By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—On Thursday, Governor Robert Bentley, once again, expressed his opposition to SB122. “We believe it concentrates a lot of power in twelve individuals,” said the Governor.
SB122, sponsored by Senator Jimmy Holley (R-Elba), is seen by many as a power grab by the republican-controlled legislature to abolish independence and accountability as it applies to public corruption. This is accomplished in the section of the 102-page bill that guts the Department of Public Examiners.
This department has the authority to perform audits of the accounts of all entities receiving or disbursing public funds. In plain english, these are the people who uncover those in government who are cooking the books.
Under existing law, the auditors at the department enjoy the protection of Merit pay but under SB122 that will be removed. “I believe that the public accounts office should be under the merit system and not be beholden unto a group of twelve because they need to be independent,” said Governor Bentley. “They need to feel like they can make judgments independently.”
The group the governor refers to is a 12-member junta that would be created by the Legislature. The House Committee would consist of the Speaker of the House and five House members and the Senate Committee that would consists of the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and five Senate members. “We believe it concentrates a lot of power in twelve individuals,” the Governor said.
He also said that while the current system is not perfect, “I have not heard any complaints on how the system is working right now so I am just wondering why you change a system that is working well.”
The obvious answer is that it gives tremendous power to a few elected officials who could decide who is investigated and who is not.
It is easy to imagine a scenario where a local sheriff is being investigated for allegedly using public funds for his personal use. The sheriff in this case being a republican, (Because under current circumstances the GOP are in control) calls on a friend that is part of the 12-member junta and says, “Hey, buddy, I helped you out a few times. I have made a mistake and you need to call off the dogs.”
It is not a stretch to think that under the right conditions that legislator could call in an worker bee auditor and say, “You need to ignore this allegation and move on to something more important. Do you understand?”
Most who work inside the current system know that threats and intimidation are used part and parcel of how some in government operate.
The Governor said, “There are some good things in the bill, I am not totally opposed to everything in the bill.” But he also adds, “This bill creates a tremendous burden on all of our agencies and all of our departments.”
The bill creates a monolithic government agency under the oversight of a few elected individuals, all in the name of streamlining government.
The Governor has expressed his opposition and concern over the matter yet, it seems, the GOP supermajority seems not to have noticed.
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.