Since the Nov. 2 general election, Riley has been quoted saying he would like to call a special session so the Legislature can pass ethics reform, such as banning money transfers between political action committees and granting the state Ethics Commission subpoena powers.
During a Tuesday phone interview, Jeff Emerson, communications director for the governor’s office, said Riley was still talking with legislators about calling a special session.
“He is eager to pass ethics reforms that were blocked by Democrats for so many years,” Emerson said.
Indeed, Democrat-controlled Legislatures have knocked down many ethics reform bills over the years.
However, the latest election resulted in a Republican-controlled Legislature, a first in the state since Reconstruction. Many candidates used ethics reform as one of their main platforms this year, especially after four state senators, several top lobbyists and casino owners were arrested in October on federal corruption charges involving pro-gambling legislation proposed in February.
Emerson said Riley, who leaves office in January, wants a special session to keep lobbyists from influencing newly elected legislators.
“Waiting until March gives special interests a four-month head start,” Emerson said.
Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said he fully supports Riley’s push for ethics reform in a special session.
“By calling a special session, it lets us concentrate just on ethics, which will allow us, when we get to the regular session next year, to concentrate fully on the budget and job creation,” he said.
Rep. Randy Wood, R-Saks, agreed with Marsh that a special session should be called to pass ethics reform.
“I think we need to go on and get something done,” Wood said. “It’s probably better to get it done in a special session because in a regular session, we have so many other bills going on.”
Rep. Steve Hurst, D-Munford, said he supports ethics reform and will participate in Riley’s special session, but would rather hold off on reform until the regular session.
“Preferably, I’d like to wait a couple of months because special sessions cost more money,” Hurst said.
A special session will cost the taxpayers thousands of dollars to cover the salaries of legislators and their staff.
To William Stewart, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Alabama, odds are, Riley will call a special session and the Legislature will pass some type of ethics reform.
“I’m seeing all kinds of signs that this is going to happen,” Stewart said. “I think if Gov. Riley calls the session, he has pretty good assurance that the votes are there.”
For Rep. K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, the vote for ethics reform has been a long time coming.
“I don’t think it can happen quick enough,” he said.
Brown said his top concern during the special session would be ending PAC-to-PAC transfers, followed by giving subpoena power to the state Ethics Commission.
“And I don’t have any issue with lobbyists being held accountable for anything they spend,” he said.
Emerson said Riley would also like lobbyists’ expenditures exposed, noting that under Alabama law, a lobbyist does not have to disclose expenditures up to $250 a day.
Sen. Jerry Fielding, D-Talladega, who is now part of the Democratic minority, said he supports ethics reform and would not have a problem working with Republicans.
“I’m here to represent the people, and if it is a good bill and it helps people … I’m for it,” he said. “I look beyond party.”
Fielding, who campaigned on a platform for ethics reform, said the sooner a reform bill is passed, the better.
“I don’t think it’s any question the people of Alabama want it done,” he said. “I think the mandate is out there.”
Contact staff writer Patrick McCreless at 256-235-3561.