In a hearing over a lawsuit Tuesday on the recently-passed Accountability Act, Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Charles Price asked attorneys for Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey Tuesday afternoon whether the Legislature was obliged to follow its own rules.
The question is critical to the suit, brought by the Alabama Education Association, which accuses lawmakers of violating the state’s Open Meetings Act in passing a drastically-changed school flexibility act Thursday evening after introducing a substitute in committee. The suit alleges lawmakers violated Rule 21 of the Joint Rules of the Legislature, which set limits on what a conference committee can and can not take up in resolving differences in a piece of legislation.
Attorneys Jim Davis and Margaret Fleming, representing Ivey, who presides over the Senate, did not concede that the body had, in fact, violated the rule. However, they cited case law in arguing that courts could not get involved in a governing body’s rule making.
Moreover, Fleming argued, violation of the rules did not necessarily invalidate a bill.
“The House can violate their own rules,” she said. “The violations of the rule does not impair the validity of the bill.”
Fleming also argued that passage of the legislation, done in a public setting, “cures any pre-existing deficiencies.”
Price sounded skeptical.
“If you have a rule and don’t comply with a rule, the court has a responsibility to decide whether you complied with the rule,” he said. “Otherwise, why have rules?”
Attorney Bobby Segall cited portions of the Open Meetings Act which require the current rules of the governing body to be followed.
“We’ve got a statute that says, ‘Thou shalt follow your own rules,’” Segall said.
The new bill — passed amid angry scenes in the Senate Thursday — included tax credits for families that enroll their children in private school, and deductions for individuals and corporations that contribute to “Scholarship Granting Organizations,” which pay for scholarships for students to attend private schools.
Price issued an order earlier Tuesday forbidding transmission of the bill to Gov. Robert Bentley. He did not rule on the plaintiffs’ move for a temporary restraining order, but asked the parties to return to his courtroom at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
James Anderson, an attorney representing the AEA, said they wanted a temporary restraining order to carry them through to an evidentiary hearing, saying the law could have a detrimental effect on Alabamians.
Earlier, Sen. Quinton Ross and Rep. Joe Hubbard, both D-Montgomery, testified at the hearing, recounting the scenes in the Legislature Thursday when the bill was passed. Ross said he and Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, members of a conference committee initially tasked with resolving issues between the bills, were left waiting in a room while the Republican members disappeared. Ross said he sent a text message to Philip Bryan, chief of staff for Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, while he waited.
“One of the first questions I asked was ‘Are they trying to screw me on this bill?’” Ross testified. “Of course, I didn’t get a response.”
Ross and Hubbard also testified that while Rule 21 can be suspended by the Legislature, no moves to do so were made.
Price also dismissed Gov. Robert Bentley as a defendant in the case, saying he had not yet acted on the legislation.
– posted by Brian Lyman