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Lawsuit temporarily halts Ala. School Flex bill from being signed into law

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

The Alabama Education Association filed a lawsuit late Monday night in an attempt to block what some Democrat lawmakers have called the Education Accountability Act "bait and switch." 

Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Charles Price blocked the bill from being sent to Governor Robert Bentley. Bentley, who supports the legislation, was set to sign it into law Tuesday afternoon.

Court documents show the AEA's basis for asking for the restraining order on HB 84, also known as the Accountability Act, is due to allegations that Senators Del Marsh [R-Anniston] and Gerald Dial [R-Lineville], Representatives Chad Fincher [R-Mobile], Jay Love [R-Montgomery] and Rep. Mike Hubbard [R-Auburn],  and Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey violated the state's Open Meetings Act.

[DOCUMENT: Read the AEA's lawsuit (.pdf)]

The suit states, "No other reasonable explanation exists for these four senators [Marsh, Fincher, Dial and Love] to leave a committee meeting discussing a 9-page bill and return less than two hours later and approve a new bill that ran 27 pages, with a different title and different provisions, which each appeared familiar with, and which each voted to approve with limited discussion."

It also states that Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard and Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey did not suspend Rule 21 which requires legislators to be notified that new language has been added to an appropriation bill in conference committee.

The AEA asked for a temporary restraining order to stop the bill from being transmitted to Governor Bentley to be signed, "to preserve the status quo and prevent irreparable injury" and to ultimately withdraw or invalidate HB 84. Judge Price restrained the Clerk of the Alabama House of Representatives from taking any action on HB 84 including, but not limited to the acts of enrolling or transmitting the bill to the Governor.

"Is there a perfect piece of legislation?" Governor Bentley asked the media after learning of the restraining order. "No, we never have something this complicated that's a perfect piece of legislation." The governor prefers to look at the "good things" within the bill, adding that he does not want to lose flexibility. 

While Republicans hold a supermajority in both chambers of the Alabama legislature, Democrats are vowing to make it very difficult for the GOP going forward. "We're going to take our time. We're going to have the bills read at length. We're going to slow the process down," said Rep. Craig Ford [D-Gadsden].

HB 84 was originally passed on Thursday night, February 28. At that time, Senator Craig Ford [D-Gadsden] called the move "a bait and switch" and said, "There is no way that happened in the thirty minutes..." speaking of the changes to the bill almost immediately after it came out of a conference committee. "This bill has been sitting in someone's desk draw for months," Ford claimed. "It was their strategy all along..."

One of the most controversial aspects of the bill is that it gives parents of children who are in failing schools a tax break to send them to private schools. One report indicates those tax credits could cost the state $367 million.

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