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Education Reporter

AL Passes Paycheck Protection
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The newly elected Alabama legislature significantly curtailed the power of the state teachers' union last month by making it more difficult for the union to dock teachers' salaries to fund its agenda. Republicans overcame a 15-hour filibuster in the House to narrowly pass a bill that ends state paycheck deductions for campaign contributions and union membership dues used for political activities. Payroll deduction is still permitted for the portion of dues that doesn't pay for political activities. The bill cleared the House 52-49 and 22-12 in the Senate.

The change will likely have a significant impact on the Alabama Education Association's (AEA) degree of political influence since collecting political action funds from teachers will no longer be automatic. Currently, more than 90,000 Alabama teachers have their union dues and, in most cases, money earmarked for the union's political action committee, deducted from their government paychecks. A similar law passed in South Carolina more than two decades ago resulted in a decline in membership from 20,000 in 1984 to 6,000 today.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said the new law was nothing less than a "power shift" in Montgomery that will end decades of the Alabama Education Association getting almost anything it wants from the Legislature. The AEA's 105,000 members spent more than $8.6 million during the 2010 election cycle, more than any other lobbying group in the state, mostly to support Democrats.

The AEA's executive secretary, Paul Hubbert, was also a vice chairman of the Democratic Party until recently. He claims Republicans want to silence groups that represent public employees. Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville disagreed, arguing, "This [bill] doesn't deprive anyone of the right to belong to an organization. It just requires then to pay their dues like I pay my NRA dues."

Alabama Board of Education member Betty Peters applauded the measure. "It is wrong to use state resources to collect money for political candidates," she said. "Many educators who are AEA members have said they resented having money from their paychecks sent to the teachers' union PAC because it was often spent to elect candidates they did not support."

Outgoing Governor Bob Riley moved swiftly to take advantage of Alabama's first Republican-controlled state legislature in 136 years before his term ends in mid-January. He called the special session after the election of the new GOP majority to try to push through seven ethics and campaign finance bills he couldn't get passed while Democrats were in control. Riley promised to review the final version of the payroll deduction bill to ensure no loopholes would allow the AEA to send money to intermediary groups who could then use the funds for political purposes.

The AEA and other affected unions plan to contest the law, but Republicans point out that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a similar Idaho law last year. (Associated Press, 12-15-10)

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