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Ethics overhaul bill passes out of committee, but with concerns


A House committee approved a bill Wednesday that calls for an overhaul of Alabama's ethics law, but members appeared skeptical about parts of the bill and even its sponsor called it a “work in progress.” .

HB227, a bill proposed by Representative Matt Simpson, has received considerable criticism from various quarters even before it was officially introduced. The bill submitted to the House Ethics and Campaign Finance Committee on Wednesday is an amended and redefined bill, and Simpson said it addresses many of the issues brought before him.

But the changes still address some of the bill's biggest problems, including removing criminal penalties for many current ethics violations and putting the independent ethics commission executive director under legislative oversight. Not addressed.

“What I want to say is that as we move toward a vote on this bill out of committee, there is still quite a bit of work in progress,” Rep. Chris England said near the end of the session. . Simpson agreed.

Mr. Simpson highlighted many of the changes in the bill that have been implemented since the beginning of the legislative session. Two important amendments include reinstating the cap on gifts that public servants can receive ($500 per year) and improving the definition of family members who are prohibited from accepting public contracts from relatives of public servants. This includes:

Simpson said both changes stemmed from opponents of the bill reaching out to point out obvious flaws.

England's government said it wanted further changes to be made to the provisions of the new law that would allow Parliament to impeach the Ethics Commissioner. Simpson's current bill would allow both chambers of Congress to begin impeachment proceedings and potentially remove the secretary general.

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(An earlier version of the bill also allowed ethics committee members to be removed through a similar process, but that part of the law was removed, Simpson said.)

England said he felt it was problematic that a council of 20 to 22 members, rather than the entire membership, could take such a vote.

“I think it's a very powerful motivator to have someone in a room with that many people say, 'You could be next,'” England said. “That person may be under investigation, but other members are unaware that an investigation is taking place. With something as important as this, we need as many people as possible to get involved. I believe.”

Mr Simpson pledged to work with England and other lawmakers to address any concerns.

However, the bill lost one of its early supporters, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall. In a statement posted on social media by al.com, Marshall said the bill would weaken his office's prosecutorial powers while “further reinforcing the Ethics Commission's rampage.” .

Mr. Marshall has been at odds with the commission for the past two years, suing the commission over its position related to providing exculpatory evidence to those under investigation. According to people familiar with the ongoing feud, the issue between Marshall and the committee is that a federal political action committee that participates in PAC-to-PAC transfers is being held by Alabama candidates under the state's ban on transfers. It is said that this began after a court ruled that donations to the United States were prohibited.

If adopted, the changes in Simpson's bill would not take effect until 2025.

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