PIERRE, SD -
It was one of the closest votes in the South Dakota legislature in recent memory.
The House of Representatives passed the controversial teacher merit-pay bill Wednesday night by a vote of 36 to 33. It was closer than the first time the House voted on the plan.
It's an issue that split House Republicans and had several of them switching their votes.
Six Republicans switched from supporting the bill the first time the House considered the legislation to voting against the plan Wednesday.
Those Republicans included Representative Nick Moser of Yankton who is part of the Republican leadership and in charge of lining up votes on big issues. He switched his vote, but when KELOLAND News contacted him Thursday to get a comment on his decision, he refused to answer questions about it.
Scott Munsterman of Brookings also voted no on the final bill, switching from a yes vote the first time around.
Other Republicans who switched from a yes vote to a no vote include: Representative Fred Romkema of Spearfish, Representative Burt Tulson of Lake Norden, Representative Edward Van Gerpen of Avon and Dean Wink of Howes.
The big reason many of them changed their opinions on the bill was because of feedback from school administrators, teachers and constituents who were opposed to the bill.
"The overwhelming e-mails I received were opposed to the bill. I didn't receive, but one that was in favor of the bill," Romkema said.
Romkema says that input played a big part in switching his vote, but he says his original vote to pass House Bill 1234 was more a vote to send the bill over to the Senate so they could work on it instead of a show of support for the legislation.
"A vote to send it over to the Senate I don't believe is a necessary endorsement. It's a part of the process whereby the Senate gets a shot at the bill," Romkema said.
Two Republicans switched from no votes to yes votes Wednesday to approve the final bill. Representative Don Kopp of Rapid City was one of them.
"I changed my vote since the original bill because of the changes that had been made and I believe are workable," Kopp said.
Kopp says the extra advisory board added by the Senate to craft the final rules for the teacher bonus plan was a factor in voting for the bill this time around.
And while he believes the legislation isn't complete yet, Kopp thinks the groups set up to create rules for the programs over the next few years will help fine tune the bill.
"I believe as that as the bill continues and more educators are involved in this, I think it's going to end up a lot better bill. Right now, I look at it like it's just kind of a vehicle that we can build on," Kopp said.
Representative James Schaefer of Kennebec was the other Republican to switch from a no to a yes vote.
If the governor signs the bill, those groups will have time to set up the program because the teacher evaluation and bonus plan won't be implemented until the start of the 2014-2015 school year.
Tenure for South Dakota teachers will be eliminated in 2016.
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