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Ethics Commission director says bill weakens ethics law

The director of the state Ethics Commission said a bill before Alabama lawmakers could open up a potentially wide loophole in state ethics law by carving out an exemption for people doing economic development work.

Posted: Mar 10, 2018 10:47 PM

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The director of the state Ethics Commission said a bill before Alabama lawmakers could open up a potentially wide loophole in state ethics law by carving out an exemption for people doing economic development work.

"I think it's a bad bill that weakens the ethics law considerably," Alabama Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton said.

The House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill to exempt economic developers from the definition of lobbyist under the state ethics law. Supporters argued it is needed to help Alabama compete with other states for projects and factories by keeping developers' activity confidential, but critics said it opens up an exemption in the ethics law that governs interactions with government officials.

The bill says that an economic development professional — defined as a person who does full-time economic development work or works part-time and is "precertified" by the Ethics Commission — shall not be considered a lobbyist.

"It exempts people from the definition of lobbying when I think most people would agree that what they are doing is in fact lobbying," Albritton said. "You are also declaring that the other portions of the ethics act related to a lobbyist's transaction with public officials no longer apply to them. That's where the problem lies in my view."

He said another danger is that "economic development is "often used as kind of catch all designation for activity that people want to conduct with executive branch agencies, or executive offices or the legislature itself."

"At the end of the day, there's a good bit of activity that could be argued is economic development," Albritton said.

Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield, who oversees the state's industry recruitment efforts, said his department and professional economic developers asked for the legislation because of confusion that began arising in 2015 on whether developers should register as lobbyists.

"If we don't clarify this under the law, professional site consultants are going to draw a big red line around Alabama," Canfield said.

"That red line is going to say avoid bringing projects to the state of Alabama because there are too many states that will, for one, protect the confidentiality of your project and two, not require you go through training and registration on a regular basis. It will be easier to conduct professional economic development activities in these other states," Canfield said.

Rep. Ken Johnson, the bill's sponsor, said the state should not put a "hurdle" on professional site developers by requiring them to register as lobbyists.

Johnson said the five-member Alabama Ethics Commission previously tabled an advisory opinion on the matter so lawmakers could attempt to address the issue.

Johnson said he believes lawmakers have prevented it from becoming a wide loophole by specifying that the exemption couldn't be claimed by legislators, other public officials and people who are otherwise lobbyists.

The Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said he opposed the bill at first but was pleased with changes to the bill, before its House passage, that he said creates a "narrowly-drawn exemption for full-time economic development professionals."

Albritton said a better way, in his view, would be to keep the developers under the state ethics law, but allow the reports on their activity to remain confidential for a period of time so deals in the making are not publicly disclosed.

The bill now moves to the Alabama Senate.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said he wanted to speak with both Marshall's office and the state ethics commission.

"I'm not going to move anything unless the attorney general and the ethics commission are on board with it," Marsh said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 338079

Reported Deaths: 7523
CountyCasesDeaths
Hinds23409440
DeSoto23069280
Harrison20064328
Rankin15119290
Jackson14743251
Madison10806227
Lee10568179
Jones8864169
Forrest8408159
Lauderdale7684243
Lowndes6917151
Lamar683789
Lafayette6502124
Washington5551139
Pearl River5060150
Bolivar4923134
Oktibbeha484798
Panola4739112
Warren4690127
Marshall4670106
Pontotoc442873
Monroe4293137
Union429179
Neshoba4232181
Hancock417788
Lincoln4148116
Pike3605113
Leflore3587125
Tate351488
Alcorn346474
Sunflower344994
Adams338488
Scott336676
Yazoo335673
Simpson319290
Copiah319068
Itawamba312480
Coahoma311585
Tippah300568
Prentiss295063
Covington287183
Marion281780
Leake281575
Wayne274643
Grenada267588
George266251
Newton258964
Tishomingo238070
Winston236284
Jasper227548
Attala223373
Stone219437
Chickasaw217560
Holmes197674
Clay194654
Clarke184480
Tallahatchie182742
Calhoun179432
Smith177535
Yalobusha170240
Walthall144448
Lawrence140026
Greene137634
Amite135643
Noxubee134235
Perry132438
Montgomery131544
Carroll125431
Webster119132
Jefferson Davis114234
Tunica113227
Benton105925
Claiborne104831
Kemper101429
Humphreys99833
Franklin86723
Quitman84319
Choctaw81819
Wilkinson76532
Jefferson70428
Sharkey51618
Issaquena1736
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 574737

Reported Deaths: 11492
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson839571589
Mobile46611857
Madison36938532
Tuscaloosa26841465
Shelby26769255
Montgomery25853624
Baldwin24213326
Lee16897181
Calhoun15210332
Morgan14990289
Etowah14721369
Marshall12855235
Houston11661292
Elmore10727217
St. Clair10587250
Limestone10535158
Cullman10323204
Lauderdale10044253
DeKalb9335191
Talladega8797187
Walker7659286
Autauga7456114
Jackson7295117
Blount7233139
Colbert6614142
Coffee6117131
Dale5393117
Russell467742
Chilton4666117
Covington4623125
Franklin447281
Tallapoosa4420157
Escambia425282
Chambers3880125
Dallas3707163
Clarke366462
Marion3413106
Pike326979
Lawrence3211101
Winston293972
Bibb282965
Geneva274283
Marengo259067
Barbour245161
Pickens239662
Butler237672
Hale232378
Fayette225064
Henry206645
Randolph196144
Monroe195041
Cherokee194548
Washington179339
Macon168352
Crenshaw165058
Clay163659
Cleburne159945
Lamar149738
Lowndes144854
Wilcox129831
Bullock126042
Conecuh119530
Coosa116729
Perry109928
Sumter108732
Greene98336
Choctaw63925
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