BRADENTON, Fla. — The Alabama Education Association, its political action committee, and five individuals have filed a federal suit challenging some of the ethics reform laws passed by the state Legislature in a mid-December special session.
The 27-page suit, filed Thursday in Alabama’s northern district court, contends that lawmakers illegally prohibited AEA members from using payroll deductions to make their contributions to an affiliated PAC called the Voice of Teachers for Education.
The legislation was rushed through in the waning days of Republican Gov. Bob Riley’s term “for the purpose of harming and retaliating against an employee organization because of its constitutionally protected advocacy regarding issues and candidates,” the suit said.
The suit claims the legislation infringes rights to free speech, equal protection of the law, and due process of the law in violation of the Constitution. The plaintiffs seek to overturn the law and be awarded legal fees.
The AEA could not be reached for comment.
Gov. Robert Bentley, one of seven individual named in the suit along with three school boards, could not be reached for comment. Bentley, also a Republican, gives for his first state-of-the-state address Tuesday.
The AEA is not a union though it conducts “political activities” for its members on issues such as tax policy, pensions and insurance issues, education funding, and tenure, according to the complaint.
For decades, Alabama permitted local school boards and some higher education institutions, as well as other state and local government employees, to allow payroll deductions for various reasons, including membership fees in organizations that conduct political activities and to make PAC contributions.
But shortly after the November election in which a GOP majority of lawmakers were elected, a special session was held and lawmakers banished the payroll-deduction option for organizations that conduct political activities.
Riley, who was term-limited out of office at the end of last year, signed seven bills into law, including one prohibiting payroll deductions and others aimed at strengthening ethics and curbing political corruption state.
“Passing all seven of these reforms represents a sea change of historic proportions and will make Alabama the new standard for ethical government in the United States,” Riley said at the time, adding that it “will usher in a new era of transparent, accountable, and responsive government in Alabama that can begin the work of restoring the public’s trust.”
Alabama politics have been rocked by corruption.
Several lawmakers went to prison after an investigation found they also worked for the two-year college system doing little or no work while serving as elected officials.
The Jefferson County sewer debt debacle led to dozens of convictions and national and international headlines about whether the state’s largest county would file for municipal bankruptcy because of $3.2 billion of variable-rate and auction-rate sewer debt it cannot repay. The county has defaulted on the sewer bonds and those who went to prison included a bond dealer, county commissioners, and contractors.
Some of the new laws passed in December prohibit lawmakers from also working for the state while in office, and new provisions require ethics training for all levels of government.