House Republicans switched back Tuesday to the more moderate version of their bill to curtail collective bargaining for public school teachers, setting the stage for a fight with GOP senators and the Tea Party.
For the second time this session, the House Education Committee adopted legislation that continues to allow contract negotiations over base pay and benefits, but repeals bargaining for merit and incentive pay plans and for teacher assignments, among other matters. The vote was 11-6.
The Senate already has approved its own version of the bill, repealing collective bargaining outright. Last week, House leaders tried to amend their bill to conform to the Senate’s, but they ran into resistance from moderate Republicans and Democrats in the House Finance Committee. In that committee, lawmakers voted to send the bill back to the Education Committee, which already had closed for this year’s session.
House Speaker Beth Harwell reopened the committee to meet Tuesday. But instead of adopting the Senate language, as demanded by tea partyers, committee chairman Richard Montgomery announced, “We decided we liked what we did originally.”
Lawmakers then voted to send the bill back to the Finance Committee, where Harwell has conceded it might fail.
Democrats complained about the bill itself and about the backroom deal-making that left them in the dark.
“I feel like I’ve walked into the middle of a movie and I’m trying to figure out what happened before I sat down,” Rep. Joe Pitts, D-Clarksville, said.
House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh called the bill “an assault on teachers.” He said Republicans were trying to retaliate against the teachers’ union for giving too much campaign cash to Democrats. Rep. Lois DeBerry, D-Memphis, called it a “denial of a fundamental right of freedom of association.”
“If teachers are not free to associate and organize, who is safe?” she asked.