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Shelnutt says teacher deduction bill not what it seems

At first blush, a bill filed by conservative Republican Sen. Shay Shelnutt, last month could be mistaken for an Alabama Education Association bill. Maybe even an attempt to undo the GOP’s hard-fought battle to end the AEA’s use of payroll deductions for its political activities.

That wasn’t it, Shelnutt said. The goal was to give smaller teachers’ organizations the same dues deduction access that the AEA still uses.

But negative perceptions about the bill may have already doomed it, he told Alabama Daily News.

Current state law says local boards of education will allow for “deductions from salaries of its employees or groups of employees whenever a request is presented to the board or postsecondary institution by the employees or groups.”  

Deductions can be made for savings plans, tax sheltered annuities, the Public Employees’ Individual Retirement Account Fund and membership dues among other things.

Shelnutt’s bill adds one line to the existing law, clarifying that membership dues can include those paid to professional educators’ associations.

Shelnutt, of Trussville, said the Alabama Conference of Educators, a small but growing teachers organization, asked for his help because despite existing law, some school systems won’t allow automatic dues deductions from payroll.

Senate Bill 140 was intended to correct that, not undo a controversial 2010 dues law.

“If it does anything else — well, at this point it’s kind of derailed anyway, because of a couple of media reports — but if it did anything else, it would die anyway.” 

In 2010, the new GOP super majority in the Alabama Legislature approved legislation banning government agencies and schools from allowing salary deductions for organizations that use any of the money for political activities. Until then, teachers’ pay deductions were AEA’s primary funding source.

The law was held up in courts for about four years before going into effect. But state law still allows for the dues deductions, as long as the money isn’t used for the AEA’s political activities.

A comment from the Alabama Education Association wasn’t available.

In 2018, Shelnutt successfully carried legislation granting equal access to the schools to all educational professional organization. Shelnutt said that law was needed because AEA had access that ACOE did not. 

The ACOE offers educators liability insurance, representation and legal help if needed. President Harley Phillips says it has about 5,000 members and is the fastest growing teacher’s group in the state. While some school districts allow for payroll deductions of ACOE dues, others don’t, he said. Some say it has to have a certain number of members before deductions are available, he said, but that’s not the law.

“We’re not asking for anything that they’re not giving other organizations,” Phillips said. “This is public money … there shouldn’t be a monopoly.” 

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