By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Thursday, the Alabama House of Representatives passed a substitute version of Senate Bill 303 that removed the Alabama Education Association (AEA) Executive Secretary from being an ex officio member of the Teachers Retirement Board.
The original Senate Bill 303 was sponsored by Senator Gerald Allen (R) from Tuscaloosa. SB303 removed the AEA Executive Secretary and one representative of education support personnel from the board and replaced both members with representatives of Alabama University personnel. In the Alabama Senate, Senator Vivian Figures (D) from Mobile offered an amendment to the bill that would simply enlarge the board by the two members representing University employees but would keep the AEA Executive Secretary and the education support personnel worker representative. That amendment passed in the Senate and the amended bill passed in the Senate and went to the House.
On Thursday in the House, Rep. Jim Patterson (R) from Meridianville carried the bill for Representative Alan Boothe (R) from Troy who had to leave unexpectedly. Rep. Patterson then offered a substitute bill which reversed the bill back to its earlier version. Patterson then introduced an amendment which restored the education support personnel representative.
SB 303 was not originally on the special order calendar. When the House convened it has a ten minute calendar which was followed by a special order calendar. After successfully passing several bills on the ten minute calendar, Democrats began debating the ten minute bills. A ten minute bill dies if debate lasts more than ten minutes. House Rules Chairman Mac McCutcheon then asked to recess the House and convened a 10:15 am meeting of the House Rules Committee. The House Rules Committee then set a new special order calendar. House Speaker Mike Hubbard set SB303 on the calendar. Republicans claimed that the Democrats broke some sort of a deal not to delay the ten minute calendar legislation and the new calendar adding SB303 was the Republican response.
Following reconvening of the full House, Rep. John Knight (D) from Montgomery said there was a pre-orchestrated plan to put HB303 on the top of the order of the calendar. Rep. Knight said, “I want to let my colleagues to know it is bad policy to put bad legislation on these calendars. We know we are going to get run over. We are going to get clotured. We know what it is like to get clotured. We know what it is like to get run over by a bus. When I go home to my constituents I am going to tell them that I have to pull elephant dung.”
Rep. Barry Moore (R) from Enterprise said, “We have been putting a good bit of money into the RSA. We need to have people on that board who are not lobbyists.” Moore said that the legislature spent
$3600 per employee to prop up the poor investments of the retirement fund: enough to give each employee an 8% pay raise. Rep. Barry Moore said that the state could do that if the board was managed properly.
Rep. Patterson said that bad investments like USAir had depleted the retirement fund, but the real drag was unfunded liabilities like the DROP program. “2002 was the year we implemented the drop program.” Patterson said that DROP cost the state millions from the retirement fund. “Investments in radio and TV are tanking.” “It is past time to put professional investors on the board.” “The people on that board are charged with getting the best return for the employees of Alabama.”
Rep. Mary Moore (D) from Birmingham said of Democratic Party efforts to filibuster SB303, “I don’t come just for the Hell of it.” The legislature needs to represent all the people of Alabama, “What matters to your constituents may not matter to my constituents.” “Some of you think that those of us who come up here to speak are just bobble heads.” “The purpose of the filibuster is to share information with the sponsor and the cosponsor of the bill.”
Marcel Black (D) from Tuscumbia said, “The rules committee has been busy today this is the third calendar that we have had today.” “We all know 303 It was not on either one of those earlier calendars.” “My wife of 37 years is a retired educator. I don’t know what she gets but she gets something in the mail and I have not heard one complaint about that retirement.”
Rep. Patterson said that 29,000 state university employees do not have representation on their retirement board and that removing the AEA Executive Secretary is part of an effort to try, “to make sure that our investments are good investments.”
Patterson claimed that the AEA Executive Secretary has a conflict of interest in his position on the board because his job as head of the teacher’s union involves advocating for lowering the retirement age and cost of living adjustments for state retirees creates unfunded liabilities that come out of the retirement system and because his position is the only position not employed by the state of Alabama. “What is in the best interests of his members is not necessarily in the best interests of the people of Alabama.”
Rep. Barbara Boyd (D) from Anniston said that as a retired educator, “They (AEA) have represented me and they have represented me well. This is done to destroy a certain organization (AEA).”
Rep. Patterson said that the main thing is getting the two people on the board to represent University employees. “I am carrying this bill for Mr. Boothe who had to leave.” “The RSA is just 60 to 70% funded today.” The AEA Executive Secretary (presently Dr. Henry Mabry) has a conflict of interest that is detrimental to the best interests of the board.
The first vote to cloture the debate passed by a vote 63 to 34.
Rep. Patterson explained that decreasing the length of years necessary to receive retirement from 30 years to 25 years was an unfunded mandate as were the cost of living adjustments. “A 5% raise for retirees would have cost $840 million over the next thirty years.” Patterson said that while the retirement systems of Alabama had made bad investments the biggest portion of why the retirement system is underfunded today is due to unfunded mandates passed by the legislature. “Since I have been here we have not voted for any unfunded mandates.”
The vote to accept the substitute bill offered by Patterson was carried by a 63 to 33 vote.
Rep. Greg Burdine (D) from Lauderdale County said that a Federal Judge ruled that the AEA Executive Secretary, since he represents over 90% of the K-12 education employees in Alabama, could be on the board in lawsuit against the Fob James Administration in 1979.
Burdine said that he agreed with giving the University employees representation and with the Patterson amendment putting the education support personnel representative back on the board, but he opposed efforst to remove the AEA Executive Secretary.
Rep. James Buskey (D) from Mobile said that the Republican Super-majority had reached too far and daid, “I hope when the Democrats take back control that they don’t go too far the other way trying to undo all the changes that the Republicans have made.”
Rep. Christopher John England (D) from Tuscaloosa said that removing the Executive Secretary, the liability insurance in the education budget, and the voucher program (Alabama Accountability Act) were all done to attack the teachers union and were, “not helpful.” England said that education employees lean on the AEA throughout their careers, “They fight for them throughout their careers.”
The final passage of SB303 in the House was by a margin of 61 to 42.
SB303 then went back to the Alabama Senate where the Senate voted to concur with the House’s changes 17-14 after getting the 21 votes to invoke cloture to end a desperate Democrat filibuster. The bill now goes to Governor Robert Bentley with just one day left in the 2013 legislative session.