BRADENTON, Fla. — After struggling against Alabama Democrats much of his eight years in office, outgoing Republican Gov. Bob Riley finally won passage of bills strengthening ethics and curbing corruption among politicians in the state.
The Legislature at 3 a.m. Thursday passed the last of seven bills proposed by Riley and adjourned the seven-day special session. Riley, who is poised to complete his second term, said the bills elevate Alabama from a state with some of the nation’s weakest ethics laws to one with some of the strongest.
“Passing all seven of these reforms represents a sea change of historic proportions and will make Alabama the new standard for ethical government in the United States,” he said. It “will usher in a new era of transparent, accountable, and responsive government in Alabama that can begin the work of restoring the public’s trust.”
Riley, who is term-limited out of office, capitalized during the special session on momentum generated during the November election, when Republicans took a majority of the seats in both chambers for the first time since 1874.
Many Republicans campaigned on implementing tougher ethics laws, which Democrats had prevented the past eight years with party-line majority votes.
“The success of this special session cannot be overstated,” said House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn. “This new Legislature sent a clear message to the people of Alabama this week — we heard your call for change, we listened, and we delivered.”
Lawmakers passed bills that end unlimited gift-giving by lobbyists and others to public officials and public employees, give subpoena power to the Alabama Ethics Commission, outlaw transfers between political action committees, and require those who lobby the executive branch to register as lobbyists with the Ethics Commission.
Another bill prevents lawmakers from being hired while in office by any state executive, judicial agency, or department — to discourage a practice known as double-dipping, whereby officials simultaneously hold additional government jobs. The Legislature also banned the practice of “pass-through pork spending,” which some lawmakers used to hide funds in agency budgets for later distribution on pet projects.
Alabama politics have been rocked by corruption. Several lawmakers were sent to prison as a result of an investigation into the two-year college system and elected lawmakers who double-dipped by simultaneously taking jobs in the state system, for which they did little or no work
The Jefferson County sewer debt debacle led to many convictions and international headlines about whether the state’s largest county would file for municipal bankruptcy because of $3.2 billion of variable-rate and auction-rate sewer debt it cannot repay. The county has defaulted on the bonds and dozens of people have gone to prison, including a bond dealer, county commissioners, and contractors.