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story.lead_photo.caption Rep. Fred Love (left) greets Rep. Grant Hodges during debate Thursday in the House on Hodges’ bill allowing teachers to opt out of labor unions or professional associations at any time. Love spoke against the bill, which passed 60-22. - Photo by Stephen B. Thornton

The Arkansas House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday that would allow the state's teachers to opt in or out of labor unions or professional associations whenever they want.

House Bill 1957, by Rep. Grant Hodges, R-Rogers, passed 60-22. It now will head to the Arkansas Senate.

"Public school employees should have the basic right of freedom of association," Hodges said. "They should be able to decide if and when to join a union. They should be able to decide if and when to leave a union. Public school employees should be able to make their own decisions about where their money goes and who they want to represent them. They currently do not have that option."

Hodges said under the current system, school employees are given a one-month window at the beginning of the school year. He said there is a process for those employees to opt out of the system, but the unions often continue to deduct dues from their paychecks until another opt-out window rolls around.

Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, said the bill was improperly run through the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee instead of through House Education Committee. He said because the bill would have an effect on teachers, it should have been vetted through the Education Committee.

The Education Committee is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. At least 11 members of the Education Committee voted against the measure or abstained from voting Thursday.

"He looked for and found a way to get a committee that would pass this with no notice to us in Education so that we could vet it," Walker said. "When he talks about defending the rights of teachers, with all due respect, there is no record of the teachers that he seeks to protect have indicated to him that they want these protections. National labor relations law governs labor relations."

Walker said he would like the bill to be sent back to the Education Committee.

Rep. Fred Love, D-Little Rock, compared the bill to legislation allowing someone who didn't like his cellphone plan to get out of his contract. He said the person knows what he's getting when he signs the contract, so allowing him to stop paying isn't fair to the provider of that service.

"I think that's a bad practice," Love said. "If I go into the contract knowing what is going to be provided, then it's a valid contract. It's a slippery slope."

Rep. Bruce Cozart, R-Hot Springs, chairman of the Education Committee, said he believed the Legislature had the responsibility to intervene on behalf of teachers.

"Contracts are a lot of things that a lot of us are in. I have a contract with that lady right over there," he said, pointing to his wife. "I have a contract of marriage. I can get out of that marriage contract faster than a teacher can get out of his contract with the union."

Metro on 03/20/2015

Print Headline: House passes bill to let teachers exit union at any time

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