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Economic developers want to expand ethics law exemptions

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama Code of Ethics Clarification and Reform Commission met in Montgomery for a public hearing on proposed “reforms” to the Alabama Ethics Law Tuesday.

Many people in the economic development community were present to express their support for efforts to reform the state ethics law. They supported pending legislation to protect economic developers and site selectors from an interpretation of the 2010 Alabama Ethics Law that could potentially require them to register as lobbyists and act under the transparency regulations that professional lobbyists are held to.

Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield read a lengthy prepared statement about the original intent of the legislature, the history of the economic developer/lobbyist debate, and why he felt that it was important for the Commission to recommend legislation that would protect professional economic developers from the possibility that the Alabama Ethics Commission or a court compel economic developers from registering as lobbyists.

In 2018, the Alabama Legislature passed House Bill 317, which protected the economic developers for one year. During that time, the Alabama Code of Ethics Clarification and Reform Commission was created and tasked with studying the issue and then making a recommendation to the legislature on a more permanent fix. Thursday, was the public’s opportunity to make their feeling known to the Commission.

“HB 317 created a safe harbor for ‘Economic Development Professionals’ to provide that they are not lobbying when seeking economic development incentives subject to certain exceptions,” Canfield said. “HB 317 was crafted as a bridge to a more permanent solution.”

Canfield said, “Much of the focus has been limited to the role of site consultants and while that group of professional economic developers was primary to the language drafted in HB317, there are others who play a vital role in support of job creating economic development whose activities should be articulated so as not to be defined as lobbying. These are 1) Chamber of Commerce staff and volunteers, 2) professional service providers (e.g. engineers, accountants, attorneys), 3) individual businesses supporting economic development (e.g. employees of banks, utilities, etc.), 4) employees of prospects, 5) employees of governments supporting economic development, 6) industrial development board employees/board members.”

“The economic development community in Alabama recognizes the vital role our ethics laws play in protecting the public trust in state and local government,” Canfield told the Commission. “We support and do not propose to change Alabama’s ethics law’s focus on preventing activities which might be taken by parties to corruptly influence elected officials, public officials or public employees.”

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Canfield stated however that, “It can be argued that well-intentioned law created to establish public boundaries can often result in unintended consequences.”

The Executive Director of the five-hundred-member Economic Development Association of Alabama (EDAA) is Jim Searcy.

“The 2018 EDP Safe Harbor (HB 317) includes a ‘sunset’ provision that is expires on April 1. It is our hope that the provision will be removed soon,” Searcy told the commission. “EDAA greatly appreciates the Legislature’s enactment of the EDP safe harbor and urges that it be renewed as soon as possible.”

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Phillip Dunlap is the Economic Development Director for the City of Auburn.
Director Dunlap said that it is not lobbying when I go to my council and ask them to provide a tax abatement for a prospect. “If I have to register as a lobbyist to do that and had to disclose (publicly) what I am working for I would be rendered useless and an economic developer,” Dunlap.

Searcy said that confidentiality is vitally important in the work of economic development. When Toyota-Mazda came in, nobody knew who that was for the first four months of the process.

Ellen McNair is the Senior Vice President of the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce

“We are charged with the creation and preservation of jobs in Montgomery,” McNair said. “We do not believe that the Chamber staff and the volunteers should be considered as lobbyists. We greatly support HB317 the economic development safe harbor act. It is vitally important that this be renewed by the legislature. We hope that the legislature will remove any question that Chamber Staff, volunteers and other professionals be considered as lobbyists.

Searcy expressed the concern that allowing HB 317 to sunset could put Alabama at a competitive disadvantage economically.

Searcy asked the dozens of people in attendance to raise their hands if they are involved in economic development. Almost everyone (outside of LSA staff, the Commission itself, and reporters) raised their hands.

Some noted members of the Alabama media have expressed the view that creating a carve out from the 2010 ethics law for economic developers could potentially weaken Alabama’s ethics laws; however no one at the public hearing spoke in opposition to the safe harbor for economic developers act or expressed any fears that ethics laws might be weakened in any way by HB 317 or the Commission’s work.

Commission member Tom Albritton said that this is the last planned meeting of the commission.

“While the process has been very difficult, we have made progress,” Albritton said. “Our goal was to deliver something to the legislature. The draft is now with Legislative Services.”

Albritton said that the legislators needed to see the bill before the session begins in March.

“We would be doing them a great disservice, and all of you a disservice, if we did not have that by February, which is tomorrow. I expect it will be out in two weeks.”

To read all of Secretary Canfield’s statement.

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Alabama lawmaker pre-files legislation to allow removal of Confederate monuments

If passed, the measure would permit counties and cities to relocate historic monuments currently located on public property.

Brandon Moseley

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A Confederate monument in Birmingham's Linn Park was removed. As have monuments and memorials in Mobile and on the campus of the University of Alabama.

Alabama State Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, introduced legislation this week in advance of the 2021 legislative session that, if passed, would permit counties and cities to relocate historic monuments currently located on public property. Givan’s bill, HB8, would also provide for the relocation of historic memorials to sites appropriate for public display.

“Across the state of Alabama, citizens are calling for the removal of prominently placed statues and monuments that are insensitive or offensive to the communities that surround them,” Givan said. “City and county governments must be able to address the demands of their citizens. This legislation provides a tool for local governments to safely remove these artifacts so that they can be moved to a site more appropriate for preserving or displaying the historical monument.”

Removing the monuments and historical markers is currently illegal under Alabama’s Memorial Preservation Act, which the state Legislature passed in 2017. Givan has been an outspoken opponent of that Republican-sponsored legislation. In 2018, Givan introduced a measure to repeal the bill that barred the removal of monuments.

“I believe HB8 can achieve bipartisan support,” Givan said. “My bill seeks to balance the wishes of the people. It respects the will of communities that want the monuments removed. It also respects those who wish to preserve history. With this legislation, Confederate monuments could be relocated to a public site, like Confederate Memorial Park, whose purpose and mission is to interpret and tell these stories. When the Legislature convenes, I hope to have the support of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.”

If enacted, HB8 would permit county and municipal governments to remove memorial monuments, including permanent statues, portraits and markers, located on public property in their jurisdictions. It would require a transfer of ownership of the removed monuments to the Alabama Department of Archives and History or the Alabama Historical Commission. Finally, the bill would instruct Archives and History or the Historical Commission to maintain and display monuments removed by local authorities in a location accessible for public display.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which keeps track of Confederate monuments and memorials across the country, released an update to its Whose Heritage report, which tracks symbols of the Confederacy on public land across the United States. They report at least 30 Confederate symbols have been removed or relocated since George Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020.

These include 24 monuments removed, 5 monuments relocated and the Mississippi state flag replaced. Since the Charleston church shooting in 2015, 115 total symbols have been removed from public spaces. These include 87 monuments that have been removed or relocated from public spaces. At least 78 monuments were removed and nine were relocated.

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SPLC says there are still nearly 1,800 Confederate symbols on public land, and 739 of those symbols are monuments. The SPLC has prepared an “action guide” to help community activists target Confederate historical markers and memorials for removal.

President Donald Trump has denounced what he calls “cancel culture” that seeks to remove historical monuments and statutes.

“There is a growing danger that threatens every blessing our ancestors fought so hard for, struggled, they bled to secure,” Trump said. “Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children.”

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Senate pro tem requests general fund committee begin hearings in July

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Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, announced today that he has asked Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee Chairman Greg Albritton, R-Range, to begin holding General Fund Committee meetings in preparation for the next session.

In an effort to be better prepared because of uncertainty in state revenue as a result of COVID-19 pandemic Senator Albritton has agreed with Senator Marsh and has invited Legislative Services, the Department of Finance, Pardons and Paroles, Corrections and the Personnel Department to provide updates to the committee.

“Typically, we begin this process closer to sessions however because of uncertainty about state income and possibility of special sessions, we felt like it was important to get started much earlier than usual in this process,” Senator Albritton said. “The Legislature has done an excellent job managing our budgets over the past few years. So much so that Alabama was able to weather the storm of the COVID-19 shutdown this year with little impact to our vital state services. We understand that we will not have final revenue projections until after July 15th, but we must continue to do our due diligence and ensure that we use taxpayer money sensibly.”

“We want to make sure that all public money is being used wisely, now and in the future,” Senator Marsh said. “We have many pressing issues facing the state such as a potential $2 billion-dollar prison reform proposal and a stunning lack of rural broadband investment which need to be addressed whenever the Legislature is back in session and it is our duty to make sure we are prepared and kept up to speed on these matters. Furthermore, the taxpayers deserve a clear and transparent view of how their money is being used.”

The hearings are scheduled to begin July 9 in the Alabama State House.

 

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Part-time employee in lieutenant governor’s office tests positive for COVID-19

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A part-time employee in Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth’s office, who the office said works only a handful of hours each week, tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, according to a press statement.

The employee, whose work area is separated from the rest of the staff, last worked in the office on the morning of Thursday, June 18.

All members of the office staff have been tested or are in the process of being tested for COVID-19 in response, and, thus far, no additional positive results have been reported.

In addition, the State House suite has been thoroughly cleaned and will remain closed until all employees’ test results have been returned.

Employees are working remotely from home, and phones are being answered in order to continue providing services to the citizens who need them.

 

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Three workers at ADOC headquarters among latest to test positive for COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter

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Sixteen more Alabama Department of Corrections employees, including three at the department’s headquarters in Montgomery, have tested positive for COVID-19. 

The department’s latest update, released Monday evening, puts the total of confirmed cases among employees at 99, with 73 cases still active. 

Five more inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 as well, including inmates at the Donaldson Correctional Facility, the Easterling Correctional Facility, the Kilby Correctional Facility, the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women and the St. Clair Correctional Facility.

18 of 27 confirmed cases among inmates remained active as of Monday, according to ADOC. 

Of the department’s 28 facilities, there have been confirmed COVID-19 cases among staff or inmates in 21. Of the state’s approximately 22,000 inmates, 214 had been tested as of Friday. 

Areas inside numerous state prisons are under quarantine, with ADOC staff either limiting inmate movements to those areas or checking for symptoms regularly and conducting twice daily temperature checks, according to the department.

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