Amid clashes, Alabama Senate expands and approves lobbying bill

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The Alabama Senate on Feb. 4, 2014.  (Montgomery Advertiser, Lloyd Gallman)

The Alabama Senate on Feb. 4, 2014. (Montgomery Advertiser, Lloyd Gallman)

It started as a bill to close a lobbying loophole. It came out of the Senate Tuesday as a sweeping piece of legislation addressing everything from the Governor’s activities after leaving office to tickets to Alabama and Auburn football games.

But the 33 to 0 approval came after the sponsor warned that the changes could undermine the bill’s original intent, and that he may seek changes in the House, where the legislation now goes.

The bill, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, initially would have banned lawmakers from lobbying either chamber of the Legislature for two years after they leave. The ethics law currently bans former lawmakers from lobbying their former chamber, but as interpreted, the lawmaker can lobby the other one. The issue flared up last summer, as three lawmakers left the Legislature for jobs that would at least in part involve lobbying.

But the Senate approved an amendment offered by Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, that significantly expanded the scope of the legislation. Among other items, the bill now bans lobbying by the governor or family members for four years after the state’s chief executive leaves office; tightens restrictions on lawmakers receiving tickets to sporting events; extends the ban on “double-dipping” to family members of lawmakers and prohibits the employers of state officials from contributing to their employees’ campaigns.

Both Marsh’s bill and Sanders’ amendment had broad support in the chamber, and had been worked on for the previous few weeks. However, Marsh and other Republicans said that Sanders’ amendment was not germane to Marsh’s original legislation, and expressed concerns that it would jeopardize the bill’s original goal.

“If we don’t get this right, someone will challenge it,” Marsh said after the vote. “I want to get this right. I want it to go into law.”

Democrats, in turn, said they wanted to address every aspect of ethics law they could, and that the amendment process was the only way the minority party could get a vote on the proposals.

“I don’t think a bill I introduce on these issues would get a vote in committee, much less get out on the floor,” Sanders told Marsh at the podium.

Marsh initially told Sanders and Democrats on the floor Tuesday that he would allow an up or down vote on the amendment, after the Senate disposed of sunset legislation in the afternoon. However, after the Senate did so, Marsh called for Ivey to rule on the germaneness of the legislation. Marsh said that those issues had been raised during consultations over the bill with the Alabama Ethics Commission and the Alabama Law Institute. Initially, he said, he believed the issues had been resolved Tuesday.

“I thought they had been resolved in the amendment when they came back, but when we looked at them, they had not been,” he said.

Ivey first ruled the amendment was not germane, but Sanders appealed the ruling to the full Senate. The chamber voted 15 to 13 to sustain Ivey; however, 18 votes are needed to uphold the decision.

Marsh then moved to have the amendment tabled, and Ivey initially called the motion, provoking anger from Democrats who said Ivey was ignoring them. Senate Minority Leader Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile and Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, both said there was an “understanding” that Marsh would allow a straight up or down vote on the measure.

“I think your abuse of power by saying it was not germane, is what caused it to happen,” Bedford told Ivey. “It is clearly germane, because they have been working on this amendment for a week now.”

Ivey said after the vote the amendment addressed sections of the state code that were not in the original bill, and were not germane.

Marsh ultimately withdrew his tabling motion, and the Senate voted to adopt the Sanders amendment 33 to 0. However, the Senate President Pro Tem said he would seek changes to the bill in the House if necessary.

“We all think what he had was good,” he said. “We just don’t think it fits the legislation.”

Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster — who, like 32 of his colleagues, voted for the Sanders amendment and the full bill — accused Democrats of loading provisions onto the bill “to make it collapse of its own weight.”

“It’s interesting he had that sweeping amendment, but in the last four years, that has never been offered as bill in the four years I’ve been here,” he said. “Where’s the bill been at?”

Democrats insisted that they were trying to strengthen the bill. Sanders said killing the bill “was not the intent at all,” and suggested Republicans tried to kill the legislation via procedural maneuvering.

“It says, ‘Let’s not play around with ethics,’” Sanders said. “It says, ‘Let’s have everybody operating on the same playing field, on a level playing field.”

Figures also said that Republicans had passed a number of pieces of legislation that had landed the state in court, including the immigration law from 2011 and last year’s Alabama Accountability Act.

“It was an attempt to make the bill better, and to make it that all elected officials were included, not just state legislators, from the Governor on down to state legislators,” Figures said.

Marsh said he “hoped” the intent was not to kill the bill. “I do think there was an attempt to get people on a bad vote,” he said. “I do believe that. But at the end of the day, I believe everyone understands the importance of this legislation, and wants it passed.”

– posted by Brian Lyman

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