The Alabama Education Association has filed a new lawsuit against a controversial bill extending tax credits to families of students in failing schools to be used in private or non-failing public schools and tax deductions for those who contribute to scholarship organizations for non-public schools.
The suit, filed late Monday, restates most of the same allegations in a lawsuit the AEA filed about two weeks ago, saying the the significant rewrites done to the bill in a conference committee constituted a violation of legislative rules and the state’s Open Meetings Act. The suit said neither chamber voted to suspend Rule 21 of the Joint Rules of the Legislature, which forbids the inclusion of new appropriation items into legislation in a conference committee.
“Defendants did not want to acknowledge the presence of either appropriation, especially the unlimited appropriation, inserted into HB84 after it reached the floors of their respective houses,” the lawsuit says. “Thus, they intentionally did not make a motion to suspend Rule 21 so that a wrongly-adopted conference report would be adopted by their respective legislative chambers.”
A call to AEA executive secretary Henry Mabry was not immediately returned Wednesday afternoon. Derek Trotter, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, named as one of the defendants in the lawsuit, said the office did not have any comment. Marsh engineered the changes to the bill.
The original suit sought a restraining order on the transmission of the bill to Gov. Robert Bentley, which Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Charles Price, a Democrat, initially granted. The all-Republican Alabama Supreme Court overruled Price last week, saying that because no law had been signed, the court had nothing before it on which to act.
Republican lawmakers introduced a new version of what had been a school flexibility bill into the conference committee on Feb. 28. The version included a tax credit worth 80 percent of the state cost of educating a student in a failing school, to be used toward a private school or a non-failing public school. The legislation also included language allowing individual taxpayers and companies the ability to deduct contributions made to a “scholarship granting organization,” which provides scholarships to non-public schools to students. Those deductions from the Education Trust Fund would be capped at $25 million a year; there is no limit on the student tax deduction.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said last week budget chairs had allocated “$60 to $70 million” for the ETF costs. The School Superintendents of Alabama has pegged the cost at between $50 million to $125 million; the Alabama Association of School Boards estimates the cost at $59 million to $367 million. The estimates depend on the size of the tax credit and how extensively it would be used.
The case has been assigned to Montgomery County Circuit Judge Eugene Reese.
– posted by Brian Lyman