During its special legislative session called in December 2010 to address ethics and campaign finance reform, the Alabama legislature passed seven bills. The effective dates of these acts vary – December 20, January 1, January 17, and March 16. With such a multitude of changes coming into play this year, it is vital for public officials and clients who do business with government to understand the new amendments.
THE NEW AMENDMENTS INCLUDE:
- Ethics Training: Requires the participation in training by those public officials in office today as well as those who take office in the future. (Effective January 1, 2011)
- Operation of the Alabama Ethics Commission: Makes massive changes n the organization and operation of the Alabama Ethics Commission, including granting the commission subpoena power under certain circumstances and establishing a timetable for completing investigations. (Effective January 1, 2011)
- Expenditures to Influence Public Officials: Includes set of definitions and new prohibitions. (Effective March 16, 2011)
- Contributions by Political Action Committees: Aimed at eliminating the transfer of money between political action committees. (Effective December 20, 2011)
- Legislative Double-Dipping: Prohibits a member of the state legislature from being employed by “any other branch of state government, any department, agency, board, or commission of the state, or any public educational institution. (Effective January 17, 2011)
- Dues Check-Off: Prohibits the state, counties, cities, and “any other government agency” from withholding compensation from the paychecks of employees in order to pay the dues for organizations that use “any portion” of such dues for “political activity.” (Effective March 20, 2011)
- Pass-Through Appropriations: Prohibits recipients of state funds from expending state money on specific projects at the direction of legislators. (Effective December 20, 2010)
SOME IMPORTANT CHANGES
- Ethics Commission’s subpoena power: The Commission is authorized to issue subpoenas to compel witnesses to appear and produce books, documents, papers, and other evidence upon the vote of four members of the commission. rohibits recipients of state funds from expending state money on specific projects at the direction of legislators. (Effective December 20, 2010)
- Mandatory training: All legislators, constitutional officers, cabinet members, executive staff as determined by the governor, municipal mayors, council members and commissioners, county commissioners, local boards of education, and lobbyists must be educated on the Ethics Law.
- Attorney member: Effective with the next nomination to the Commission, the members must include at least one Alabama-licensed attorney in good standing.
- Probable cause determination: The Commission must determine within 180 days of either receiving or initiating a complaint whether or not probable cause exists regarding that matter. The commission may, for good cause, grant the staff an additional 180 days by a majority vote.
- Planned actions: After receiving the referral of a matter by the Commission, the attorney general or district attorney may report back to the Commission what action their office plans to take regarding that case as well as the final disposition of the matter.
- Additional new definitions
- Economic development function
- Educational function
- Lobbyist (excludes state government agency heads)
- Principal redefined
- Widely attended event
- Thing of value – the exceptions to the definition have been significantly changed