MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Ethics Commission says gifts to school teachers, and other public employees, might be able to cost more $25 under some circumstances.
The Montgomery Advertiser (http://on.mgmadv.com/2dl6d50) and al.com (http://bit.ly/2d9uduh) report that the ethics panel this week gave preliminary approval to an advisory opinion seeking to clarify gifts are not always subject to the $25 limit. The proposed change is open for comment until the commission’s December meeting.
“It depends on the facts,” Albritton told al.com. “And that is really the difference now, is we are saying the facts matter. That gives a lot more freedom to people. At the same time, it puts more responsibility on them.”
Albritton said there has been confusion on what gifts are allowed. The issue first arose in 2000 when lawmakers tightened restrictions on gifts to public officials and public employees, prohibiting all gifts except those of “de minimis” value. Lawmakers later defined that as gifts worth $25 or less.
The new opinion says the “clear terms” of the law “apply only to the relationship between lobbyist, subordinates of lobbyists, principals and public employees/officials and their families.”
Albritton said there is still a safe harbor for gifts under $25. Gifts worth over that amount could be OK, he said. Whether a gift is allowable depends on specific circumstances, including the relationship between the giver and the recipient.
A holiday gift to a teacher worth more than $25, for example, wouldn’t break the law, unless it was an attempt to improperly influence action, such as a student’s grade.
The commission encouraged local school boards to develop policies on holiday gift-giving that take into account characteristics and traditions of their communities.
“It’s difficult to have a one-size-fits-all solution,” Albritton said.