For the second day in a row, Memphis was favored Friday with a visit from a ranking personage in state government. On Friday Governor Bill Haslam and state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman had come for a round of visits. On Friday state House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) made a series of stops here.
First was a visit to the Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering (MASE), which Harwell said was a model charter school and tied in with Governor Haslam’s emphasis on increasing the number of charter schools by lifting the cap on them.
Then she made a stop at Memphis Bioworks to inspect that facility and completed her visit with a speaking turn at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
At Bioworks Harwell took questions from local media. She was asked about the two versions of a pending bill on the issue of collective bargaining for teachers — a House version, which she and Haslam had backed, that trimmed certain prerogatives but provided for a modicum of collective bargaining; and a Senate version, backed by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, that would abolish altogether collective bargaining in public-school education.
Harwell said, in essence, that an amendment to the Senate bill in that body’s Education Committee laid the basis for reconciliation of the two versions. She said she thought the two houses would end on the same page after devising “a policy manual on issues concerning the workplace and certain rights that teachers will have.”
She then made the point-blank statement: “I think you will see an end to collective bargaining as we have known it.”
In other remarks, the House Speaker said the state had made early application for various federal funds in case of a governmental shutdown at the federal level; defended the rapid passage, back in January, of the controversial Norris-Todd bill on school merger in Shelby County (“we needed to be sure we had a plan in place”); and said that, besides education reform, bills on tort reform and immigration reform would soon be in the pipeline.
On the latter, she said, “We want to be sure that no state aids go to people in the state illegally, but she suggested that a recently passed bill mandating the use of the eVerify electronic method to check citizenship of prospective employees might be modified so as not “to harm small business.”
Concerning speculation about a power struggle between Ramsey and Haslam, Harwell echoed the governor’s sentiments of the previous day, saying, “The governor and lieutenant governor get along well.” They differed, but that was “part of the legislative process,” adding, “There will always be some differences; you could say same thing about the House and Senate.”