A bill that would require the Alabama Ethics Commission to provide exonerating evidence to individuals accused of violating state law passed the Alabama House of Representatives with a substitute on Wednesday.
Since the bill was substituted in the House, the Senate must concur with the amendment before the bill goes to Gov. Kay Ivey's desk for signing.
The legislation by State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) says the commission shall "provide to the person alleged to have violated the law any fact, statement, document, or other exculpatory evidence that supports the innocence of the person or that may exonerate or tends to exonerate the person which the state ethics commission has in its possession." Exculpatory evidence is any information that may prove or point to an accused person's innocence.
Additionally, an accused person would have access to the identity of the person making an accusation after the initial investigatory phase.
The House substitute made several technical changes to the bill's language and provided protections for the Ethics Commission if exculpatory evidence is later found to be privileged information.
The bill passed the House unanimously, 102-0.
Orr told 1819 News there is no controversy surrounding the bill, so arriving at an agreement is almost certain.
"The House didn't get the right sub on in committee, and it passed so we'll fix it tomorrow," Orr said. "I don't think there's any controversy about it. We've just got to get the right sub on it tomorrow."
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall filed a lawsuit in Montgomery County Circuit Court in November 2022 against the Alabama Ethics Commission, stating their advisory opinion No. 2022-03 on exculpatory evidence "directly interferes with and impairs his duties." An attorney for the ethics commission filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in December.
The opinion from July 2022 states that the "Ethics Commission is not required or permitted to disclose exculpatory information or Brady material to respondents of complaints filed with the Ethics Commission."
Brian Hall Patterson, Jr., attorney for the Alabama Ethics Commission, said in a motion to dismiss in December that "revocation of Advisory Opinion 2022-03 would cause a chilling effect for both potential complainants and witnesses if they knew that their statements could be produced to the respondent" and the "nullification of Advisory Opinion 2022-03 could also result in the public disclosure of evidence that may be incomplete and damaging to complainants or third parties."
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