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Panel clarifies hunting trip rules

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — The state ethics commission ruled Wednesday that Alabama companies that loan a plane or helicopter for the state to use to lure a new industry do not have to report the expense as a perk to public officials who take part — unless they are lavishly wined and dined.

It's a common practice for a private company or utility in Alabama to loan a plane to the state so it can be used to fly economic development prospects over land that could be used as the site for a new industry.

State and local government officials often fly along to point out the possible economic sites and benefits to the industry officials, who are interested in locating operations in Alabama. These trips are often kept confidential at the request of the economic development prospects.

But that confidentiality could conflict with the Alabama ethics law, which requires lobbyists to make a public report if they spend more than $250 a day on entertainment and gifts for public employees. House Speaker Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, asked the ethics panel Wednesday for a ruling on whether these economic development excursions must be reported. The answer was yes and no.

The commission ruled that companies like Alabama Power Co., which often assists the state in economic development projects, do not have to report the cost of the flights and do not have to identify the economic development prospects.

But the commission ruled the companies must report if more than $250 a day is spent on "hospitality" for the public officials. "Hospitality" was defined as frills such as meals, lodging, entertainment and rounds of golf.

Hammett is the director of economic development for the Alabama Electric Cooperative and often plays an active role in helping state officials lure new industry.

Hammett's spokesman, Jeff Woodard, said the speaker made the request "out of concern about what needed to be reported and what didn't need to be reported."

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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