MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama lawmakers voted Thursday to exempt economic developers from the state law governing lobbyists, an exemption that critics painted as creating a wide loophole in the state ethics law.
The measure had narrowly cleared the Alabama Senate on a 15-14 vote. The House of Representatives on Thursday gave final approval to the bill, voting 52-22 to accept Senate changes.
Under the bill, economic developers would not be considered lobbyists and would not register with the state and disclose their employers and activity as lobbyists must do.
Republican Rep. Ken Johnson of Moulton said developers do not currently register as lobbyists, but there have been recent questions over whether they should. Johnson said lawmakers needed to clarify the law.
“It continues to keep us as a strong force for recruitment of industry,” said Johnson, the bill’s sponsor.
Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield, the state’s top job recruiter, had sought the change. Canfield has said professional site developers, who help businesses decide where to locate, would be hesitant to work in Alabama if they must register as lobbyists.
Critics argued that the state should not exempt anyone seeking deals with the state and that the exemption could be exploited.
“It has the appearance of impropriety,” said Rep. Marry Moore, a Democrat from Birmingham.
Rep. Chris England, a Democrat from Tuscaloosa, said it creates, “a loophole large enough to drive an economic development truck through.”
Because of the opposition to the bill, supporters, in an effort to get it passed, added language that the exemption will expire in one year unless renewed by lawmakers.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey praised the bill’s passage, saying it will keep Alabama “on a level playing field with other states.”