Rep. Alvin Holmes said Thursday that House Speaker Mike Hubbard misled the public and lawmakers when he sent out a memo on June 8 stating that “no members will be approved for in-state or out-of-state travel through the remainder of the fiscal year.”
Holmes said the state reimbursed lawmakers for travel before the end of the fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.
“He can’t issue a memo prohibiting traveling and then turn around and do exactly what he said the memo was prohibiting. You cannot do that. That is misleading the people,” said Holmes, D-Montgomery.
Hubbard, R-Auburn, sent out the memorandum stating that because of the fiscal condition of the budget for the House of Representatives that the clerk of the House had requested that all travel for House members stop.
Hubbard, in a release issued through his office, said his office has not approved any “out-of-state junkets for legislators since the travel ban we imposed went into effect.”
“Legislators who live outside Montgomery but travel to the State House for committee meetings and other routine business associated with their office have had their mileage and associated expenses paid, but those reimbursements are required by law in the Code of Alabama,” Hubbard said. He said the news conference “smacks of the politics of the past that voters here have rejected.”
Hubbard’s office shared sections of Alabama law indicating “Each member of the committee shall be entitled to regular legislative compensation, per diem, and travel expenses for each day he or she attends a meeting of the committee, which shall be paid out of the funds appropriated to the use of the Legislature.” This particular section is for the Contract Review Oversight Committee, but there are similar sections for other committees.
“There is nothing wrong with attending those committee meetings. It is very healthy. The speaker does not make any exception (in the memo) for anybody traveling for any committee,” Holmes said.
Also, according to Hubbard’s office, some members traveled before the memo was issued, but did not submit their paperwork for reimbursement until later.
The total for the expenses released by Holmes is about $7,500 and most of it was for in-state travel. The largest of the expenditures is $950.91 by Rep. Joseph Mitchell, D-Mobile, for “subsistence and lodging” for an out-of-state trip. Mitchell also received $446.22 for mileage for an out-of-state trip and $93 for “other travel expenses” for an out-of-state trip.
Mitchell, according to Hubbard’s office, traveled to Memphis for a conference in the summer of 2011, but did not turn in his voucher until earlier this year.
If a member had already taken a trip, but had not filed for reimbursement until after June 8, Holmes said “he could file for the expense.”
Holmes wants to know the purpose of the meetings and where they occurred, and said he had requested that information.
Holmes said Hubbard “secretly” approved the travel for some members while others thought there was a prohibition.
Hubbard said the news conference Holmes held on Thursday to release the information he requested and received from the comptroller “insults the intelligence of Alabama’s citizens.”
Holmes said that Hubbard authorized both Republican and Democratic members and both black and white members to travel.
“He was nonpartisan in violating his own words,” he said.
Holmes is asking Hubbard to repay the money to the state. He said he holds Hubbard, and not other members, accountable because the speaker signs off on and authorizes travel.
“I have never, ever traveled at state expense,” Holmes said. He said he pays for his state travel with his own money.
Holmes said that if Hubbard did not repay the state that he would introduce a resolution on the first day of the legislative session, which begins in February, requiring the speaker to reimburse the comptroller for those travel expenses during the time of the memo.
– posted by Sebastian Kitchen