NASHVILLE—Senate Republican leaders stood their ground Thursday on stripping teachers’ unions of collective-bargaining rights, rejecting a House GOP compromise backed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.
“Last November, Tennesseans issued a mandate to the Republican majority to institute bold and meaningful education reform,” Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said in a statement. “Sen. Jack Johnson’s bill to outlaw locking taxpayers into funding union contracts is a prime example of the kind of reform Tennesseans have requested.”
On Wednesday, the House Education Subcommittee amended the House bill to allow teachers to negotiate over base pay and benefits but not in areas such as merit pay.
House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, called the compromise a “collaboration between many interested Republican legislators in getting the best piece of legislation for promoting good education for our state and making sure that our teachers are well regarded.”
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said Haslam had questioned whether a complete bargaining ban was the right thing and whether it would help children.
McCormick said he and other GOP leaders “took the best ideas and tried to rally around something that would affect the kids in the classrooms.”
Democrats in the House Education Subcommittee complained Thursday that they saw the amendment for the first time Wednesday. They made a fruitless attempt to delay it, but the bill passed 8-5 on a party-line vote.
“That’s really, honestly, the first time I’d seen it,” said House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley. “And it took awhile to figure that thing out.”
The bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Johnson, R-Franklin, said he still wants “full repeal” of collective bargaining.
“I don’t want to give up any ground right now,” he told reporters. “It’s too early. We will see. It’s the legislative process and, at the end of the day, we need a bill. But I would prefer the full repeal.”
Haslam has been publicly neutral for weeks on the bargaining ban, saying he preferred to focus on his own priorities — toughening teacher tenure requirements and opening charter schools to more students.
McCormick said the amendment didn’t come from the Haslam administration.
“I think it’s very important that we elected a governor with 65 percent of the vote and he’s very comfortable with this amendment that the House put on,” McCormick said. “And since he did get elected governor, I think we ought to defer to him and his priorities from time to time. This is one of those times.”
Memphis Tea Party head Mark Skoda called the House compromise “untenable” and said it has Harwell’s “fingerprints all over it.”
“Look,” he said, “I understand the governor and Beth Harwell are trying to play nice with the unions here. I get that. They don’t want to have the conflagrations you saw in Wisconsin, that is now going on in Michigan.”
But “let’s take a tough stand. I’m not against teachers. I’m against bad teachers,” he said.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...