Where did 2010’s ‘transparent’ promises go?

Published 12:09am Saturday, March 2, 2013

Thursday, 2010 seemed like so long ago.

Because Thursday was when the Republican leadership of the Alabama House and the Alabama Senate pulled a fast one on not only Democrats, but also members of their own caucus to rewrite a widely supported School Flexibility Bill, making it about tax credits for those who put their kids in private schools or other public schools.

The original eight-page bill, which was supported by the state superintendent of education and other school associations, gave school systems flexibility in local curriculum decisions. Even the traditionally-Democrat Alabama Education Association wasn’t fighting against the original bill.

Versions of that bill passed both chambers of the legislature. Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh each appointed three members to a conference committee, traditionally tasked with hammering out any difference in two versions of a bill.

But these six people, meeting behind closed doors, in less than an hour, stretched the bill to 28 pages and totally changed its scope. The bill that Gov. Robert Bentley has promised to sign next week was passed makes sweeping changes to education, and has not been vetted by the state’s education leaders.

Republican leaders were quoted this week as having said they knew state school officials and AEA would oppose the tax credit plan, so they purposely kept many out of the loop. Once the bill came out of conference committee, legislators were given very little time before being asked to vote on it.

Our own Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, has repeatedly said he would never vote for a bill he hadn’t read. He was as good as his word Thursday night, voting against the measure because he didn’t have to study it or to talk with local superintendents about it. He was among the very few in Montgomery who broke the party line in voting.

Technically, the GOP leadership didn’t break any of the legislature’s rules in passing the measure this way. But certainly they defied the spirit of the Open Meeting Law, which requires government bodies to operate in the public eye.

And that’s a long, long way from the transparency the leaders of this legislature promised when they took office in late 2010 and quickly went into special session to pass ethics legislation.

Things were changing in Montgomery, they said. No more back-room legislation.

The leadership proved Thursday that things have, indeed changed. The Republicans made the point that they can throw a decisive legislative punch their old nemesis, the AEA, never saw coming.

But they also proved that things really haven’t changed. At all.

To the winners went the spoils.

To the educators, school board members and superintendents in Alabama, a snub.

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