- Associated Press - Saturday, January 30, 2016

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard announced the removal of two vocal Republican critics from prominent committee assignments as part of a larger reshuffling days before the start of the legislative session.

Rep. Phil Williams of Huntsville was removed as chairman of the technology and research committee. Rep. Ed Henry of Hartselle lost a seat on the education budget committee to become vice-chairman of the campaign and ethics committee.

Williams is challenging Hubbard for speaker, and both representatives have questioned if Hubbard should remain while awaiting trial on ethics charges.

Henry says Hubbard told him he needed someone on the ethics panel, and that no one would accuse him of being Hubbard’s “lackey.”

Williams says it had been awkward serving as a committee chair while challenging Hubbard.

In a statement, Hubbard said the recent deaths of Rep. Dan Williams, R-Athens and Lesley Vance, R-Phenix City, led to the changes.

“Committee assignments are chosen based upon the skills and talents each member possesses, and each of these members has distinguished themselves among their colleagues,” Hubbard said. “I look forward to serving alongside each member in their new roles as we continue to do what is right for Alabama.”

Williams said Hubbard texted him with news of his shifting role and said the chairs of the committees made the decision to remove him. Williams said he “totally understood” and did not take the decision personally.

“(Hubbard) told me in the text message they had all talked about it and they thought it was the best decision,” he said. “But he made the decision to leave me on all three of my committees.”

The legislative session begins Tuesday, and Hubbard is scheduled to go on trial in March on 23 ethics charges. A felony conviction would result in his automatic removal from office.

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