NASHVILLE - The state's largest teachers' union would lose its ability to appoint three members to the state's pension board under a Republican-pushed bill that easily cleared the Senate today on a straight party-line vote.
All 20 Republicans voted for the bill while all 13 Democrats were opposed.
Sen. Delores Gresham, R-Somerville, the bill's sponsor, questioned why the Tennessee Education Association, which represents 52,000 active teachers, should have the authority to name appointees to the 20-member Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System
"To have a private organization control seats on a government board is clearly inappropriate and this bill fixes that," Gresham said. "In this case, TEA, a private organization, does not indeed represent all Tennessee's teachers. And this bill fixes that by opening up the appointment process to all of Tennessee's teachers."
The bill gives two of the three TEA appointments to the Senate speaker and one to the House speaker. The House speaker also gets to appoint the retired teacher.
But Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, and other Democrats said the bill is yet another measure Republicans are pushing to attack the teachers' union.
Berke questioned why Republicans' concern about the TEA does not extend to other groups such as the Tennessee Municipal League and Tennessee County Services Association which, under statute, also have appointments to the pension board.
Democrats sought to have the Senate Government Operations Committee examine the entire issue, but the chairman, Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said the panel does not have jurisdiction over the pension board.
Watson, who has been moving over the past few years to strip interest groups from statutorily designated appointments to board and commissions, said he backs the Gresham bill.
Sen. Joe Haynes, D-Nashville, told Gresham that "I'm a little bit offended by the fact that you're in such a hurry to pass this that you won't give this committee an opportunity to review this and make sure we got it right. I don't know what the hurry is. But if you want to cram it down our throat without that discussion occurring, you got the rope."
The Tennessee Retired Teachers Association, which is affiliated with the Tennessee Education Association, also gets one pick.