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Teacher Protection Act moves forward by slim margin

A proposal known as the Teacher Protection Act caused a stir in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee today.

The bill, authored by Republicans Reps. Jeff Brandes, of St. Petersburg, and J.W. Grant, of Tampa, would allow teachers facing student-discipline-related lawsuits to request legal representation from the Attorney General.

"This is one way the state can stand up and say, 'We’re willing to stand behind teachers,'" Brandes said.

Rep. Bill Hager, a Republican from Boca Raton, said he was excited about the bill because "it provides an additional legal choice to teachers."

But opponents of the bill, including the Florida Education Association, called it unnecessary, pointing out that teachers cannot be named in a civil or criminal lawsuit. They also called the cost associated with the bill unnecessary; legislative analysts put the price tag at more than $2 million annually.

Ron Meyer, an attorney for the FEA, said the key to the proposal was actually its last line, which exempts professional teacher associations from certain regulations. Teacher associations don't handle collective bargaining, but sometimes compete with teachers' unions for members and influence. 

Said Rep. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat: "This is another shot at the teachers' union."

The bill passed out of the committee by a vote of 8-6. The dissenting votes came from the panel's five Democrats and Republican Rep. Michael Weinstein, of Jacksonville.