Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Meeting
This morning the Governmental Affairs Committee of the Alabama State Senate held a meeting to discuss among other agenda items Senate Bill 298 sponsored by Senator Lowell Barron. The bill as amended by Senator Barron deals with the length of time the Ethics Commission has to launch and complete an investigation. SB 298 stipulates that the commission has 30 days from the date a complaint is filed to begin an investigation and six months to complete the investigation. If the commission is unable to finalize an investigation within the specified six month period and more time is needed, the director of the Ethics Commission may petition to the Montgomery Circuit Court Judge who can allow up to an additional six months.
Senator Barron stated that currently there is no time frame for the Ethics Commission to operate under when conducting an investigation, and this bill would expedite the process and help bring about a more timely conclusion. He further elaborated that nothing in this bill addresses the prosecution of an ethical violation but rather deals with the amount of time allowed for the determination of probable violations.
The Director of the Ethics Commission, James Sumner, Jr., was also present at the committee meeting and expressed concerns over the proposed ethics legislation. Mr. Sumner explained that currently the commission has three investigators on staff and that proper investigation of complicated matters can easily go beyond six months. He stated that the commission received 223 complaints in the last year alone. Also of concern to Mr. Sumner was the Ethics Commission being required to petition a circuit judge to request additional time to complete an investigation and felt that this bill “rips the heart and soul out of the Ethics Act.”
After nearly an hour of discussion, debate was closed on SB 298 with Senator Barron’s amendment until next week’s committee meeting.