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Bill Britt

Opinion | Countdown to the end of session: Don’t let the screen door hit you

Bill Britt

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As the 2018 legislative sessions sprints towards the finish line, it is too early to count the winners and losers accurately. Perhaps it is enough to identify the heroes and villains — or merely recognize survivors. But even those player categories are a bit elusive for now, but they are coming into focus in these final days.

The twentieth legislative day finds over 900 bills introduced, 175 being approved by both chambers, 93 enacted, 71 awaiting the governor’s signature and 11 constitutional amendment bills pending referendum.

Like any royal court, there are those who have obtained new favor and those who have slid back a rung or two.

So far, the most notable survivor is BCA’s Billy Canary who, against all the odds, still hangs on to his chairmanship at the once valued business alliance. But like his dear friend, convicted felon and former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, his survival is more dependent on the endurance of his foes than the resolve of his allies.

While Canary’s supporters have rallied to keep him in place, those who would see corruption ousted from power steadily gather strength as they understand that real progress for the state is not possible as long as he leads at BCA. Perhaps the only answer is to bring the entire organization to its knees in order to remove the cancer that infects it. So, Canary remains for now, but nothing is so inevitable in life as change.

On a brighter note, a most noticeable change in the 2018 session is that under the leadership of House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, politics is no longer a zero-sum game as it was under his predecessor, disgraced felon Hubbard. Some would mistake McCutcheon’s fairness for weakness, but longtime political observers see his evenhandedness as a sign of quiet confidence often lacking in iron-fisted demagogues. For Hubbard and the like, it is never enough to win, but the other side must lose.

There is little doubt that Gov. Kay Ivey’s commerce secretary and the state’s attorney general have fostered lies and deception in their drive to pass HB317, a bill that will essentially gut portions of the state’s ethics laws.

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Today, the bill is set to go before the Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee for consideration. While it may pass out of committee in deference to its Senate sponsor, President Pro Tem Del Marsh, it will most likely die on the Senate floor should it be unwisely pulled from the basket.

On Tuesday, two retiring Senators joked about how if HB317 passes, they will both immediately sign on as “less than full-time” economic development professionals next year, taking advantage of aspects of the law that circumvent the “revolving door” statutes of the state’s ethics laws.

HB317 not only opens a loophole to bypass current ethics laws, it also allows lawmakers and public officials to leave office and start over as economic development professionals without violating that revolving door statute. Imagine the pain endured by Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield as he has watches others make millions off economic development while he has had to settle with traveling the world like an aging playboy on the taxpayers’ dime.

Should HB317 pass as written, Canfield can leave office next year and take advantage of the riches he has been denied as a public servant. Perhaps he will be joined by AG Steve Marshall in a remake of a sad but hilarious buddy movie in which the pair is cast as losers in a situation where they are woefully inept at finding their dream until the last minute of the film.

Shameful efforts to break the state ethics laws by piecemeal legislation is likely to be the legacy of the 2018 session.

Opinion | Piecemeal approach to ethics reform continues, and it’s questionable

Despite the pitfalls of HB317 and HB387, on Monday Marsh said, “I’ve been in contact with the attorney general and the ethics commissioner,” and, “There are two bills that I’m looking at, that’s [HB317] one of them, that deal with ethics. Those are the two bills that I will consider.” So it is likely that there will be one last push to break the ethics laws, which is a shameful ending to this “non-controversial” spectacle of a legislative session.

But then, just maybe, it’s the beginning of the end when we finally say goodbye, so long and don’t let the screen door hit you to the many bad actors who have plagued our state since Hubbard and his cronies stormed the State House in 2010.

 

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