Harwell Signals Support For Collective Bargaining Repeal

The House may go along with a ban on teachers’ collective bargaining privileges after all.

After spending weeks supporting a scaled-back plan to rein in Tennessee teachers’ unions, House Speaker Beth Harwell told reporters she thinks the Senate’s more stringent proposal will be “more palatable to some of our House members” once the upper chamber builds in some required public input sessions.

“I think it will address the concerns that teachers have expressed to me, and I think when they’re completed it will be an amendment that the House will be comfortable with, and that’s my hope,” the Nashville Republican said Thursday.

The two chambers have been at odds for weeks over how to address teachers’ collective bargaining powers. Senate Republicans want to ban unions from negotiating teachers contracts. The House GOP has supported a proposal that would allow unions to hash out contracts but limit the issues they can debate.

The Senate version of the bill was awaiting a vote by the full chamber, but the measure’s sponsor is kicking the bill back into the committee process to hear the new amendment he believes will attract enough hesitant Republicans in the House to pass his version. The new language would create a policy manual directing school boards to hold public hearings before finalizing teacher contracts.

“As soon as we have something, obviously we’ll want to get it to the House folks and see if perhaps that’s a happy middle ground between where the House is now and where the Senate is now,” said Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin.

He expects the bill to be heard in the Senate Education Committee next Wednesday.

A spokesman for Gov. Bill Haslam, who teamed up with Harwell to craft the House version of the bill, said the governor will wait until he sees the Senate amendment before offering his opinion on the speaker’s about-face.

The House version is scheduled to go before the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee on April 19.