Albritton’s ethics bill stalled

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 17, 2019

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The Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee decided to delay Sen. Greg Albritton’s Ethics bill last Wednesday. The committee chairman Senator Cam Ward moved to delay the bill because of the controversy surrounding it, and the bill is likely dead for the session.

Both the Alabama Ethics Commission and the Alabama Attorney General’s office have come out in opposition to Albritton’s bill.

The law currently forbids public officials from using their position to benefit their family. This bill will redefine family as only spouse and current dependents. Under current Alabama law, public officials are not allowed to receive gifts from lobbyists that are more than $25 in value.

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However, this bill would remove that cap and instead require lobbyists to report what they spend on public officials to the Alabama Ethics Commission. Failure of a lobbyist to make these disclosures would be punishable with a fine of no more than $5,000.

This bill would also redefine bribery. The bill would make any bribery under $6,000 a misdemeanor, including theft of government funds or property.

This bill will allow public officials who steal from the government to get only a misdemeanor. However, members of the public who commit this B class felony will be punishable by up to 20 years in prison and fined up to $30,000.

Albritton explained his rationale for redefining bribery for public officials.

“Right now, bribery is a class C felony, but should a senator’s family member take $27, whether they knew it or not, from a lobbyist, that’s a class B felony–10 years in prison,” Albritton said. “You don’t even have to know about it. I think there is a disparity between the class B and class C between bribery and a $27 inadvertent gift.”

Sen. Greg Albritton said he proposed this bill to rewrite the ethics law because the Alabama criminal appeals court said, in their review of the former House Speaker Mike Hubbard case, that the law needed to be rewritten because it was confusing. Albritton said that because of how confusing the law is, several charges were dismissed in the Hubbard case.

Alabama Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton told state media, “This bill will encourage corruption, not discourage it.”

In a phone interview, Sen. Greg Albritton responded: “Mr. Tom Albritton is misreading. What we are trying to do is strengthen this bill so that we’ll have the clarity so that everyone knows what it means. You can’t enforce anything unless you know what it means.”

Albritton said he agreed with Sen. Cam Ward to delay the bill because most of the body wanted more time to look at the bill.