Senate committee passes bill that strips bargaining rights from teachers union

NASHVILLE - The Senate Education Committee passed a bill today that would do away with mandatory negotiations with teachers' unions.

On a 6-3 vote that cut straight down Republican-Democrat party lines, the committee approved the bill, which strips collective bargaining rights from the Tennessee Education Association and its affiliates.

Dozens of teachers and tea party activists began filing into the Legislative Plaza this morning in advance of the committee hearing, eventually filling the hearing room to the brink with about 300 people.

TEA Executive Director Al Mance said teachers view Senate Bill 113 as an "unprecedented attack on their rights to have some input into education."

Conservative tea party members support the legislation, said Ben Cunningham, a prominent tea party activist.

"The TEA is primarily a political organization," Cunningham said. "This [current law] is a special franchise that gives them even more political clout and they promoted the state income tax. They are invariably in favor of higher taxes and bigger government."

Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, a Senate Education Committee member, indicated he does not favor the bill, which is sponsored by several Republican leaders in the GOP-dominated General Assembly.

"There's nothing wrong with negotiating issues about things like classroom size and what we should be doing is figuring out ways to work on these together rather than filing partisan and divisive legislation," Berke said.

But Lee Harrell, lobbyist for the Tennessee School Boards Association, said the legislation is necessary because the current negotiations process is "so adversarial."

"There are winners and losers and you're not looking at what the child in each classroom needs and you're not looking at what the child in each classroom needs," Harrell said.

For complete details, see tomorrow's Times Free Press.