GOP wants ‘labor’ axed from Tenn. committee name

On March 11, 2011, in News 2011, by Mark Norris

March 11, 2011


Republicans in the Tennessee Senate wants to drop “labor” from the name of the legislative committee that handles commerce and employment issues in a move that Democrats say underscores the GOP’s hostility toward organized labor.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris said Thursday that it’s only in the interest of brevity that he has proposed excising the term from the Senate Commerce, Labor and Agriculture Committee. The Environment, Conservation and Tourism Committee would also become known as the Energy and Environment Committee.

“We’re just trying to shorten the names,” said the Collierville Republican. “It’s all still within their purview.”

But Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle said the measure shows Republicans are trying to burnish their anti-union credentials while lawmakers consider a GOP effort to strip teachers of their collective bargaining. A similar measure passed in Wisconsin on Thursday has become a national flashpoint for disputes over the role of organized labor.

“It sends a negative message to organized labor, and in particular to our teachers and state employee organizations,” said Kyle, D-Memphis. “It is imaging ourselves differently.”

The collective bargaining bill has advanced to the Senate floor, but a vote has been delayed while lawmakers consider Gov. Bill Haslam’s education proposals, including a bill passed Thursday to make teacher tenure more difficult to obtain.

Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville told reporters Thursday that he intends to move forward with the collective bargaining measure soon.

“The unions exist to promote mediocrity,” Ramsey said. “They don’t exist to promote excellence. They exist to promote the lowest common denominator.”

Haslam has remained neutral on the bill while Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell has suggested that the measure could be tweaked to not do away with teachers’ bargaining rights altogether.

Another proposed change in Senate would rename the position of committee secretary the second vice chairman. Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, said the move would better reflect the duties of the third-ranking officer.

“It seemed like the title of secretary didn’t really fit with what they did,” he said. “That title appears more clerical by description.”

Kyle joked at a rules committee meeting that Republicans might have a different motivation for changing the titles.

“I just figured you all wanted to do it so you could all call each other ‘chairman’ at your caucus meetings,” Kyle said.

The proposed changes to committee names and officer titles comes a day after a Senate panel advanced a Republican-sponsored measure to remove the word ‘highway’ from the Tennessee Highway Patrol, and instead have it be known simply as the State Patrol.


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