AG Marshall voices opposition to Albritton ethics bill; Offers ‘common sense’ areas to amend current law
The future of SB 230, the so-called comprehensive ethics legislation sponsored by Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Range), could be in jeopardy given Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) had proclaimed the bill wouldn’t leave his committee this session on Wednesday.
On Thursday, despite Ward’s statement, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) has reportedly indicated the bill will be revisited next week.
In an interview with Huntsville radio’s WVNN, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall explained why his office opposes the legislation, which he argued would not be “an effective deterrent.”
“We have currently expressed our opposition to the bill as it is framed,” Marshall said Wednesday on “The Jeff Poor Show.” “And It definitely takes a very different approach. If you talk to Senator Albritton, what he would tell you is he believes that you can deter public corruption by allowing there to be a very public disclosure of any gifts that are given from a lobbyist, or things of value given from a lobbyist to a legislator or another public official.”
“Our concern is that’s not really an effective deterrent,” he continued. “What’s an effective deterrent is the idea of really being able to put handcuffs on somebody who violates our ethics laws and then be able to prosecute them and move forward. While I respect Sen. Albritton’s efforts, it is simply, we believe it impacts our ability, even in current investigations we have now, to effectively root out corruption and try to keep confidence in our public systems.”
When asked if there were any improvements that could be made to the current ethics law, Marshall said there had been efforts in the recent past to work with the legislature. He told WVNN initially he proposed banning anything of value given from a lobbyist to a public official, but added that proposal was rejected.
“We worked all summer long with a group that was formed by the legislature to propose what we thought were very common sense, clear and strong ways to amend our current ethics laws,” Marshall replied. “And it really involved a couple of different areas, one of which is on the idea of conflict of interest – to be able to ensure that definition was appropriate so that we did not have public officials acting with a conflict of interest of their votes or the activities they took on behalf of somebody else. That was clearly one of the issues we saw in the [Mike] Hubbard appeal. It was the only count of which the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the conviction. They highlighted the inconsistencies in the definition currently. We proposed what I think was not only a common sense way to be able to deal with, but also live by the spirit of what was trying to be able to be accomplished in the original legislation.”
“We proposed on the issue of things of value given from a lobbyist to a public official that we just simply ban it,” Marshall added. “Say it is not appropriate, we shouldn’t do it. And it takes away concern anyone may have about whether or not those types of gifts or things of value are even lawful. Yet, we also attempted within the framework when we got pushback that wouldn’t be acceptable to be able to narrow the scope of things of value and be able to make sure those were transparent.”
Marshall acknowledged the need to clarify the terms used in the current law.
“And finally, there’s been concerns raised about two separate issues – one of which who is a ‘principal’ and we narrow that definition in a way to make it clear that a principal is a person who directed and controlled the work of a lobbyist and then as it related to where we went forward on how to be able to apply that ‘principal’ definition in the setting of the legislature. It was very clear about who would be designated in that regard.”
“So, we think that we’ve given opportunities for additional clarity within the law,” Marshall continued. “And yet, those were not the approach that the sponsors of this current bill chose to take.”