published Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

Collective bargaining, political contribution measures become law

NEW LAWS

Other bills signed by Gov. Bill Haslam in recent days include:

  • Abolishing pretrial diversion in most criminal cases.

  • Increasing the penalty for persons who interfere with or protest at a funeral or memorial service from a Class C to a Class B misdemeanor. Penalties would increase from 30 days in jail and a $50 fine to up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.

  • Revising present law to make the use of precinct-based optical scanners by a county election commission discretionary instead of mandatory.

NASHVILLE — Tennessee teachers are losing their collective bargaining powers while corporations can now contribute directly to state and local political campaigns under two GOP bills signed into law Wednesday by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

The collective-bargaining bill also bans the state teachers’ union, the Tennessee Education Association, from using members’ due for campaign contributions. Moreover, it appears to prohibit the 52,000-member organization from using teachers’ dues to lobby state lawmakers.

Both the collective-bargaining ban and corporate contributions take effect immediately, although current teachers’ contracts would run their natural course.

Earlier this week, Haslam also signed into law another Republican-sponsored bill that requires voters to have government-issued photo identification before being allowed to cast ballots.

And on yet another front, the governor also signed legislation that, for the first time, requires so-called “rock harvesters” to obtain permits before they can strip stone out of the earth. It wasn’t the more-restrictive legislation sponsored by Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, but after getting blocked by rock miners in previous years, Floyd said he was glad to support it.

Meanwhile, critics charge the collective-bargaining law is part of a national Republican effort to break teachers’ unions, which have contributed heavily to Democratic candidates.

The Tennessee bill abolishes collective bargaining now conducted in 92 of 136 school districts, including Hamilton County schools. It replaces traditional bargaining by affiliates of the Tennessee Education Association with a concept Republicans called “collaborative conferencing.”

Under the plan, school boards would be required to meet with teacher representatives approved by local educators. They could only strike limited agreements on some wage and benefit issues. The agreements could be enforced by a court.

But local school boards are under no obligation to agree to enter such agreements.

“The more we dig into the actual contents of this legislation, the less we like it,” said Jerry Winters, chief lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association. “I think there’s more politics behind this than education reform.”

But he said the bill is now the law and TEA “will do the best we can to work within the constraints.”

House Republican Caucus Chairman Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, the legislation’s sponsor, thanked Haslam, calling Tennessee “a stronger state today because of this new law.”

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfree press.com or 615-255-0050.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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