Concerned Alabama lawmakers put aside a bill that was meant to remove the ban prohibiting officials from receiving gifts and reduce low-level bribery penalties. They fear that it would encourage corruption among themselves.
The bill, SB 230, was proposed by Republican State Senator Greg Albritton.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Cam Ward stated that the bill was too controversial and had many concerns that needed to be addressed. Democrat Billy Beasley agreed with the sentiment noted that Alabama had a history of strong ethical laws.
In spite of the measures taken to suppress the bill, local commentators still see the possibility of its revival. According to a 2017 reading of the nation’s economy, among the states in the United States of America, Alabama had the 41st worst economy, according to a survey conducted by WalletHub, a finance website.
However, lawmakers note that they are making strides in increasing business friendliness so as to improve the economy. Beasley emphasized the success of bringing in Mercedes in 1994 and Hyundai in 2002, along with Airbus and Honda as well. The bill puts the successes built at risk. The proposal was to allow officials to receive gifts, provided that they would be reported to the Alabama Ethics Commission. The cap for gifts is US$25.
Furthermore, any official convinced of low-level bribery involving money worth less than $6,000 would only be given a misdemeanor rather than an actual punishment. Theft of government funds of the same amount or less will be a misdemeanor. The troubling aspect of this bill is that within state law, theft and bribery of this scale are considered Class B felonies.
Anyone caught in the act would be sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment and be made to pay a fine up to $30,000. With the new bill, this will only apply to members of the public and not to officials and employees. The new bill also limits the prohibition once extended to most of the family of the accused to simply the spouse and dependents.
Dependents here can refer to children who cannot make their own means. This implies that it is no longer a legal issue if an official directs funds to help his or her offspring, even when they are able to provide for themselves.
The bill also limits the powers of the State Attorney General and the Ethics Commission to look into ethics crimes and transfer those responsibilities to local district attorneys. These attorneys are limited in terms of resources to investigate and prosecute delicate corruption cases, often taking years for trials to take place.
The Ethics Commission will no longer take complaints from citizens regarding corruption cases or refer said complaints to prosecution. The Commission is even prevented from helping the district attorneys invested with the powers they once held, regardless of whether or not the attorneys ask for their aid.
For the reasons stated, the Alabama Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton, who is not related in any way to Greg Albritton, stated that the bill will encourage corruption and discourage, if not diminish, ethical practice among government officials.