don't think any student is going to give their teacher a gift that costs $100" the governor said.

Earlier in the week the sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Bryan Taylor (R – Prattville), sent a letter to the Ethics Commission asking for clarification on the law. Governor Bentley is calling on lawmakers to amend the legislation during the 2012 regular legislative session. The Ethics Commission doesn't have authority to change a law.

The governor said he's spoken with several GOP state senators including Sen. Gerald Dial, Sen. Tom Whatley, Sen. Cam Ward, and Sen. Slade Blackwell who are working on the legislation to exempt teachers from the gift restriction.

Gov. Bentley says the change is a simple fix.

"For a child not to be able to give their teacher a Christmas present, it's carrying what we're trying to do too far."

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