The bill, which now heads to the House for approval, passed 33-0. Despite the unanimous vote, Democrats and Republicans left the Senate chamber deeply divided over how the measure was passed.
“I’m not going to jeopardize a piece of legislation I promised this state,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, the president pro tempore of the Senate.
Before the beginning of the legislative session, Marsh announced his plan to place new limits on lobbying by former lawmakers. Republicans have held a supermajority in both houses, and all major statewide offices, since 2010, but their reign has been plagued by early resignations of first-term office-holders who go on to become lobbyists.
Alabama law requires former public officials from lobbying a government body for two years after they leave office — but a loophole in the law allows former senators to immediately lobby the House and vice versa. Marsh’s bill would set up a two-year limit on any legislative lobbying by former lawmakers — ideally closing the “revolving door” between the Statehouse and lobbying firms.
The bill was part of a larger Republican agenda designed to be less controversial than the first three years of this term, when Democrats and Republicans went head-to-head over handgun laws, school tax credits and immigration. Marsh seemed to be working hand-in-hand with Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, on proposed changes to the bill.
Sanders proposed an amendment to the bill that would ban lawmakers from getting football tickets at prices not available to the general public, and would prohibit legislators from being able to jump ahead in line to purchase those tickets. The amendment would also prohibit a former governor from lobbying for years after leaving office, and would ban companies from making political contributions to their employees who run for office.
When Sanders proposed the amendment Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey tried to strike it down on the grounds that the senator’s proposed changes were not relevant to Marsh’s bill. The move sparked shouts of protest from Senate Democrats.
“I feel Sen. Sanders was done wrong,” said Minority Leader Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile. “I feel like I was lied to.”
Senators put Ivey’s action to a vote, but Ivey didn’t pick up enough votes to uphold her action. The Sanders amendment went on to pass 33-0, and the amended bill also passed 33-0. But Republicans in the Senate said Sanders was piggybacking an unrelated set of ethics rules onto Marsh’s bill.
“We all think what he had was good,” Marsh said. “We just don’t think it belongs in this legislation.”
Marsh said he was concerned that the House would reject the revolving-door bill because of the added provisions.
Sanders said he drafted the amendment because there were ethics rules he felt needed to be in place, and he doubted he, as a Democrat, could get them passed as a separate bill.
“I don’t want to kill the bill, but I know that if I brought another bill, there was no way” it would get through the Senate, he said.
Capitol & statewide correspondent Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.