MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House Ethics and Campaign Finance Committee held a public hearing Wednesday to discuss a change in Alabama's ethics laws proposed by State Rep. Matt Simpson (R-Daphne).

Legislators shouldn't consider legislation changing the Alabama Ethics Act in the same session where they're considering passing a gambling package, according to Alabama Ethics Commission director Tom Albritton.

The legislation sponsored by State Rep. Matt Simpson (R-Daphne), House Ethics and Campaign Finance 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.

However, the bill would establish new five-year terms for the director and a reappointment process subject to Senate confirmation. A public hearing on the bill in committee was held on Wednesday, but a scheduled vote on Thursday was canceled.

"The independence of the commission, which operates publicly, should be preserved to be that proper check on the system. This is the wrong time to rewrite the entire ethics act in a session when there are consequential measures being pushed specifically gambling. It makes no sense. Don't do this now. Don't do it in this way," Albritton said at the public hearing on Wednesday.

Albritton said, "This rewrite provides less restrictions on giving, not more which is a problem."

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"Even though there is a gift ban in the proposed act, the exceptions to that ban ultimately will allow more gifting than is currently allowed that is primarily through the current definition of family member and a friend exception which is included in the proposed act," he added.

Simpson disagreed with Albritton's premise and said they are focusing too much on the 140 people who work in the statehouse vs the entirety of which the Ethics Commission oversees.

Simpson said, "There are 300,000 people that are directly affected by these laws. Over a million by the time we consider the extended family. You have professors at UAB that have to step down on their job because we get so focused on what happens to the 140 people in this building that we don't think about the million people that this affects."

"We owe it to those million people, almost a quarter of the population, to not just say, 'Well, we're dealing with gaming, so the timing is not right to deal with it,'" he added. "We owe it to the people of Alabama to not duck our head in the sand and say, 'You know what there's a problem with the laws, we should just wait to fix it."

"The fact is there's a problem. It is never the wrong time to do the right thing. Never. I've delayed this as much as we can. This bill does not go into effect until 2025 because I do think there's some stuff we can continue to work on once this bill is passed." Simpson concluded.

Simpson said that he would pull the bill from the meeting tomorrow to give committee members more time to look over changes made to the bill. He said his number one priority was the well-being of the members and that they may make a well-informed decision.

Former State Rep. Mike Ball, the former chairman of the committee, spoke in opposition to the overall bill but did say there were aspects of the bill he liked, saying, "I don't envy what y'all are gonna do. I have struggled with this issue for many, many years, and nobody was listening. I would like to thank the sponsor for bringing it out to the middle and having some discussions and putting it on the table and it's time to have that we need to have a very public discussion we need to have some attention."

The bill is expected to come up again next week.

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