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Defining De Minimis: Clearing up Ethic Law

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Over the last year, the new Alabama ethics law has caused some real and imagined confusion for educators and even ambiguity for lawmakers and public officials such as legislators, mayors and related public officials. The law was enacted to curtail abuses that had plagued Alabama for years. Under the then newly-elected republican majority a tough ethics bill was passed.

The main sticking point for the gift-giving portion of the bill was the word, De minimis. The Latin word basically mean something of little or no value you.  However there was not a unambiguous consensus on what little or no value meant.

Therefore, around Christmas, a firestorm erupted when students became unsure about what types of gifts they could give their teachers. Seemingly endless editorials and stories littered the newspapers and television. The idea of teacher not being permitted to receive gifts from students was cast in the media as a statewide affront to a long held tradition. From the Governor’s office to City Halls cries of, “Bah Humbug,” were leveled at republican lawmakers.

In an effort to bring clarity and fairness to the gift provision in the ethic law, Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) put forward SB305 to give De minimis an exact dollar amount.

“Today we want to simply replaces or add to the ethics law the definition of De mininis” said Sen. Bryan Taylor (R-Prattville),

Taylor said that many had wanted to make a special provision for teacher under the ethics law.

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“That is not something I wanted to do,” said Taylor, “I wanted to make sure that the ethics law applied equally to all public servants, who are paid by the taxpayers.”

In light of Taylor’s argument the bill will retain it uniformity bringing all state employees under the same standard of law

The bill now defines De Minimis as a gift having no more than a $25 value.

The bill passed out of committee with unanimous approval. It will now be submitted to the full Senate.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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