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Senate to put economic developer bill on fast track

Chip Brownlee

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The Alabama Senate meets during the 2018 legislative session. (Chandler Walker/APR)

A bill that would create a new class of individuals dubbed “economic development professionals” and essentially exempt them from lobbying provisions in the state’s ethics laws is on the fast track in the Alabama Senate.

A Senate committee will consider the bill, HB317 by Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton, on Wednesday, and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said Tuesday that it could be on the floor as early as Thursday if the committee gives it a favorable report.

“I expect it to come out [of committee],” Marsh said. “I would hope so, that we would take it up for consideration.”

After delaying the bill in the Senate last week, Marsh — who initially said he wanted to talk through the bill before it moved forward — met with Gov. Kay Ivey to discuss the bill’s future.

Marsh said he is now satisfied with the bill.

“I’ve been in contact with the attorney general and the ethics commissioner,” Marsh said. “There are two bills that I’m looking at, that’s one of them, that deal with ethics. Those are the two bills that I will consider.”

Gov. Ivey asks Pro Tem Marsh to press forward with controversial bill

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The Senate Committee on Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development is scheduled to take up the bill at 1:30 p.m.

The bill, which has been the subject of some controversy, would define a new class of economic development professionals, provide for some economic development negotiations to remain confidential to protect the plans and exempt those economic development professionals from needing to register as lobbyists.

Lobbyists are subject to stricter regulation under the state’s ethics laws, and by exempting the economic development professionals, they would be subject to less oversight from the Ethics Commission and fewer provisions of the ethics laws.

Johnson and supporters of the bill have argued that the bill is needed because current law puts Alabama at a disadvantage when it comes to recruiting big business to the state.

Some lawmakers have expressed opposition to some wording in the bill, which could potentially allow lawmakers to avoid the “revolving door” statute in Alabama’s ethics laws that prevents lawmakers from immediately becoming lobbyists after leaving their positions in the Legislature.

The law does not explicitly bar lawmakers from immediately engaging in economic development after they leave office.

“I have tremendous concerns about parts of this,” Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, said last week during a meeting of the committee. “If you engage people for money, you are lobbying.”

Several other Republican senators have indicated they have concerns about the bill, and given the packed schedule of the final weeks of the session, one or two filibustering senators could spell the end of the bill.

The bill will need to move quickly through the Senate as the Legislature is expected to finish up the session by the end of the month. If changes are made in committee or on the floor, the bill will need to go back to the House for final approval before heading to the governor’s desk.

“As long as we get the budgets passed and all of the work of the people done, if we’re finished by the 29th and we can save the taxpayers’ money, we’ll go home,” Marsh said.

 

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