'Silly' Law Restricting Gifts for Teachers Challenged by Alabama Governor

Did you purchase a nice gift for your teacher for Christmas or plan to do so for the end of the school year? If you live in Alabama, you might want to re-check the price tag. In December 2011, state legislators called for a limit on the value of gifts for public employees, which includes teachers. The move left many, even the governor, confused as to what constitutes an 'expensive' gift.

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New Ethics Law Unclear

Under the new state ethics law in Alabama, teachers or any other public employee who accept a gift of more than 'nominal value' as defined by the legislation could face up to one year in jail and a hefty $6,000 fine!

But what is considered 'nominal value'? As Governor Robert Bentley pointed out, the new law does not offer a monetary figure to clearly define this amount. Shortly before Christmas, Gov. Bentley asked the legislation to clarify this issue.

Should Teachers Be Included?

The governor was quoted by a local station, WSFA 12, as saying, 'They're not elected officials and I just don't think teachers should be included' when it comes to limiting the value of gifts. He added that teachers 'work hard' and have 'very few resources'.

He also said that limiting gift values was a 'silly rule' when it comes to teachers. 'I don't think any student is going to give their teacher a gift that costs $100,' he told WSFA 12.

Policy of Gift Giving

Putting legal restrictions on the monetary value of gifts for teachers is not common; in fact, only Massachusetts has previously done so. There, the law went into effect in 2009.

The limit in Massachusetts is $50 from an individual and up to $150 from a group of students or parents. Regulations also require that teachers report gifts and their values to supervisors. Donations in the teacher's name to the local PTA or an educational foundation are allowable.

Clarifying What's 'Acceptable'

Though Gov. Bentley publicly opposed the application of the new ethics law to teachers, it's not clear whether lawmakers will actually grant those employees an exemption. Plans are being made to re-examine the new law in early 2012.

At the least, it is hoped that legislators will restore the limits spelled out under the old ethics law. But however it works out, one hopes that sensibility prevails. The governor is right: teachers do work hard. Is it really a crime for parents, within reason, to show their gratitude once or twice per year?

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