North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

March 11, 2011

New state ethics laws change things ... for you

Business AdVise

By Teresa Vise
North Jefferson News

COMMENTARY — Attending a State Ethics Reform Update recently, which was sponsored by Bradley, Arant,  Boult, and Cumm­ings, I received an opportunity to hear first-hand the details and nuances of the changes in ethics reform and work to understand what the new Alabama Ethics Law holds for the business community.  

Always on point to help bring the issues to the business leadership, this forum was supported by the Birmingham Business Alliance. Myla Calhoun Choy, legal council for BBA, served as the moderator. David Stewart, partner with Bradley, Arant, Boult and Cummings, along with Jim Sumner, director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, led the discussion of the impact on business, and I assure you, it is not “business as usual” anymore.

You may recall that in late 2010, the Alabama Legislature was called in to special session by then outgoing Gov. Bob Riley for the purpose of increasing transparency and accountability in government at the state, county and local levels. More specifically was the express purpose of limiting the amount of influence that lobbyists, and those who pay lobbyists, can have on the political process.

Senate Bill 14 by Sen. Bryan Taylor, and House Bill 11 by Rep. Paul DeMarco, makes extensive changes to the definition of lobbying, lobbyists, and items and hospitality that may be provided to officials.  

DeMarco also fought for mandatory training. Given the changes, this seems not only logical, but clearly necessary. Many private industry representatives are required to read, train and sign corporate compliance and ethical standard agreements. Clearly, we should look for the same minimum standard from our elected officials, and effective Jan.1, 2011, it is now required of lobbyists and their principals.

These bills truly transformed the law, and Ethics Commissioner Jim Sumner declared, “Life as we have known it in the past no longer exists.”

Hospitality and entertainment are the big changes here. Anything that is purely social is no longer allowed. Previously, a lobbyist could spend just about whatever her or she wanted per day and did not need to report until a $250 threshold had been reached.

Now, such gatherings must involve an educational function, may pertain to economic development, and must meet the criteria for a widely-attended event. Therefore an Industrial Development Board working session is OK, but golf is not. The food and beverage limit is now limited to $25 or less per occurrence and not more than $150 per year per public official or public employee.

Are you a public official or public employee? You may just be. If you were elected, appointed or employed at the state, county, or municipal level of government, or government instrumentalities, these changes are now in affect.  That is a lot of folks, and it may include you.

New rules, and new day, so make certain you understand how it affects you.  

And remember, take care of your customers, or someone else will.  

You can find additional readings on my blog at . Teresa Vise, MSc, MBA, works for Sanofi-Aventis Pharmaceuticals and supports the Fultondale Chamber of Commerce.  The Fultondale Chamber will meet March 22 at the Holiday Inn Express in Fultondale, with lunch provided by Applebee’s. The speaker will be Barry Copeland, senior vice president of the Birmingham Business Alliance. The topic will be Blue Print Birmingham, Economic Development and our North Jefferson area.  Please join us by calling (205) 337-1629 or email to