Chestnut appointed to Code of Ethics Reform and Clarifications Commission

Published 8:43 pm Wednesday, April 18, 2018

By Adam Dodson | The Selma Times-Journal

Alabama Rep. Prince Chestnut has received word from Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon that he has been appointed to the Code of Ethics Reform and Clarifications Commission, a newly-formed entity centered around cleaning up laws possessing vague language with the potential for dubious interpretations.

The commission is made possible due to a Senate joint resolution brought to fruition by Sen. Arthur Orr, President Pro-Tem. Del Marsh and Majority Leader Greg Reed, all Republicans.

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Their interest in the commission comes after multiple ethical practices have come into question due to the actions of Alabama officials such as former Gov. Robert Bentley, former U.S. Sen. Luther Strange, former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard and others.

The commission will be comprised of three appointed state representatives and three appointed senators working alongside the Alabama Attorney General and his chief deputy, the legal advisor to the Governor, the Executive Director of the Ethics Commission and other stakeholders.

They will work to clean up ethics laws containing phrases such as a “thing of value” or “conflict of interest,” which have been interpreted to have ambiguous meanings and have led to shady political practices, according to Chestnut.

“Those are a couple of the key terms we will be looking at. When you are crafting laws, one thing that you want to do is not just look at the law as written, but to try to envision ‘what are the unintended consequences of this law?’ If it is written, someone is going to take what it says and try to apply it to the farthest reaches they can imagine,” Chestnut said. “There is a lot of uncertainty about what is permitted and what’s not.”

The creation of this commission, he said, is due to a code of ethics that dates back more than 40 years with 25 different amendments. Because of this, the ethics laws have become confusing, lengthy or vague. Someone with the attorney general’s office could interpret one phrase of an ethics law differently than someone from the Ethics Commission, catalyzing the potential for legal conflicts.

Chestnut’s appointment to the commission comes a few weeks after the end of the legislative term, and before he has even served a full year in the house. Appointed by the Speaker of the House himself, Chestnut said it’s a product of his trust he has built with McCutcheon.

Moving forward, he knows he has been given a large responsibility early on in his congressional career, and plans to prove himself.

“The first thing I am going to do is listen. It is my understanding that there is a large document that has been prepared by a few senators with some issues they see with the current ethics laws that need clarifying,” Chestnut said. “I am grateful for the Speaker of the House appointing me to serve on such an important position. This shows the Speaker’s trust in my skills, knowledge and ability to get things done.”

While the legislative session has come to an end, the Ethics Reform and Clarification Commission could meet before the beginning of the next term. According to Chestnut, the commission could meet as early as the next couple months.