State House rejects request for two-year delay on school tax credits; Senate vote possible
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
May 20, 2013 | 4940 views |  0 comments | 136 136 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Members of the Alabama House meet on the final day of the regular legislative session at the Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery on Monday. The House rejected Gov. Robert Bentley's proposal to delay allowing private school tax credits for two years, and the Republican leader in the Senate predicted it would do the same before the midnight end of the 2013 legislative session. That sent it to the Senate, where President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said the Republican majority had the votes to block the Republican governor's delay and begin the tax credits immediately. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Members of the Alabama House meet on the final day of the regular legislative session at the Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery on Monday. The House rejected Gov. Robert Bentley's proposal to delay allowing private school tax credits for two years, and the Republican leader in the Senate predicted it would do the same before the midnight end of the 2013 legislative session. That sent it to the Senate, where President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said the Republican majority had the votes to block the Republican governor's delay and begin the tax credits immediately. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
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MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives Monday rejected Gov. Robert Bentley's effort to delay implementation of a much-debated system of school tax credits for two years. The matter now moves to the Senate.

The House voted 57-10 to reject an executive amendment that would put a two-year hold on tax credits under the Alabama Accountability Act, a new state law that would give some parents a tax credit of about $3,500 which could be used to send their children to private schools.

The Accountability Act passed both houses Feb. 28 and was signed into law in March. The bill would grant a tax credit to parents of children zoned for schools deemed "failing" by the state, and would allow those students to transfer either to non-failing public schools or to private schools.

But after criticism from school administrators and teachers’ groups, lawmakers proposed a new bill, HB658, that would tweak the school tax credit program. Among other things, the new bill would give schools the right to deny admission to students who hope to transfer out of "failing" school zones.

Both houses passed HB658 earlier this month, but Bentley sent the bill back, saying he would not sign it unless the tax credit program was delayed for two years. The state still owes $423 million on money it borrowed from a rainy-day fund years ago, and Bentley said the tax credits should be on hold until the debt is paid back.

State officials have estimated the cost of the tax credits at between $30 million and $70 million per year.

Bentley's request created divisions within his own party, where Republican supporters of the bill said they didn't want to delay the tax credits.

"I do not agree with this executive amendment," said Rep. Chad Fincher, R-Semmes, sponsor of the bill that became the Accountability Act.

"I do not want to wait another day" to give students a chance to leave failing schools, Fincher said.

After voting to reject the executive amendment, House members voted 59-6 to override the governor's potential veto, approving HB568 as originally passed.

Democrats in the House questioned the Accountability Act's impact on the state education budget and asked why the governor didn't ask for a two-year delay when approving the original act. But House Democratic leader Rep. Craid Ford, D-Gadsden, said members of his party largely sat out the vote.

"This is all just Republican infighting," Ford said. Democrats have called for outright repeal of the Accountability Act.

Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston, was among the Democrats who sat out the votes. Two of Calhoun County’s Republican representatives, Rep. Randy Wood of Saks and Rep. K.L Brown of Jacksonville, voted to override the governor. Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford, voted for the two-year delay and against the override.

“I voted with the Governor,” Hurst said. “My superintendent back home asked me to support the Governor. You’ve got to protect your own education money.”

HB658 still awaits a vote in the Senate. President Pro Tem Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, has said he will seek an override of the governor's request as well.

The Legislature also gave final approval to several local bills Monday:

— The Senate voted 33-1 to approve a bill by Rep. K.L Brown, R-Jacksonville, that would allow a seat on the Jacksonville Civil Service board to be declared vacant if the board member fails to show up for meetings.

—- The Senate voted 29-1for a bill that would make the librarian at the Jacksonville Public Library subject to the rules of the Civil Service Board. City Council members have said the librarian is currently under authority of the Library Board, and arrangement councilmen describe as as offering fewer protections for the librarian.

—- The Senate passed a bill by Rep. Richard Laird, I-Roanoke, that would waive pistol permit fees for retired and active law enforcement officials.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

Star staff writers Leah Cayson and Madasyn Czebiniak contributed to this report.
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