Alabama Legislature passes change to ethics law, candidates divided on its impact

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- The Alabama Legislature passed a controversial measure changing the state’s ethics law to end the practice of requiring economic developers to register as lobbyists.

The measure, House Bill 317, cleared the Alabama Senate by one vote Wednesday and secured final passage in the Alabama House after a charged debate and 22 members abstaining from the vote.

Gov. Kay Ivey said she favors the bill, which only needs her signature to become law.

Supporters said the bill would make Alabama competitive with other states on economic development projects, because Alabama is the only state in the country that requires economic development professionals to register as lobbyists.

In a statement, Ivey agreed.

“The passage of House Bill 317 enables Alabama to remain on a level playing field with other states, as we compete for job creating capital investments,” Ivey said. “Our ability to attract highly sought after economic development projects is vital to ensure that Alabama continues to experience record-low unemployment. This legislation makes clear that we are committed to attracting world-class jobs for all Alabamians.”

But opponents of the bill said it weakens existing law and creates loopholes for others to exploit.

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, a Democrat running for governor, urged Ivey to veto the bill.

“If she does not reject this attempt to further weaken accountability, it will reinforce Alabama's standing as one of the most corrupt states in the Union,” Maddox said. “In the last two years, the Governor, Speaker of the House, and House Majority Leader have left office for violating Alabama law.  It is moments such as this that define whether Kay Ivey will stand on the right side of history or whether she will conform to the corruptible forces of lobbyists and special interests."

Republican gubernatorial candidate Sen. Bill Hightower voted for the measure.

Other Republicans seeking the governor’s seat, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and Scott Dawson, did not respond to WHNT News 19’s request for a comment on the bill.

Democrat Sue Bell Cobb also did not respond to a request for comment.