One Last Freebie Splurge in Alabama

By: - December 29, 2010 12:00 am

In a special legislative session that ended just before Christmas, Alabama lawmakers passed a package of ethics reforms that will make it far more difficult for them to accept gifts in the future. But as the Associated Press reports , Governor Bob Riley’s office and a number of lawmakers couldn’t resist accepting one final gift-free tickets and parking passes for the annual Alabama vs. Auburn football game, a longstanding tradition-just before convening to pass the reforms with broad bipartisan support. “We talked about it, but we decided not to change in the last year,” Riley said. “Not to do it this year seemed a little disingenuous.” The reforms require ethics training for legislators, place limits on the amount of time and money lobbyists can spend entertaining public officials, and strengthen the state’s Ethics Commission, among other changes. Ethics Commission Executive Director Jim Sumner has said that he will bring additional recommendations to the attention of incoming governor Robert Bentley if the new law is abused or proves to be insufficient. At least 28 officials turned down the football tickets this year, and some gave them to charity. 
Florida Governor-elect Rick Scott is poaching away Indiana Correction Commissioner Ed Boss to head Florida’s prison system, the Indianapolis Star reports . On the campaign trail, Scott vowed to chop the state’s prison costs by a third through cost-cutting measures including reduced salaries and health care expenses and expanded inmate-run vegetable farms-proposals that have been sharply criticized by some prison system veterans as unrealistic. Boss has been wooed by other states, according to Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, and recently oversaw a review of the Indiana Department of Correction. The resulting proposal, unveiled this week, would reduce the cost of Indiana’s prison system by allowing for reduced sentences and alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders.  
Lawmakers in Kentucky are accustomed to taking the first week of the legislative session to get organized, make committee assignments, elect leaders, and do a little partying to get to know each other. Not so with the four-day organizational session that begins next Tuesday, reports the Courier-Journal . The Senate’s Republican majority hopes to jumpstart the session by acting on a series of major policy proposals next week, prior to a scheduled three-week recess. The bills in question have not been pre-filed, however, and few have seen them. “I certainly have not, so it’s impossible to say how fast those bills will move because no one knows what’s in those bills,” Governor Steve Beshear said. 
Now that Minnesota Governor-elect Mark Dayton ‘s title is finally secured, following a drawn-out recount process, the incoming Democrat is assembling an interesting team of advisors and confidants, some with more official titles and job descriptions than others, the Star Tribune reports . Among the more surprising picks to land a formal title is Chief of Staff Tina Smith , who managed the gubernatorial campaign of rival Democrat R.T. Rybak , the mayor of Minneapolis.
Among the more unusual proposals that Utah lawmakers will consider in the upcoming session would offer Utahns a gold-based alternative to the dollar, the Salt Lake Tribune reports . Proponents argue that national debt and liquidity-driven national monetary policy may lead to the dollar’s eventual demise-in which case allowing for another option would be helpful. The proposal would require state agencies to accept gold in transactions and create a parallel system for interstate commerce tied to the price of gold.


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Melissa Maynard

Melissa Maynard oversees the Pew state fiscal health project’s Fiscal 50 online resource, which helps policymakers understand fiscal, economic, and demographic trends affecting their states by tracking tax revenue, reserves, employment rates, Medicaid spending, and other issues important to long-term fiscal health.