NASHVILLE - State House members voted today to restrict but not abolish collective bargaining for teachers following a marathon, sometimes bitter debate.
Republican proponents said the measure will benefit students but Democrats called it a politically inspired attack on teachers and their union, the Tennessee Education Association.
The vote was 59-39, with several Republicans lining up with Democrats against the bill. The Senate already has passed a complete repeal of collective bargaining, so the bills will have to be reconciled before a final measure can be sent to Gov. Bill Haslam.
Lawmakers are scrambling to finish the session this week or over the weekend.
During debate, House Republican Caucus Chairman Debra Maggart of Hendersonville, the bill's sponsor, denied the bill was an "attack on teachers."
She told colleagues it is "just not fair for the students in your county to have to deal with the burden that the union has placed on our educational system."
"It's not fair and it's not right," Maggart said. "The reason why I brought this bill was to ensure that every student in this state has the best opportunity to get a good education and also that every teacher in this state is empowered."
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville questioned that.
"I think it is an attack on teachers. I think the teachers say it's an attack on teachers," Turner said.
Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, said proponents were "demonizing" teachers.
"They are people who have dedicated their lives to our children, your children. Let us think twice before we do this."
But Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, said while the 52,000-member TEA opposes the bill, another organization, the 5,000-member Professional Educators of Tennessee, backs the measure.
Republican sponsors said the House bill allows teachers to negotiate on basic wages, some benefits and insurance, but not in areas such as merit pay and differential pay for certain subjects or schools.
Republicans defeated amendments to exclude several counties from the bill.
See Friday's Times Free Press for complete coverage.