Proposed Alabama ethics bill would redefine who’s a ‘lobbyist,’ some seeking state money wouldn’t have to register

HUNTSVILLE, Ala -- A bill in the Alabama Senate would narrow the definition of lobbyist, excluding economic development professionals from having to register as lobbyists.

Supporters say the measure is necessary for Alabama to remain competitive in economic development recruitment, but the bill’s language appears to also create some loopholes for others engaged in lobbying work.

The bill has passed out of committee and is expected to be voted on by the Senate, possibly Thursday.

Alabama Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, who’s been involved in a number of economic development projects including the recruitment of Polaris and Remington to Huntsville, said there’s a reluctance on the part of economic development professionals to register as lobbyists.

“When they go to the Governor and say, ‘My client would like incentives of x, y’ and start negotiating, these type things they don’t want to be able to have to register as lobbyists, and they could put a bright line around Alabama,” Orr said.

Orr has introduced a bill calling for a panel of interested parties from the government, to the media, to the legal system, and private sector to gather, hold hearings and make recommendations to rewrite the state’s ethics laws next year.

He says the current bill could be narrow and focus on economic development professionals.

“I think there’s a way to closely tailor the bill so it only affects those very few people that do this for a full-time business,” Orr said. “So we don’t get, like we did with the (former Alabama House Speaker) Mike Hubbard situation, anybody saying ‘Hey, I’m an economic developer, I don’t have to register as a lobbyist, and I can lobby,’” Orr said.

But the bill isn’t quite that narrow and does allow for some company employees, chamber of commerce workers and even part-time economic developers to be excluded from the lobbying list.

Still, Orr says without a change, Alabama could lose deals.

“We would be the only state to require them, in the country, to require them to register as lobbyists,” he said.

Tom Albritton, the executive director of Alabama Ethics Commission says it’s a bad bill that will weaken the state's ethics law, AL.com reported, but Orr said the issue is a concern for economic developers.

“So this has been kicked around in the economic development circles, out-of-state and it’s getting more and more attention,” Orr said.