With seven days left in the 2012 regular session, where do all these bills that we’ve been following stand?
If you want a bill’s status, go to the Current Legislation page and view the tables. Be sure to use the drop-down box to select “100” as the number of bills to display. They will be displayed in numerical order. Click the heading “Status” to re-order bills by their status (i.e., “in committee”, “favorable report from committee”, etc.)
Here’s a quick count of where these bills stand:
|Still in committee||37||26|
|Favorable report from committee (waiting on full house passage)||17||13|
|Not yet assigned to committee in second house||2|
|In committee in second house||3||1|
|Favorable report from second house (waiting on second house passage)||7||5|
|Passed second house||1|
|Waiting on Governor||2|
|Passed out of first house||15||8|
Remember, these are just numbers, just a quick count. The numbers do not represent the quality of the bills nor the substance of the bills. Some clearly take precedence over others….the Education Trust Fund budget, for example. It has not yet been considered by the full Senate and still must be passed by the House.
What Got Enacted?
Two House bills have been enacted thus far.
School Board Governance Improvement Act of 2012
HB431 is the School Board Governance Improvement Act, effective immediately, which calls for minimum requirements for school board members and adoption of a Code of Conduct for board members, allows for oversight and intervention of local boards of education by the State Department of Education, and requires training in boardsmanship skills.
Here are the minimum requirements for school board members, elected or appointed:
- Is a person of good moral character.
- Has obtained a high school diploma or its equivalent.
- Is not employed by that county board of education, unless serving as a member of the county board of education on the effective date of this Act; is not employed by that city board of education, period.
- Is not serving on the governing board of a private elementary or secondary educational institution.
- Is not on the National Sex Offender Registry or the state sex offender registry.
- Has not been convicted of a felony.
Regarding the boardsmanship training, this law states:
“The State Superintendent of Education shall develop continuing education and training programs for the members of the local boards of education to enhance the understanding of the role of each member in assuring the effective provision of educational services. The programs shall be developed in cooperation with the Alabama Association of School Boards” [AASB].
The AASB has a school board member academy, but training has been voluntary until now. Still in question, at least for me, is how will training be paid for? The fiscal note attached to the bill makes no mention of the cost of training, yet a quick look at the AASB’s event registration clearly shows there is a cost for some actual training, plus a cost for hotel rooms during conferences.
The law requires each local board of education to adopt a Board Code of Conduct before April 1, 2013 that is based on a model code of conduct to be developed by the state department of education.
The law also removes the provision that members of city boards of education whose population is greater than 300,000 be paid for their attendance at school board meetings.
The law provides for oversight and investigatory authority by the state department of education. [You may recall that the State Board of Education recently launched an investigation into the board governance and other activities of the Birmingham City Schools.] Specifically, a board member who is found to be neglectful or guilty of willful misconduct can be censured, reprimanded, and/or disqualified for future service on a school board.
Section 1(d)(2)(f) outlines the procedure for investigation and conclusion.
In the Senate, two bills, SB102 and SB143, are waiting for action by the governor. SB102 pertains to the Birmingham Board of Education. It clarifies that board members shall assume office on the fourth Tuesday of the October of their election.
Reinstitution of the $5,000 Supplement for National Board Certified Teachers
SB143 restores the annual bonus for teachers who obtain National Board Certification to $5,000. Last year, the bonus was reduced to $3,500. Additionally, beginning on January 1, 2013, any elementary or secondary school principal who receives certification through the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards will be eligible for the $5,000 annual bonus. The Fiscal Note indicated it will cost $2,313,850 to restore the bonus for teachers who became certified during the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years. Here’s a quick look across the country at what happened to bonuses for national board certified teachers during the recession.
What’s Close to Being Enacted (at least procedurally close)?
Recently-enacted ethics legislation caused great concern about how much students and families could spend on teachers’ gifts. The House passed HB466 with a $25 limit on gifts to public employees. The Senate changed the limit to $50. The two houses must now decide which version to send to the Governor.
Other House-originated bills receiving favorable reports from their respective Senate committees, but awaiting full debate in the Senate include:
- HB19 – Allows private driver’s ed instructors to conduct testing for driver’s licenses (public school instructors can already do this)
- HB136 – Exempts public employees earning less than $50,000 from the Ethics law
- HB229 – Prohibits the use of handheld cell phone or other wireless device while driving school bus
- HB308 – Mandates local school board policy to restrict activity of athletes suffering concussions for certain number of days.
- HB360 – Flexible School Calendar Act of 2012; allows local boards to establish calendar providing 180 instructional days, using hourly equivalents if desired, within specified period of time (mandated start and end date for a period of 4 years)
- HB398 – Provides for allowance of student who leaves school to obtain driver’s license if employed for 30 hours per week.
Senate-originated bills waiting for full debate in the House include:
- SB28 – Decreases the mandatory school start age from 7 to 6 years of age
- SB30 – Creates a public statewide database for public contracts and bids
- SB191 – Provides clear guidelines for school bus drivers to be allowed to drive a school bus
- SB213 – Strips public employees of portions of their retirement if that employee is convicted of certain offenses
- SB257 – Mandates a $300 allotment for supplies per classroom funded under the Foundation Program.
What About the Controversial Stuff?
The Charter Schools bills, House and Senate version, have yet to come up for full debate by either house.
I just found HB761, introduced last Thursday by Representative Dexter Grimsley, that would place a 10-day time limit on an Alabama government agency to respond to public records requests. As one who reports on Alabama’s school districts’ activities, I can attest to the serious need for this bill to pass. There currently is no time limit in which a member of the public can expect a response to his Alabama Open Records request. This bill would go a long way to ensure a responsive Alabama government. The time limit for federal Freedom of Information Act requests is 20 days. Without solid public data, reporting on the activities of Alabama’s school districts is difficult. It is currently in a House committee.
The two Legislative Performance Grading and Reward system bills introduced in the House, are progressing. HB588, the grading piece, was passed by the House and is sitting in a Senate committee. HB585, the performance bonus piece, has received a favorable report from its House committee, but has not yet passed the full House. The Senate has a similar bill, SB540, which has received a favorable report from its Senate committee, but has not yet passed the full Senate.
HB657, which prohibits the use of seniority in reduction-in-force layoff decisions, received a favorable report from committee, but has not yet come up for full discussion by the House.
Other bills still awaiting action are the mandatory attendance age bills (increasing from age 17 to 18 for exit), the release for religious education credit, a number of bills strengthening the Student Harassment Prevention Act of 2009, and bills designed to add restrictions for students suffering from concussions.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, just the ones that caught the attention of the media since the session began.
Contact Your Elected Representatives!
Do you have a favorite bill you’d like to see passed? Or killed? If so, take the time to contact your legislators. It’s easier than you think. While some legislators have indicated their preference for telephone calls over e-mails, some legislators communicate with their constituents via facebook or blogs. With so many ways to communicate with your elected representatives, what’s stopping you from letting your voice be heard?
Understanding legislation is really very easy. And if you don’t understand it, pick up the phone and contact your legislator’s assistants (usually the ones that answer the phone!) and ask for a better explanation. It’s their job….it’s what our legislators agreed to do when they took their oath of office.
You don’t need to be employed in public education, or even have a child in school, to care about Alabama’s schoolchildren. Public education touches each of us, every day, in every activity where we interact with people. You are entitled to have an informed opinion. In fact, this web site is designed to help you become informed enough where you can form an opinion based on the facts of the issue.
Each of us brings our own knowledge and experience to the discussion. That knowledge and experience is valuable and contributes to a better school community.
Even if you didn’t vote for a particular legislator, if that legislator represents your district, he or she needs to hear from you!
Don’t know who your legislator is? No problem!
Use this fabulous tool from the Alabama Association of School Boards! Key in your street address, including your zip code and the names of YOUR elected representatives is given to you, complete with links to their contact information!