The Alabama House of Representatives reconvenes for the seventh legislative day of the 2011 Regular Session on Thursday poised to pass a bill that will require all elected officials and their spouses to publicly disclose contracts with state entities.
House Bill 58, known as the Public Official Transparency Act, is sponsored by Representative Mike Ball of Huntsville. The bill also ensures greater transparency and accountability from those seeking public office by extending the same disclosure requirements to candidates.
It’s a good-government reform that is long overdue, Representative Ball said.
“Senator Arthur Orr and I first came up with this in 2008 when all the shady dealings in the two-year college system came to light,” Representative Ball said. “It took confidential sources for the newspaper to reveal that some public officials and their family members had secret contracts with state agencies. It occurred to us that the best way to deter the corruption that can result from that kind of secrecy is to require complete transparency. The taxpaying, voting public has a right to know what kind of business their elected representatives and their spouses do with state entities. This bill ensures that it will.”
Representative Ball originally proposed the legislation in 2008, and was successful getting it through committee. However, his attempts to have the bill considered on the floor of the House were thwarted each year by the powerful Rules Committee chairman, who controlled the daily agenda.
The change in legislative leadership means Representative Ball’s transparency bill is more than just up for consideration, it’s on the fast track to passage.
“If we had passed a transparency bill like this in any other year, it would have been a groundbreaking achievement. This year, it is almost routine. That’s the difference the new majority has made. We have legislative leaders and a body of lawmakers committed to upholding the public’s trust. I look forward to answering my colleagues’ questions about this bill, but I don’t expect significant opposition. Support for public contract disclosure is truly bi-partisan.”
House Speaker Mike Hubbard applauded Representative Ball’s persistence in continually advocating this reform each year despite frustrating obstacles.
“There’s a reason public contract disclosure has so much support among House Members,” Speaker Hubbard said. “Representative Ball has championed this bill for three straight years, and has probably spoken to every Member of the Legislature about it. He is a tireless advocate for increasing transparency in state government, and I’ll be proud to see him finally pass this bill.”
After last December’s Special Legislative Session for anti-corruption reform, Alabama went from having some of the weakest accountability and transparency laws to among the strongest. A recent Associated Press report surveying openness in government nationwide highlighted Alabama’s efforts to ensure greater accountability.
Speaker Hubbard said restoring honesty and integrity to state government is essential in order for state leaders to address Alabama’s problems.
“The people of Alabama deserve a government they can trust,” he said. “For decades, this state has witnessed scandal after scandal from elected officials. That builds a level of distrust that inhibits our ability to make positive changes. By bringing a new level of accountability and transparency to state government, we can begin to build back that trust and move Alabama forward.”
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