Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Punch the clock

The Birmingham News has done outstanding work in the past year documenting the web of connections between Alabama legislators and the state's junior colleges, and Sunday's piece on the saga of Rep. Sue Schmitz, D-Toney, was no different. Her employment with the two-year college system also is nothing unique; almost a third of all Alabama lawmakers, their kin, or their businesses have received money from the system in the last five years.

The raw number of legislators who work for an entity funded by the Legislature has led some commentators to propose a blanket ban on legislators or their relatives working for the two-year system. But I'm uncomfortable with that idea as applied to all relatives, because it seems unfair to foreclose the job prospects of potential teachers or administrators just because they happen to share blood with someone who decides to serve on Goat Hill.

A better approach would be an ethics reform package that heightens reporting requirements and provides for paying legislators as full-time employees. Full-time status would greatly reduce concerns about potential conflicts of interest, and it also could attract good candidates who otherwise wouldn't run due to worries about how to balance their work schedule and lawmaking duties during legislative sessions.

Whether it'd be good to have the Legislature actually meet full-
time is, of course, a question for another day.

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