By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Under the guise of streamlining government, SB122 is a grand scheme by the republican-controlled legislature to abolish independence and accountability as it applies to public corruption.
If SB122 is signed into law, the Department of Public Examiners will be robbed of its independent powers and the fight against public corruption will be determined by a the whims of political figures within the state. By State law “the Department has the authority to perform audits of the accounts of all entities receiving or disbursing public funds.” They are a part of the Legislative branch of state government, and are independent of the Executive and Judicial branches of state government, as well as all local governments in the State. In other words if someone is cooking the books at any level of state government, these are the people who are going to find it.
SB122, along with its companion SB112, is an audacious takeover of the checks and balances in state government..
SB 122, is designed to consolidate power largely in the hands of the 12 voting members of the newly created Joint Committee on Legislative Operations.
The 12-member junta will be created with the House Committee consisting of the Speaker of the House and five House members, two of whom are minority party members or independents, who are elected by the House. The Senate Committee will consists of the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and five Senate members, two of whom are minority party members or independents, who are elected by the Senate.
This will supplant decade-long checks and balances within the state government and form a top-down ruling regime based on the strict hierarchy of power within the House and Senate.
What should be frightening to anyone who cares about honest government is that SB122 eliminates the autonomy and independence of the Chief Examiner office and places it under the legislators, who can manipulate the process. This is a case of passing a law that would allow the foxes to guard the hen house. In the right hands, SB122 would allow a particular party to decide who is investigated, or what information would see the light of day. The bill would also strip the employees of the Examiners of Public Accounts of their merit system status making them vulnerable to firings at the whim legislators.
Without the audits performed by the Examiners of Public Accounts, the Jefferson County sewer debacle would have never been prosecuted, also Roy Johnson and the criminal activities within Alabama’s two-year college system would have never been revealed.
SB122, opens the door for corruption while closing the door on how the government uncovers public corruption.
As of this writing, the Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Hubbard is being looked at by the Attorney General’s office in part because of an independent audit conducted at the request of the ALGOP. Imagine a government in which one elected official or a group of elected officials—who are controlled by one individual or party—were given the power to determine the fate of an audit into possible criminal activities by their cronies.
The result would be a carnival of lies, law breaking, coercion, threats, bribes, misappropriations of tax dollars and more. But this is exactly what could happen if SB122 passes.
Currently, the Chief Examiner and the auditors are free from fear of retaliation from legislators, if SB122 is signed into law, no auditor would come forward with evidence of a crime because he or she would be afraid of being fired.
The Attorney General’s Office, District Attorneys around the state and the Governor should come forward and put a stop to this egregious power grab.
The bill is sponsored by Senator Jimmy Holley (R-Elba). I do not believe that the good Senator understands fully what this bill seeks to accomplish. I spoke with several senators that are cosponsors of this bill but they seemed to be ignorant of what it contains.
SB122 is a part of President Pro Temp Del Marsh’s plan to streamline government, however, this is little more than an attempt to gain control over all aspects of state government and place it into the hands of a very few legislators.
If this is now the Republicans’ plan to defend our rights, then they are taking a page not from the founder of the United States but from the Lenin’s USSR.
If this bill passes, it would take away perhaps the most powerful tool used by the Attorney General’s office and District Attorneys around the state to uncover and prosecute crime committed by officeholder and government employees.
It is a power grab beyond decent voters comprehension.
The bill also allows the Joint Committee to assume the powers of the following currently existing committees:
- the Legislative Council
- the Joint Committee on Administrative Review
- the Legislative Committee on Public Accounts
- the Joint Fiscal Committee
- the Joint Permanent Committee on Reapportionment
SB122 creates a new entity called the Legislative Services Agency. The Legislative Services Agency will be run by a Director of Legislative Services, who will be appointed by the Joint Committee of Legislative Operations. The Legislative Services Agency replaces the following entities and assumes their duties:
- the Legislative Reference Service (LRS)
- the Legislative Fiscal Office (LFO)
- the Joint Permanent Committee of Reapportionment
- the Legislative Building Authority
- the Chief Clerk of the House (in part)
- the Secretary of the Senate (in part)
The Legislative Services Agency consists of three divisions: the legal division, which replaces the LRS; the fiscal division, which replaces the LFO; and the administrative division, which replaces the remaining above-listed entities.
SB122 also eliminates the provisions that state that the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House could be removed only for cause if they served in their respective office for at least nine consecutive years.
SB122 would also makes changes to the Alabama Law Institute (ALI). Currently the ALI is run by the Board of Commissioners of the Alabama State Bar. SB122 makes the ALI part of the Legislative Department. The bill also makes significant changes to the council that oversees the ALI, including eliminating the state court judges and the federal judge that currently sit on the council. The Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore are added to the council.
The bill is cosponsored by Senators Del Marsh (R-Anniston), Jabo Waggoner (R-Birmingham), Dick Brewbaker (R-Montgomery), Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa), Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), Greg Reed (R-Jasper), Gerald Dial (R-Lineville), Paul Sanford (R-Madison), Clay Scofield (R-Arab), Harri Anne Smith (I-Slocomb), Bryan Taylor (R-Prattville), Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City), Quinton Ross (D-Montgomery), Jerry Fielding (R-Sylacauga), Slade Blackwell (R-Pelham), Paul Bussman (R-Cullman), Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), Rusty Glover (R-Semmes), Tom Whatley (R-Auburn) and Scott Beason (R-Gardendale).