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Opinion | Is leadership in the Alabama Legislature planning a bait-and-switch on HB317?

The Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery, Alabama.

The wall is crumbling.

Last week, a small group of senators held firm against an ethics bill, HB317, that would, among other things, exclude full-time and part-time “economic developers” from laws requiring them to register as lobbyists.

Heading into what should be the final week of the 2018 session, sources say that small group has dwindled to just three senators.

“I think the fix is in,” said one senator.

As APR has previously reported, HB317 is very unpopular outside of the State House, and is particularly problematic with those who combat political corruption in the state.

The head of the Alabama Ethics Commission issued a strong statement against the bill and has not backed away from it. The head of the Alabama Attorney General’s white collar crime unit has been oddly quiet, even as his boss insists that the office is supportive of the bill.

The issue with the bill, from the start, has been twofold: that it allows “part-time” economic developers — a distinction that opens the door to a wide range of individuals — and that there’s no revolving door limitation to bar lawmakers from jumping from the State House to a job as an economic developer.

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Closed-door meetings over the past two weeks ended in an impasse last Thursday, after officials from the AG’s office clashed with attorneys from the Ethics Commission over basic definitions in the bill.

Over the weekend, additional talks produced a brand new bill and a brand new problem.

While the substitute bill is rumored to take out the two problems and limit the exceptions to the law to only site selectors — a group of roughly 70 full-time employees around the state — and inserts a provision that should shut the revolving door, senators have been given no assurances that the bill they vote for will be the final bill.

Because HB317 in its original form has already passed the Alabama House, the substitute bill, if approved by the Senate, would have to go back to the House in order for the changes to be reconciled. If the House doesn’t vote to simply concur with the new Senate version, a conference committee meeting — with three members from each house — will be held to reconcile the bill.

It’s that process that has senators wary.

“I want some assurances that if we vote this thing out, that the House will concur and the bill that goes to the governor will be the bill we vote out,” said Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery. “I’m not certain at this point that that will be the case.”

That would be a rather unprecedented move, though — for the Republican leadership to pull a bait-and-switch on members of their own party, and particularly over a bill that is very unpopular with the general public.

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“We’re going to need some assurances — some strong assurances,” Brewbaker said of the coming vote. “Otherwise, I can’t see this thing passing.”


Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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