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Alabama lawsuit seeks to stop teacher organization dues

A lawsuit filed in Shelby County seeks to block stop school systems from collecting Alabama Education Association dues, accusing school officials of moving too slowly in implementing a law that forbids payroll deduction to political groups.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday by a Hoover woman. It names state Superintendent Tommy Bice and the Shelby County and Hoover school systems as defendants.

An AEA spokeswoman called the lawsuit a political attack on the organization. A Republican state senator representing the Hoover plaintiff said the 2010 law, which had been blocked by the courts for several years, should be enforced by now.

"The plaintiff has said it doesn't matter if it's the AEA or the tea party, no taxpayer time, money or resources should be used in support of political activity," state Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, said.

For years, state law had allowed school employees to contribute to AEA through payroll deduction. The organization, through its PAC and lobbying efforts, became a major player in Alabama politics and often was at odds with GOP legislators.

After Republicans won a majority in the Alabama Legislature in 2010, they passed legislation that prohibited salary deduction to political action committees or dues payment to groups that use any portion of the fees for political activity. Violations would be a Class A misdemeanor.

The law was to take effect in 2011, but was temporarily enjoined after some AEA members filed a federal lawsuit. An appellate court lifted the injunction in 2014. Deputy State Superintendent Craig Pouncey in April notified school systems that the law was in effect.

AEA Associate Secretary Gregory Graves followed with his own memo to school systems. In it, he said the organization expected that payroll deduction would continue until schools systems had policies in place for organizations to certify that they do not use the membership dues for political activity.

The 2010 law bans payroll deduction if the money is used for political communications, campaign donations, polling and other political activity. Organizations seeking dues collection would have to certify that they don't use the money for political activity.

"We don't know what the process is. We don't know who we certify to. What is the process?" Amy Marlowe, an AEA spokeswoman, said.

Marlowe said the AEA has many functions outside of the political arena, such as the legal department that represents teachers and school employees.

Marlowe said the organization was being singled out by the lawsuit.

Sally Howell, executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards, said school systems have been caught in the middle of the dispute.

"School boards have and always will be willing to comply with the law but were caught in the political crossfire," Howell said.

"We have to implement this law uniformly across the board and that's what we're trying to do," Howell said.

Taylor, who was a legislative co-sponsor of the 2010 law, said there is no reason to delay implementation.

"It should have been complied with from day one," Taylor said.

Erica Pippins, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Department of Education, said legal staff was reviewing the lawsuit and the department was withholding comment until that review was complete.

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