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Hargett Premiers TN Capitol History Documentary

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett; July 3, 2013:

It has endured an army occupation, the interment of two of its founding fathers, and a car cruising through its hallways. Not to mention its role as the site of many of the most important events in Tennessee’s history. The Tennessee State Capitol building has many great stories to tell – and some of those stories were revealed in a documentary about the building that premiered last week. In attendance were state legislators, department commissioners, representatives from preservation groups and others.

The documentary was created by the staff of the Tennessee State Library and Archives. It is the first part of a project that will eventually include a virtual tour of the Capitol building and its grounds, and feature stories about the building and influential people in Tennessee history.

When completed, the entire project will be burned onto DVDs that will be distributed to schools throughout the state.

The project is a result of the Tennessee General Assembly’s approval of Public Chapter No. 557, sponsored by Representative Jim Coley and Senator Ken Yager.

“I appreciate the support of the Tennessee General Assembly in the passage of Public Chapter No. 557, which has led us to the creation of a comprehensive digital record of the Tennessee State Capitol’s history,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “That history will be available to people now and in the future – 24 hours a day, seven days a week and free of charge – over the Internet. There are many things about the Capitol’s history that will surprise people. This building doesn’t have its own Trivial Pursuit game, but it could.”

“The mission of the State Library and Archives is to preserve Tennessee’s history for everyone,” State Librarian and Archivist Chuck Sherrill said. “This video draws on some of the vast treasures contained in our archives to tell the story of the Capitol building.”

The original cornerstone of the Capitol building was laid on July 4, 1845. In the 14 years that followed, architect William Strickland – with assistance from Samuel Morgan, Francis Strickland and Harvey Ackroyd – designed and oversaw the building that is still in use today. Although the Capitol has gone through various renovations over nearly 170 years, many of the building’s original characteristics are unchanged. This historical national landmark is one of the nation’s oldest working statehouses still in use.

The documentary and information on the images used in the film are available at www.capitol.tnsos.net. Additionally, the virtual tour, mini-features, and fun stories about the Tennessee State Capitol will be available soon.

Amid Political Uncertainty, Collective Bargaining Bill Headed to House Floor

For the second time this session, Tennessee Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell had to throw a lifeline to a proposal to curb the power of unionized teachers to exclusively negotiate labor contracts with local school boards.

The Nashville Republican offered the tie-breaking vote Wednesday, 13-12, to advance a proposal restricting collective bargaining through the committee system. A similar intervention by Harwell was necessary to save the same measure, HB13o, back in March.

“I made a commitment to the membership of Republican Caucus that they would have an opportunity to vote on this on the House floor and in order for them to do that, this bill had to come out of committee today,” Harwell told reporters after the hearing.

Three Republicans voted with Democrats against the bill, including Rep. Scotty Campbell of Mountain City, Rep. Mike Harrison of Rogersville, and Rep. Dennis “Coach” Roach of Bartlett

Republican Rep. Jim Coley abstained, telling reporters later that he felt a conflict of interest because he belongs to the Tennessee Education Association. His urge, he said, was to vote against the bill, which likely would have killed it. Coley said he hasn’t decided if he would vote on the measure on the House floor.

There are two competing bills the General Assembly is considering. The House version would limit the issues teachers unions can bring to the collective bargaining negotiating table. A bill that has already passed the Senate would eliminate collective bargaining entirely by repealing the 1978 Professional Education Negotiations Act that currently requires school boards to negotiate labor contracts with one recognized teacher union in 92 Tennessee school districts.

GOP Caucus Chairwoman Debra Young Maggart, who is sponsoring the House legislation, was the only Republican during the committee hearing to spend any significant time defending the collective-bargaining rollback efforts, or attempting to argue they will benefit education in Tennessee.

“Saying over and over that this is an attack on teachers is a very nice talking point because I want you all to know that it’s not true,” said Maggart. “We are trying to make sure that we have every tool available to advance student achievement in our schools, that’s what this is about.”

But Democrats say they don’t buy that, and they also maintain there’s little public or local political support for the GOP-led effort to restrict union influence in Tennessee’s school systems.

“I think it’s the tail wagging the dog,” said Rep. Gary Odom, a Nashville Democrat who accused the original architect of the bill — the Tennessee School Boards Association — of driving the proposal without support from their local school boards. “I think this is an attack on teachers. I think it’s motivated politically. To me, until those in my community who work on education issues every day in their position, tell me this is good, how can I vote for it? How can you vote for it?”

Republicans on the committee offered little in the way of rhetorical defense of their caucus chairwoman, save the GOP majority leader, Gerald McCormick, who did so while admitting the collective bargaining bill is treading on thin ice.

“I don’t know that there’s the votes to pass the Senate bill. I honestly don’t,” McCormick told the committee, adding he prefers the House version himself.

Democrats on the other hand spent significant time arguing that passage of the Senate bill is a foregone conclusion — meanwhile admitting they fully understand the strategies being employed by Republicans, having been in the majority themselves only a short time ago.

“This is inside politics,” House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh told the committee after predicting the House will end up adopting the Senate version. “This is the way it’s done, and it’s a roughshod sometimes, and I’ve been on both sides of that.”

Speaker Emeritis Jimmy Naifeh outlined to the committee exactly what he thinks will happen to the bill, ultimately ending in the House adopting the Senate version although it never made it out of any House committees.

But Fitzhugh said he understands the reality of being in the minority.

“We know the votes. We know what the votes are. So something’s going to pass and I guess the lesser of two evils is the House version,” Fitzhugh told TNReport after the vote. “Like I said, I didn’t fall off a turnip truck. I can see what’s coming down the road.”

One Step Forward, Two Back

Rep. Jimmy Eldridge said he didn’t know prior to Tuesday’s House Finance, Ways and Means Committee meeting that he’d want to put off discussing anti-collective bargaining legislation.

But once the Jackson Republican saw that yet another lengthy amendment was being added to an already much-amended bill, it became clear to him that the House Education Committee was better suited to examine the rewrite than the finance committee. So he made a motion to send the bill back from whence it came.

Four other Republicans and nine Democrats backed him and in the process overpowered remaining GOP members of the committee, including GOP House Leader Gerald McCormick, who personally tried, but failed, to kill Eldridge’s motion.

But Eldridge said later his intentions were not to “derail” the push by his fellow GOP lawmakers that’s become the focus of so much attention this session. “My heart led me that way, and I wasn’t trying to kill it, or persuade it or affect it any way,” he said.

Nevertheless, Eldridge’s move brought to the fore the question of whether the effort to repeal the 1978 Education Professional Negotiations Act has enough support to pass the House this year.

McCormick told reporters Tuesday night he suspects not.

Despite the caucus leader’s perceptions, though, the one higher-ranking Republican in the House, Speaker Beth Harwell, said Wednesday it’s still too early to start writing postmortems for the legislation this year.

Harwell said the bill, HB130, still has a “razor-fine margin” of support and barring any other big surprises on track to ultimately pass.

The House Education Committee is expected next week to consider the new amendment, which closely resembles language in the Senate version of the bill — SB113 which won approval Monday — requiring districts to develop policy manuals on how they decide labor issues. The move kicks the bill two steps backward as it had already passed that committee along with the finance subcommittee.

The legislation also mandates that school boards sit down with teachers and their respective unions to discuss labor contracts, although the school boards would have the final say on what does or does not get implemented. Unions, however, would no longer enjoy de facto veto authority over school policies they oppose.

House Education Committee Chairman Richard Montgomery said he “has a feeling” the body will OK it despite its highly volatile nature.

“This isn’t about teachers,” Montgomery said. “This is about trying to free up the system so that it operates better and we can all work together better as a team.”

But Montgomery added that he considers it vital to ensure that input from teachers is sought and heard by locally elected school officials.

“At the end of the day we are going to come up with a piece of legislation that I hope will let the teachers feel comfortable that they have a voice,” he said.

The five Republicans who voted to send the bill two steps back in the legislative process all cite different reasons for their actions, ranging purely from not wanting to get their hands dirty navigating through education policies to disagreeing with the underlying motives of the bill, which is the perception among Republicans that the 1978 law mandating local districts negotiate solely with unionized teachers is unfair, unproductive and often unnecessarily antagonistic.

That’s not a view accepted by Rep. Dennis “Coach” Roach of Rutledge. Like Maryville Republican Douglas Overbey in the Senate, Roach is with the Democrats on this one, and there’s nothing his fellow Republicans can put in the bill to make him vote for it because he feels the proposal does nothing to improve education or help teachers.

“I can’t support it in any form right now. You add one bad amendment, take off a bad amendment add another bad amendment, it still does the same thing, and what they’re trying to do is the same thing no matter what amendments are on the bill,” said Roach.

Scotty Campbell, of Mountain City, said he’d rather be talking about the government solving persistent unemployment problems and securing disaster-relief funding for his constituents instead of getting sidetracked by thorny debates over the nature and merits of public sector employee unionization.

“We were in the finance committee. I’m not on the education committee. I’m not on the education subcommittee,” said Campbell. “I’m not an education expert, so I voted to refer the legislation back to its proper place.”

Rep. Jim Coley said he voted for the delay not because he’s a teacher and member of the Tennessee Education Association — which is directly affected by the bill — but because the finance committee isn’t equipped to be responsible for the new thrust of the collective bargaining ban.

But the Bartlett Republican said he’s not sure what side of the issue he’ll be on when it’s time for him to vote. And he’s not sure it’ll have enough votes to get to the floor.

“I think the committee is divided. I think you can tell by the vote to send it back to education that there’s some division among Republicans and more unanimity among Democrats,” said Coley. “I think it will be a close vote, either in the committee or on the House floor.”