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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
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Deaf Alabamans Fight State’s Money Grab

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (CN) - Alabama is trying to fund its schools by swiping $30 million from a dedicated fund to help deaf and hearing-impaired Alabamans use the telephone, a deaf taxpayer and the fund chairman say.

The Alabama Dual Party Relay Fund, its chairman, and a recipient of its services sued the Alabama Public Service Commission, its members and the state treasurer in Montgomery County Court.

The fund and Judith Gilliam, who is deaf, say the defendants, with the Legislature's blessing, are planning to "seize private funds for public use without legal authority and just compensation."

The Alabama Legislature created the Dual Party Relay Fund in 1988, to be funded by "a surcharge on each access line of each customer of the local exchange companies operating in Alabama to fund a dual-party relay system whereby a deaf or hearing-impaired person may communicate with other such persons or with normal hearing persons via telephone," the complaint states, citing the language of the 1988 law.

The Public Service Commission was put in charge of the Dual Party Fund, whose money was to be "placed in a 'private fund to be held separate from all other funds and used solely for the administration of this system,'" the plaintiffs say.

In 2006, the Legislature put an independent Board of Trustees in charge of administering the fund. Plaintiff John Garner is the chairman of the board.

But the Legislature turned its back on the deaf this year, passing Act 2011-567, the plaintiffs say, ordering the surcharge to be "deposited, not into a private fund, but into a 'special fund established by the State Treasurer' called the State Dual Party Relay Fund."

"The Act also authorized monies collected, not to be used 'solely for the administration' of the dual party relay system, but also for unidentified 'other purposes.'"

The Act directed the fund's board of trustees to pay the $30 million in four, $7.5 million installments, beginning Oct. 15 this year, with another check sent every 3 months, until July 15, 2012.

"After July 15, 2012, Thirty (30) Million Dollars ($30,000,000) shall be transferred from the State Dual Party Relay Fund established by the State Treasurer to the Education Trust Fund," the complaint states, citing the language of the Act.

The plaintiffs want the money grab enjoined.

They are represented by Robert D. Segall with Copeland, Franco, Screws & Gill, of Montgomery.

This lawsuit is just the latest in a string of complaints across the nation accusing state lawmakers of grabbing, and misdirecting, public money, to duck the heat they would suffer if they funded their preferred programs by raising taxes.

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