MONTGOMERY — Legislation changing how the Alabama Ethics Commission operates is scheduled to receive a public hearing on Wednesday, with a vote by House Ethics and Campaign Finance Committee to follow Thursday.

The bill sponsored by State Rep. Matt Simpson (R-Daphne), committee chairman, wouldn't change how the commission is overseen by five commission members who serve five-year terms and are appointed by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Speaker of the House of Representatives. The commission would still appoint a director to oversee its operations.

The bill would also establish new five-year terms for the director and a reappointment process subject to Senate confirmation. 

"As much as we could do things without touching the current law we did. We didn't touch the FCPA law. Those are in the bill, but those are the current laws that they are now. Generally, we just kind of eyed problems and tried to hit the problem areas and focus on those, and then everything else we just kept the same," Simpson said in an interview with 1819 News on Friday.

Under existing law, the ethics commission can impose administrative penalties for minor violations or certain violations of the Fair Campaign Practices Act but refers criminal violations to the Attorney General or a district attorney. The bill would transfer all criminal violations to the criminal code and "authorize the commission to impose private warnings, public reprimands, civil penalties, and restitution for violations of the ethics code or Fair Campaign Practices Act."

"We put the criminal aspect of bribery and use of office for pecuniary gain into the criminal code where they'll be handled by prosecutors, DAs, and AGs. We left everything that could be civil, you know, anything that could be a fine or an administrative resolution, those would be handled by the Ethics Commission. This argument that we gutted the law, I just don't see that at all. That is not the way I interpret the bill, and that's not the intent behind the bill," Simpson said.

The House committee hosted multiple meetings beginning last summer on the ethics law and released a preliminary draft a few weeks ago. The bill was filed by Simpson last Thursday. 

Former State Rep. Mike Ball (R-Madison) said in an interview with 1819 News on Friday the bill might be good for opening up some discussions on the topic of the state's ethics law, but "I don't think they need to rush this bill through."

"There are some things in it that are just problematic, and one of them is that instead of fixing what might be wrong with the Ethics Commission and empowering it to be a nonpartisan entity that can address these things over these politicians, it seems to be diminishing them greatly and a huge power shift in a direction that I'm just very concerned about," Ball said.

Barry Matson, executive director of the Alabama District Attorneys Association, told 1819 News that his organization hasn't taken an official position on the bill yet. 

"We just got a copy of the actual bill this week, and we are doing our due diligence. I'll have more on our position next week after our DAs have had time to digest it. Many of them are in trial and haven't had time to let us know their thoughts on the actual bill," Matson said.

After conducting an investigation, the legislation also allows for the Attorney General to recommend to the Legislative Council that the Alabama Ethics Commission director be removed for a cause described in Section 173 of the Constitution of Alabama of 2022. The director shall be removed if affirmed by a majority vote of the council members from the Senate and a majority vote of the council members from the House of Representatives, according to the bill.

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