Boothe: Bentley case won’t stall bills

Published 3:00 am Friday, April 7, 2017

Gov. Robert Bentley could face criminal prosecution after a state ethics panel found probable cause that he broke ethics and campaign finance law in a sex-tinged scandal that has engulfed him for more than a year.

The Alabama Ethics Commission, after an all-day meeting on Wednesday, voted to refer four issues to the district attorney’s office, which will decide whether to pursue charges.

Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee is holding hearings on Bentley’s impeachment process and Chairman Mike Jones has tentatively set April 14 to release their findings.

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Rep. Alan Boothe, R-Troy, said the rest of the House will then have to be brought up to speed on what the committee found so that House hearings can begin.

“They’ll report to us at some point and we will deal with that issue based on what the report is,” Boothe said. “Each member of the House will have to be brought up to speed about it. We’ll have to receive all of the information and then we’ll have to decide whether to send it to the Senate.”

Boothe said these proceedings have never been dealt with before and will cause some deviations to standard procedure, but Boothe affirmed that local bills being brought forward in the Legislature will not be impacted.

“This shouldn’t have any effect whatsoever on those bills,” Boothe said. “I intend to proceed with those bills once I get notice that they’re properly advertised. I don’t see this as interfering with that process.”

Two local bills were requested by the Pike County Commission earlier this year to authorize them to levy a temporary sales tax for the construction of a new Pike County Jail and to raise some court costs and fees to fund operation of the jail.

A third bill was requested by the Troy City Council to authorize them to set a referendum vote on Sunday alcohol sales within the city.

Boothe said those bills will proceed as normal as well as the budget.

“I anticipate that we will continue with the budgets; that’s what the legislature is also charged to do,” Boothe said. “We’ll continue those deliberations and get those budgets passed as soon as they make it through the committee process. Obviously, there will be some deviations from the way it normally is. We’ll have to adapt our schedule and plow forward and do our job.”

Boothe said that the Legislature cannot rush through the impeachment hearings to get things back to normal procedure.

“Well, you know, obviously its something that we’ve never dealt with before; it’s something we have to be judicious in our decisions about it,” Boothe said. “We just don’t know, you know? Nobody’s been through this process before so you want to be careful as you tread through this to make sure everybody receives his or her due process. Speed doesn’t need to be worried about in this case.”

The ethics commission did not give much detail about the accusations against Bentley. On the ethics complaint, the commission found there was probable cause that he used public resources, including “subordinate personnel, equipment and time all under his discretion or control to further his personal interests.” It did not elaborate.

The other witnesses before the commission were expected to include Spencer Collier, the governor’s former law enforcement secretary and the first person to publicly raise concerns about the relationship; Ray Lewis, Bentley’s former bodyguard; and Secretary of State John Merrill.

Merrill had raised concerns about Bentley using nearly $9,000 in campaign funds to pay a lawyer representing Mason, saying that was not a permissible use of campaign funds under state law.

Donna Horn, chair of the local Republican party, said she’s waiting to get the information from what happened during the meeting before commenting on it.

“A whole lot has gone on in the ethics committee, so I’ll wait and see transcripts on both sides,” Horn said. “Witness testimonies are going to be made public, so I’m going to wait and read them before I make a comment.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.