By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—On Monday night the Alabama Education Association filed a petition for a temporary restraining order to prevent the transmission of HB84 to the Governor. Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Charles Price granted the order and HB84 also known as the School Accountability Act of 2013 is currently in limbo. On Tuesday, Judge Price heard arguments on whether the restraining order should remain in place until an evidentiary hearing can be brought before the court.
In the hearing before Judge Price, AEA attorney James Anderson argued that the defendants in the case violated the Alabama Open Meetings Act.
At issue was a reportedly secret meeting that took place between the four Republican member of the conference committee. The four men are defendants in the lawsuit. They are Senator Del Marsh (R-Anniston), Senator Gerald Dial (R-Lineville), Representative Chad Fincher (R-Semmes) and Representative Jay Love (R-Montgomery). During the meeting the Republicans requested a recess for 30 minutes. After an hour, they returned with a substitute for HB84 increasing the bill from 8 pages to 27 pages, now called the School Accountability Act. The new bill introduced in Conference Committee for the first time by the four Republican is a variation of a model bill promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council commonly referred to as ALEC.
The AEA contends that the the Republicans met in private and decide to exchange the old HB84, called the Local School Flexibility Act 2013, for a completely new version.
“The Open Meetings Act is there for us to have transparency,” said AEA Attorney Anderson. “Why did they have to go behind closed doors and take one bill and swap it for a completely different bill?”
Judge Price granted a motion to have Governor Robert Bentley removed from the case saying that because the bill had not been delivered to the Governor he could not act on the bill and therefore he had no part in the case.
The Governor has been pushing the positives of HB84 on talk radio, in print and on his Twitter feed. He has said that they bill was passed without doing anything, “unethically or illegally.”
The AEA argued that not only had the Open Meetings Act been violated but that the Conference Committee had violated Joint Legislative Rule 21. The rule reads in part: “The Committee on Conference shall not introduce a new appropriation item, earmark funds for any item that did not appear in either the House-passed or Senate-passed version, or propose new language that did not appear in either the House-passed or Senate-passed version.”
Attorney’s for Lt. Governor Kay Ivey—who is a defendant in the suit because of her position in the senate—told Judge Price, that the House and Senate can break their own rules without invalidating a particular bill.
Judge Price seemed to find their line of argument suspect, saying that the legislature can’t just make-up rules and discard them at will.
The Lt. Governor released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying, “The recent lawsuit is the first of what I anticipate to be many continued efforts by some to exhaust every possible avenue to prevent true education reform in Alabama. As Lieutenant Governor, it is my job to apply the rules that the Senate has written for itself, and I did. Every school child learns about the separation of powers, and this is a prime example of the judicial branch overextending its authority. The passage of the Accountability Act in the Alabama Legislature was a bold and courageous move to help ensure that every child in Alabama has access to a quality education.”
During and before the hearing Republicans were condemning the lawsuit brought by the AEA. Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, (R-Auburn) said on Facebook, “Union boss Henry Mabry will use whatever tactic, no matter how frivolous, to preserve the broken status quo that has failed our state for decades.”
GOP sponsored blogs referred to Judge Price as “clown,” and saying of Judge Price, “What do you expect from a 75 year old black man?”
One Republican legislator who did not want to be identified because of fear of reprisal from Hubbard and Marsh said, “It is sad that every time they don’t get their way or someone challenges them they revert to racism and smear.”
Judge Price said that he would make is ruling at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday morning.