'Rowdy, ugly and unsportsmanlike' Tempers flare over school flexibility bill
TALLADEGA COUNTY – The Alabama Accountability Act of 2013, formerly known as the flexibility act, was the primary topic of discussion among the Talladega County delegation Friday.

According to a summary provided by Sen. Jerry Fielding, R-Sylacauga, the bill “allows for flexibility contracts between the state board of education and local school districts; creates tax credits for students in chronically failing schools to attend a non-public school or non-failing public school; and creates credits for taxpayers and businesses who donate to a non-profit scholarship organization that provides scholarships for students to attend a non-public school or non-failing public school.”

A version of the bill passed in the House last week, was amended and passed in the Senate, and the senate amendments were preserved in the conference committee. Gov. Robert Bentley said he would sign the bill next week.

Fielding said he had reservations about the House version without the amendments. “The amendments include protection for teachers through tenure and does not allow for the creation of charter schools. It also keeps the existing pay metrics, so you don’t have one group of teachers making more than another.”

The conference committee added the amendment creating the tax credits for chronically ailing schools, which Fielding said are found primarily in Huntsville, Montgomery, Birmingham and Mobile.

There are approximately 1,000 public schools in Alabama, and only about 70 of them would be affected by the bill.

“Just like we want our kids to get good grades, we want our schools to get good grades and pass. This will put a spotlight on the local boards, and will help them get back there.”

Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston, has an entirely different view of the bill.

“You don’t want to know about this week in the House,” she said. “It was rowdy, ugly and unsportsmanlike, and I left early to go speak to democrats in Heflin. But we should be patient and fair when considering legislation. When you amend something, you need to follow the rules and the process, not just rely on the fact that you have a super-majority. You don’t include things without giving people proper time to review them. I am disgusted with the way things went.”

The final version of the bill, she said “includes some things that we will have to deal with in the future because we are too hasty. No one thought to follow the legal repercussions. It gives the local boards the right to not follow state standards as they relate to curriculum. Many schools will be set up and receive state funding, but the quality will dwindle and fall even lower than where we are now. I see a lot of things coming that I wish we hadn’t done.”

Back in the Senate, Fielding said another significant bill passed regarding Airbus, which will be employing 3,000 people in south Alabama. The bill limits liability claims against the company to 12 years, and will be voted on in the House next week.

Also in the Senate last week:

• A reorganization bill consolidating various departments was approved. A similar bill for law enforcement agencies also passed.

• Enhanced penalties of elder abuse were passed.

• A Bill sponsored by Roger Bedford allows the state Health Department to provide guidelines about treatments of breast cancer. Bedford’s wife is currently battling the disease.

• Passed a bill allowing municipalities to keep extra workers on contract for disasters.

• A bill allowing voluntary display of various historic documents in public places came out of committee.

• A bill to allow Spring Hill College to appoint police officers came out of committee.

• A bill requiring prisoner grievances to be subject to administrative remedies before making it into the court system was passed out of committee.

• A bill allowing the transfer of a certificate of need when a hospital changes hands was voted out of committee.

• Three bills that were passed out of the judiciary committee involved expunging the records of people who had been charged with crimes but not convicted, created penalties for selling electronic cigarettes to minors and allowing a penalty of 40 years in prison to imposed on minors convicted of capital murder.

• The Health Committee approved a bill that would allow nurse practitioners to perform more procedures and prescribe more medications.

Reps. Ron Johnson (R-Sylacauga) and Steve Hurst (R-Munford) were not available for comment Friday.

Contact Chris Norwood at cnorwood@dailyhome.com

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