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House passes bill to change Alabama’s ethics law

The House passed HB227 by Rep. Matt Simpson on a vote of 79-9, largely along party lines.

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The Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that would revamp Alabama ethics law with only nine dissenting votes.

The House passed HB227 by Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Daphne, on a vote of 79-9-15 largely along party lines.

Simpson has been leading the charge on making major alterations to the ethics law, last overhauled in 2010, on the basis that current language is too confusing and can entrap public servants for innocuous situations. 

Simpson recalled an orientation for lawmakers with three legal experts in Alabama ethics law serving on a panel—and giving three different answers to lawmakers’ questions about whether certain situations would or wouldn’t violate ethics law.

“If we as legislators, with experts, can’t determine what we can and cannot do in the laws in Alabama—what chance does the firefighter, what chance does the police officer, what chance does the city worker and what chance does the teacher have to understand what we can and can’t do in ethics violations,” Simpson said. “That was the rhyme and the rationale for what we’ve gone through.”

Some have criticized the new law though as being too vague about how public officials receive gifts from “friends” and corroding the independence of the Ethics Commission.

Rep. A.J. McCampbell, D-Gallion, said reform is needed to the state’s ethics law, but couldn’t vote in favor of it because of “propaganda” that would paint the vote as being in favor of weakening ethics law.

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“I want you to understand that A.J. McCampbell believes in a strong ethics position, but there are problems with our current ethics laws that need to be fixed,” McCampbell said. “But do not say that A.J. McCampbell voted for this new ethics law and he is one of the ones that has caused it to be weakened; because that’s the propaganda that will be out there. And as a Democrat, I cannot afford for people to be writing that the Democrats weakened the ethics laws.”

McCampbell ultimately abstained from voting on the bill.

Attorney General Steve Marshall and Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton have both opposed the bill, saying that it will wake the law. “This is important because it affects 300,000 Alabamians directly,” Simpson said. “This is not about the 140 people in this Legislature.”

When including the families of those 300,000 people, Simpson said the law impact the lives of 1.2 million Alabamians.

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration. If there bill were to become law, it would not take effect until June 1, 2025.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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