Special session worthwhile

Published 4:48 pm Monday, December 27, 2010

Ethics in politics is sometimes difficult to quantify.

Everyone—including lawmakers themselves—agree that it’s important for public servants to conduct business in an ethical manner. But lines between ethical and unethical behavior are almost always blurry, and there is no public consensus about how much time and money should be devoted to ethics reform when there are so many other deserving issues to be discussed.

So, it was both surprising and refreshing to see Alabama’s Legislature spend an entire special session on ethics reform—and even more so that the session resulted in worthwhile legislation.

Two Chilton County lawmakers, State Sen. Cam Ward and Rep. Kurt Wallace, played roles in the session. Ward has been championing ethics reform for years in his previous role as a representative. Wallace, meanwhile, got his first taste of Goat Hill as the county’s new representative.

The session yielded bills that grant subpoena power to the state ethics commission, limit what lobbyists can spend on public officials, ban legislators from holding another job in any state department, restrict government workers from using public resources for any political activity, ban “pass-through-pork” and PAC-to-PAC transfers, and require mandatory ethics training for lobbyists, elected officials and public employees.

“The fact that we passed seven ethics bills in seven days is pretty remarkable,” Ward said, but both he and Wallace agreed there remains work to be done.

Special sessions of the Legislature aren’t always popular because of their cost to taxpayers, but the ethics measured passed are ones that in the past have gotten lost among all the other bills considered during a regular session.

Our Legislature this time made enough progress to make it worth a special session.