3 months ago

Legal experts agree on need for ethics reform, not on what it should look like

The “Conversation About Ethics Reform” held Friday at Cumberland School of Law involved a respectful dialogue among four experts in the field of ethics law.

It also demonstrated the challenge which lies ahead for policymakers.

While generally agreeing on the areas of the law most in need of a rewrite, panelists at the event disagreed on solutions to fixing those problem areas.

Recent findings of the Code of Ethics Clarification and Reform Commission drove most of the discussion.

The event’s moderator John Carroll, a former acting director of the Alabama Ethics Commission and 14-year federal judge, called the commission’s work “a good basis” for the discussion.

“The commission’s report is an incredible contribution to this whole dialogue,” Carroll said. “It’s well-done and reflects very thoughtful consideration of many, many serious issues.”

Trying to understand and define exactly who is a principal consumed the largest part of the conversation.

Carroll mentioned that the commission engaged in a lengthy examination of what it means to be a principal.

“There was significant discussion about what this definition ought to be,” he noted. “It’s a very important issue because of all the legal ramifications of how you define ‘principal’. The interaction between someone designated a principal and public officials and public employees is significantly limited.”

Katherine Robertson, chief counsel to Alabama’s attorney general, served on the commission, and she estimated debate on the principal issue amounted to 60-percent of their work.

Under Alabama law, a principal is defined as “a person or business which employs, hires, or otherwise retains a lobbyist.”

That definition could end up at the center of former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard’s appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court. In upholding 11 of the 12 criminal counts upon which Hubbard was convicted, the Court of Criminal Appeals wrote, “[W]e strongly encourage the legislature to consider amending the law to better circumscribe the class of persons defined as principals.”

According to Jefferson County Circuit Judge Joseph Boohaker, the definition needs to be changed.

“The definition is flawed,” he said. “It uses two terms, ‘a person or a business,’ which are not helpful in defining what a principal is.”

He said it is too difficult to determine which person within a business is considered a principal, if that business is a principal.

“How big of a group of employees are we talking about?” Boohaker asked.

Boohaker instead outlined what he thinks would be a good rule.

“The person who can hire, fire or direct the activities of a lobbyist would be the person within the entity that is the principal from whom you may not accept a thing of value,” he said.

Boohaker’s definition would place Alabama in a unique position because no other state extends the definition of a principal beyond the business or entity.

He favors Alabama being alone in that category.

“I think it would be something good,” he said.

Boohaker exerted some effort to explain why he believes there should remain some vagueness in the ethics law.

“The Alabama Ethics Act is a criminal statute, and one of the constitutional requirements is that a person of ordinary understanding should be able to read it and know what it is that’s prohibited and what is not prohibited,” he said.

According to him, though, some lack of clarity will help keep people in line.

“There is some value in the Ethics Act to leaving some of the lines a little bit fuzzy because then it creates a deterrent so that the public official is not really sure if this is legal or not,” Boohaker said. “Then they will err on the side of ‘well, I’m just not going to deal with it’ because it might not just be a civil penalty but it might be a crime. But that creates another problem because if you have fuzzy lines in criminal statutes, well, criminal statutes are not supposed to have fuzzy lines. There’s supposed to be some degree of certainty.”

Boohaker joked that he had found an old U.S. Supreme Court case which said that “fuzzy is ok.”

Matt McDonald, a partner at the Jones Walker law firm and whose practice includes ethics issues, disagreed with the need to maintain a lack of clarity in the law.

“We don’t have to fuzzy up the definition of a principal to regulate that kind of conduct,” McDonald said. “That conduct is already regulated under [another place in the law] which says you can’t give anything for the purpose of corruptly influencing an official action of a public official or public employee. A public official or a public employee cannot use their office for personal gain. So there are other statutory provisions that regulate that.”

McDonald pointed out that there are implications to this section of the law for people merely looking to serve their communities on the boards of non-profits or small colleges.

“We want people to be involved in their communities and be involved in non-profits and things like that,” he said. “So we don’t need to have this thing be so fuzzy that we’re going to deter people from being involved in their communities.”

Robertson detailed a proposal by the attorney general which she said could be more easily applied in “often fact-specific situations.”

“What we proposed did draw some pretty clear lines,” she added.

The chairman of the Alabama Ethics Commission, Jerry Fielding, hopes the Alabama legislature will emphasize “simplification and clarification.”

“We need the law, but we need some way to make it more clear and more simplified,” he concluded.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

5 hours ago

University of North Alabama adopting new tuition plan

The University of North Alabama is switching to a tuition plan that officials say will result in increased costs for some students but not others.

Officials at the school in Florence say they are reducing the total number of student fees from seven to one, and fees will be included in the overall tuition cost.

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A statement says students taking 15 hours will see a maximum increase in expenses of 4.1%.

But some could pay less, and costs will not change for others.

School officials say a lag in state funding is a continuing problem.

North Alabama’s vice president for business, Evan Thornton, says the school has deferred maintenance and capital needs totaling more than $160 million.

The school has an undergraduate enrollment of about 6,200 students.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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5 hours ago

Nathan Lindsay joining governor’s office from BCA

Another high profile staffer from the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) is joining Governor Kay Ivey’s senior level team.

The governor on Monday announced that Nathan Lindsay will join her office as director of appointments effective July 1.

This position is charged with spearheading the meticulous work that goes into Ivey meeting her duty to appoint qualified, representative and appropriate people to positions on the state’s various boards and commissions.

A press release from the governor’s office outlined that Lindsay assumes the role with an extensive background in state government and the private sector, which uniquely qualifies him to advise the governor in this capacity.

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Most recently, through his work in political and governmental affairs at the BCA, Lindsay interacted with members of the business community throughout the Yellowhammer State, which significantly adds to his ability to identify and select candidates for various appointed posts.

Additionally, Lindsay’s early career included time in then-Governor Bob Riley’s office where he served as aide to the governor from 2006 to 2011. Lindsay also worked in the governor’s communications office as deputy press secretary and advised Riley on education policy.

“Nathan brings to our team a wealth of knowledge that I know will serve the state well,” Ivey said in a statement. “In addition to his expertise and insight, Nathan is a man of character. The men and women of my staff must have a strong work ethic, a depth of knowledge and a heart for public service. Nathan certainly embodies all of these characteristics.”

Lindsay earned his bachelor’s degree from Faulkner University. During his time at Faulkner, he served as SGA president and later, in 2018, he was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award for the College of Arts and Sciences.

“As governor, I have the important responsibility of appointing qualified individuals to serve on the more than 450 boards and commissions in our state. These men and women must not only be highly-qualified, but they should also be a true reflection of our great state,” Ivey added. “I am confident we will continue to find the best people to serve our state, just as I am certain Nathan will serve my Administration exceptionally well in this position. His experience speaks for itself, and he shares my goal of moving Alabama into a better future.”

This comes weeks after Leah Garner departed BCA to become Ivey’s communications director.

Mark Colson also left BCA to become head of the Alabama Trucking Association recently.

Update 5:55 p.m.:

BCA President and CEO Katie Boyd Britt released a statement commending Ivey on the hire of Lindsay.

“Nathan’s background and expertise in political affairs combined with his political acumen uniquely qualify him to serve the governor and the state in this capacity,” Britt said. “I have no doubt Nathan will do an outstanding job, and I commend Governor Kay Ivey on this excellent addition to her staff.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

5 hours ago

Alabama listed as one of the top 20 most patriotic states in America

A WalletHub report released Monday revealed Alabama to be on of the top 20 most patriotic states in America.

Ranked 19 overall on the list, with a score of 47.43, Alabama ranked first for the “Civics Education Requirement.”

The report “compared the 50 states across 13 key indicators of patriotism” and “ranges from share of enlisted military population to share of adults who voted in the 2016 presidential election to AmeriCorps volunteers per capita.”

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With one as “Most Patriotic” and 25 as “Average,” Alabama received the following rankings:

  • 5th – Average Number of Military Enlistees per 1,000 Civilian Adults
  • 30th – Active-Duty Military Personnel per 100,000 Civilian Adults
  • 17th – Veterans per 1,000 Civilian Adults
  • 1st – Civics Education Requirement
  • 12th – Share of Civilian Adult Population in Military Reserves
  • 10th – Share of Adults Who Voted in 2016 Primary Elections

Alabama also ranked eight overall for ‘Military Engagement.’

The report, which compared red states to blue states in terms of patriotism, found that red states were more patriotic. Red states received an average rank of 23.67, while blue states received an average rank of 28.25.

Kyle Morris also contributes daily to Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @RealKyleMorris.

6 hours ago

Brooks: ‘Really dumb’ for Democrats to elect candidates mainly on ‘skin pigmentation or their chromosomes’

In an interview on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show”on Friday, Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) lamented that many Democrats have become more interested in racial and gender identity politics than the welfare of America.

Coming off of her much maligned comments comparing American immigration facilities to “concentration camps,” host Dale Jackson asked the north Alabama congressman if he believes that Democrats in Congress will allow Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) to continue to serve as their “de facto face and leader.”

“Yes,” Brooks answered succinctly, promoting a follow-up request for his reasoning.

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“Well, she is where she is,” Brooks explained. “She’s got a lot of political power. She’s got a lot of support — surprisingly.”

“There are large, large numbers of American citizens who have bit off on this socialist stuff, who have bit off on this victimization stuff, who have bit off on thinking that the most important criteria in determining whether to elect someone is their skin pigmentation or their chromosomes — which is really dumb, OK,” he continued. “We oughta be electing people based on their character and based on their public policy positions.”

“But, notwithstanding that, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become the face of the Democratic Party in many different respects, and she does have great influence as evidenced by the presidential candidates on the socialist Democrats’ side who are trying to cultivate her support,” Brooks added. “They want her endorsement.”

Listen, starting at the 8:25 mark:

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

7 hours ago

Democrats hope it’s 2017 all over again, Republicans just want the nightmare to end

In 2017, Roy Moore won a Republican primary run-off against an extremely flawed Luther Strange. Strange wasn’t just a regular candidate — he had the cloud of his appointment, and he was dogged by former Gov. Robert Bentley’s investigation, impeachment and resignation.

Alabama Republicans, outside of U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), were reluctant to criticize Roy Moore because they knew doing so would hand the Senate seat to now-Senator Doug Jones (D-AL).

But this is different.

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State Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) told the Montgomery Advertiser that he blamed the GOP establishment in 2017, but still thinks Moore can’t win in 2020.

He stated, “I do not believe, with the numbers I look at, that Roy Moore at the end of the day can get the nomination.”

State Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) dismissed Moore when asked about the candidates, saying, “If you look at the candidates, you got Roy Moore. I don’t think we need to say more there.”

Later, he all but endorsed U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) by saying Byrne “would do the best job.”

Secretary of State John Merrill, a potential future Moore opponent, believes Moore has an uphill battle against Jones.

“I think it would be extraordinarily difficult for Judge Moore to be successful in a general election campaign against Senator Jones,” Merrill outlined.

He added, “I also think it would be difficult for Judge Moore to secure the Republican nomination.”

Congressman Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville), who endorsed Moore in 2017, has already endorsed State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) and is on record saying former U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions would be a favorite.

“I do believe that Jeff Sessions would clearly be number one in the poll rankings, based on his having been such a great senator on three principle issues: free enterprise versus socialism; deficit and debt; and border security,” he explained.

Say what you will, but you do not usually see these kinds of pronouncements from Republicans in the middle of a primary.

Democrats hope 2017 is going to be repeated in 2020, but there are many different factors that will matter.

Roy Moore is already fatally flawed as 300,000+ Republicans voters abandoned him in 2017 and stayed home. Many of those voters will vote in the primary in 2020, but will not vote for him.

U.S. Representative Mike Rogers (R-Saks) expressed a similar sentiment on CSPAN last week.

“I personally don’t think Roy Moore is going to be our nominee, but whoever our nominee is will prevail in November because you’ll have the full complement of Republican voters turning out turning out to vote,” he said.

This is not 2017.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.