By Katie Stancombe TheStatehouseFile.com INDIANAPOLIS — Confusion and concern about collective bargaining rights for teachers slowed progress on a bill Wednesday in a Senate committee. Sen. Pete Miller, R-Avon, proposed legislation that would allow non-union teachers the right to bargain with their districts for salaries and benefits. But Senate Bill 302 also says that a teacher who enters into a non-union contract waives other due process rights if he or she is fired. Miller said he thinks that teachers should have the right to “negotiate for themselves” when creating a contract with their employers. “I can think of all the different places that have more options instead of a one-size fits all approach,” Miller said. However, Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, said the bill “leaves a lot of questions” unanswered. Traditionally, teacher contracts are determined through collective bargaining between unions and school districts. The goal is to reach an agreement on salaries, benefits and other working conditions, which then applies to union and non-union teachers alike. But in recent years, the Republican-controlled General Assembly has restricted what unions can negotiate and tried to broaden rights for non-union teachers. Caitlin Gamble, director of policy and research for Hoosiers for Quality Education, told the House Education Committee on Wednesday that current law leave many teachers “without a voice” in their contracts. “We believe it’s time to start treating teachers like the professionals they are,” Gamble said. “Why not give those teachers the ability to have a conversation with their employer? Why not empower a teacher with the ability to advocate for themselves?” But Tallian raised a number of questions: Who would initiate the bargain? What’s to prevent every teacher from cutting a better deal? And is there anything to prevent special abuse to the bill? Overall, she argued about practical ways to approach the bill, even asking if it was a “special employment bill for school attorneys,” worrying that it would be the “beginning of a free-for-all.” But Miller said he has faith in the relationships beween teachers and districts. “I can’t answer all of these (questions),” he said. “But I trust the teacher and the school corporation.” Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, also expressed reservations about the bill, debating whether to say “gee-wiz” or “are you kidding” and asking Miller what problem he was trying to solve. “I can’t imagine the kind of chaos that would erupt in our schools and education,” said Rogers. “There’s already too much upheaval in education. I just think this is not needed at this point.” The Senate Pension and Labor Committee Chairman Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, said he would hold the bill until next week. Katie Stancombe is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.        

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