By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Wednesday, the Alabama House passed legislation by Alabama State Representative Mike Jones (R) from Andalusia that establishes statutory immunity for teachers and state workers when they are carrying out their employment duties, House Bill 64.
Rep. Jones said, “When a teacher or a state employee properly carries out the work and duties that we ask of them, they deserve to do so without fear of lawsuits or adverse action taken against them. This bill establishes needed protections to both state employees and education personnel and ensures that liberal judges cannot legislate from the bench when attempts to file a lawsuit occur.”
Jones said in a written release by the Alabama House Republican Caucus that the Alabama Supreme Court has held that the 1901 Constitution provides some immunity to elected officials, and government workers acting in their official capacity, but that Alabama is one of only six states which does not have a specific statue related to qualified immunity for teachers and state employees. The legislation also extends to school board employees.
The immunity is limited to an employee acting within the scope of their position of employment. If the employee however, “Acts willfully, maliciously, fraudulently, in bad faith, or beyond his or her authority,” then the court would waive the immunity.
The immunity under H.B. 64 is granted to employees while, “Exercising his or her judgment in the administration of a department or agency of government, including, but not limited to, examples such as: a. Making administrative adjudications; b. Allocating resources; c. Negotiating contracts; Hiring, firing, transferring, assigning, or supervising personnel.”
Rep. Jones said on the House floor that this legislation had been negotiated with the Alabama School Board Association, Dr. Tommy Bice, the Alabama Education Association (AEA), and the trial lawyers and everybody had agreed to the working of the bill.
In the 2013 legislative session, the legislature added a liability insurance benefit for teachers for the first time. In theory, this immunity bill, if passed, would potentially lower the cost of that benefit. The Alabama Education Association (AEA) also provides protection for its members. Both insurance programs would benefit from their clients receiving the additional immunity protections as it should decrease both civil judgments against education and state employees as well as frivolous litigation.
Both parties supported the bill and it was approved in a rare unanimous 95 to 0 vote.
The measure is part of the House Republican Caucus’ Commonsense Conservative Legislative agenda that was announced before the start of the 2014 legislative session.
The bill now goes to the Alabama State Senate for their consideration.