1-Sheehan: 'Every Day Will Present Its Own Challenges, But Dont Give Up'

2-Einstein Rocked Physics and Believed in Unions

3-'Bathroom Bill' Advances to Final Senate Vote

4-'Sanctuary Cities' Bill to Be Heard Today in House Committee

5-Dog Rescuer Was Burned by 'Barking Ticket'; 'Debtors' Prison' Bill Would Let Fines Be Paid Off With Community Service

6-Uber Looking to Deregulate Itself Via Texas Legislature

7-Attacking a Unicorn: Committee Considers Bill to Outlaw Non-Existent Public Project Labor Agreements

8-Health Care 'Repeal and Replace' Would Harm Seniors, Is Based on Falsehood

9-ULLCO Endorses Bills to Expand Health Coverage

1 . Before getting to the mainly desultory news on what is happening in the Texas Legislature, we're proud today to honor Texas AFL-CIO Field Organizer Kara Sheehan and Albert Einstein. 

   First, Sister Sheehan is featured in the national AFL-CIO's blog. This does not happen every day. It is, however, well-deserved recognition of the work Sheehan is doing in focusing on young workers while organizing pretty much anything that moves.

   The AFL-CIO posted the profile as part of its celebration of Women's History Month:

  Meet Kara Sheehan, a field organizer at the Texas AFL-CIO and member of Office and Professional Employees Local 298. Before joining the AFL-CIO, Sheehan worked with the Workers Defense Project and other local progressive groups in Austin, and worked at the Austin City Council.
  She was born into the labor movement, where both her parents and grandparents raised her with the values of solidarity and intersectional movements.
  "Kara is eager and enthusiastic about changing the face of labor to be more inclusive and representative of the demographic in Texas," said Lee Forbes, her colleague at the Texas AFL-CIO. "Her unwavering passion and dedication to elevate young workers, and especially women, is not only admirable, but quite awe-inspiring." 
  In January, under Kara's leadership, Texas Young Active Labor Leaders (YALL) held its first statewide conference. Nearly 100 people attended the gathering; they took to the streets on Jan. 20 to stand for their values.
  Julia Kranzthor says of Sheehan, "Through her work with the AFL-CIO, Kara is a champion of worker's rights, women's rights and immigrants' rights. What she can't fit into her workweek, she volunteers. She is a joy to be around and an inspiration, always getting people to be better, do better and work harder. She truly is a special young organizer."
  With young people making up a bigger share of the workforce and the voting population, Sheehan thinks unions need to engage more young people-and she has been doing just that in Texas. There now are young worker groups in Austin, Dallas and Houston, with growing numbers of people who are getting active.
  Her advice to young union members, activists and staff? "Every day will present its own challenges, but don't give up. There are people who want to support us and make sure that we succeed. Find those people! And remember, this is a movement and it involves a lot of people and input. While it can be frustrating and challenging, it's on us to stick with it. The more we fight, the more change we will see."

  See the outstanding photo of Kara in action at the University of Texas:

2. Today is the 138th anniversary of Albert Einstein's birth. 

   Brother Jeff Darby of the American Federation of Government Employees relays a famous quote by Einstein related to his choice, while at Princeton, to join American Federation of Teachers Local 552. That status is worth a riff, because if Einstein thought about unions and believed in the larger value of speaking up together, who shouldn't?:

   "I consider it important, indeed urgently necessary, for intellectual workers to get together, both to protect their own economic status and also, generally speaking, to secure their influence in the political field."

   "But intellectual workers should unite, not only in their own interest but also and no less importantly in the interest of society as a whole."

   "An organization of intellectual workers can have the greatest significance for society as a whole by influencing public opinion through publicity and education. Indeed, it is the proper task to defend academic freedom, without which a healthy development of democracy is impossible."

   Yes, the man who is synonymous with great genius, the conceiver of the Theory of Relativity (both special and general), was a union agitator.

   Einstein's quote on unions emphasizes academic freedom over pay and benefits, underlining the non-monetary benefits of collective action. In fact, Einstein seems to have under-valued his work.

   This concise account in, which is confirmed by other sources, documents Einstein's modest financial needs, though he was world-famous:

  When Einstein went to work at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton in 1932, he was asked to name a figure for the initial salary he wanted to earn: he thought for a while about what his requirements were and came up with a figure of US $3,000, which adjusted for inflation is about US $53,000 in 2013 dollars.

  So it was a modest request - somethinglike a starting salary for an assistant professor at a second-tier university.

  One of the founders of the Institute wasn't happy with this number, because top scholars in the US were earning more than that - he increased Einstein's starting salary to about US $10,000 and added a $7500 per year pension.

   Here's the rest of the story. Well into the 21st Century, Einstein was earning far more in death than he did in life, Discover Magazine reported a while back. Hope to find an update on this before long, because we're still seeing that crazy white hair in a variety of places. 

   And here's my daily quote of useless trivia. The sublime comedian, actor and author Albert Brooks was born Albert Einstein: 

  Who said going into science wasn't a lucrative career move? In Forbes' latest ranking of the highest earning dead celebrities, Albert Einstein beat out the likes of John Lennon, Andy Warhol and Marilyn Monroe to take the fourth spot behind Elvis Presley, Charles Schulz and Heath Ledger. Even though the father of relativity has been dead for 53 years, he remains one of the most recognizable faces in the world. He's been a consistent appearance on Forbes' list and raked in $18 million last year...

  Among products that have made the cut are Einstein calendars, mugs, jigsaw puzzles, action figures and a Japanese brand of coffee made by Nestle. The biggest source of revenue to the Einstein estate, however, comes from parents hoping to raise their very own geniuses. Disney's line of Baby Einstein products, including educational DVD's, books, and toys for babies, brings in millions every year. Most recently, Einstein has also been seen hawking Kobe Bryant's new Nike ZKIII sneakers as part of its Genius campaign.

  Earlier this year, Hebrew University asked an Israeli telephone company to retract its advertisements for its new Google-enabled mobile phones because they used the slogan "Everyone's become an Einstein." The company was told that it would cost NIS 400,000 (more than $100,000) to use the frizzy haired scientist-celeb for their ad campaign. Take that, Elvis.

Read more:

3. The Texas Senate yesterday gave tentative approval to SB 6, the so-called "bathroom bill," in a largely party-line vote, but not without a five-hour fight by Democrats opposed to the measure.

   The bill advanced on a 21-10 vote. Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, supported the measure, breaking with other Democrats. The United Labor Legislative Committee opposes the bill, which is expected to face a rockier landscape when it arrives in the Texas House. The bill has also drawn opposition from the Texas Association of Business, which argues passage would cause significant job losses in Texas. Some organizations have already withdrawn Texas from consideration for conventions based on the state's consideration of SB 6.

 Photo from Austin American-Statesman, Ralph Barrera

Photo from Austin American-Statesman, Ralph Barrera

   Texas AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Rick Levy said of today's developments: 

  SB 6 is a major lost opportunity to solve the state's real and pressing problems. It has already cost our state money and prestige, with the financial toll rising as the bill progresses. Worse yet, the bill would perpetrate an injustice. The measure cruelly discriminates against members of the LGBTQ community based on no evidence that a relevant problem exists.

   The bill would apply to schools, colleges and other public facilities, but not private businesses. 

   The Austin American-Statesman reported on proposed amendments: 

   Lucio also joined Republicans to vote down 17 amendments from other Democrats - including efforts to study the number of crimes in bathrooms, add anti-discrimination protection for transgender people, track the economic impact of SB 6, and create an ad campaign advising against bathroom confrontations to verify gender.

  A final vote on SB 6 is expected Wednesday, sending the measure to the House.

  SB 6 would require schools and government buildings to limit the use of multi-stall bathrooms to the gender listed on a current birth certificate - an accommodation, Republicans have said, to transgender people who have transitioned. During the public hearing, however, several transgender people and advocates said it is difficult to get such a court-ordered change to birth certificates.

  The bill also would impose an escalating fine on schools or governments that allow transgender people to use the bathroom that conforms with their gender identification, not the sex on their birth certificate. Civil penalties start at $1,000 to $1,500, rising to $10,000 to $10,500 for each subsequent violation.

  The state attorney general would be required to investigate all complaints about possible violations.

  The bill also would:

  * Overturn city and county regulations that require transgender-friendly bathrooms.

  * Allow businesses to form their own bathroom policies.

  * Allow private businesses to apply their own bathroom policies inside rented government-owned buildings. This would allow sports leagues, for example, to allow transgender-friendly bathrooms in arenas.

  * Prohibit local governments from withholding or canceling contracts because of the bathroom policy adopted by a business.

Read more and see a video:

4. SB 4, the so-called "Sanctuary Cities" bill, will be heard in the House State Affairs Committee today, Wednesday, March 15, upon adjournment of the House, which begins its daily session at 10 a.m.

   The meeting will take place in Room E2.036. A large crowd is expected.

   The United Labor Legislative Committee OPPOSES SB 4 and joins the national AFL-CIO in supporting comprehensive immigration reform.

5. The Texas Tribune offers an excellent take, with real-life examples, on the anti-"debtors' prison" bill that would let judges assign community service to Texans who cannot afford to pay traffic and other fines rather than send them to jail.

   The United Labor Legislative Committee has ENDORSED HB 1125 by Rep. James White, R-Hillister, whose co-author is Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio. As the article notes, working poor Texans can see escalating consequences for want of the funds to pay a parking ticket - or even a "barking ticket":

   Amarillo resident Janet Blair-Cato lived on the edge of town, where she would rescue abandoned dogs - often pit bulls, drawing animal control's attention.

  "I told him I rescue them, I don't fight them," she recalled once telling an officer. "So from that point, he started coming around and coming around, and then I got a barking ticket."

  Blair-Cato soon found herself owing the city thousands of dollars in fines for the animal disturbance, as well as not having the proper vaccinations and tags for her dogs, and other related offenses. She also had a $384 speeding ticket on her record.

  Blair-Cato entered into a payment plan with the court that worked until one day she received disturbing news: her latest payment didn't clear on time, so a warrant was issued for her arrest. She was not eligible to serve weekends or do community service, she said. She was left with two options: "pay it or lay it."

  She spent 52 days in jail in 2014.

  "I laid every bit of it out because I wasn't going to give them anymore money because it was a bottomless pit," she said. "All they had to do was turn them all into warrants again - it just ate up everything I had paid. So when I got out, two days later, I got another barking ticket, so I got rid of the dogs altogether. I haven't had a dog since."...

  Thousands of Texans are at risk of being arrested at any given moment for not paying fines related to traffic offenses or other city ordinance violations, according to a recently released report by Texas Appleseed and the Texas Fair Defense Project. Those who can't afford to pay often find themselves hit with additional fines or other restrictions such as being blocked from renewing their driver's licenses and vehicle registrations.

  More than 200,000 Texans can't renew their licenses and approximately 400,000 have holds on vehicle registrations due to unpaid fines, according to the report. In 2015, almost 3 million warrants were issued in cases where the punishment was originally just a fine.

  "What happens is that the current system is counterproductive, and it drives people further into debt because they're accumulating more tickets for driving illegally and on top of those tickets are all of the costs and fees that start snowballing as well," said Mary Mergler, criminal justice project director with Texas Appleseed. "So it drives people further into debt ... and impedes people's abilities to make a living."

  Courts generally don't offer alternatives to jailing or ask about a defendant's ability to pay, the study found. In 2015, judges rarely used community service to resolve "fine-only" cases - just 1.3 percent of the time. In fewer than 1 percent of cases, they waived fines or reduced payments owed because the defendant couldn't afford to pay, according to the study.

Read more:

6) Today's hearing on bills to end local regulation of ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft was about what one would expect.

   An anti-regulation Senate Business and Commerce Committee today made it clear that it is leaning heavily toward proposals that would impose statewide rules that do not include fingerprint background checks for drivers. The United Labor Legislative Committee opposes the bills.

   Among witnesses who testified against the bills: Dave Passmore, President of the Austin Taxi Drivers Association, who argued the measures would enshrine a slanted playing field in which cab drivers face heavy regulation, including fingerprint checks, and ride-share drivers skate.

   Members of the Senate panel made no secret of their distaste for the decision by Austin voters to reject Uber and Lyft's attempt at self-regulation through the ballot box. As you will recall, in a landslide, Austin voters rejected Uber's $10 million-plus campaign to overturn the City Council's ordinance regulating Transportation Network Companies.

   The $10 million-plus number is relevant because it apparently has been supplemented significantly by what Uber has spent to win over legislators. Texans for Public Justice reports that number may well be as much as $5.5 million since 2014.

   The bills heard today were left pending:

With Texas lawmakers today considering several bills to block cities from regulating such ride companies, Uber has increased its state lobby spending 23 percent over last year. It now is spending up to $1.6 million on 26 lobbyists. Lyft meanwhile boosted its lobby spending 88 percent, to pay 14 lobbyists up to $760,000. Together, the two San Francisco-based companies are spending up to $2.3 million to preempt the powers of local Texas governments.

Read more:

7. The Senate Business and Commerce Committee also heard SB 452 by Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, which would outlaw Project Labor Agreements that involve state or local governments in Texas. The United Labor Legislative Committee opposes the bill.

   Hancock and non-union business interests argued that public PLAs are exclusionary union arrangements and must be outlawed. In fact, non-union workers have access to jobs under PLAs, and they receive pay and benefits that are higher than what they are accustomed to receiving. In private-sector PLAs, we have yet to hear from the first non-union worker who complained about getting a better deal. 

   Leonard Aguilar of the Texas Building & Construction Trades Council emphasized that no public PLA can take place without the agreement of a governmental entity and the workers involved in the project. 

 Leonard Aguilar - Texas State Building and Construction Trades Council

Leonard Aguilar - Texas State Building and Construction Trades Council

   Michael Murphy, an attorney and union activist who represents the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, pointed up that there has never been a public-sector PLA in the history of Texas. "Why are we wasting our finite amount of legislative time on a problem that has never existed?" Murphy asked the panel.

   Texas AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Rick Levy said state law provides for a wide range of potential ways to get large construction projects done, and the state would be making a mistake to take PLAs out of the toolbox when at some point that project method could be the best way to move forward.

   Levy pointed up that in the private sector, Wal-Mart, which is as anti-union as it gets, has built stores under Project Labor Agreements.

   SB 452 was left pending.

8. New nonpartisan numbers from the Congressional Budget Office demonstrate that seniors will suffer under the proposed House GOP replacement for the Affordable Care Act, says Richard Fiesta, Executive Director of the Alliance for Retired Americans.

   Fiesta's statement:

   "The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office's analysis of the Trump-Price-Ryan plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act confirms our worst suspicions about this bill.

  "This bill will make Americans sicker and poorer. President Trump promised to replace the ACA with a plan that expanded health care coverage at a lower cost. This plan does neither but rather provides the wealthiest Americans and insurance corporations with enormous tax cuts.

  "If this plan is enacted, 24 million Americans will lose health insurance coverage over the next decade. We will return to the time when families feared that a serious medical emergency could bankrupt them. Older Americans would be the hardest hit, with insurance premiums skyrocketing.

  "Adding insult to injury, this plan significantly weakens Medicare, reducing the solvency of the trust fund by 3 years -- breaking President Trump's promise to protect Medicare. In contrast, the ACA extended the Trust Fund's solvency by 11 years.

  "Older Americans know how important affordable health care is for their families and will continue to fight against this proposal. The members of the Alliance call on Congress to scrap this bill immediately."

   New York Times columnist David Leonhardt tries to get to the bottom of the proposal to take health coverage from millions and millions of Americans and suggests the whole GOP approach is based on a falsehood:

   You hear it from Republicans, pundits and even some Democrats. It's often said in a tone of regret: I wish Obama had done health reform in a bipartisan way, rather than jamming through a partisan bill.

   The AARP doesn't like the bill, nor do groups representing doctors, nurses, hospitals, the disabled and people with cancer, diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, it's a great bill.

   If Republicans still pass it, they will take political ownership of the flawed American health care system - after making it much more flawed. Tom Cotton, the Republican senator from Arkansas, has said the bill is so bad that it would "put the House majority at risk next year." On the other hand, if Republicans fail to pass their own bill, they'll look weak and incompetent, which is also not a good look to voters.

  How did the party's leaders put themselves in this position? The short answer is that they began believing their own hype and set out to solve a problem that doesn't exist.

  Obamacare obviously has flaws. Most important, some of its insurance markets - created to sell coverage to the uninsured - aren't functioning well enough. Alas, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump are not trying to fix that problem. They're trying to fix a fictional one: saving America from a partisan, socialistic big-government takeover of health care...

  When Barack Obama ran for president, he faced a choice. He could continue moving the party to the center or tack back to the left. The second option would have focused on government programs, like expanding Medicare to start at age 55. But Obama and his team thought a plan that mixed government and markets - farther to the right of Clinton's - could cover millions of people and had a realistic chance of passing.

  They embarked on a bipartisan approach. They borrowed from Mitt Romney's plan in Massachusetts, gave a big role to a bipartisan Senate working group, incorporated conservative ideas and won initial support from some Republicans. The bill also won over groups that had long blocked reform, like the American Medical Association.

  But congressional Republicans ultimately decided that opposing any bill, regardless of its substance, was in their political interest. The consultant Frank Luntz wrote an influential memo in 2009 advising Republicans to talk positively about "reform" while also opposing actual solutions. McConnell, the Senate leader, persuaded his colleagues that they could make Obama look bad by denying him bipartisan cover. 

  At that point, Obama faced a second choice - between forging ahead with a substantively bipartisan bill and forgetting about covering the uninsured. The kumbaya plan for which pundits now wax nostalgic was not an option.

  The reason is simple enough: Obamacare is the bipartisan version of health reform. It accomplishes a liberal end through conservative means and is much closer to the plan conservatives favored a few decades ago than the one liberals did. "It was the ultimate troll," as Michael Anne Kyle of Harvard Business School put it, "for Obama to pass Republican health reform."

Read more:

9. The United Labor Legislative Committee today ENDORSED a list of bills that would expand what is included in health coverage for working and especially working poor Texans. The bills are SB 163 by Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso (companion is HB 222 by Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin), HB 1466 by Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston, HB 195 by Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, and HB 1036 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston. 

   The bills aim to include specific items in health insurance coverage, but the piecemeal approach is a far cry from the general expansion of health care that Texas rejected under the Affordable Care Act. As the majority in Congress arrive at the realization that governing on the subject is more complicated than they dreamed possible, Texas's rejection of tens of billions of federal dollars to improve health coverage in the state looms larger than ever.