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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: 312608

Reported Deaths: 7221
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21429257
Hinds20256414
Harrison17776308
Rankin13539278
Jackson13395246
Madison10051217
Lee9956173
Jones8364163
Forrest7633152
Lauderdale7215240
Lowndes6359144
Lamar620286
Lafayette6162118
Washington5320133
Bolivar4796132
Oktibbeha460398
Panola4545104
Pearl River4495145
Marshall4387103
Warren4368120
Pontotoc419372
Monroe4089133
Union408776
Neshoba4028176
Lincoln3939110
Hancock376686
Leflore3484125
Sunflower335290
Tate331684
Pike3290105
Scott314873
Alcorn310768
Yazoo310269
Itawamba299377
Copiah295865
Coahoma293979
Simpson293788
Tippah287268
Prentiss278560
Marion268680
Leake264973
Wayne262241
Grenada259985
Adams259882
Covington256281
Newton246961
George246748
Winston226981
Tishomingo225067
Jasper220748
Attala214273
Chickasaw207057
Holmes188672
Clay184654
Stone181433
Clarke178179
Tallahatchie177840
Calhoun169532
Yalobusha162936
Smith162034
Walthall133745
Greene130233
Lawrence128223
Noxubee126834
Montgomery126742
Perry126038
Amite123442
Carroll121628
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis106932
Tunica104626
Claiborne102130
Benton99025
Humphreys96133
Kemper95628
Franklin83323
Quitman79616
Choctaw75818
Wilkinson66830
Jefferson65428
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 528784

Reported Deaths: 10913
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson762251516
Mobile40864804
Madison34569501
Tuscaloosa25646451
Montgomery24264585
Shelby23355246
Baldwin20993306
Lee15800168
Calhoun14457312
Morgan14250279
Etowah13796352
Marshall12166222
Houston10506280
Elmore10017205
Limestone9935150
Cullman9617193
St. Clair9584237
Lauderdale9397238
DeKalb8813185
Talladega8183175
Walker7205279
Autauga6910107
Jackson6793110
Blount6621135
Colbert6282134
Coffee5491115
Dale4810111
Russell437938
Chilton4244111
Franklin423882
Covington4105117
Tallapoosa4004150
Escambia392675
Chambers3545123
Dallas3536150
Clarke350360
Marion3092100
Pike309177
Lawrence299698
Winston273572
Bibb259763
Marengo248564
Geneva247075
Pickens233559
Barbour230256
Hale221776
Butler215469
Fayette211962
Henry188544
Cherokee183845
Randolph179241
Monroe176240
Washington166839
Macon158649
Clay153356
Crenshaw151657
Cleburne148341
Lamar141234
Lowndes138453
Wilcox126528
Bullock122941
Conecuh110028
Perry107526
Coosa106828
Sumter104132
Greene92234
Choctaw60324
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