Reform: Action and not just words

Published 4:40 pm Tuesday, May 27, 2014

By SLADE BLACKWELL / Guest Columnist

Four years ago, when the Republican legislative majority was entrusted by voters with the task of genuinely reforming state government, one of our first priorities was to dramatically restore confidence in the public trust.

We said there shouldn’t be two sets of rules for those entrenched special interests in Montgomery with power, money, and influence and another set of rules for everyone else. At that time campaign finance laws and ethics laws were watered down, confusing or rigged for the special interests.

Our goal was not only to enact policies to create new jobs, reform a costly and antiquated state government, but also to change the ‘business as usual’ atmosphere that had long dominated Montgomery.

We wanted to create one of the most transparent and accountable governments in the nation. Voters deserved nothing less. Our majority tackled the failed system in Montgomery immediately. As a new member of the Senate, I was privileged to cast my very first votes for landmark ethics reforms on behalf of the hard working men and women of my District.

Over the last few legislative sessions, we have continuously improved upon and strengthened these laws to restore the integrity of the political process. Alabama’s ethics laws are a model for the nation in transparency and full disclosure.

Several of the landmark reforms we passed include:

Ban on “Double-Dipping” Members of the Alabama Legislature are prohibited from receiving two taxpayer-funded paychecks by holding another job with state government.

Legislative Pay Raise Repeal We repealed the 62% pay raise Democrats voted themselves in 2007 and tied legislative pay to median household income.

The Alabama Ethics Commission Protection Act Protects the Alabama Ethics Commission from political retaliation by ensuring that its annual appropriation in the State General Fund is secure.

Public Official Transparency Act Requires public disclosure of the names of public officials, candidates, or spouses of public officials or candidates who are employed by the state or who have a contract with the state.

The Revolving Door Act Bans any legislator from lobbying either the House or the Senate for two years after leaving office. It also strengthens the consequences for elected officials who resign office early by establishing that the two-year prohibition from lobbying does not begin until the end of the term to which the official was elected, and that the elected official is prohibited from lobbying any government body whatsoever for the remainder of the elected official’s term.

Granting Ethics Commission Authority to Uphold Law The Ethics Commission has the authority to subpoena witnesses and launch investigations.

Restrictions on Lobbyist Gift-Giving Limits what a lobbyist can spend on a public official to prevent attempts to corruptly influence votes. Prior to passing this law, lobbyists were allowed to spend up to $250 on legislators per day with no overall limit.

PAC-to-PAC Transfer Ban Banning the laundering of campaign contributions through various political action committees frequently used in the past to confuse voters and hide the true source of a contribution.

Ethics Training Requires mandatory ethics training for all elected officials, state and local government employees, and lobbyists.

Eliminated Nepotism Our ethics law banned the practice of handing out state contracts to family members. No more “brother-in-law” insider personal service contracts.

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” Thomas Jefferson said. Serving the taxpayers honestly and faithfully is the hallmark of the Republican legislative majority you have entrusted with your confidence and vote.

Slade Blackwell is an Alabama state senator from Birmingham representing parts of Shelby County.