By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday, January 21, 2014, the Alabama Taxpayer Audit Protection Act sponsored by Representative Wayne Johnson (R) from Ryland passed the House today with a vote of 74-22. This Act ensures that individuals and groups in Alabama can not be targeted by tax officials with the Alabama Department of Revenue or by local governments for their political views.
The Alabama Taxpayer Audit Protection Act is designed to prevent revenue officials within the state of Alabama from targeting politically active groups and individuals in a manner similar to the federal government’s documented use of the Internal Revenue Service to harass and intimidate opposition to President Barack H. Obama’s administration.
The bill is part of the House Republican Caucus’ “Commonsense Conservative Agenda” that was announced before the opening of the 2014 regular session.
Rep. Wayne Johnson said in a prepared statement, “It’s no secret that Barack Obama and his Internal Revenue Service have targeted TEA Party groups and other organizations because of the political messages those groups actively promote. While Congress will have to take steps to prevent President Obama from committing future abuses on the federal level, we can take action now to ensure that similar actions never occur on the state level. Our goal is to ensure that Alabamians never have to worry about their state government threatening them because of their political views.”
The legislation makes it unlawful for the Alabama Department of Revenue as well as County and Municipal Governments and their agents to audit an individual or group because of their political beliefs or statements.
Violating the act could result in firing and is punishable by fines and up to 30 days in jail.
The Alabama House Republican Caucus said in a statement that this act will help ensure that political speech and political expression are protected rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The Wetumpka Tea Party was one of the groups reportedly targeted by a conspiracy of IRS agents and high ranking officials to quell political dissidents prior to the 2012 elections.
Representative Wayne Johnson said that the bill, H.B. 42 makes it a crime for tax officials to discriminate against certain groups “whether they are conservative liberal or in between.”
Representative Merika Coleman-Evans (D) from Fairfield worried about the revenue department employee who could lose their job and get a criminal record just because they make a mistake on an audit.
Rep. Patricia Todd (D) from Birmingham asked, “Do we have a problem with the Department of Revenue that they have done this before?”
Rep. Johnson said that he had been told by colleagues that there have been problems in this past and some of these cases are still in the court system. Johnson said that he could not go into more detail because the Alabama Department of Revenue would not release the information due to privacy issues.
Rep. Mary Moore (D) from Jefferson County said, “I have quite a few things brought to my attention but they don’t warrant going in and changing the legal code over it.”
Rep. Christopher John England (D) from Tuscaloosa had concerns that a state auditor or a local revenue official could potentially be arrested and prosecuted for a Class A violation. “We are creating a situation where the person who is being audited can go out and get a warrant for the auditor.”
Rep. Johnson said, “This bill is a proactive bill that lets our people know that we will not let this happen in the state of Alabama.” Johnson said that the bill is supported by the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB).
Rep. John Rogers (D) from Birmingham said that he and about 10 to 15 members of the Black Caucus have been targeted by state revenue officials before. Rogers asked, “Would this protect Farakhan and the Nation of Islam?”
Rep. Johnson replied, “Yes, if they were targeted this bill would protect them. It is not a Tea Party bill it makes it a crime to target any group because of their political beliefs.”
The bill now moves to the Alabama Senate for their consideration.