McCormick: Collective Bargaining Bill In Trouble

A key House committee on Tuesday threw cold water on efforts to repeal the 1978 Education Professional Negotiations Act, which requires that local Tennessee school districts collectively bargain with teacher unions.

The setback caused one of the chamber’s top Republicans to concede that HB130 is on the ropes this year. Asked if he thinks “the bill is in trouble,” House Republican Leader Gerald McCormick said, “I think so. That is an accurate statement.”

Five House Republicans in the House finance committee broke ranks and voted with Democrats 14-11 to kick HB130 back to the Education Committee, where it already passed back in March.

The Education Committee is currently closed now, although it was reported late Tuesday afternoon that the committee’s chairman, Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, said he’s willing to open it back up to hear the bill.

Nevertheless, time is not on the bill’s side, said McCormick, who added lawmakers are wanting the session over by the end of May.

Furthermore, the bill still isn’t at the point where it can pass the House finance committee, said McCormick — and might, he added, even have trouble on the House floor where Republicans outnumber Democrats 64-34.

“That one has not ripened to the point where we can get more than 50 of our members, or a majority of that committee,” said McCormick, who represents eastern Hamilton County. “It just doesn’t have the votes on the finance committee.”

Democrats, who’ve all year opposed doing away with state-mandated collective bargaining in school districts where teachers unionize, took issue Tuesday with the latest amendment to HB130, which would generally mirror changes made to the Senate’s version. SB113 won approval on the floor 18-14 in the Senate Monday night.

They were joined in their protests by five Republicans, including Rep. Jimmy Eldridge of Jackson, who initiated the call to return the bill — and the new amendment — to the education committee.

Republicans voting with Democrats on the committee included Eldridge, Rep. Scotty Campbell, of Mountain City, Rep. Jim Coley of Bartlett, Rep. Mike Harrison of Rogersville and Rep. Dennis “Coach” Roach of Rutledge.

“There’s some work to be done, some persuasion to be done and the bill’s sponsor will be working on it. She’s a hard worker, and I’m sure she’ll be back next year working on it,” McCormick said after the committee adjourned.

Hendersonville Rep. Debra Maggart, the bill’s sponsor, told reporters immediately after the vote that she did not see the vote as a set back, but rather a move to further vet the bill.

Gov. Bill Haslam weighed in on the bill Tuesday with reporters, saying he was generally in favor of the collective bargaining ban, pending input from the House.

Although the plan is in turmoil, the bill is far from dead. It may yet find its way back to the House finance committee and from there the House floor in some form. There are also a few other seldom used — and difficult to pull off — legislative maneuvers that could advance the bill straight to the House floor, assuming there are enough votes to support it.