The Ways and Means Education Committee voted 9-3 along party lines for the bill, which would expand the Board of Control for the Teachers' Retirement System from 14 members to 16 members — and eliminate the seat now held by the executive secretary of the AEA.
"If there hasn't been a problem, why change the board?" asked Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, who voted against the bill.
The 14-member board oversees the retirement system for teachers and other education employees in both K-12 schools and higher education. Several state officials have an automatic place on the board, including the state superintendent of education and the state director of finance. There are also 10 seats reserved for people who participate in the retirement system, such as teachers, education support workers and retirees.
Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, wants to expand the board to 16 members, eliminating the AEA seat and expanding the seats available for higher education employees. There's currently one seat for higher education workers; Allen's proposal would expand that to two seats for four-year colleges and one for community colleges. Allen's bill has already passed the Senate and needs House approval to become law.
Allen said his only goal was to give higher education a stronger voice on the board.
"We want to make it fair to all," he said.
Ford and other Democrats have said the proposal is an attempt by Republican lawmakers to strip the AEA of power. The state's largest professional association for teachers, the AEA has in the past been a major campaign contributor, giving campaign donations to politicians in both parties but leaning more heavily toward Democrats.
Since taking over as the legislative supermajority in 2010, GOP lawmakers have taken a number of actions apparently designed to chip away at the AEA's power, including bans on money transfers between political action committees and an end to the practice of allowing teachers to pay their AEA dues through automatic payroll deduction.
Attempts to reach Henry Mabry, the executive secretary of the AEA and the group's current representative on the retirement board, were unsuccessful Wednesday.
The successful committee vote moves the measure on to the full House for a vote.
Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.