By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—A firestorm swept through the State after columnist John Archibald revealed that a proposed reform bill would gut existing State ethics laws. “It has begun. The systematic dismantling of the ethics law. It was bound to happen, when the seat of power became a hot seat. It was practically guaranteed,” wrote Archibald.
The bill was widely seen as an attempt to give indicted Speaker of the House, Mike Hubbard, a reasonable doubt argument at his up coming trial on 23 felony counts of public corruption.
However, the bill’s sponsor, State Sen. Gerald Dial (R-Lineville), in an interview with alreporter.com, refuted that notion saying, “As to the intent of this bill being misconstrued as an attempt to effect current or ongoing cases, that is simply not the case.” Dial further stated, “I respect our judicial process and trust those who perform those duties to comply with laws already passed by our legislative process, proposed bills would never be retroactive and to imply that proposed legislation would cause benefit or harm any case is simply untrue.”
The bill, filed as SB279, was given to Dial by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston), who asked that he, Dial, sponsor the bill.
The proposed changes were prepared by the Legislative Reference Services (LFO). Interim Director Othni Lathram respond to our request for the name of the person who asked for the bill to be drafted but saying, “SB279 was prepared by the Legislative Reference Service and Section 29-7-6 requires that all requests and related materials be maintained as confidential unless waived by the Legislator who made the request.”
Which lawmaker asked LFO to prepare the bill is still unknown, but Dial said he met with Ethics Chief Tom Albritton on two occasions to discuss the details of the bill.
In an earlier interview, Dial said he was working with Albritton to make sure the Ethics Commission approved any changes to the State’s ethics laws.
Marsh and Albritton have close ties with the indicted Speaker. Marsh was Republican Party Finance Director when Hubbard was party chair. During that period, over a million dollars in party donations were funneled from ALGOP into Hubbard owned business interests, which Marsh would have needed to approve.
Albritton has a long standing personal and professional relationship to Hubbard’s wife’s family, and he is still listed as a law partner with Mrs. Hubbard’s sister.
The timing of SB279, and the “behind the curtain” players, has cast a long shadow over the bills origin and intent.
Dial said, “I want to create the best possible bill and that will require input from law enforcement agencies, public agencies, as well as our fellow Alabamians. To do this and do it right, I will work throughout the summer and fall to have an inclusive and comprehensive dialogue and bring forth a bill next session that we can all be proud of.”
Dial plans to hold public meetings around State over the summer and into the fall. He believes the input he has received, both negative and positive, “proves that our constituents want to be a part of the process and I welcome them to do so.”
The machinations surrounding the bill’s creation still require more investigation to determine why now, and to whose benefit it serves.
Archibald, in his column, said of SB279, “Everything the Alabama Legislature ever said about the importance of integrity was a sham. Just tattered platitudes and lies.”