NASHVILLE-Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said Thursday he thinks GOP senators will succeed in persuading House Republicans to go along with changes in legislation stripping teachers of their collective bargaining rights.
He said Senate Republicans are "very, very close" on an amendment that "will let the teachers' voice be heard and still have the school board be the ultimate decider of policy."
Ramsey said he has been working with House Republicans and "hopefully we can actually get that amendment" accepted by House Republicans.
Earlier in the day, the sponsor of the repeal bill, Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, sent the full-repeal bill back to the Education Committee for additional work. Johnson told The Associated Press that he wants to adopt the current practices of the more than 40 school districts in the state that don't currently negotiate with teachers' unions.
"We do think that the union influence should be taken out," he told the AP. "But we do want teachers to have a seat at the table. We want them to be involved."
Senators say they are still pushing full repeal of collective bargaining. House Republicans and Republican Gov. Bill Haslam have supported a scaled-back version. It allows teachers to bargain over basic pay and some benefits but eliminates their ability to negotiate merit and differential pay.
Harwell later told reporters she has been talking to Ramsey and thinks the "amendment will make it more palatable to some of our House members, and I see passage of the bill this year."
Asked whether that constitutes a retreat by House Republicans, Harwell insisted to reporters it was "definitely not."
Noting she hasn't seen the actual amendment, Harwell said, "It's my understanding it's coupled with a policy manual that will be provided by all local school systems to the teachers to address some of their major concerns, some of their work condition arrangements and some other things."
Harwell said that should address teachers' concerns "and I think when completed it will be an amendment the House will be comfortable with. That's my hope."
Tennessee Education Association lobbyist Jerry Winters said Senate Republicans aren't sharing any information with him, and he can't reject anything out of hand.
Winters said that from what he can knows from news accounts, "it appears to me they're trying to repeal collective bargaining and say they're not doing it. It's problematic to move from enforceable contracts to school board policies. Policies can be changed from one school board meeting to the next."
In other legislative developments Thursday:
• A bill legalizing the sale of fireworks in East Ridge proved to be a dud on the Senate floor Thursday when the bill failed to win the necessary votes required for passage.
The vote was 12-11. All 12 yes votes were from Republicans while all 11 no votes were cast by Democrats.
Six people abstained and three didn't vote at all. One didn't attend Thursday's session. A bill requires 17 votes for passage in the 33-member Senate. The lack of votes resulted in the bill being returned to the Calendar Committee.
Sen. Bo Watson, R-East Ridge, said his bill "is not dead, but it's certainly in the intensive care unit."
He said one supporter was out and "I had nine people who either were absent from the chamber or chose not to participate."
Some of the Republican senators who abstained have fireworks stores in their own districts that could face competition if sales are approved for East Ridge.
Among those voting no was Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, who also represents Marion County, which has fought letting East Ridge's efforts to sell fireworks for years.
Watson said he plans to consult with House sponsor, Rep. Vince Dean, R-East RIdge, on their next move.
• Meawhile, senators unanimously passed a Berke bill that allows judges to order GPS monitoring of persons charged with domestic violence or stalking.
"For years, victims of domestic violence have had to live in fear that their attackers were following their every move," Berke said in a news release. "With this bill, the attackers will have to live with the knowledge that their victims are tracking them."
The bill authorizes local judges to order the use of global positioning monitoring systems as a condition of bail in such cases.
House Judiciary Committee members are expected to consider that chamber's version of the bill.