4 weeks 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

12 mins ago

Ivey to introduce book published by Alabama nonprofit dedicated to health and literacy

As part of its HEAL Day celebration in Montgomery, an Alabama nonprofit advocating for health and literacy will host Governor Kay Ivey for the introduction of a new book written by its founder.

Ivey will read the book, written by HEAL founder and CEO Christy Swaid, to 200 children in the state capitol auditorium.

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The Ultimate Treasure Hunt is a book that Swaid hopes will help children better understand the connection between health and literacy.

HEAL is an acronym summarizing the group’s mission: Healthy Eating Active Living. According to HEAL, it is “dedicated to unifying Alabama to reverse the trend of chronic disease and poor literacy.” The organization works with 30,000 students and 85,000 family members in 153 schools across the state.

Ivey’s book reading is part of an event the group is calling “HEAL Day: A day of education & celebration of health, academic achievement and literacy in the great state of Alabama.”

Where: Alabama State Capitol
When: May 1, 10:30am-1:00pm — Governor’s presentation is set for 11:00am with book reading to follow
Watch:

HB352 seeks to save the American Dream for Alabama small business owners

The American Dream.

It is woven into the fabric of our nation’s success and yet, at some point, for small business owners across Alabama, the dream of small business success that drives hardworking Alabama men and women to work 70 hour weeks, to pour their hearts and souls into building small businesses the vision of leaving something behind for their children, began to be threatened by large out of state corporate interests and under current Alabama law, there were no legal protections for those that saw their hard work, sweat, tears and dollars taken away.

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The Bush family spent nearly three decades building a successful small business in rural Elmore County. Twenty-six years ago, Darrel Bush’s parents purchased a Huddle House franchise and began the grueling task of opening a new restaurant. The restaurant grew into a success and, as they became ready, the next generation of the Bush family joined the business. Two generations of a single family were living the American Dream until the Huddle House corporation decided they wanted the profits that the Bush’s were making for themselves – cut out the small business owners that built the Huddle House name in Wetumpka.

Once the corporation had their eyes set on the Bush’s business, they used corporate bullying to drive the Bush’s out of business so that the corporation could build a company-owned Huddle House just a mile down the road. Alabama law had no protections for the Bush family and they lost the dream they had devoted their lives to achieving.

Unfortunately, the Bush family is not alone. Time after time, Alabama’s small business owners find themselves at the mercy of large out of state corporations due to our state’s weak franchisee protection laws.

Under current statute, the out of state franchisors hold all of the cards while Alabama small business owners are largely powerless to defend themselves. It is not uncommon for these franchisors to come back year after year and demand changes to franchise contracts. If the franchisees balk at agreeing to the changes, their businesses are threatened. They are often forced to purchase products at far above the fair market value, forced to make investments of their profits into systems and programs that benefit the corporation, not their small business. If a location gets too successful, they are at risk of being shut down so that a corporate owned store can open up down the street and usurp the profits for the corporation. Often, franchise owners are told that they can’t leave their businesses to their children.

Many Alabama franchisees lives in a constant state of fear.

Representative Connie Rowe (R-Walker County) is hoping to give Alabama’s small business men and women a fair playing field in the State of Alabama with HB352, the Alabama Small Business Act. The legislation, which will be heard in committee in the Alabama House of Representatives this week, will protect the rights of the state’s business owners and the 125,000 jobs they provide.

The bill gives franchisees the rights to have disputes heard in Alabama’s court system, rather than being forced to go to court in the franchisor’s home state. It would also require that franchisor corporations negotiate in good faith in their dealings with Alabama’s franchise owners.

This legislation is about more than protecting the rights of business owners. This legislation is about protecting the American Dream and that is something we should all be able to support.

2 hours ago

Alabama’s Coach Saban undergoes hip replacement surgery

Alabama coach Nick Saban has undergone hip replacement surgery.

Dr. Lyle Cain said Monday the 67-year-old Saban is expected to make a full recovery and “should be able to return to work in the very new future.”

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Cain says the right hip replacement was “robotic assisted” at Andrews Sports Medicine, with hip specialist Benton Emblom.

Cain says Saban could now have “a few more yards off the tee” in his golf game.

Saban said after Alabama’s spring game that his hip problems would be evaluated and that he could need six to eight weeks of recovery.

He said he wanted to get it fixed “because I don’t want to coach for one more year, I want to coach for a lot of more years.”
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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2 hours ago

Jefferson County ending misdemeanor marijuana arrests

Alabama’s most populous county will immediately end arrests for misdemeanors including the possession of small amounts of marijuana, officials announced Monday.

Officers will begin issuing tickets for nonviolent misdemeanor offenses rather than taking people to jail, Capt. David Agee, a spokesman for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, told a news conference.

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“People are always talking about criminal justice reform,” he said. “Well this is more than talk, this is action. This is big.'”

People could still wind up in jail if misdemeanor offenses are tied to more serious crimes.

Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway advocated curtailing arrests for small amounts of marijuana during his campaign last year.

The change will save jail space and supplies and allow officers to concentrate on more serious offenses, Agee said.

He also questioned whether young people caught with a small amount of marijuana should have to spend a night in jail.

“I think this is going to help a lot of people and get a lot of people back on track. Those who want help will be able to get help,” he said.

The state attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the change in Jefferson County, which has a population estimated by the Census at 659,300.

The change in Jefferson County came as the Alabama legislature is considering a measure that would reduce the penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana meant for personal use.

The bill would make possession of less than 2 ounces (57 grams) of marijuana punishable by a fine instead of jail time.

An offense would be classified as a violation, a step below a misdemeanor and carry a fine of up to $250.

The measure would also allow for charges to be expunged in some cases.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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3 hours ago

7 Things: Marsh out of U.S. Senate race as Tuberville moves up, SSN in big trouble, court battle over Trump’s financials begins and more …

7. “Homophobic” Facebook post leads to suspension of Madison County Sheriff’s deputy

— Madison County Deputy Jeff Graves is being disciplined for a series of comments on Facebook about the suicide of a high school student which include a meme about LGBTQ/BBQ. The more controversial comment on a Huntsville TV station’s Facebook page about a story involving a group of drag queens holding an anti-bullying event reads, “I’m seriously offended there is such a thing such as the movement. Society cannot and should not accept this behavior.” This isn’t a hateful comment. It’s rather milquetoast, but local and national media outlets have jumped on the story calling the comments “homophobic.” The Madison County Sheriff Office has launched an “audit” and stated, “The Sheriff’s Office holds all its employees to [a] high standard.” The office added, “The involved employee has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the audit.”

6. Surprising poll shows a majority of Alabama voters oppose removing permit requirement to conceal carry

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— Results of a poll show that 87 percent of Alabama voters support requiring a background check to get a permit to carry a concealed handgun, while 71 percent of voters oppose removing the permit requirement. If passed, Senate Bill 4 would allow people to carry a concealed handgun without a permit or a background check. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America released the poll and had 100 volunteers from across the state travel to the Capitol last week to voice their opinion. Judy Taylor, one of the volunteers, said, “As a responsible gun owner, I know that when we remove the permitting system that keeps our communities safe, no one wins.”

5. The U.S. will no longer exempt any countries from sanctions for importing oil from Iran

— On Monday, the Trump administration announced that sanctions waivers that expire on May 2 for China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey won’t be renewed. The White House released a statement that said the intent of this decision is to bring Iran’s oil export to zero. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that they want to remove Iran’s main source of cash. U.S. officials claim not to expect a significant reduction in oil supply since the U.S. and other top oil producers have agreed to take action to assure that global demand is met as Iranian oil is removed from the market.

4. Bus driver who skipped stops fired

— The general manager of Apple Bus, which has a contract with Huntsville City Schools, announced on Monday at a school board meeting that the driver who skipped stops and was accused of refusing to let kids off the bus has been fired. The driver claimed that he skipped stops because the children were misbehaving, and he told the children that he wouldn’t stop unless they behaved. The driver also told the children that he was “taking them home to be disciplined.” The children got off the bus when the driver stopped at a red light, and police were called by witnesses who said the children were crying and scared. The driver’s name has not been released, and he will not be charged with a crime.

3. President Trump sues to block subpoena for his financial records

— On Monday, President Trump’s lawyers filed a lawsuit naming Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Peter Kenny, the chief investigative counsel of House Committee, as its plaintiffs. Cummings has said that he would subpoena the accounting firm Mazars USA LLC for Trump’s annual financial statements, periodic financial reports and independent auditor reports, as well as communications with Trump. Trump’s lawyers have asked the court to declare the subpoena invalid and unenforceable. They also requested a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prohibit Mazars from providing the requested information. Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano weighed in on the issue saying that Democrats can’t get President Trump’s financial records “because they want to torment him” and went on to say that “Congress will have to state for what purpose they want this.”

2. Social Security won’t be solvent to by 2035 and will be in the red in 2020

— An annual report was released by trustees of the government’s two largest entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicare. The report stated that Social Security’s trust funds will be gone by 2035. Retirees will still receive checks, but the program will only have enough funds to pay three-quarters of benefits from 2035-2093. Of course, the trustees urged lawmakers to make sure that Americans will be able to receive their full benefits. Lawmakers have avoided addressing Social Security because fixing the funding issue will likely result in higher payroll taxes, curtailing benefits or a combination of both. It’s also expected that Social Security’s cost will be higher than its income in 2020.

1. Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh says he is out of the U.S. Senate race — new poll has Tommy Tuberville in the lead

— In a move that surprises those watching the U.S. Senate race in Alabama, Marsh announced he is out, telling The Anniston Star “I’m not running, and I’ve not made any plans to run. This comes on the heels of a poll showing Marsh polling around 4 percent and trailing announced candidate Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01), unannounced candidates, including two other congressmen, and Judge Roy Moore. Another poll included Tommy Tuberville that featured the former Auburn head coach leading with 23 percent of those polling choosing him. With Marsh and Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) out, this race could be far less crowded than most people expected it to be.