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VOL. 35 | NO. 18 | Friday, May 6, 2011




House mulls new effort to curb teacher bargaining

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NASHVILLE (AP) — A renewed legislative effort to limit teachers' collective bargaining rights has been scheduled for a vote in the House Finance Committee on Wednesday, while the Senate has already passed a plan to eliminate those rights altogether.

A positive committee vote could send the measure to the full House for debate by next week. But the same committee recently declined to take up a version similar to one passed by the Senate to more thoroughly dismantle union negotiations.

Wednesday's committee action will center on a version created Tuesday by the House Education Committee, changing the bill back to exempt from negotiations areas like evaluations and merit pay, but stopping short of abolishing bargaining altogether.

The Tennessee Education Association, which represents 52,000 teachers, considers the House and Senate plans a choice between eviscerating or eliminating collective bargaining. But the union has reluctantly expressed a preference for the current House bill, which in turn has come under fire from tea party groups that have argued that it doesn't go far enough.

The House version has also been endorsed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville.

Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin and the main sponsor of the Senate version, said he doesn't expect the upper chamber to agree to many changes to its version, which replaces union bargaining with an employee handbook.

"I've stood very firm that the Senate stands firm on a full repeal of the negotiations act and a complete elimination of union negotiated contracts for teachers," he said. "I don't see a lot of wiggle room."

If the two chambers can't agree, the bill will head for a conference committee. Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville said he expects the Senate proposal to prevail regardless of the bill advancing in the House.

"I do think in the end we'll have something close to the Senate version," he said. "Even if we have to go to conference, we will have a bill that will repeal collective bargaining here in the state of Tennessee."

Haslam has tried to remain above the fray on the emotional collective bargaining debate, which was not a major issue during last year's gubernatorial or legislative campaigns.

He has instead sought to focus on his own education initiatives that included a new law to make teacher tenure more difficult to obtain and a pending bill to lift a cap on charter schools.

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