News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
MONDAY, MARCH 12, 2007


Donít weaken state ethics law

Alabama legislators ought to leave the state Ethics Commission alone unless they make it stronger.

A bill intended to weaken the commission may come up in the current session, according to The Birmingham News. Itís the resurrection of a bill that died in the last session, introduced by allies of Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, who had recently been cleared of an ethics complaint.

Under this bill, if a complaint were filed against a public official, within 15 days he would have to receive a copy of it — along with the identity of the person complaining and any other information necessary to defend the charges.

Everybody accused of a crime has a right, of course, to face his accuser and know the charges against him. But this bill short-circuits the judicial process. The Ethics Commission keeps complaints confidential while it investigates them, much like a grand jury. If the public official is actually charged with a crime, he will have every opportunity to defend himself in court.

This bill would probably intimidate people who are considering filing complaints, giving their targets an early opportunity to retaliate or hush them up.

Public officials already have a right to due process. We donít need to tilt the scales any further in their favor. If anything, they should be held to a higher standard than ordinary citizens because they occupy positions of public trust.

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