House Speaker Beth Harwell saved a bill to prohibit collective bargaining between teachers unions and school boards from defeat Wednesday, but left very much alive a split in Republican ranks over the controversial issue.
Three Republicans joined all Democrats in voting against the bill, HB130, in the House Finance Committee and another abstained. That left a 12-12 tie vote – with ties amounting to defeat under legislative rules. Harwell, who has a right to vote on any committee, stepped in to cast the deciding vote so the measure passed 13-12.
The vote was the latest in a series of convoluted maneuvers that has left the House and Senate, both with large Republican majorities, taking different courses on the legislation.
The Senate version, passed 18-14 last week with just one Republican senator voting no, calls for an outright ban on teacher collective bargaining. The House Finance Committee last week rejected the Senate proposal.
The House version approved in the committee Wednesday prohibits collective bargaining on some subjects – notably including wages – but allows it to continue on other matters. Ninety-two of Tennessee’s 136 school districts now have collective bargaining.
Wednesday’s vote was the second time Harwell stepped in to break a tie and keep the legislation alive.
Debate in the committee Wednesday included Democrats voicing fears that trickery was afoot and the bill’s sponsor, House Republican Caucus Chairman Debra Maggart of Hendersonville, would swap the House version for the more sweeping Senate version when the bill reaches the House floor – possibly next week.
“I didn’t see a turnip truck around here and I didn’t just fall off one,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh of ripley. “We’re going to pass the Senate bill.”
Maggart refused to commit to yanking the bill from the floor if the Senate version is substituted, even though asked to make such a promise by Rep. Mike Harrison, R-Rogersville.
Harrison was one of the three Republicans voting no on the bill. The others were Reps. Scotty Campbell, R-Mountain City, Dennis “Coach” Roach of Rutledge. Rep. Jim Coley, R-Bartlett, abstained.
Coley said later that he is a member of Shelby County Education Association and its parent organization, the Tennessee Education Association (TEA), which is bitterly opposed to the bill. “In my heart,” Coley said, he wanted to vote no, but felt it appropriate to abstain.
After the vote, Harwell said she would support the House version on the floor, but would also be willing to support the Senate version. The speaker said she had promised some Republicans to assure that the bill gets a floor vote, though it is “not a priority” to her personally.
Harwell predicted the measure will ultimately wind up in a House-Senate conference committee, where members of the two chambers will try to reach a compromise.
TEA lobbyist Jerry Winters told the committee members that the bill has outraged and united teachers statewide.
“I just hope not a single one of you goes home and tries to convince teachers in your district that you’ve done something for education,” he said “That’s not going to fly with them. It’s not going to fly with the general public. They’re not stupid.”
Here’s a House Democratic Caucus release on the issue.
(Nashville) – A House panel passed an anti-teacher bill Wednesday that continues an effort to strip teachers of their ability to effectively negotiate for better classrooms for students and better working conditions for their profession.
“This bill is only a start in what we believe will be an agreement with the state Senate to destroy all rights to negotiate from more than 52,000 Tennessee teachers,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner (D-Old Hickory). “This is an attack on Tennessee teachers; make no mistake.”
The anti-teacher bill, which is expected to pass the Republican-controlled Senate in another form, will decrease the rights of teachers to effectively negotiate a contract covering their salary, benefits, working conditions, school safety, class size, planning time, time to teach, length of the school day, scheduling and other priorities.
“This is a political game; the Republican majority is calling it a ‘reform,'” Turner said. “They simply don’t want public education to exist in this state at all.
“We’re asking all citizens, especially our teachers, their families and their friends to call the state legislature and ask their House and Senate members to vote against this bill.”
The bill will now head for a full House vote and is expected to be re-shaped into the Senate version, which will strip the rights of teachers to better their careers and the learning environment for Tennessee students.