We heard their message, and legislators stepped up to the plate last week and passed more reform in seven days than was approved in many previous decades combined. Our ethics laws, which were among the worst in the nation, are now first in the nation, and Alabama Ethics Commission Director Jim Sumner said we now have a “platinum” package of guidelines.
A quick review of the dramatic changes brought about would make even the most hardened cynic smile. Among the bills becoming law were:
• A prohibition on public officials holding two or more taxpayer-funded jobs, also known as “double-dipping,” that led to conflicts of interest and scandals in the two-year college system, among others.
• A measure providing subpoena power to the state’s ethics watchdog agency so public officials will finally be forced to answer when accused of questionable behavior.
• Legislation that lowered the amount lobbyists and their clients may spend on entertaining public officials from $250 a day to $250 a year, a dramatic decrease that will lessen special-interest influence on the political process.
• Campaign finance and budget transparency reforms that will prevent the original sources of political contributions from being camouflaged and limit pork-barrel spending.
• Mandatory ethics training for public employees that ensures they understand the rules under which they may operate.
• A ban on allowing government employees to collect union dues and political action committee donations through payroll checkoffs while working on taxpayer time.
Gov. Bob Riley deserves much of the credit for our new standards because he called lawmakers into special session despite pressure from strong special interests that opposed his proposals. Gov.-elect Robert Bentley, too, should receive praise for supporting the decision and assisting the governor in building support for the measures.
The House Republican Caucus should be commended for reaching across party lines, seeking input from their colleagues and showing more bipartisan spirit than was demonstrated to them when Democrats controlled the chamber.
There is no better evidence of this than the fact that a bill banning shell-game transfers between political action committees was named for two former House members — one a Republican and the other a Democrat — who worked tirelessly for many years on behalf of the issue.
Our two parties will not always agree on everything, but coming together in such a manner lays a good foundation for the quadrennium, and we thank the Democrats who cooperated with these efforts.
When I was elected as the first Republican House Speaker in 136 years, I set as our goal maintaining the tradition of two words that are so important that they appear in the seal of the Alabama House of Representatives. Vox Populi is a Latin phrase that translates literally into “Voice of the People.”
The phrase does not say voice of the special interests or voice of the powerful or voice of the campaign contributors, but voice of all of the people. Whether you are Republican or Democrat, black or white, rich or poor, we will work to ensure that your voice is heard in the Alabama House Chamber.
It is my hope that many years from now, historians will look back and say that this was the Legislature that brought the reforms Alabama had needed for so long. This was the Legislature that fundamentally changed how Montgomery operates. This was the Legislature that put Alabama firmly on the road to greatness.
The recently completed special session was a good start toward ensuring that this dream will one day become a reality.
State Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, is the Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives.