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Accountability in Alabama: Ending special treatment for state officials

Legislative immunity in Alabama was once necessary to protect lawmakers from a surprising threat: The governor.

“In the olden days, it’s my understanding that the governor would send state police to arrest legislators to keep them from voting,” said Alabama Senator Arthur Orr. With a laugh, Orr added: “I don’t believe that’s a concern anymore.”

Orr (R-Decatur) is seeking to repeal the legislative immunity law as part of an “accountability package” he hopes will take away some of the special privileges elected officials enjoy. Citing a recent case in which an Alabama legislator avoided arrest for driving under the influence by invoking the immunity clause, Orr said it’s unfair to have different levels of culpability for officials and citizens.

“Those in public service, in office, should not be held to a different standard than those they represent,” Orr said.

Under current law, legislators can claim immunity while the legislature is in session if the suspected offense is a misdemeanor. Orr’s example is hardly a new one: Lawmakers have recently used immunity to dodge arrests in high-profile incidents in Georgia and Arizona.

A second piece of the accountability package deals with what happens after a state employee has actually been caught and punished. Under Orr’s proposed legislation, the state would no longer pay out pensions to state workers who have been convicted of felony corruption.

As it stands now, state officials who have taken bribes or kickbacks are still due state contributions to their pension funds. Orr (pictured, right) says it’s acceptable to dole out someone’s own pension contributions that were paid into the system, but the taxpayers should be left out of it.

“The other thing is, perhaps requiring this forfeiture could, possibly, restrain someone from attempting, or going down the criminal path,” Orr said.

Orr hopes that the accountability measures he is proposing will help combat the public distrust of government that he’s noticed in recent years.

“I have not been in public service that long, a little over 5 years now,” Orr said. “It seems to me that there has been an erosion of public confidence – not only in Alabama, but across the country – that people have in their officials. This erosion of confidence needs to be restored by taking steps like this.”


Filed under alabama governor Arthur Orr repeal accountability special treatment progress center for public integrity public radio international corruptionrisk accountability state government 2012