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Alabama lawmakers advance a bill that would revamp the state ethics law


Alabama lawmakers on Tuesday, April 2, advanced a revamp of the state ethics law that supporters said would provide clearer rules but was opposed by the state attorney general who said it would make prosecutions more difficult.

The Alabama House of Representatives voted 79-9 for the legislation. No lawmaker spoke against the legislation during debate. The bill now moves to the Alabama Senate.

Republican Rep. Matt Simpson, the sponsor of the legislation, said the current ethics law is often confusing and convoluted for the estimated 300,000 public employees and officials who fall under it. He said the goal was to provide clearer definitions.

“It's only fair to people who are going to be prosecuted under this, that you let them know where the lines are. If they cross those lines, they should be prosecuted and they will be prosecuted,” said Simpson, a former prosecutor.

Attorney General Steve Marshall's office said in a statement that he “strongly opposes this proposed rewrite of our ethics laws."

“Public officials must be held to a high standard, yet this bill would make it difficult, if not impossible, to criminally prosecute an array of serious ethics violations,” the statement added.

The bill would raise the gift ban limit to public officials and employees to $100 per occasion and $500 per year. Current law prohibits public officials and employees from receiving a “thing of value” from a lobbyist or person who employs a lobbyist but allows exemptions for items of minimal value, now defined as less than $33.

“We wanted to make it a nice even round number that people could understand. Right now it's $33," Simpson said during debate.

The bill would also allow the Legislative Council, a panel of 20 lawmakers, to impeach the Ethics Commission director upon recommendation of the attorney general.

Simpson said he disagreed with Marshall's assessment that the bill would weaken state law, saying he believes it “strengthens the law and makes prosecutions stronger.”

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