During a hearing on Wednesday to discuss the controversial economic development bill, HB317, not a soul present addressed the critical problem with the bill — the gaping loophole created by allowing individuals to work as part-time economic development professionals.
Of course, the bill doesn’t use the words part-time. Instead, it calls this individual a “less than full-time,” economic development professional – there is a difference without a distinction.
The bill, currently stalled in committee, is slated to re-appear next week after Republican Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh met with Gov. Kay Ivey, who expressed her desire to see the legislation move forward, according to those with knowledge of the meeting. Ivey’s office acknowledged that the governor and the Senate president pro tem were joined by two unidentified staffers, but little else was publicly known about the conversation.
Keen observers of the ethics laws, like the Alabama Political Reporter’s own analysis, believe HB317 could be passed without controversy by simply removing the “less than full-time” provision and tweaking the bill to not allow lawmakers and public officials to avoid the revolving-door statute because of HB317’s vagueness on the issue.
But removing the less than full-time language is problematic since Attorney General Steve Marshall, Gov. Kay Ivey’s commerce secretary, Greg Canfield, and others have refused even to acknowledge there is a classification of part-time economic development professionals.
During the House debate last week, Republican lawmakers were assured the part-time provision was stripped from the bill, but it was not. Canfield and Marshall, with the aid of high-powered attorneys/lobbyists from Bradley Arrant, devised the ambiguous language “less than full-time,” to trick wary House Republicans into passing the bill, which they did.
Several legislators expressed their anger after learning about the deception by reading about it in APR.
None of these warnings from APR and other press outlets discouraged Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, from holding what he called a chairman’s hearing on Wednesday.
Originally announced as a public hearing, Williams, chair of the Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee, changed the meeting to what he called a chairman’s hearing, which is an unknown committee meeting with dubious origins.
Senators present expressed dismay at Williams holding a hearing at which only individuals and groups favorable to the bill were permitted to speak.
And speak they did, without ever addressing the less than full-time designation.
Katherine Robertson spoke on Marshall’s behalf and not only expressed her boss’s support for the legislation but the urgent need to pass the bill this session. Robertson, like her boss, failed to mention the part-time exception.
Last week, Marshall said HB317’s amendments were written by a “top official from my corruptions division.”
However, neither Matt Hart or Mike Duffy, the senior members of the public corruption unit, have spoken publicly or privately. In fact, lawmakers who have talked to Hart and Duffy say neither would comment on HB317 or any ethics legislation.
It’s no secret that Marshall, an appointee of disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley, is working to dismantle the public corruption unit led by Hart. Marshall’s election campaign is being funded by many of those who protected former Speaker Mike Hubbard and a host of out of state individuals with no apparent ties to Alabama.
Perhaps most spectacular was the appearance of state ethics chair Jerry Fielding, who praised the legislation, ostensibly giving it the Ethics Commission’s stamp of approval despite the fact that the commission’s executive director, Tom Albritton, publicly voiced his opposition to HB317. Albritton, Hart and Duffy are perhaps being muzzled because to speak would expose their bosses’ big lie.
Privately before Wednesday’s chairman’s meeting, Fielding assured Decatur Republican Sen. Arthur Orr that four of the five sitting ethics commissioners were supportive of the bill. He further expressed his promise that the commission wanted to work in conjunction with the legislature.
As envisioned by those who established the ethics commission, Fielding’s assurance of working hand-in-glove with lawmakers would be considered inappropriate at best.
Fielding, during his presentation, never mentioned the less than full-time rule.
Why is the less than full-time exception so crucial to all these so-called public servants?
If we knew who was paying Bradley Arrant, the full answer might be identified. On the surface, it doesn’t take much imagination to see individuals like former Gov. Bob Riley exiting his lobbying business to become a less than full-time economic development professional. Or wealthy business investor, Will Brooke, who like Riley, was entangled in Hubbard’s conviction on public corruption charges.
Under HB317’s less than full-time exception, Brooke, Riley and others could give lavishly to lawmakers like Hubbard without fear of being ensnared by the ethics laws. But that’s just a quick look at why Marshall, Canfield and others pretend that the less than measure exists.
Perhaps Marshall could remove all doubt by letting someone who actually knows the law speak on the subject or Gov. Ivey could demand Canfield come clean. Neither is likely to happen.
A fix for the worrisome parts of HB317 is at hand, but for now, there seems no one willing to admit a problem exists.