A Montgomery County Circuit Judge Wednesday afternoon granted a temporary restraining order against legislation that would give students in failing public schools tax credits to transfer to non-failing public schools or private ones.
Republican lawmakers vowed an immediate appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court, whose nine members all belong to the GOP.
Judge Charles Price, a Democrat, ruled that lawmakers violated Section 21 of their own rules, which governs the meeting of conference committees. In a conference committee meeting last Thursday, Republicans introduced a heavily rewritten version of a school flexibility bill that included the tax credits. Price agreed with the Alabama Education Association, which brought the suit, that the tax credits constituted a new appropriation of money, in violation of the Rule.
“The language of Rule 21 brings it within the constitutional mandate of Section 61 of the Constitution of Alabama 1901, which states . . . ‘no bill shall be so altered or amended on its passage through either house as to change its original purpose,’” Price wrote in his opinion.
The judge granted a temporary restraining order to last until March 15, at which point Price would take up a hearing on the AEA’s requrest for a permanent injunction.
Attorneys for the lawmakers named in the suit argued the court had no right to intervene in the Legislature’s rule-making. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, an engineer of the legislation and one of the named defendants in the AEA suit, issued a statement Wednedsay afternoon saying an appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court would come quickly.
“Today’s ruling was judicial activism at its worst,” the statement said. “What we’re seeing is that union bosses and special interest groups will stop at nothing to protect the status quo.”
House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s office issued a statement calling the ruling a “ridiculous unconstitutional overreach” and a “patently political ruling.”
A spokesman for the AEA said the group would have no comment on the ruling.
Price had earlier blocked transmission of the legislation to Gov. Robert Bentley. The temporary restraining order, if Price’s decision is upheld, would be in effect until March 15.
The judge also dismissed Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey as a defendant in the case.
The judge first began hearing arguments in the case Tuesday afternoon. In that hearing, attorneys for Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey argued that even if the Legislature had violated its own rules, the passage of the legislation remained valid because it was voted upon in a public forum.
Earlier in the day, attorneys representing Marsh and Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, a member of the conference committee, argued in a joinder that Price could not rule on an Open Meetings Act violation because “the interpretation, application, and enforcement of the Legislature’s self-created and self-imposed internal rules are solely within the province of the Legislature, unless there is a clear conflict with some specific constitutional provision.”
Price was skeptical of those arguments Tuesday.
“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?”
– posted by Brian Lyman