Lawmaker: Teachers should be allowed in Legislature

Lawmaker: Teachers should be allowed in Legislature

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

At least one GOP lawmaker thinks it’s time to allow teachers back into the Alabama Legislature.

House Bill 377 by Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, would undo part of a law enacted after the 2010 Republican takeover of the State House. It prohibits state employees, including educators, from “double dipping” by becoming lawmakers. After 2014, it kept K-12 educators and those in the two- and four-year college systems from serving in the Legislature.

Dismukes, elected in 2018, said that should be reconsidered as lawmakers consider a variety of school-related legislation ranging from mental health care and security in schools to curriculum and a $7.5 billion education budget.  He said legislators would benefit from the perspective of those “in the trenches.”

“I think someone in the classroom, who sees what’s going on, would be a huge benefit,” Dismukes said.

He said he’s gotten pretty good feedback on the bill filed last week, including questions about how K-12 teachers or administrators coud serve in legislative sessions that include three-day weeks in Montgomery for three or four months each spring.

“I think those are good questions, but I think that is up to the schools system and the teacher,” he said.

Dismukes’ bill only applies to K-12 educators, not college or university employees. He said he wanted to look at K-12 first, then perhaps expand the law.

Originally, more than 20 members of the Legislature worked for state agencies or public schools or colleges. By the time the law went into effect after the 2014 elections, most had retired or found new jobs in the private sector, the Associated Press  previously reported.

In the late 2000s, a federal probe into the state’s two-year college system resulted in the system’s chancellor and multiple lawmakers being jailed on corruption charges. A Pulitzer Prize-winning Birmingham News investigation revealed that some state lawmakers were employed by state community colleges in jobs with large paychecks, but little work.

Republicans seized on the high-profile scandal in the election of 2010 and based their “double dipping” ban on accusations of political patronage within the system.

Dismukes’ bill has been assigned to the Ethics and Campaign Finance Committee, chaired by Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison. 

Ball said HB377 would be sent to a sub-committee, as all the committee’s bills are this session. That includes Ball’s own substantial ethics law revision proposal.

“It’s just putting an extra step in the process,” Ball said on Monday.

Ball was a lawmaker when the double-dipping ban was passed. He said it was the result of a “huge political battle” with the Alabama Education Association and then-leader Paul Hubbert.

“There were a huge amount of educators who were in the Legislature,” Ball said. “I’m not saying they were bad, but it was worrisome.” 

About Dismukes’ bill, Ball said it’s always good to take a “fresh look at things.”

“But I don’t know what the will of the body will be,” Ball said.

Alabama Daily News publisher Todd Stacy contributed to this report.