State House Speaker Beth Harwell predicted passage of the Republican bill to repeal collective bargaining by public school teachers, but said Thursday for the first time that it’s “not a priority” of hers.
The bill, one of the most controversial of this year’s session, is in jeopardy in the House where this week the Finance Committee sent it back to the Education Committee, which already had closed for business for the year.
At her weekly news conference, Harwell said the committee will reopen next week to hear the bill again, which cleared the full Senate this week. She said she expects the House eventually to adopt the bill, although she hesitated when asked about the measure’s chances in the Finance Committee.
“We’ll see,” she said at first before adding, “I believe it will pass the Finance Committee.”
Asked how strongly she personally is committed to the legislation, Harwell said, “It was not a priority of mine nor was it a priority of the governor’s. But if Republican legislators feel strongly they would like to have this passed, we’re going to work hard to accomplish that.”
Asked whether she was backing away from the bill, she added, “I’m supportive of the bill. As amended, this can move education forward. I think it’s a significant move in our state. I am extremely supportive of the measure and will work to see its passage. I was just simply saying that this was not a priority of the governor or of the Republican caucus. But I believe it’s important to our caucus, and we’re going to get it passed.”
The House Education Committee originally passed the bill, but that version allowed collective bargaining to continue for base pay and benefits. Contract negotiations were prohibited for merit pay and other issues.
The Senate version is an outright repeal of collective bargaining, however. House sponsors now are trying to amend their bill to conform to the Senate’s. Some House Republicans, who are feeling the political heat from teachers in their district, are opposed to the bill.
The Tennessee Education Association contends Republicans are retaliating against the TEA because the teachers’ union is a traditional ally of Democrats in election campaigns.