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Judge Intervenes In Heated Battle Over Alabama's Education Bill

Posted: March 5, 2013

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A judge has blocked Alabama's governor from signing a school choice bill, after a lawsuit alleged that lawmakers bypassed state rules when they substantially revised the legislation in committee. A vote on the bill was marked by confusion, anger, and accusations of "sleaziness" and "hypocrisy."

Circuit Court Judge Charles Price hears arguments in in Montgomery, Ala., Tuesday on a bill that provides private school tax credits. The judge halted the bill from being delivered to the governor.

Circuit Court Judge Charles Price hears arguments in in Montgomery, Ala., Tuesday on a bill that provides private school tax credits. The judge halted the bill from being delivered to the governor. Dave Martin

A judge in Alabama has blocked the state's governor from signing a school choice bill, after a lawsuit alleged that lawmakers bypassed state rules when they substantially revised the legislation in committee. The vote to pass the bill last week was marked by confusion, anger, and accusations of "sleaziness" and "hypocrisy," as AL.com reported.

Here was the scene last week, as the bill's backers sought to end debate and hold a vote:

The controversial Alabama Accountability Act establishes tax credits for students of failing schools to attend private schools or a different public school. Gov. Robert Bentley had planned to sign the bill Tuesday afternoon. But this morning, Circuit Judge Charles Price ordered that the bill not be sent to Bentley, after the Alabama Education Association filed suit on behalf of a citizen Monday.

From Alabama, Dan Carsen of member station WBHM filed this report for our Newscast desk:

"The lawsuit says the state legislators who crafted the plan violated Open Meetings laws when a well-known school flexibility bill came back from conference committee tripled in size. The Republican statehouse supermajority then quickly passed it over angry shouts. The new bill includes tax credits for students switching from struggling public schools to private schools. "

"Gov. Bentley admits previous supporters, including the state superintendent, were not told of the tax-credit plan because they wouldn't have supported it. Bentley tweeted, 'This bill is the greatest thing to happen to education in many years and will give schools the chance to improve.'"

As AL.com's Kim Chandler reports, Price has extended his hearing on the bill to Wednesday morning. Tuesday afternoon, a Democratic member of the conference committee on the bill described how he grew suspicious after his Republican colleagues left the room together.

"One of the first questions that I asked is if they were trying to screw me on this bill," Ross told the judge.

The legislation had begun life as a bill that would allow local school districts more flexibility in meeting state requirements. State Superintendent of Education Tommy Bice said that the bill it became "is no longer the bill I gave my support to." Opponents of the measure say it will spur the creation of charter schools.

State Sen. Del Marsh, a Republican member of that committee and a defendant in the new lawsuit, said today that there had been no violation of the Open Meetings Act.

"These stalling tactics are a sham by the same special interest elite that have held our state back for far too long," he said in a statement.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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