BRADENTON, Fla. — Outgoing Alabama Gov. Bob Riley has called a special session of the Legislature to deal with ethics reform that he has sought, but failed to pass, during his eight years in office when Democrats were in the majority.
Riley, a Republican term-limited out of office, said he called the special session, which starts Wednesday, to capitalize on momentum generated by the November general election. Republicans who campaigned on implementing tougher ethics laws won their first majority in both chambers of the Legislature in more than 100 years in those races.
Riley said the election results sent a "resounding message to politicians that citizens are sick and tired and embarrassed of the corrupt political culture that hurts our state."
"Thanks to last month's elections, we have an historic opportunity to not only reform this corrupt political culture but end it," Riley said in a statement. "The opportunity to enact real reforms has never been better, and the need has never been greater."
In advance of calling the special session, Riley said he contacted a number of lawmakers "eager to pass anti-corruption reforms," as well as Governor-elect Robert Bentley, a Republican.
Alabama's state and local governments have been rocked by corruption. At the state level, a years-long investigation focused on the two-year college system and lawmakers who "double dipped" by taking jobs with good salaries for which they did little or no work. The case sent several lawmakers to prison.
On the local level, Jefferson County and its sewer debt debacle led to international headlines about whether the state's largest county would file for municipal bankruptcy. Nearly $3.2 billion of sewer debt composed of auction-rate and variable-rate warrants remains in limbo today while dozens of people associated with it have been sent to prison, including a bond dealer, county commissioners, contractors, and employees.
Though most of the bills being considered in the special session affect state elected officials, one of Riley's proposals requires mandatory ethics training for elected officials and public employees at all levels of government. Such training currently is voluntary.
Riley's bills deal with a variety of issues, including requiring full disclosure of spending by lobbyists on all public officials and employees; ending unlimited gift-giving by lobbyists and others to public officials and employees; giving subpoena power to the Alabama Ethics Commission; outlawing transfers between political action committees; and preventing lawmakers from being hired by any state executive, judicial agency, or department.
In addition, Riley's bills propose banning pass-through pork spending, which is a method lawmakers use to hide funds in an agency budget and redistribute the money at a later date. Another bill creates an online, searchable database of lobbyist disclosure reports accessible by the public.
None of Riley's bills address pension reform for public officials convicted of crimes. Currently, state law allows those officials to draw their pensions even after they go to prison.
Links to fact sheets and the bills can be found at www.governorpress.alabama.gov/pr/pr-2010-12-01-01-special_session_2010.asp.