Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law Wednesday the repeal of collective bargaining for public school teachers and a major overhaul of Tennessee’s campaign finance regulations.
The collective bargaining debate was perhaps the most contentious of the just-finished legislative session. The Tennessee Education Association urged the governor to veto the bill, but he said even during the session that he would sign it.
It replaces collective bargaining between the teachers’ union and school boards with non-binding “collaborative conferencing,” stripping the TEA of most of its power.
The new campaign finance law allows direct corporate contributions to candidates and political parties for the first time in Tennessee. It also raises the caps on contributions — from $2,500 to $3,600 for individuals in the governor’s race, for example — and provides for annual increases in the future pegged to the rate of inflation.
The bill treats corporations like political action committees, limiting their contributions the same and applying the same disclosure rules. Contribution limits for PACs would increase from $7,500 to $10,700 for state Senate and gubernatorial races, and from $5,000 to $7,100 for state House campaigns.
Democratic legislative leaders opposed allowing corporate contributions and predicted it would lead to a flood of new cash and increased spending in campaigns.
“It’s going to be an arms race of Democrats and Republicans trying to compete for this corporate cash instead of concentrating on good government,” House Democratic Caucus chair Mike Turner said. “I just think it’s wrong. I think it’s un-American. Tennessee will rue the day we’ve done this.”
The bill’s Republican sponsors said they are responding to a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down the federal law barring corporations from making independent expenditures in political campaigns.
“This basically would just level the playing field, because unions are allowed to do this by statute now,” Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, said.