Today's Fair Shots - April 21st 2017

1-McGee Confirmation Keeps Fox in Pension Henhouse Until 2021

2-Federal Judges Rule Drawing of Texas House Districts Intentionally Discriminated Against Minority Voters

3-'Buy American' Bill Clears Key House Committee

4-AFL-CIO Expert Discusses Decline in Safety Regulations Under Trump

5-IRS to Let Private Firms Collect Back Taxes; What Could Possibly Go Wrong?


1. Exploiting a temporary procedural advantage, Texas Senate Republicans today confirmed Josh McGee to chair the State Pension Review Board. The United Labor Legislative Committee had strongly opposed the gubernatorial nominee.

    McGee won confirmation on a 20-10 vote. A senator left today's proceedings early, and not long after he left the chamber, the leadership pounced.

  The Texas AFL-CIO issued this statement in the wake of the opportunistic vote:

2.  A federal court handed down a ruling today that the State of Texas intentionally discriminated against minorities when it drew districts for the Texas House.

   The 2-1 ruling by a three-judge panel in San Antonio has the potential to redraw more than a dozen districts. Michael Li, a voting rights expert whom we follow for this kind of breaking news, posted the following on his blog:

The three-judge panel in the Texas redistricting case has ruled that the 2011 Texas state house plan (Plan H283) violates both the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.

  The court's opinion here (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxeOfQQnUr_gUk02M1R6QzhNWFk/view) and its findings of fact here (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxeOfQQnUr_gTDlvVmRkYVhWNjA/view).

  More to come, but the summary:

  * Intentional vote dilution in violation of the 14th Amendment and section 2 of the Voting Rights Act in El Paso County (HD78), Bexar County (HD 117), Nieces County (the elimination of HD 33 and reconfiguration of HD 32 and HD 34), RGV (HD 41), Harris County, Dallas County (HD 103, HD104, and HD 105), Tarrant County (HD 90 and HD 93), Bell County (HD 54). Also vote dilution on the plan as a whole.

  * Racial gerrymandering in Bexar County (HD 117).

  * One-person, one-vote violations in Nueces County (HD 32 and HD 34), Hidalgo County (HD 31, HD 36, HD 39, HD 40, and HDS 41), and Bell and Lampasas Counties (HD 54 and HD 55)

  Today's ruling follows the court's March 10 decision finding that portions of the 2011 Texas congressional plan also violated the Constitution and VRA.

  The court is scheduled to hold a status conference in the case next Thursday, April 27.

  If you want to follow this as the analysis becomes more layered, Li's blog is at: http://txredistricting.org/post/159799894176/breaking-court-rules-that-2011-texas-state-house

  The Texas Tribune offered this take:

  Texas lawmakers intentionally diluted the political clout of minority voters in drawing the state's House districts, a panel of federal judges ruled Thursday.

  In a long-awaited ruling, the San Antonio-based judges found that lawmakers in 2011 either violated the U.S. Constitution or the Voting Rights Act by intentionally diluting the strength of minority voters statewide and specifically in a litany of House districts across Texas. Those districts encompass areas including El Paso, Bexar, Nueces, Harris, Dallas and Bell counties. 

  "The impact of the plan was certainly to reduce minority voting opportunity statewide, resulting in even less proportional representation for minority voters," U.S. District Judges Orlando Garcia and Xavier Rodriguez wrote in a majority opinion, adding that map-drawers' discussions "demonstrated a hostility" toward creating minority-controlled districts despite their massive population growth.

  Read more: https://www.texastribune.org/2017/04/20/court-texas-house-map-intentionally-diluted-votes/

3.  Brother Lee Medley of the United Steelworkers reports HB 2780, a "Buy American" bill involving steel and iron for taxpayer-funded projects, won the approval of the House State Affairs Committee Wednesday evening. Medley said the vote was 11-2.

  This is a signal achievement for long-time supporters of "Buy American" legislation. It is difficult to get any bill through State Affairs, which routinely takes on some of the most disputed issues in any legislative session. HB 2780 by Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, which establishes a modest preference for American-made iron and steel, cleared the committee a week after the bill was heard.

  The measure now goes to the House Calendars Committee, which will consider scheduling the bill for House floor debate. Medley points up that Paddie is a member of Calendars, which doesn't hurt.

  It bears repeating that Rep. Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, has championed "Buy American" issues, including this one, over several legislative sessions. In a major upset victory two sessions ago, Davis shepherded to completion a law that applies "Buy American" principles to Texas water development projects. HB 2780 would build on that legacy.

  Texas AFL-CIO President John Patrick praised Medley and other Steelworkers who have worked on the bill alongside steel industry representatives. 

 "Lee Medley has done an outstanding job on the 'Buy America' bills," said Patrick, himself a long-time member of USW. "A big thank you to the USW, the District 13 Council and Local 13-1 for making him available. The work is not yet complete, but there is no doubt in my mind that we would not be where we are today without Lee leading the charge."

4. The Trump White House is not placing a high priority on safety in the workplace. To the contrary, the administration is seeking to deregulate wherever possible, and that could spell disaster for working people in the relatively dangerous industries that depend most on rules to avoid accidents and chronic job-related illnesses.

  The Northwest Labor Press posted a q-and-a with long-time AFL-CIO workplace safety expert Peg Seminario that is useful for anyone needing to get up to speed on developments since President Trump took office:

  What can you tell us so far about the Trump administration's record on worker safety? Already we've seen the Trump administration repeal two important workplace safety rules. They've proposed the elimination of funding for worker safety and health training programs. They've proposed the elimination of the Chemical Safety Board. And they've proposed slashing the job safety research budget. Andrew Puzder, as the first nominee for secretary of labor, obviously caused great concern given the record of his company, wage violations as well as workplace safety, and his public positions on labor matters. So we were glad to see him withdraw. Alex Acosta, who has now been nominated, has a better history when it comes to government service. But we remain concerned: During his confirmation hearings, he refused to commit to fully implementing important safety and health rules, including OSHA's new silica rule...

  Suppose you were put in charge of OSHA. What would you focus on?  I would move forward on a couple of major rules that have been outstanding for a long time, one of them being a rule on combustible dust, which is a major hazard and present in thousands of workplaces across the country. Also, I'd move forward on better regulation on chemicals. Our experience is it's these broad major rules that significantly change practice at the workplace.

  Read more: https://nwlaborpress.org/2017/04/six-questions-for-labors-top-workplace-safety-expert/

5.  The IRS is using private firms to collect back taxes. What could possibly go wrong?

  The New York Times offers a clue. Hiring more federal tax collectors seems way more efficient and far less risky:

  The Internal Revenue Service is about to start using four private debt-collection companies to chase down overdue payments from hundreds of thousands of people who owe money to the federal government, a job it has handled in house for years.

  Unlike I.R.S. agents, who are not usually allowed to call delinquent taxpayers by telephone, the outside debt-collection agencies will have free rein to do so. Consumer watchdogs are fearful that some of the nation's most vulnerable taxpayers will be harassed and that criminals will take advantage of the system by phoning people and impersonating I.R.S. collectors.

  Additionally, one of the four companies that the I.R.S. has hired, Pioneer Credit Recovery, a subsidiary of Navient, was effectively fired two years ago by the Education Department from its contract to collect delinquent debt for misleading borrowers about their loans at what the department called "unacceptably high rates."

  Proponents of the plan, who include Democrats and Republicans, point out that the debtors are shirking their tax obligations and that collecting from them will add to the Treasury's coffers. The congressional Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that the new debt-collection program had the potential to gain a net $2.4 billion over the next 10 years... 

  Twice before, in 1996 and 2006, the I.R.S. has tried to farm out some of its collection duties. Both times, the programs were shut down and deemed failures. The most recent attempt cost millions more than it took in. It also generated thousands of complaints, including one oft-repeated horror story about an older couple who received more than 150 phone calls in less than a month.

  Even so, Congress passed a law in 2015 ordering the I.R.S. to once again outsource some of its delinquent debt. The provision was buried in a $305 billion highway funding bill. The agency hired four companies - CBE Group, ConServe, Performant and Pioneer Credit Recovery - and started giving them cases this month.

  The companies will work on commission, earning up to 25 percent of the delinquent debt they collect. 

  Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/20/business/dealbook/taxes-debt-collection-internal-revenue-service.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news