The House Education Budget Committee approved a measure that would restructure the Teachers Retirement System Board of Control.
The TRS Board oversees the pension funds for hundreds of thousands of education and support personnel in Alabama, in addition to overseeing the Public Education Employees Health Insurance Plan, PEEHIP.
The change would remove a pair of seats on the board and replacing them with two that would represent the higher education community.
The proposal would remove the ex-officio position held by the Executive Secretary of the Alabama Education Association and another seat reserved for education support personnel.
"We want to keep the board at 14" said Sen. Gerald Allen, (R- Tuscaloosa), the sponsor of the bill. "We don't want to elevate it to 16."
Sen. Allen didn't specify why 14 was a better number for the board than 16.
He said he doesn't want the board to get overcrowded and wanted to ensure that members of the TRS from four-year colleges have a voice on the board. Allen said the decision to remove the AEA position isn't political.
Allen represents the Tuscaloosa area and has many constituents that work for the University of Alabama. "This is something that is very important to some people in my district" Allen said.
Democrats contend the move is solely political, another jab at the teacher's union that has frustrated Republicans for decades.
"They just don't care about teachers," Rep. Craig Ford said after the committee approved the bill 9-3 along party lines. "I don't know why, but they just want to stick it to AEA."
Henry Mabry, the Executive Secretary of AEA, did create a stir several months ago when it was perceived that he was trying to obtain control of the TRS board. He wrote editorials in his organization's newsletter letting members know how members of the board voted on his proposal last December to leave health insurance rates flat.
At the time, TRS staff informed the board that making such a decision would not have been wise, and Mabry's resolution failed. Mabry insisted he wasn't making any kind of "power-play" to control the board. Weeks later, AEA-backed candidates were defeated by the incumbents by nearly two to one margins.
The Alabama Senate approved the bill to make changes to the board last week, but modified the bill to simply add two higher education seats to the board, instead of removing the two positions altogether.
The bill now goes to the House for consideration. If the House passes the bill without any changes, it will then go to the governor for his signature.