MONTGOMERY – State Sen. Bryan Taylor says he will submit a letter to the Alabama Ethics Commission requesting the Commission to reconsider and clarify certain aspects of its recent opinion concerning gifts to public officials and employees under Alabama’s strong new ethics law.
The ethics law, sponsored by Sen. Taylor, does not discriminate against, target, or even mention students or teachers, as some reports have suggested.
Taylor denounced news reports which insinuated that teachers could even go to jail simply for accepting Christmas gifts from students. “That is the most absurd hypothetical imaginable,” Taylor said. “That kind of media sensationalism is just plain irresponsible.”
“As the Commission’s ruling made clear — even if some news reports were not so clear — nothing in the new ethics law prohibits students and parents from expressing their appreciation to teachers with reasonable, thoughtful gifts at Christmas time,” Taylor explained. “The law doesn’t even apply to students and parents as private citizens. It applies to public officials and employees.”
Taylor said the law was written generally “to end the widespread practice in this state of public servants taking inappropriately expensive gifts and perks simply because of their official position.”
The law written by Taylor prohibits public officials and employees from taking things like free Iron Bowl tickets, hunting trips, golf outings, and other benefits from lobbyists, contractors, and others with an interest in official action or decisions.
Taylor, a first-term lawmaker, credits overwhelming public support for the law’s passage in last year’s special session on ethics reform.
“The law levels the playing field for everyone. It limits the coercive power of government authorities, increases government accountability to the taxpayers, and promotes government decisions based on merit rather than the good-ole-boy system. It’s pretty much a standard rule across the rest of the country, and it’s about time Alabama had a law like this to hold public servants accountable who abuse their position of public trust for personal gain,” Taylor explained. “Good teachers shouldn’t have anything to worry about under this law.”
Taylor acknowledged that certain parts of the Ethics Commission ruling created some confusion about what the law actually says. “People saw these reports and thought we passed a law targeting gifts to teachers. That’s just flat wrong.”
“The ethics law lays down widely accepted principles of proper conduct for all government officials and employees, leaving it to the Ethics Commission to establish the standards. Therefore, I am going to ask the Commission to reconsider its ruling and issue a clearer, common-sense standard on gifts to help public servants know where the line is.”