Proposal protects teachers

Published 12:46 am Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Jones plans bill to give teachers legal immunity

A bill prefiled by Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) would grant educators and other education employees the qualified legal immunity similar to that granted to state officials and employees by the Alabama Constitution.

The bill, which will be known as HB17, specifies that an officer, employee or agent of the state, including any employee of the State Board of Education or any local board of education, acting in his or her official capacity, is immune from liability in any suit.

During the 2013 session, the legislature authorized liability insurance to teachers, which was expected to cost the state $5 million. The move drew criticism from teachers’ groups, who said the decision was designed to weaken the Alabama Education Association, which traditionally has provided liability insurance to education employees who paid dues to AEA.

“At the end of the last session, we spent so much time on insurance for teachers,” Jones said.

The Constitution already provided sovereign immunity for state employees, he said, and case law had previously given it to teachers.

“We’re one of the few states in whole region that didn’t codify it for teachers,” he said.

Jones said he worked with legislative reference services to study similar bills in the Southeast, and eventually modeled his bill after one in Texas.

“Why this has not been done before, I don’t know,” he said. “Case law has put down a lot of problems, but there are gaps. This will go a long way to putting to rest some of those problems.

“I hope what will come out of this is that teachers can teach, not worry about all the things they shouldn’t be worried about.”

Jones said he drafted the bill early and has shared it with a number of stakeholders in education.

“This will be my primary bill of the 2014 session,” Jones said.

Language in the bill eliminates education employees protection if he or she “acts willfully, maliciously, fraudulently, in bad faith, or beyond his or her authority,” he said.

Jones said he also plans to introduce a lengthy bill that will update the Uniform Commercial Code, and a third that deals with propane gas. Both the propane gas association and the regulatory board have already agreed on the changes, he said.

The 2014 session begins in January.