Boothe, Taylor look forward to special session

Published 7:07 pm Friday, December 3, 2010

State Rep. Alan Boothe says he heard the will of the people on Nov. 2, and he’s going to act on that will next week when the Alabama Legislature convenes in special session.

“It’s not about me personally, it’s about the people of the district,” said Booth, R-Troy. “And I’m going to vote how I think they want me to vote, whether it affects me or not.”

And newly elected Republican state Sen. Bryan Taylor, who represents Pike County, said he is looking forward to “for once, each and everyone of the governor’s ethics reform proposals being passed.”

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“This election just showed us that voters are fed up with the arrogance we’ve seen from career politicians, and they’ve sent a message that they want to change the system,” Taylor said.

Outgoing Gov. Bob Riley is calling the new Alabama Legislature into special session Dec. 8 to address ethics and campaign finance legislation, including key items such as PAC-to-PAC transfers and double-dipping regulations. Riley’s package of legislation would restrict gifts and entertainment for public officials, bring more disclosure to campaign contributions, and stop legislators from having second jobs in state government. It comes after scandals that resulted in convictions or guilty pleas by three legislators and that left two current legislators and three lobbyists facing trial on corruption charges.

“You are about to see a sea change in the way lobbyists and legislators interact,” the lame-duck Republican governor said at a news conference announcing the special session.

Boothe, who responded to that sea-change at the polls by switching recently from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party, said he intends to heed the message of reform sent by voters on Nov. 2, when the balance of the Legislature switched from Democrat to Republican.

Taylor, who is working with the legislative leadership to move the bills through the process, has a special interest in the reforms. Many are based on bills he drafted while working as policy director in Riley’s office.

“The momentum is there right now for successful passage,” he said. “These are the most important reforms in Alabama for decades.”

Key among the items Boothe expects to be addressed is PAC-to-PAC transfers. “The House has passed a PAC-to-PAC ban for eight years now, but it’s always died in the Senate,” he said. “Maybe now we can get some action on it.”

The governor wants to outlaw the transfer of money between political action committees, which has been used to hide the original source of campaign contributions. That issue is “one of the things people said in November they wanted addressed,” Boothe said, and since he has supported it in the past will be easy for him to support again.

Riley’s other proposals would:

• Require lobbyists to file public reports online about all their spending on public officials and public employees. Lobbyists currently file reports only if they exceed $250 in one day.

• Limit gift-giving by lobbyists and others to public officials and public employees to no more than $25 on one occasion and no more than $100 in a year. Riley said that would eliminate fancy meals at high-end restaurants and free tickets to the Auburn-Alabama football game.

For Boothe, that proposal is a no-brainer. “If you take $250 every 24 hours, that’s more than $90,000 a year,” he said. “That needs to be stopped.”

• Enhance investigations by the State Ethics Commission by allowing it to subpoena witnesses and records.

• Ban pass-through pork, where legislators have agreements with state agencies to let them control part of the money placed in the agencies’ budgets.

• Ban “double dipping” by legislators, who would not be able to have jobs in the executive or judicial branches of state government or in public education, including K-12 schools and higher education. Currently, the only ban is on working in two-year colleges.

This becomes a personal issue for Boothe, who is an employee of Troy University. “I was an employee of Troy University before I was elected to the Legislature,” he said. “But if this passes, as I think it is written, at the end (of this four-year term) I would have to either resign from Troy or give up my seat in the Legislature.”

Boothe said he plans to study the legislation carefully to make sure it is doesn’t cause more harm than good to the state by discouraging or preventing people from serving at a local level as well as a state level. “I’m all for ethics reform, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “We’ve just got to be careful and make sure we don’t go too far and overstep ourselves.”

• Mandate ethics training for elected officials and public employees.

Other issues which would arise, such as a check off for state employees, including teachers, will require more review, he said. “I haven’t seen the final bill to see how they’re amended.”

Taylor said once passed, the ethics reforms “are going to be a cause for celebration. They are going to put Alabama, for the first time, at the top of a good list: that will be the strongest ethics laws in the country.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story