Flexibility bill allow school boards more freedom
Rep. Dickie Drake, R-Leeds, said that much of the controversy related to school flexibility is due to misinformation.

“There’s been so many lies told about the bill, it’s not even funny,” he said Friday.

Drake was one of the Republican House members who voted in favor of the legislation. All of them said Friday that the bill will allow local school boards some freedoms they currently do not have.

More important to Drake was what the bill does not say.

“This flexibility bill is a good bill,” he said. “It’s not a mandatory bill; it does give (local boards) the option to change their curriculums if they want to.

“It does not affect teachers’ pay, tenure, nor does it authorize charter schools.”

Mack Butler, R-Rainbow City, is the newest representative — he took over House District 30 following a special election in December 2012. The district previously belonged to Blaine Galliher, who was appointed as legislative director for Gov. Robert Bentley). Butler, however, has a decade of experience as a member of the Etowah County Board of Education, and Friday he spoke in favor of school flexibility.

“Basically, you have a one-size-fits-all now,” Butler said. “To flex out of something (as a local board under the new bill), you have to have a public hearing, it has to be approved by the board, then it has to go before the state and so on.

“There are so many things you have to flex out of, from your local school calendar — you can get a musician to teach a music class who might not be certified, somebody from the industry here.”

Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, said the legislation would allow local boards some discretion when it comes to spending funds, as well.

“We send them money to buy school buses, and they say, ‘We don’t need school buses, we need computers,’” Wood said. “It gives them a little more authority with employees — just everything in general. It’s like running a business.

“Nobody knows how to run Pell City schools better than Pell City does. That gives them the authority to operate under those guidelines; as long as they do right then things will go better, I think.”

The Legislature did discuss other things. Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, said he spent much of the week discussing legislation that “clarifies” gun laws in the state.

“It’s really designed to be a clarification of what the current pistol law is,” he said. “The vast majority of it is just, where you can carry a pistol — what happens if you carry one on somebody else’s property; can you have a gun in your car in the parking lot; it’s really clarifying those things, and it’s also dealing with what has historically been administered as the law in Alabama is beginning to change, as we see more municipalities take an anti-pistol stance.

“We’re giving the citizen a better way to appeal that and have a better way to have the attorney general look at it. It’s really a very interesting issue when you realize what the real law is, and you look at what people think the law is.”

Beason said the state’s current laws are unevenly applied around the state.

“They’re beginning to charge people who are openly carrying — which the law says you can do — with disorderly conduct,” he said. “We’re just trying to clarify those things, and it’s kind of shocking because people say the bill does this or that, and it’s not in there.”

Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, touted legislation that passed the House Thursday dubbed the Medicaid Fraud Reduction Act.

“Abusing a program that provides essential health care to the neediest citizens among us is the ultimate insult to Alabama taxpayers,” McClendon said. “By extending the statute of limitations and providing additional investigative tools to law enforcement agencies, the Medicaid Fraud Reduction Act will force even the most dishonest individual to think twice before trying to take advantage of the system.”

The bill would provide access for Medicaid investigators to the Department of Public Health’s Controlled Substances Prescription Database in order to pinpoint instances of fraud, abuse and misuse among providers or benefit recipients. It would also broaden the crime of providing a false statement to include withholding material facts or changes of circumstances with regards to Medicaid fraud.

Medicaid providers who violate the new law, if passed, would be prevented from participating in any of the agency’s programs for three years, and the statue of limitations for prosecution of anyone committing a fraud offense would be doubled from three years to six years. And while current law uses an individual basis to target those who abuse the Medicaid system, the new bill extends the prosecutorial scope to corporations, partnerships and associations.

“Abusers of the Medicaid Agency need to know that we are aggressively targeting their crimes, we will catch them red-handed, and we will punish them severely,” McClendon said. “This Medicaid Fraud Reduction Act sends that no-nonsense message in the strongest way possible.”

Contact Will Heath at wheath@thestclairtimes.com.

© 2013