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The Associated Press March 22, 2011, 5:22PM ET

Collective bargaining bill advances in Tenn. House

A Republican-supported proposal to restrict the collective bargaining rights of Tennessee teachers advanced in the House on Tuesday despite laments from Democrats and educators that they were denied much input.

The measure, sponsored by House Republican Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart of Hendersonville, was approved by the House Education Committee 12-6 on Tuesday and now goes to the House Finance Committee.

The proposal is different from companion legislation in the Senate, which seeks to eliminate collective bargaining altogether. That version awaits the scheduling of a vote on the Senate floor.

Republicans have billed the House version as "compromise" legislation, but former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh disagreed.

"When you have a true compromise, you bring people around the table," said the Covington Democrat. "You bring Democrats, you bring Republicans, you bring teachers, and you work until you have a true compromise."

Tennessee Education Association lobbyist Jerry Winters echoed that sentiment.

"We are always open to talk about any issue," said Winters, whose group represents 52,000 teachers. "This was not something that was discussed with us."

Winters said he's pleased that the House proposal doesn't seek to totally repeal collective bargaining. But he's not comfortable with provisions of the legislation, such as removing principals from the negotiating process, eliminating certain dues deductions, and ending bargaining on differential pay plans and other incentive compensation.

Others said the current bargaining system is effective and doesn't need to be changed.

"What is the problem that we're trying to fix?" asked Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livingston.

The push in Tennessee is the latest attempt by Republicans to weaken teacher and public employee groups since the GOP made gains nationwide in the fall elections. Republicans now control both chambers of the Tennessee legislature in addition to the governor's office, and teachers believe they're being unfairly targeted because of the TEA's past financial support for Democratic candidates' over the years.

Lee Harrell, director of government and labor relations for the Tennessee School Boards Association, said the legislation is needed because there are cases where union representatives are looking out for themselves "rather than every teacher, rather than that student."

"That's not every time; you have a lot of good associations out there," Harrell said. "But we hear about the bad ones so often that this legislation was warranted."

Republican leaders are somewhat divided over the legislation.

Gov. Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville support the House version -- which would exclude only certain areas, such as merit pay and evaluation standards -- while Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey endorses the Senate measure.

Ramsey told reporters on Tuesday that the upper chamber still prefers to stick with the original bill, but the Blountville Republican said he'd stop short of calling it a "showdown" between the two chambers over the measure.

"I would think we'd need to come to some sort of compromise before the bill passes," he said. "But I feel very strongly that if we want true reform in education in this state, that we need to stick with our bill."

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