After a long day in and out of committee meetings, all four bills were eventually passed out of committee with minimal amendments and are being taken up for a vote on the Senate floor today.
Day three of the Special Session was devoted to deliberating the bills for final passage out of the Senate, sending them to the House for consideration. Day three proved very interesting…the Democrats immediately began filibustering the first bill introduced by the Republicans. After almost three hours of listening to the other side provide very little in substance to the bill introduced, the Republicans voted cloture, forcing a vote on the first bill, SB2. All four bills were eventually passed through the Senate and we adjourned until Monday when we will take up the three bills that passed the House earlier today.
I provide my thoughts on the four bills the Senate passed to the House below. One thing is certain – we are further down the road than ever before with Ethics Reform in Alabama. I will continue to fight the good fight and support sweeping ethics reform for our state.
SB2: Concerning the practice of allowing payroll deduction for political dues for employees of the state. I have met with, emailed, sent text messages and talked on the phone with numerous people across the state concerning this Bill. The predominant concerns of those I spoke with were centered on perceived political aspects of the Bill. I fail to see the connection – this is not a politically polarized issue. The democrats postured that the bill was not an ethics issue and therefore should not be considered in the Special Session. I believe the wasteful spending of tax payer dollars (and I’m a taxpayer…) is gravely unethical and therefore this is clearly an ethics issue. The democrat side further argued that SB2 limited their voice in the political process. I disagree as SB2 does not impede anyone from contributing to any organization, paying dues or otherwise. Several means are available for employees to make those contributions including bank draft, debit card deduction or, simply writing a check.
I support SB2 not from a political position but rather from a best use of tax payer dollars position – it is truly that simple. Continuing to collect dues for political purposes via state payroll deduction is an undue burden on the state that does not support the tax payers at large and is simply wrong.
I encourage any state employee that currently uses payroll deduction as a means to support an organization they believe in to continue to support those organizations through a bank draft, debit card deduction or, write a check.
SB3: Concerning prohibiting a legislator from being employed by any other branch or agency of state government, also known as “Double Dipping”. The democrat’s argument during the committee debate focused on getting two pay checks from the state rather than the more obvious issue – conflict of interest. As most readers know, I faced this dilemma a little over a year ago at the federal level with the Hatch Act for Federal Employees. Prior to running for the State Senate I was a federal employee working at NASA. The Hatch act forced me to make a clear decision – do I want to serve in the state legislature or do I want to continue as a government employee. While the decision was difficult it was a clear choice and rooted in avoiding a conflict of interest.
I support this bill as I believe that a legislator who also works for a government agency will be placed in a position where they must decide between sound legislation and the impact of that legislation on their job.
SB1: Concerning the makeup of the State Ethics Commission and granting the commission subpoena power. A significant amendment offered to this Bill requires that at least one member of the commission be a registered attorney in the state of Alabama. I support this bill as it gives the Ethics Commission subpoena power – something long overdue in Alabama...they now have a bite to go along with the bark. An amendment offered on this bill provided that a member of the commission must be a licensed attorney in Alabama. This Bill unanimously passed 35 - 0 in the Senate.
SB14: Relating to the Alabama Code of Ethics. A substitute bill was offered and I supported the substitute because it focused on simplicity over complexity, quality over quantity. The original bill was 42 pages long and after days of reading, debating and collaborating it still gave myself and many of my colleagues great pause due to its overall complexity. The substitute is 3 pages long and is a two step process. First, it provides that a lobbyist cannot provide to any public employee anything of value. Simple as that. Second, it requires that the Alabama Ethics Commission report to the Legislature “best practices” from other states that we will then model into a comprehensive ethics bill in the 2011 session. I, like several other Senators were concerned with the complexity of what was allowed and what was not allowed when we go home to our respective districts. As written it appeared to place county commissioners, city councils and mayors in a difficult position. I was not elected to fix problems in the city halls of Athens, Madison or Huntsville nor corruption in the Chambers of Commerce in Limestone and Madison Counties. Rather I was elected to fix problems in Montgomery and that is where I intend to focus my efforts. This Bill passed 35 - 0 in the Senate.