(MONTGOMERY, Ala.) – After the indictment of four Alabama state legislators and three gaming lobbyists last fall, a new package of reforms represent a significant improvement on the state’s old lobbying laws, say observers.
When Alabama Governor Bob Riley called a special session of the state legislature after the October indictments, it was to enact what he hoped would be the toughest ethics laws in the nation.
The resulting package of reforms were passed in December and became law this week. There were enough exceptions added to the package by lawmakers, however, and enough loopholes in the language that the state legislature will have to revisit the issue when it reconvenes in March.
Ellen Miller of the Washington, D.C.-based good government group The Sunlight Foundation said, "You have to start someplace.” "[Alabama] is not leading the way or blazing new paths," Miller added, "but it is a first step."
Hugh Evans, general counsel for the Alabama Ethics Commission, a state regulatory agency with newly expanded powers, said that Alabama is now "at 75 percent of where we want to be."
"When you have so many different entities and influences on a particular bill, I don't think you ever get to 100 percent of where you want to," said Evans. "Everyone offered an amendment and so it was an amalgamation."
Under Alabama's old rules, lobbyists could spend up to $250 a day on an individual legislator without disclosure, or more than $90,000 a year. The lax restrictions led to cozy relationships between lawmakers and lobbyists.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio