MONTGOMERY — Members of the Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development will consider legislation on Wednesday to allow the State Auditor to attempt to recoup the negligent loss or theft of state property.

The bill filed by State Sen. Andrew Jones (R-Centre) would create a new Division of Investigations within the Office of the State Auditor to investigate the loss, theft or damage of state property and to demand repayment for the value of lost, stolen, or damaged property due to an act of negligence.

The bill would authorize the Attorney General to bring civil actions for cases of negligent loss or damage of state property. The bill would also authorize the State Auditor to refer to the Attorney General or an applicable district attorney in any matter where there is a reasonable belief that a criminal violation has occurred.

State Auditor Andrew Sorrell said the new duties wouldn't require additional employees or added appropriations to his office.

 "This does not grow government. I do not need additional staff, I do not need additional funding for anything in this bill. Second, it does not expand my duties beyond the realm of property audits which is already what we do," Sorrell told 1819 News in a recent interview.

Sorrell said a state employee recently damaged $20,000 in state property by throwing it out of the back of a truck outside of the surplus property division of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs instead of handing it off to the agency to be auctioned online. 

The incident was an example of a negligent loss of state property, according to Sorrell.

"The whole point is (currently) the agency is the one that classifies it, not me. I think since I'm the one constitutionally tasked with keeping track of state property I think my office should have the final say over whether or not a loss was negligent or not," Sorrell said. "Very, very few items do the losses get marked as negligent. If it's not marked as negligent, the state never recovers any money. For me, I would say the guy who threw the property off the back of the truck, I'd say he's responsible for repaying the cost of that to the state."

He continued, "We're not trying to harass agencies. I mean, if they're doing a good job with their property, we're not worried about them. If we have agencies that are struggling and consistently losing property, we need to be able to review their internal policies and procedures and make sure that they have some and make sure that they're using best practices." 

"What this bill would allow me to do is after we investigate, if we determine that it was negligent, we could issue a demand letter to the individual demanding that he repay the agency that he works for for that property. If he does not repay, we can refer it over to the Attorney General and the Attorney General could decide if they want to pursue civil action against that individual," Sorrell said. "So, that's the idea, just more accountability with government property. When you have gross negligence like the story I just told you, the taxpayers should not be on the hook for that."

Jones, the bill's sponsor, previously backed legislation in 2022 to abolish the Office of the State Auditor. Sorrell began serving as State Auditor in 2023.

"In the past, I've actually carried a bill to eliminate the Office of the Auditor. The bill never made it because it was a constitutional amendment that needed a 3/5ths vote and several members had already headed home at that point late in the session. That bill did not pass. I'd been talking with the Auditor Andrew Sorrell and if we're going to have the office then we need to give it some more responsibility," Jones told 1819 News on Monday. "He's reached out with some common sense things we can do with the office to kind of help meet some needs in the state."

Jones said, "The main gist is dealing with property, inventory, missing property or stolen property, figuring out how to catch that, make processes more efficient, and make sure we're protecting taxpayer dollars."

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