Published: Wednesday, December 15, 2010, 2:49 AM ??? Updated: Wednesday, December 15, 2010, 3:46 AM
MONTGOMERY -- After a filibuster spanning two days, the House of Representatives approved a bill early this morning that would stop teachers from paying their dues to the Alabama Education Association by payroll deduction.
Representatives approved the bill in a largely partisan 52-49 vote. Democrats launched an exhaustive filibuster beginning at 10 a.m. Tuesday that lasted until nearly 3 a.m. today, trying to block the vote.
"It's not fair for the taxpayers to bear the burden of the cost of collection of the membership dues if they are to be used for political purposes," Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard said.
"The taxpayers should not be saddled with that," Hubbard said.
The bill will go back before the Senate later today. It would prohibit payroll deductions from the paychecks of state, local and public school employees for political action committees or for dues to membership organizations that use the funds to influence elections. The bill also would stop state employees from contributing to the Alabama State Employees Association through payroll deduction, and it would affect other groups.
Republicans said it is improper to use state resources to collect funds for political groups. But Democrats argued the bill was about political retaliation and an attempt to undercut the power of the AEA.
AEA often funds Democratic candidates, and it funded attack ads in the governor's race this year that contributed to Republican Bradley Bryne's defeat by Gov.-elect Robert Bentley. ?
"We think it's a personal vendetta. ... In my opinion, this bill has nothing to do with ethics," said House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden.
Ford said he believes the bill is discriminatory since private industry employees can contribute to PACs.
"You're taking rights away from teachers and state employees," Ford said.
While the GOP has a new majority of 66 members in the House of Representatives, the debate lasted for hours partly because the issue divided Republicans and they were unable to muster the numbers needed to cut off the filibuster. Thirteen Republicans joined with Democrats in voting against the bill.
More than 100 teachers crowded the hallways of the Alabama State House as lawmakers debated the bill.
Hubbard said teachers and state employees still can contribute to the organizations, but they would have to pay their dues by bank draft or other means.
The filibuster held up votes on six of the seven bills in Gov. Bob Riley's ethics reform package.
Also awaiting votes are bills to give subpoena power to the Alabama Ethics Commission, limit gifts from lobbyists, ban transfers among political action committees, require the registration of executive branch lobbyists and ban legislators from holding another government job.
The House goes back into session at 1 p.m.
One of the bills has won final legislative approval and is going to Riley for his signature. The Senate on Tuesday passed a ban on ''pass-through pork," the practice of state lawmakers stashing pots of money at agencies or schools to be distributed later.
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