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Senate committee delays ethics bill, tightening timeline for passage

With only two days remaining in the legislative session, the bill may have been dealt a fatal blow.

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A bill by Rep. Matt Simpson, R–Daphne, to overhaul the state’s ethic laws may be pronounced dead this morning — or it may cling to one last shot at passage depending on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The committee voted Tuesday to carry the bill, HB227, over until Wednesday as lawmakers continue to debate the changes. With only two days remaining in the legislative session, that is practically a fatal blow.

Sen. Sam Givhan, R-Huntsville, introduced a substitute at the start of the committee meeting Tuesday that would allow up to $10,000 in bribery charges to be considered a Class C felony. The bill that passed out of the House would make all cases of bribery a Class B felony instead of a Class C felony as under current law.

“Just cause you sell out cheaply doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be convicted of a felony,” Givhan said. “I’ve always made the statement of ‘If you sell your vote for a dime, that’s a crime.'”

The bill would also change the impeachment process of the ethics commission director to mirror how a district attorney is impeached. Under Simpson’s original version, legislators would have had involvement in that impeachment process.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said he had planned to bring his own ethics bill during the session based on the findings of a 2018-2019 commission studying the ethics act, but didn’t bring it so as not to cross Simpson’s bill.

“I was on that 2018-2019 group that looked at the act; we had a bill that I didn’t file because I heard you had a bill,” Orr said. “I haven’t read the sub completely but I have some serious concerns about (Simpson’s) bill … that committee did have some good recommendations but this bill seems to go far beyond those recommendations.”

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Despite his opposition to Simpson’s bill, Orr thanked Simpson for taking the issue head-on.

“I told my fellow caucus members once you get into it, it’s like punching the marshmallow man,” Orr said. “You get all engaged and kicking and it just more, when you push here, there’s a reaction over there all through the code … my compliments for engaging the marshmallow man and doing battle because it’s a heavy undertaking, and there are a lot of implications when you start punching that and trying to change that.”

The committee adopted the substitute, but it has not yet been published on the Legislature website.

Attorney Matt Hart, who successfully prosecuted former House Speaker Mike Hubbard on ethics charges, said the bill would make certain ethics crimes under current law simply disappear. Hart ran out of time before he could give examples of those crimes.

“This bill that has been introduced, first of all, totally disregards the product of the 2018-2019 commission,” Hart said. “That process had all the stakeholders involved and was very intensive business. Law enforcement, education, prosecutors, public officials all had public input, great product; I know some of you supported it at that time. It is totally disregarded in what we have here, and this bill violates, in my view as a citizen, the first rule of ‘do no harm.'”

Tom Albritton, current director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, asked the committee to consider that the bill could strip the independence of the ethics commission, which he said is a national standard.


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

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