House Pro Tempore Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) is looking to clean up Alabama's licensing boards with a pre-filed bill prohibiting boards and state agencies from paying off employees not to report wrongdoing.
Alabama's licensing boards are in charge of granting or withholding business occupational licenses, which are attained through testing, education, inspection and other standards on top of regular fees and possible fines.
Boards include the Board of Cosmetology, Board of Funeral Service, Board of Dental Examiners, Board of Heating and Air Conditioning Contractors and Board of Massage Therapy. Some boards employ their own management and executives, while others hire private companies to manage their operations, such as administration, licensing and application processes, investigations, regulations and testing.
According to Pringle, there have been several instances of board employees learning of illegality on behalf of other members, then offering Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) and payment to keep silent.
"There have been a couple of our licensing boards that have had some illegal activities brought to the forefront, and those boards have used NDAs to force the employees of that licensing board not to disclose what they knew," Pringle told 1819 News. "For me, you're not using taxpayer money to cover up the malfeasance of your licensing board by paying off your other employees with other people's money and making them sign NDAs. That's just wrong at every level. So, I'm going to try to put a stop to it."
He continued, "What these licensing boards are doing is going to these employees and saying, 'we will pay you X number of dollars if you sign this non-disclosure agreement and keep your mouth shut. They're buying people's silence with taxpayer's money."
Since there is currently no state law prohibiting the activity described by Pringle, he filed House Bill 11 (HB11) ahead of February 2024's regular legislative session.
If passed, HB11 would dictate that "no state agency or occupational licensing board may enter into any agreement that prevents or restricts an individual from publicly disclosing any information or knowledge gained by that individual which relates to any misfeasance, malfeasance, or potential criminal activity committed by an employee, officer, or contractor, or former employee, officer, or contractor of that state agency or occupational licensing board during the employee's, officer's, or contractor's term of employment or service."
Pringle continued, "It's a fundamental argument we've had for years in Montgomery. I believe fully that licensing boards exist because they are creatures of the legislature, and we gave them taxing authority. If you have to pay for a professional license in the state of Alabama, that is a tax. You have no choice."
"They have a fiduciary responsibility to disclose that money and be accountable for how they spend it," he concluded.
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