Committee OKs bill preventing use of taxpayer dollars for lobbyists

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Alabama State House

During a hearing this morning, the House Committee on Ethics and Campaign Finance gave a favorable report to two bills and carried another two over to next week’s meeting.

HB 53, a bill from Rep. Will Ainsworth (R-Guntersville) to allow retired directors, chiefs and deputy chiefs to work through a transition period on contract with their previous department, was carried over until next week’s meeting so that “last-minute details” can be worked out and all involved can ensure that the language meets Ethics Commission standards. The Senate version of the bill, SB 141, was also carried over.

Next on the commission’s agenda was HB 166, a bill designed to allow legislators retired via the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) or the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) to “earn compensation from an employer” with either of the systems. The example used to illustrate the bill was that of a retired teacher who comes back to work as a substitute teacher – pay is set at a maximum of $28,000 annually and the job must not be full-time. This bill would put legislators on an even keel with teachers and other state employees.

Both Rep. Mike Ball (R-Huntsville) and Rep. Jim Hill (R-Moody) abstained from discussion of the bill, as both are legislators retired from their respective jobs.

Concern was discussed over the bill possibly interfering with “double-dipping” laws, but bill sponsor Rep. Mike Hill (R-Shelby) assured committee members otherwise. Further concern was mentioned on the grounds that the bill may alter the way legislators vote if they are allowed to be employed by a field up for discussion in legislation. Again, Hill noted that such part-time employment would likely yield limited bias.

The bill was given a favorable report and will soon go before the full House.

The committee then addressed a bill from Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) which would prevent agencies or officials in the executive department of the state from contracting lobbyists, noting that doing so would be funded by dollars from the General Fund and, thus, have taxpayers footing the bill for lobbying efforts.

Contrary to disdain for the bill, most committee members were interested in seeing the bill go further, perhaps to encompass the judicial branch and Alabama universities.

Garrett noted that he had not tried to tackle universities because the Alabama Constitution makes exceptions for the University of Alabama and Auburn University, thus legislation on universities would affect everyone other than those two schools.

“This bill is about the lobbying in the executive branch and I understand there are probably some other things we could look at,” Ball said. “I do think with these kinds of things it’s a good idea to keep it narrow to what you want to do. Simple bills have exponentially fewer unintended consequences attached to them.”

Ball recommended drafting separate bills to address lobbying in other areas before the bill was given a favorable report.

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