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33 legislators hold jobs with government entities

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — There were 33 members of the Alabama Legislature who worked for public entities in 2006, holding an array of jobs ranging from policeman to public school teacher to college administrator, according to financial disclosure forms filed with the Alabama Ethics Commission.

‘Double dipping’

The ethics filings show that the issue of “double dipping” among legislators goes beyond the state’s embattled two-year college system.

Gov. Bob Riley and new Chancellor Bradley Byrne, a former state senator and state school board member, have announced a proposed new policy that would force legislators working for two-year colleges to give up their jobs or not run for re-election in 2010.

But they represent only half the number of legislators who receive a second check from a government source.

2006 ethics filings

On the ethics filings for 2006, 16 legislators showed that in 2006 they worked for the two-year college system.

The filings also showed eight legislators worked for municipalities, five were employees of four-year colleges, three worked for K-12 schools and one was a regular state employee — Sen. Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery, the executive director of the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners.

And at least nine other lawmakers listed income from the state or other public entities — including attorneys who represented municipalities and lawmakers who leased land to the government.

Total elimination

Riley said he hopes to
eventually eliminate all instances where elected lawmakers have jobs paid for with taxpayer funds — either through policy changes or with legislation.

“Our position has never changed. We proposed last session that the Legislature stop this practice across the board,” Riley said.

Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, introduced a bill that would have prevented legislators from holding separate public jobs, but the bill was never considered by a House committee.

“They just laughed at us,” Riley said.

He said that is why he and Byrne asked the state school board to adopt the policy for two-year college employees.

He said he also plans to ask the board to stop K-12 employees from serving in the Legislature, will ask colleges and universities to adopt similar policies and will look for a way to stop double dipping among other state employees.

The executive director of the Alabama State Employees Association, Mac McArthur, said he would “strongly oppose” any proposal that prohibited state workers from running for public office.

“If the public wants to elect a state employee they shouldn’t be prohibited from doing that,” McArthur said.

“It’s a slap in the face to state employees to try to lump them in with convicted felons and say you can’t exercise the rights everybody else can exercise.”

State Rep. Spencer Collier, R-Bayou La Batre, was a state trooper when first elected to the Legislature in 2002, but has since left public employment. He said he didn’t feel guilty that he was working for the state and serving as a legislator at the same time.

“I never hid from my constituents what I did and that’s basically who should decide,” Collier said. He said he believes there are legislators who abuse the current system and that there should be policies to prevent those abuses.

But he said state officials should be careful that policies don’t target legislators who are not abusing the system, including some who held their public jobs before being elected to the Legislature.

Collier said it’s an issue where it’s hard to please the public.

“I was criticized when I was still working as a state trooper. Since then, I’ve been criticized for leaving such a respected position as a state trooper,” he said.

State Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, has been teaching classes in world history at Alabama State University for about 30 years. He said he could retire from Alabama State if he could not hold both positions, but he questioned Riley’s motives for seeking to ban lawmakers from holding public jobs. He said he believes the governor is trying to reduce the influence of the state teachers’ union, the Alabama Education Association, over the Legislature.

AEA executive secretary Paul Hubbert agreed, saying that most of the lawmakers with public jobs are Democrats or moderate Republicans who support the AEA’s positions on education funding.

Riley said he is pursuing the bans because he believes “double dipping” creates a conflict, allowing legislators to participate in the process of appropriating money to the agencies or offices where they work.

Holmes said there are a number of other legislators who have conflicts of interest, saying that there are doctors, lawyers, pharmacists and others whose professions are regulated by the Legislature.

He said if all possible conflicts of interest were removed, “The only people who would be able to serve in the Legislature are those who are unemployed.”

On the disclosure forms, five legislators, including Holmes, listed jobs for four-year colleges. Gordon Stone, executive director of the university lobbying group Higher Education Partnership, said it would be up to each university or system’s board of trustees to decide on a policy.

“I think they would all look at it closely and welcome the governor to make his pitch,” Stone said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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