Seven bills in seven days: Wallace, Ward reflect on special session

Published 10:20 pm Friday, December 17, 2010

State Sen. Cam Ward and State Rep. Kurt Wallace both describe this week’s special session of the Alabama Legislature as a historic success, but both say there’s still work to do concerning ethics reform.

“The fact that we passed seven ethics bills in seven days is pretty remarkable,” said Ward. “We got a lot accomplished. Some of us have been working on these bills for years now — to see us making these kind of changes in a short period of time is pretty remarkable.”

Ward, as a state representative, had worked for several regular sessions to pass a measure granting subpoena power to the state ethics commission.

Ward has said a beefed-up ethics commission is vital to having real reform in Alabama.

Some of the other bills passed during the special session include:

•Limits on what lobbyists and those who hire lobbyists can spend on public officials.

•Bans “double-dipping.” Legislators will no longer be able to hold another job in any state department, including the K-12 school system and Alabama’s colleges and universities.

•Restricts political activity on state time. New laws would make it illegal for any government worker to use public resources for any political activity.

•Bans pass-through-pork and PAC-to-PAC transfers.

•Requires mandatory ethics training for lobbyists, elected officials and public employees.

Newly-elected Rep. Wallace called the session as “baptism by fire,” but said he was pleased with its results.

“I think we did what the citizens of this district wanted me to do,” Wallace said.

Ward and Wallace said the bills were great starts, but that Alabama must stay vigilant about ethics.

Both also expected some additions during March’s regular session.

“I think it’s a good start,” Wallace said. “In the March session, some of these will be amended.”

Ward said he expects some loopholes to be closed removing vague language concerning lobbyist spending, but that the issue should stay on everyone’s agenda for a long time.

“Ethics reform is not something we can do in just five days and forget about it forever; it’s not the end,” Ward said.

Both lawmakers addressed criticism of the session and why these issues couldn’t have waited until the regular session this spring.

Wallace talked about all the new legislators, and why it was important to change the law before new members got use to the old system, the wining and dining.

“It wouldn’t have been as strict if  you waited until March. I guarantee you that it wouldn’t have been,” Wallace said.

Ward also said during a regular session the House and Senate are considering more than 1,600 bills.

“When you get into a regular session, there are so many issues going on at one time,” said Ward. “I think by focusing on these seven right now … it was worth it.”