Since gaveling into session on March 1, 2011, the new GOP-controlled Alabama legislature has acted swiftly to get much-needed reform measures passed. The first and one of the most important of these was Rep. Greg Canfield’s Rolling Reserve Budget Act. Changing the way we budget the Education Trust Fund, Canfield’s bill will prevent proration in tough years. Legislators have also taken steps to restore fiscal responsibility to the state’s budget through the repeal of the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Program which will save taxpayers $70 million in additional benefits to state employees who work beyond retirement age.
Back in December they passed a complete overhaul of state ethics laws, and are continuing to strengthen them through legislation like Rep. Mike Ball’s HB58 requiring public officials/candidates and spouses of public officials/candidates to disclose if they are employed by the state or federal government or have a contract with the state or federal government.
Now they’ve turned their focus to the increasingly serious problem of illegal immigration. The Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform estimates the cost of illegal immigrants to the state of Alabama is $270 million a year. This estimate does not include many costs such as unemployment, gang violence and other criminal activity associated with illegal immigration. Rep. Micky Hammon and Sen. Scott Beason are looking to address this problem through HB56 and SB256 respectively.
Largely under the radar have been several pieces of legislation that make Alabama a more business-friendly environment. Rep. April Weaver’s legislation to allow qualifying employees to deduct from Alabama gross income 100% of the amounts they pay as health insurance premiums, Sen. Cam Ward’s legislation to provide tax credits to businesses that create jobs, and Sen. Paul Bussman’s bill to establish a 5-year property tax exemption for small businesses that relocate or expand in Alabama will improve economic development and create more jobs.
So far, the Alabama Legislature is off to a good start. If they continue to pass constructive reform measures and conservative legislation, they will get a solid A grading from us!
For many years, Democrat led legislatures have forced taxpayers to pick up the tab when state employees and education workers have dues automatically deducted from their paycheck and sent to their unions. Those deductions go to union PACs and organizations to fund political activities. The cost of providing this service is a whopping $2,500,000 a year–all of it paid for with your tax dollars. THIS MUST BE STOPPED!!
Unions are targeting House Republicans claiming it’s eliminating this political payroll deduction is going to take away their freedom of speech. THIS IS NOT TRUE. State employees and education workers will still be 100% free to contribute to these groups, and the groups will still be 100% free to lobby legislators. But YOU wouldn’t be forced to pay for it.
The Senate has already passed SB 2, which will stop the state-funded payroll deductions for political activities. It will be up for a vote in the House this week. Make sure your legislator knows you want an end to this abuse of taxpayer money. Make sure House members know that you are watching!
We urge you to ask your legislator to vote for SB2 voice your concerns and hold them accountable. Click here to find your legislator’s contact information.
Eagle Forum is one of many organizations that have voiced the need for ethics reform in Alabama. Recent accusations of government malfeasance and misconduct have underscored the need for reform. Unfortunately for many years that has been a lost cause; but the events on November 2, 2010 gave the concept fresh legs when voters in Alabama elected a Republican majority in both the Alabama House and Senate for the first time since Reconstruction. We now have an opportunity to pass meaningful ethics legislation.
Legislation has been proposed that will:
Give subpoena power to the State Ethics Commission.
Ban all PAC to PAC transfers
Ban “double-dipping” by legislators
Prevent third party political organizations from using state resources, i.e.–the State Finance Department, to collect political dues.
Require disclosure of all money spent by lobbyists on legislators.
Put a $25 limit on gifts to legislators
Require mandatory ethics training for all legislators, constitutional officers, and some state employees.
Require the Ethics Commission to broaden the scope of the filing data available online.
Require individuals lobbying the Executive Branch to register as lobbyists, just as those who lobby the Legislative branch are required to do.
Unfortunately, passing solid ethics reform sounds much less complicated than it actually is. We all share the same goal to clean up Montgomery, and can agree that it’s important to make sure we get strong bills that are enforceable, will hold up in court, and get to the heart of the corruption–without discouraging citizens from lobbying their legislators. The devil, as it is often said, is in the details. The details on one of the bills under consideration became increasingly complicated and unclear. As a matter of fact, of the forty-three pages of the final version of SB 14, forty-one contained numerous changes.
Eagle Forum of Alabama supports the efforts of the Senators who voted yesterday to slow down the process on this bill (SB 14) regarding lobbyist expenditures in order to ensure we get a strong, workable bill. After speaking with legislators including Senator Beason, we have concluded that the Alabama Senate did the right thing in passing the more limited Beason substitute bill. It is extremely important for legislators, lobbyists, and citizens to know and understand what is in every ethics bill. From the reports we have received, that was not the case with SB 14. Many legislators were unclear on what the effects of the legislation would be, and could not get clarification on key issues. As a result, 33 of 35 voted for the clearer substitute bill. The Beason substitute bill prohibits all lobbyist expenditures on public officials. While it does leave corporate expenditures at the current level, it also requires the Ethics Commission to “report to the legislature by the 5th legislative day in the 2011 regular session what other states have done to strengthen their state ethics laws.” We expect this issue to be addressed in the regular session after further research and consideration.
Taking time to vet legislation is not tantamount to refusing to pass it. It can be the better part of wisdom.
Alabama’s ethics law was last updated in 1992. Since then, we’ve had multiple legislators indicted, and reportedly one of the largest investigations into public corruption in the country. The BGA Integrity Index ranks Alabama 4th in the nation in terms of public corruption. If ever there was a need for ethics reform, Alabama has it.
Requiring mandatory ethics training for all elected officials, mandatory disclosure of all money spent lobbying [Currently, we only require lobbyists to report anything over $250.], and giving the State Ethics Commission subpoena power would be a good start. Increased transparency should also be a goal for the next legislature. A ban on PAC to PAC transfers would bring some clarity to campaign contributions. It is almost impossible to trace the source of donations to candidates when they have been washed through multiple PACs. Additionally, Governor Riley has commendably put the state’s checkbook online, but the system is difficult to use and understand, and doesn’t always have up to date information. Improving this site in a searchable format would also be a step in the right direction.
Here are a few things you can do to make sure the legislature passes real ethics reform: