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Idaho judge upholds law curbing teachers' bargaining rights

By Laura Zuckerman

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - An Idaho judge has rejected a bid by the state teachers union to overturn a new law curtailing the collective bargaining rights of public school teachers.

Idaho District Judge Timothy Hansen, in a ruling applauded by Idaho's Republican leaders, rebuffed claims by the Idaho Education Association that the new law violated the state constitution.

The measure, one of several passed in Republican-dominated states curbing collective bargaining by unions representing public sector workers, removed from contract negotiations issues like class size and pay.

The teachers union had argued in a lawsuit that the law, signed earlier this year by Republican Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter, unconstitutionally limited existing labor contracts for teachers to one year and nullified collective bargaining agreements already in place.

The organization, which represents 12,000 teachers, also argued the law retroactively eliminated an existing retirement benefit by voiding an early retirement incentive for some educators.

Hansen agreed with the teachers union that the law, which was passed by the Republican-led legislature in March, caused "substantial" contractual impairments.

But the judge, siding with the state in a ruling handed down on Thursday and made public on Friday, said the constitution allows such actions when they serve a key public purpose.

The state had a significant and legitimate public purpose in imposing the regulation, which "relates to matters of efficiency and accountability within Idaho's public school system," Hansen wrote in the decision.

The governor welcomed the decision, saying: "The legislature did the right thing and now so has Judge Hansen."

The Idaho Education Association said on Friday it would appeal to the state's highest court.

"All involved anticipated that whether it was win, lose or draw, Judge Hansen's decision would be appealed and ultimately decided by the Idaho Supreme Court," union attorney Paul Stark said in a statement.

A group seeking to repeal that law and two others that overhauled public education in Idaho in June gathered sufficient signatures to place the three statutes before voters on the November 2012 ballot.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Cynthia Johnston)

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