Pay issue questioned

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Should a legislator who is also a full-time classroom teacher be paid for both jobs while the Legislature is in session?

The Alabama Ethics Commission promises to settle that decades-old dispute soon with a definitive ruling.

It won't be an easy call. Critics call the practice "double dipping." They say it's not possible to teach a class effectively if you are a lawmaker who is away frequently in Montgomery at sessions of the Legislature.

Teachers aren't the only professions involved in the controversy. The issue covers any public employee elected to public office. The ethics decision could be broad ranging, covering even city councils and county commissions.Attorneys for the Alabama Education Association and the Alabama State Employees Association say that the people who wear both caps should

be paid accordingly.

Telling public employees they can serve as public officials but that they won't be paid for doing so is like designating them as second-class citizens, the

AEA and ASEA argue.

At a hearing last week, Ethics Commission chairman Lewis Odom Jr. raised the obvious question regarding teachers when he asked, "How can you do your job teaching algebra in Mobile when you are up here in the Legislature?"

AEA attorney Bobby Segall responded, "In my view the teacher who is absent is responsible for the cost of a substitute teacher."

Whether this is a general policy statewide is unclear, however. The Ethics Commission may need to look to other states for direction.

In Texas, for example, a provision was written into the state constitution barring legislators from receiving an additional paycheck "either directly or

indirectly from

funds of the state of Texas."

Similarly, in Illinois, it is legal for a person to hold another state job in addition to a full-time government position - as long as the officeholder doesn't get paid for both jobs at the same time and the two jobs are not incompatible.

There is a lot of wisdom in that kind of approach.

We do not seek to turn anyone in any occupation - particularly one as noble as teaching - into a second-class citizen. At the same time, we are uncomfortable with any system that allows public employees to go to the public trough more than once.

In Alabama, with its anemic finances, the question is especially acute.

Moreover, although they may fall outside of the ethics commission's purview, there are other questions around the issue that deserve a hard look.

Is it really a good thing for public education to take teachers and school administrators away from their jobs for weeks at a time to make laws? Is it in the best interest of the children they teach to shuttle substitutes in and out of classrooms during legislative sessions? And is it a good thing for the state of Alabama to have people who draw their full-time livelihood from the state payroll to make laws governing the state?

The reality is that some occupations demand civic sacrifices. Most dedicated teachers, we believe, will recognize that fact and leave the lawmaking to others.

The Tuscaloosa News

July 15, 2002