Gov. Kay Ivey signs controversial ethics bill, critics worry over what law doesn’t cover

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday signed a controversial new ethics bill that will end the requirement that people working as economic developers have to register as lobbyists.

It marks the second time this week that critics have raised concerns about who is covered by state ethics laws.

Supporters of House Bill 317 – which ends the lobbyist registration requirements - say it will help economic development.

“If a company is interested in your state, just remotely interested, they contract with site selectors to come and see if that state has appropriate sites for location,” Gov. Kay Ivey told WHNT News 19 this week. “And it is very important that those relationships be protected because one company doesn’t want a competitor company to know what they are doing, we respect that.”

But Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, a candidate for governor, says the bill goes too far.

“You know HB 317 was the outset, the idea of it was good, the devil’s in the details,” Battle said. “The details of it are such that it needs to be reformed, and it’s got a one-year sunset on it.”

The new ethics law means fewer people will be covered. It`s the same problem prosecutor Ellen Brooks found in a lengthy grand jury probe of the activities of then-Gov. Robert Bentley's administration.

The probe ended this week without additional charges. Brooks noted some parties escaped potential prosecution, either because there wasn’t evidence on issues like Bentley benefiting financially, or the law didn’t apply to individuals like a non-spouse involved in a romantic relationship. The grand jury also complained the law allows an individual to work as a public employee in Alabama while being paid by a private entity.

Battle says more should be done.

“Ethics reform is something that’s going to be crucial, it’s one of the first issues you have to address as governor,” he said. “People have to get where they trust their government.”

Brooks issued the grand jury’s 3-page report Wednesday, arguing the current law has holes that allow ethics violations.

Ivey said she appreciates Brooks’ work and would like to see the report. She’s called for a change to how the Alabama Ethics Commission is appointed and says the laws need to be clarified.

Despite this week’s controversies, Ivey said Friday, “I’m committed to having an open, honest, transparent government.”