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No significant fiscal implication to the State is anticipated.
On Tuesday the House of Representatives will consider CSSB 19 which we supported in the Senate. The bill that was passed by the Senate was designed to reform and improve ethics laws to increase government transparency and reduce opportunities for people to use their official public position as a vehicle for their own personal gain.
The House Committee Substitute, however, is virtually unrecognizable from the Senate-passed version and is entirely unsupportable under any principle of liberty. We recommend that legislators reject it.
CSSB 19 would violate the right to free speech which is expressly protected by the United States Constitution. It would prohibit, under penalty of a new Class B misdemeanor which conveys up to 180 days in jail, communicating legislative views to members of the legislature in certain circumstances. Specifically this legislation would prevent citizens from making auto-dial calls to members of the legislature with pre-recorded messages expressing a view on pending legislation. (Notably, the bill does not prohibit legislators from making auto-dial calls to constituents in their own campaigns.)
CSSB 19 would remove from citizen journalists protections that prevent compelled testimony and disclosure of confidential sources.
CSSB 19 would infringe on the First Amendment by prohibiting the recording of conversations with members of the legislature in the capitol and creating a cause of civil action against a person who makes or divulges such a recording. This would serve only to circumvent transparency and further insulate legislators from their constituents and from the consequences of their own actions.
CSSB 19 would require citizen activist groups to disclose their donors, leaving them open to harassment and intimidation based on their political views and donations. Freedom of political association is a basic principle, rooted in the civil rights era and upheld by the United States Supreme Court (USSC). In the late 1950s the state of Alabama attempted to force the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to disclose the names and addresses of its members in that state. The purpose was to harass the NAACP members and squelch the burgeoning civil rights movement. In the ensuring court case, NAACP vs. Alabama, the Supreme Court held unanimously in favor of the NAACP.
Writing for the Court, Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote in his opinion that "It is hardly a novel perception that compelled disclosure of affiliation with groups engaged in advocacy may constitute as effective a restraint on freedom of association as the forms of governmental action in the cases above were thought likely to produce upon the particular constitutional rights there involved. This Court has recognized the vital relationship between freedom to associate and privacy in one's associations."
Furthermore, the USSC noted in Buckley v. Valeo that “Compelled disclosure in itself can seriously infringe on privacy of association and belief guaranteed by the first amendment“.
The House Committee Substitute to SB 19 is a clear violation of the Constitution and of the principles of limited government, personal responsibility, and individual liberty. To support this legislation is to undermine the very liberty that the Constitution directly protects. Instead of making the government more transparent and accountable to the people, CSSB 19 does precisely the opposite.
For these reasons we urge legislators to reject CSSB 19. If the bill is amended to restore it to the Senate-engrossed version we would withdraw our objection.
The second chamber sponsor is Representative Cook.