Today's Fair Shots - March 29th, 2017

1-Senate Budget Doesn't Make Grade on Texas's Needs

2-CPPP: It's Raining; Use the Rainy Day Fund

3-''Bathroom Amendment' Busted, But 'Sanctuary Businesses' Bill Passes in Railroad Commission Bill

4-ULLCO Takes Positions on Bill; Time to Weigh in on Paycheck Deception, Vouchers

5-U.S. House Leadership Trots Out Another Affordable Care Act Repeal Bill, But It Has Zombie Look

6-Study Quantifies Job Loss Because of Robots


The Texas Senate could debate two bills that labor has opposed - SB 13, the bill that takes away the right of public employees to voluntarily spend their own money on the labor organization of their choice through payroll dues deduction, and SB 3, the school voucher bill - as soon as this afternoon. Both bills became eligible for floor debate by virtue of inclusion on the Senate Intent Calendar. 

  This would be a good time to weigh in to OPPOSE SB 13 - call 1-844-332-8404  and respectfully ask your senator to OPPOSE SB 13, the payroll dues deduction bill. To OPPOSE SB 3, the voucher bill, send a message via Texas AFT's action page: http://bit.ly/2o8klb2.

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1. The Texas Senate yesterday unanimously approved the one bill that must pass, and it was done at minimalistic levels that can only be described as falling short of the status quo. 

   SB 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, a budget for the 2018-19 biennium, makes significant cuts in state spending, including shifting more of the cost of public schools to school districts and cutting funds for higher education.

   The bill does not touch a Rainy Day Fund that is projected to have $12 billion. But the $217.7 billion budget document includes $2.5 billion borrowed from the next budget through an accounting gimmick. That is not unprecedented. But it will require a reconciliation sometime in the future, presumably when the energy industry is flush again.

   Based on the work of the House Appropriations Committee, the Texas House is expected to present a very different option.

   Perhaps the worst news from the debate, which was more an exercise in marketing as there was no dispute about what was going to happen, was that even though a House panel has approved a labor-backed school finance plan, the Chair of the Senate Education Committee said he believes school finance should become the topic of an interim study rather than take immediate action. Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, made it clear he does not think school finance reform will happen by the session's conclusion at the end of May.

   Nelson suggested more funding might be added as the budget process continues. That was sufficient for Democrats who believe the process will ultimately deliver more for state programs. 

   The Austin American-Statesman offers more details:

   The new Senate budget cuts deeply into higher education, trimming 6 to 10 percent off the state money that goes to every public college and university.

  It also leaves untouched the state's K-12 education funding formula, which will result in a $1.4 billion decrease in the state's share of the funding as school districts' share increases due to rising property values.

  The Senate plan continues the current $800 million funding level for the state's border security initiative, which Democrats have been pushing to cut in light of President Donald Trump's promises to ramp up U.S. Border Patrol spending.

  The beleaguered Child Protective Services will get a $430 million, and spending on mental health services increases $240 million.

  In keeping with the Senate's tradition, the budget was not amended on the floor. It now goes to the House, where it will be referred to the Appropriations Committee and replaced with the House budget plan by Chairman John Zerwas, R-Richmond.

  Read more: http://atxne.ws/2nrSEXe

2. Our friends at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, who examine the budget every which way from a progressive standpoint, posted this response to SB 1 by Invest in Texas Program Director Eva DeLuna Castro :

  "The Senate budget proposal passed today is not good enough for Texas. With substantial cuts to Medicaid, steep cuts to higher education, and overall underfunding of critical state needs, this proposal doesn't do enough to invest in our great state.

  "The heads of the various state agencies - appointed over the last decade or so by Governors Abbott and Perry - collectively said that it would take $232 billion to deliver the services Texans need effectively. Comparing $232 billion to the $218 billion in SB 1 shows how severely the Senate budget would underfund education, health care, public safety, and other services.

  "The Senate doesn't need to underfund so severely. The Comptroller says Texas will have almost $12 billion in its Economic Stabilization Fund by 2019. But instead of using the Fund, the Senate has proposed short-sighted new tax cuts.

  "We look to the Texas House and to the conference process to use the Rainy Day Fund to prevent cuts to education and health care. This is exactly the situation the Fund is supposed to address, and lawmakers would be irresponsible not to use it."

  See the CPPP analysis of SB 1: http://bettertexasblog.org/2017/03/big-week-budget/

3. The Texas House yesterday junked a "bathroom amendment" but approved an amendment penalizing oil and gas companies that hire undocumented workers in advancing a Railroad Commission sunset bill.

   Sunset bills are periodic reauthorizations of state agencies. Such legislation tends to open up any topic that is related to the agency. In Texas, the Railroad Commission is about oil and gas, not railroads.

   House Speaker Joe Straus ruled that amendments by Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, that would have governed bathroom usage at the Railroad Commission were not germane to the bill. 

   But a "sanctuary businesses" amendment by Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, which provides penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers, won easy approval. 

   The United Labor Legislative Committee has no position on the sunset bill, but did OPPOSE SB 6, the bathroom bill.

   The Dallas Morning News recounts the proceedings:

  The Texas House on Tuesday passed a bill that would penalize oil and gas companies that hire unauthorized workers, a shot across the bow at senators pushing so-called sanctuary cities legislation.

  "If they're going to continue to make this about sanctuary cities over there, we're going to continue making it about sanctuary industries," said Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas. "We'll see if the oil and gas industry and any business regulated by the Railroad Commission will be able to survive without immigrant labor."...

  Anchia's amendment passed by a vote of 97 to 46. Many Democrats, including Anchia, voted against the amendment on principle. 

  "I got a lot of calls from business lobbyists asking me to pull it down," Anchia said. "There have to be real teeth to this."

  Although the immigration amendment sailed through, two others that would have affected the transgender community were killed before they were debated.

  In a provision for women-owned businesses that contract with the Railroad Commission, Rep. Tony Tinderholt of Arlington wanted to define a "woman" as "the physical condition of being female, as stated on a person's birth certificate." The amendment from Rep. Matt Schaefer of Tyler would have barred transgender people from using the restroom that matches their gender identity in any building under the commission's control. 

  Speaker Joe Straus said both amendments were too unrelated to the main piece of legislation to get a vote, so he skipped debating them altogether. 

  "The amendments are not germane to the bill," Straus, R-San Antonio, told Schaefer and members of the "Texas Freedom Caucus," a group of socially conservative House Republicans who questioned why their amendments were skipped.

  Read more: http://bit.ly/2ngky84

4. The United Labor Legislative Committee yesterday took positions on bills involving workplace safety, the budget, pensions and "Buy American." ULLCO:

   OPPOSED HB 136 by Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, which would make workforce training a principal objective of the public education system;

   OPPOSED SB 651 by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, which would compromise the ability of licensing authorities to deny licenses to businesses that discriminate if the businesses claim a sincerely held religious belief;

   ENDORSED HB 863 by Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston, which would require safety training on construction projects entered into by governmental entities;

   OPPOSED SB 1524 by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, which would deny the ability of municipalities to regulate overweight trucks;

   OPPOSED SB 9 by Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, which would artificially limit state budget appropriations;

   OPPOSED SB 152 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, which would enable cities to change defined-benefit pension plans to 401(k)-style plans and otherwise make changes to pension funds that serve firefighters, police and other local employees;

   OPPOSED SB 702 by Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, which would require a 33 percent minimum voter turnout to approve a bond issue;

   OPPOSED SB 936 by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, which would set up a joint interim committee that would consider transforming public employee pension plans away from defined-benefit vehicles;

   OPPOSED SB 1750 by Bettencourt, which would study the cost-effectiveness of adopting a hybrid pension plan that would shift new public employees into 401(k)-style programs;

   OPPOSED SB 1751 by Bettencourt, which would allow the Teacher Retirement System and the Employees Retirement System to convert to 401(k)-style programs;

   OPPOSED HB 1752 by Bettencourt, which would authorize municipalities to hold elections to change pensions to 401(k)-style programs; and

   ENDORSED HB 769 and HB 770 by Rep. Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, each of which is a "Buy American" bill. HB 769 would create a preference for manufactured goods and produce in Texas or in the U.S. HB 770 would create a preference for iron, steel and manufactured goods. 

5. President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan's deployment of the white flag on health care legislation lasted just a few days apparently. Now, the U.S. House GOP is considering a straight repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

   It's hard to believe Congress could go from awful to worse on this issue, but here it is. This would be incredibly dangerous for millions of Americans who have gained health coverage under ACA. (Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is apparently not buying, so we may be looking at a zombie bill.)

   Via The New York Times:

  House Republican leaders and the White House, under extreme pressure from conservative activists, have restarted negotiations on legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, with House leaders declaring that Democrats were celebrating the law's survival prematurely.

  Just days after President Trump said he was moving on to other issues, senior White House officials are now saying they have hope that they can still score the kind of big legislative victory that has so far eluded Mr. Trump. Vice President Mike Pence was dispatched to Capitol Hill on Tuesday for lunchtime talks.

  "We're not going to retrench into our corners or put up dividing lines," House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said after a meeting of House Republicans that was dominated by a discussion of how to restart the health negotiations. "There's too much at stake to get bogged down in all of that."

  The House Republican whip, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, said of Democrats, "Their celebration is premature. We are closer to repealing Obamacare than we ever have been before."

  Mr. Ryan declined to say what might be in the next version of the Republicans' repeal bill, nor would he sketch any schedule for action. But he said Congress needed to act because insurers were developing the premiums and benefit packages for health plans they would offer in 2018, with review by federal and state officials beginning soon.

  The new talks, which have been going on quietly this week, involve Stephen K. Bannon, the president's chief strategist, and members of the two Republican factions that helped sink the bill last week, the hard-right Freedom Caucus and the more centrist Tuesday Group.

  Read more: http://nyti.ms/2oed6Lq

6. The first academic study to quantify a relationship between robots and the loss of human jobs is noted in today's New York Times.

   Robot unions? Not in the picture:

   Who is winning the race for jobs between robots and humans? Last year, two leading economists described a future in which humans come out ahead. But now they've declared a different winner: the robots.

  The industry most affected by automation is manufacturing. For every robot per thousand workers, up to six workers lost their jobs and wages fell by as much as three-fourths of a percent, according to a new paper by the economists, Daron Acemoglu of M.I.T. and Pascual Restrepo of Boston University. It appears to be the first study to quantify large, direct, negative effects of robots.

  The paper is all the more significant because the researchers, whose work is highly regarded in their field, had been more sanguine about the effect of technology on jobs. In a paper last year, they said it was likely that increased automation would create new, better jobs, so employment and wages would eventually return to their previous levels. Just as cranes replaced dockworkers but created related jobs for engineers and financiers, the theory goes, new technology has created new jobs for software developers and data analysts.

  But that paper was a conceptual exercise. The new one uses real-world data - and suggests a more pessimistic future. 

  Read more: http://nyti.ms/2nxriRy