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School flexibility – ALABAMA Supreme Court clears the way: Bentley can sign tax-credit bill into law

legislationRepublicans celebrated Wednesday’s Alabama Supreme Court decision lifting Montgomery County Circuit Judge Charles Price’s temporary restraining order — a move that will allow Gov. Robert Bentley to sign a bill that gives students in failing public schools tax credits to transfer to non-failing public schools or private ones.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh called the Supreme Court ruling “a loss for activist judges and status quo union bosses, but a major win for parents and children trapped in failing schools across the state.”

House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said, “While the enemies of education reform will continue to file baseless actions and fight the changes that our public education system desperately needs, today’s unanimous decision is a great victory for students, parents and educators alike.”

And Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey applauded the court for upholding the “separation of powers, a fundamental doctrine of our republic which is crucial to the successful operation of state government.”

But an AEA attorney said that wasn’t what the high court’s ruling said at all and supporters of the bill were celebrating prematurely.

Alabama Education Association attorney Bobby Segall said what the court order made clear was only that any legal challenge needed to be filed after the governor signed the bill.

“We intend to do that,” he said.

The all-Republican Supreme Court said in a three-page order that Price’s TRO was “premature” because the bill had not yet, and might never, become law.

Price, a Democrat, issued the TRO last week in response to an Alabama Education Association lawsuit contending that passage of the bill violated the Legislature’s own rules and the Open Meetings Act that the Legislature had created and passed.

He said the TRO was needed to allow time to address issues raised by the AEA’s lawsuit. Before the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling, the order was to be in effect until March 15, when Price planned to rule on the AEA’s request for a permanent injunction.

The AEA suit contends that Republicans violated the rules of the Legislature and the Open Meetings Act when they introduced a heavily-rewritten version of a school flexibility act in a conference committee.

The rewritten bill added tax credits and deductions for individuals and companies that make contributions to groups paying for scholarships to private schools. Price agreed with the AEA that the tax credits constituted a new appropriation of money, in violation of Rule 21 of the Joint Rules of the Alabama Legislature.

“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.

Attorneys for the lawmakers named in the suit argued the court had no right to intervene. Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, whom Price dismissed from the suit, argued during last week’s hearing that even if the Legislature had violated its own rules, the passage of the legislation remained valid because it was ultimately voted upon in a public forum.

Attorneys representing Marsh and Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, a member of the conference committee, argued 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, saying courts have a responsibility to resolve disputes when legislative rules are violated. “Otherwise, why have rules?” he said.

The lawmakers’ appeal had asked the Alabama Supreme Court to consider whether the Montgomery Circuit Court has the power to block the signing of the bill, and asked that the Court of Civil Appeals be bypassed because of the “enormous public importance” of the measure.

When the bill was passed, lawmakers said they didn’t know how much it could cost the state. The bill caps deductions from contributions made to scholarship organizations at $25 million, but does not cap tax credits claimed by families of students in failing schools. The School Superintendents of Alabama estimates the bill will cost the Education Trust Fund $50 million to $125 million a year; the Alabama Association of School Boards estimates it would cost $59 million and $367 million.

Associated Press writer Phillip Rawls contributed to this report.

Source: Montgomery Advertiser – by Rick Harmon and Brian Lyman

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This entry was posted on March 14, 2013 by in Alabama, Charter Schools, Reform, School choice and tagged .

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