EDITIORIAL: Protest House vote to weaken ethics laws

Published 4:11 pm Thursday, September 24, 2015

Anyone who is offended when legislators vote themselves pay raises should be enraged.

The Alabama House of Representatives recently approved legislation that appears to give them unlimited earning opportunities, as well as a free pass for soliciting help with their own legal defenses should they get in trouble.

House Bill 18 strips away the section of the Alabama Code that makes lobbying by public officials illegal, yet clearly prohibits public officials at the state level who leave their office before their term expires from lobbying state government for the remainder of the time they would have served.

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The bill’s key sponsor, Rep. Jack Williams, told state media it wasn’t the intent of the bill to remove the prohibition on lobbying. The bill, he said, was written by the Alabama Law Institute.

Yet the law is unclear on the point, and we’ve all seen lawmakers take advantage of those loopholes.

Andalusia’s Tom Albritton, current executive director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, said the Ethics Commission was not involved in drafting the bill and does not support it.

Albritton said he is far more concerned, however, with the bill’s provision that lawmakers who do get in trouble are allowed to solicit unrestricted amounts of funds from lobbyists and others for their defense.

Albritton went so far as to say, “We consider this bill to be a significant step backwards for public ethics in Alabama.”

Legislators were called into special session to address a funding crisis for many state agencies. That they are instead working on legislation that personally benefits them should make us want to storm the statehouse.

It is ironic that the bill quickly passed a body led by a Speaker currently under indictment for 23 felony ethics charges, including accepting funds to lobby for certain businesses.

That action is currently prohibited by ethics laws also passed under his leadership.

If the proposed bill survives the Senate and gains the signature of the governor, it becomes immediately effective.

We encourage readers to call state senators and the governor’s office to voice opposition to this raid on public ethics.

– Andalusia Star-News