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The 2014 Agenda: Doing Away with Oversight, Accountability, Scrutiny or Punishment

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—Last year, Senate Bill 122 was placed on the legislative calendar under the guise of “streamlining government.” In reality, the bill was an egregious power grab by the leadership of the Republican Supermajority. There is already a plan in place to bring the bill back before lawmakers in 2014.

Most senators, including the one who sponsored the bill, had little knowledge of what was in the actual legislation and even less about its undisclosed agenda.

If enacted, SB122 sponsored by Sen. Jimmy Holley (R-Elba) would have abolished longstanding institutions such as the Legislative Council, the Legislative Committee on Public Accounts, the Joint Fiscal Committee, the Legislative Building Authority, and the Permanent Legislative Committee on Reapportionment.

In essence, if passed into law, SB122 would have given almost all oversight of the legislature services as well as the Department of Examiners of Public Accounts into the hands of a small number of legislators.

Even more troubling, those members would serve at the whim of the Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro Tem giving them unchecked powers. Their budgets, expenditures, and all processes would become a black hole in which the Speaker and Pro Tem could act with impunity.

This year, the legislature is looking to add another level of “self-protection” to not only its leadership, but for all members of the Legislative body. This comes in the form of a pair of bills HB34 and HB35 that would first, “require each department and agency of the Alabama Legislature to notify in writing each member of the Legislature whenever a legal action is instituted against the department or agency or any of their employees acting in their official capacity, and to post the notice on the Internet website of the Alabama Legislature.”

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Secondly, it would make all communications between, “the Legislature and an officer or the Legislature is privileged and confidential.” This legislation coming from Democrat Joseph Mitchell.

These three bills taken together would create a governmental body that would be beyond investigation or punishment.

Law enforcement would not be able to call a legislator or anyone on their staff or another legislative personal to give testimony against anyone in the State House.

It would also give legislators a “heads-up,” if any investigation was initiated.

But, much of this would never happen because under SB122, the Office of Public Examiner would be without the ability to investigate public offices because of the influence of the legislative leadership.

In the case of the Department of Examiners of Public Accounts, a handful of legislators could decide the fate of any investigation by the public examiners.

Currently, the department is an independent auditing agency according to its state website, the department has, “the authority to perform audits of the accounts of all entities receiving or disbursing public funds.”

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The men and women who make-up the department are the watch dogs against public corruption at every level of state and local government.

Many investigations by the Attorney General, various District Attorneys and Federal law-enforcement are a result of an audit conducted by the Office of the Public Examiner. The finding of an examiner’s audit is used as “prima facie” evidence in court proceedings.

What should be frightening to anyone who cares about honest government is that SB122 eliminates the autonomy and independence of the Chief Examiner’s 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. This 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 of the legislators.

Without the audits performed by the Examiners of Public Accounts, the Jefferson County sewer debacle would never have 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.

Under existing law, the auditors at the department enjoy the protection of Merit pay.

Under SB122, that will be removed.

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Last year when asked about SB122 and the removal of merit pay from the public examiners office  Gov. Bentley said, “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.” He added “They need to feel like they can make judgments independently.”

The group the Governor is referring to is the junta that would be created by the Speaker and the Senate President Pro Tem under SB122.

The Governor said that he believed that it concentrated too much power into the hands of too few people.

He also said, “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?”

But the hidden agenda behind much of the so-called consolidation legislation is simply an attempt to concentrate unlimited power into the hands of a few, while also giving them the ability to act without fear of investigation or prosecution.

One little known fact is that the House amended SB122 to give sole authority to grant press credentials to the Speaker of the House and the Lt. Governor. Under the current rules, the non-partisan Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House have the authority to grant press credentials to members of the media.

But, so outraged were some in the Republican Supermajority at the reporting of the Alabama Political Reporter that the amendment was added and championed by Rep. Greg Wren (R-Montgomery) and was referred to by many as the “Britt Amendment.”

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The goal of these bills is to shield the Legislative body from oversight, accountability, scrutiny or punishment.

If these bills pass, the result will be a carnival of lies, law breaking, coercion, threats, bribes, misappropriations of tax dollars and more.

This appears to be the exact intention of the Republican Supermajority.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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