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Alabama House Speaker Mac McCutcheon supports controversial economic development law, says GOP ready for ethics scrutiny

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. --  The law signed by Gov. Kay Ivey exempting economic development professionals from having to register as lobbyists continues to spark debate, but Alabama House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said the bill is timely.

“We’ve got some economic projects going on in this state that are very significant to people having jobs and moving us forward,” McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, told WHNT News 19 Thursday.

Critics say the bill opens a wide loophole that will allow some to lobby under the guise of economic developers without having to register. But McCutcheon said it reflects how large economic development deals get done.

“Because of the competition, contracts that are being made, incentive packages that are being put together, all of the things that are going on behind the scenes … to make all of these people be lobbyists, or file as a lobbyist, opens up the door to the point that they can’t do their job the way they need to to land the project,” McCutcheon said.

Supporters of the measure say the bill is aimed at helping site selection specialists, the people who represent big companies scouting locations for a new plant or headquarters.

But Jess Brown, political analyst for WHNT News 19, said there was a way to tailor the bill so that it did only what supporters claim.

“I believe when Senator Paul Sanford attempted to change the bill so that it would deal only with site selection function and site selection professionals, that bill was killed,” Brown said.

Sanford’s amendment to limit the bill to site selectors was defeated in the Senate.

McCutcheon said the law “sunsets” after a year, so there’s a window to find out if it's effective, or not.

“I’m personally, from the speaker’s office, keeping the eye on our statistics and some of these projects that are being discussed now and I’m going to see what the results are come April of next year,” he said.

McCutcheon also believes Republican candidates seeking a return to the Alabama Legislature in the 2018 elections won’t be hurt by ethics problems that led to the resignation and conviction of House Speaker Mike Hubbard and the resignation and guilty plea to misdemeanor charges of Gov. Robert Bentley.

McCutcheon said those represent individual problems and don’t reflect all politicians or a given political party.

He says the GOP House candidates in Alabama can handle tough scrutiny on their records and he urged voters to take a hard look at the candidates on the ballot.

“See if they have some integrity, see if they’re honest in their approach,” he said. “Find out what they were doing, where they work, what do they do in the community?"

“What kind of quality of life do they have? Take time. The voter needs to really take time and look at the individual, not, paint everybody with a broad brush. but look at everybody individually and then make their vote.”