Bill may be amended for teacher gifts

Published 1:13 pm Tuesday, December 27, 2011

In December 2010, the Alabama State Legislature passed a package of the toughest ethics laws in the country. This was quite an achievement and a great step to ensuring that corruption has no place in our state government moving forward.

One of the bills was to restrict public officials and state employees from receiving gifts of value. However, as with any significant legislation, it had unintended consequences. As a result, teachers were defined in the same category as our state elected officials and lobbyists because they are state employees.

While I agree that elected officials and government state employees should be restricted in the gifts they receive, teachers should not be included. I, along with Sens. Whatley (R-Auburn), Ward (R-Alabaster) and Dial (R-Lineville), plan to co-sponsor a bill in the 2012 session to exempt teachers from this law.

The holiday season is upon us and as a tradition, many students will find something special to give their teachers in appreciation for their hard work during the school year.

The current bill prevents teachers and other school faculty from accepting gifts from students. If a teacher accepts a gift, it could be considered breaking the law.

While this is an unintended consequence of the bill, it needs to be amended so there is never a question of how to interpret the law in the future.

The original bill is aimed at curbing corruption in state government, not keeping students from thanking teachers with gifts.

As long as the gifts are not corrupt in nature, I believe students should be able to give teachers gifts and, more importantly, teachers should be able to accept them for all they do to educate our children and improve the quality of life in Alabama.

I want to be clear that I am not apologetic for our passing the most comprehensive ethics law in our state’s history and I’m proud to be a part of the new Republican majority making these improvements to state government for the people of Alabama.

Amending a very minor part of the ethics law will provide clarity and specific details on who can be given gifts and who cannot. There should be no gray area when it comes to this law.

I commend Gov. Bentley for standing behind this amendment and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Alabama State Legislature on revising this law to make it clear and concise.

Slade Blackwell is serving his first term in the Alabama State Senate representing Jefferson and Shelby counties in District 15.