Today's Fair Shots - April 7th, 2017

1-House Slaps Vouchers Silly, Protects Children During Appropriations Debate

2-U.S. Senate Drops Filibuster Rule for Supreme Court; Gorsuch Set for Confirmation Today

3-One Union Brother Gives Kidney for Another

4-ULLCO Opposes Bill on Ballot Language, Backs Workers' Compensation Measures

5-AFL-CIO Blasts 'Retirement Ripoff' as White House Seeks to Discard Key Personal Finance Rule

6-Prof. Krochmal Wins Prestigious History Award for Civil Rights Book

1. It took all night for the Texas House to takes stances on how the state should spend money. Results are in pencil and may well be amended in a House-Senate conference committee that writes the final version of the budget. But some votes yesterday demonstrated a distinct set of House leadership priorities.

   At the top of the list, the House voted 103-44 to bar general revenue spending on private school vouchers. The vote confirms House leadership remarks that SB 3, a diluted but still-dangerous voucher bill that passed the Senate, will have weak support in the House. The vote also prompted this Texas Tribune headline: "Dan Patrick asked for a House vote on school choice. He got it."

   The United Labor Legislative Committee, of course, opposes SB 3.

   The House also voted to defund the Texas Enterprise Fund, Gov. Greg Abbott's kitty for luring businesses to the state. The fund has been criticized over grants that went to companies that did not follow through on promised jobs or were coming to Texas anyway because of business imperatives.

   The House unfortunately rejected an effort by Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, to bar state spending on further defense of congressional redistricting boundaries that have been ruled illegal by a federal judicial panel.

   Also unfortunately, the House chose to defund incentives for movie and other arts-related productions. Hopes for a fix lie in the final budget talks.

   Bob Garrett of the Dallas Morning News followed the action. Here's some of what he posted yesterday:

   The Texas House showed its displeasure with several statewide GOP elected officials through several sharp-elbowed votes on the state budget Thursday.

  Huge majorities of House members voted to strip Gov. Greg Abbott of the last $43 million left in his deal-closing Enterprise Fund, undercut Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's school-voucher push and raid Attorney General Ken Paxton's legal budget.

  Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, and his bipartisan team of House leaders sent clear messages that they're upset with Senate-led cuts to disabled children's Medicaid therapy, want to do more for Child Protective Services and foster care, and haven't softened in their opposition to vouchers.

  Displaying unity and meticulous preparation, Team Straus mowed down objections from staunch conservatives to several of the moves...

  By a voice vote, the House embraced Mission Democrat Sergio Muñoz's proposal shifting half of Abbott's remaining Enterprise Fund money to CPS and half to easing cuts in the therapists' Medicaid rates. Earlier, citing tight times, both chambers rebuffed the Republican governor's request for $108 million in new money.

  The move caught Straus critics such as Bedford GOP Rep. Jonathan Stickland off guard.

  Stickland, who had his own amendment to shift unspent Enterprise Fund dollars to education, said the speaker's team thwarted his and other members' proposals with a pre-emptive strike and "quick" vote.

  "What happened today is one of the most offensive things and disgusting things that I have ever seen in this body," Stickland said.

  By 127-18, though, members crushed a move to reconsider the Muñoz provision.

  Read more:

   Texas AFT offers more detail on the outstanding voucher vote:

   An Early Win on Vouchers in Marathon House Budget Debate:  A big thank-you is in order for those of you who have written and called your Texas House members in opposition to private-school vouchers, because today your efforts paid off. Early in the House floor debate on the 2018-2019 state budget bill, a bipartisan anti-voucher amendment was adopted by a vote of 103 to 44. 

  Authors of the amendment were Reps. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi) and Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston). Their amendment bluntly said:  "Money appropriated by this Act may not be used to pay for or support a school voucher, education savings account, or tax credit scholarship or a similar program through which a child may use state money for nonpublic primary or secondary education."

2. U.S. Senate Republicans yesterday changed that body's filibuster rules in a historic power grab to set up a likely confirmation of President Trump's U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.

   There is no going back. In the future, it will take only a simple majority of 51 senators to confirm a Supreme Court nominee. Until yesterday, it took 60 votes to end debate and proceed with a high court nomination. Gorsuch was able to muster 55 votes, falling short of the traditional cloture mark.

   To no one's surprise, Texas U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn each voted to end the Democratic filibuster and move toward Gorsuch's confirmation.

   The AFL-CIO opposes Gorsuch. AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka posted this statement:

   Sen. Mitch McConnell's rule change is a failure of leadership that stems from a refusal to acknowledge a flawed candidate. The problem isn't Senate rules; it's the nominee. Judge Gorsuch is outside the legal mainstream and has a record of decisions that put corporations above the rights and protections of regular people. Any successful nominee to our nation's highest court should be able to garner broad bipartisan support. Judge Gorsuch is not that nominee. Sen. McConnell's decision to force Judge Gorsuch through will further skew the court in favor of corporate interests and against working men and women.

   The New York Times noted that partisan rancor in the Senate connects to last year's refusal by Republicans to even provide a hearing to Judge Merrick Garland, who was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Obama:

   Many Democrats remain furious over the treatment of Judge Merrick B. Garland, President Barack Obama's nominee for the seat left vacant with the February 2016 death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Republicans refused to even consider Judge Garland during the presidential election year, a fact Mr. McConnell has not dwelled on during public statements about the history of Republican behavior under Democratic presidents.

   "There must have been a hacking into his computer," Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, said of Mr. McConnell on Thursday from the Senate floor, "because he can't print the name Merrick Garland to include in the speech."

  At the same time, critics of Judge Gorsuch say they have identified ample reasons to oppose him, chafing at the suggestion that Democrats are merely seeking payback. They have cited concerns over Judge Gorsuch's record on workers' rights and whether he will be reliably independent from Mr. Trump and conservative groups like the Federalist Society, among other issues.

  Read more:

3. Hat tip to AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka for passing along a heartwarming story about one union Brother's life-saving sacrifice for another.

   That sacrifice - donation of a kidney - is costing both donor and recipient. A link at the bottom of the story relayed by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers provides an opportunity to help out if you are so inclined:

  Last August, we brought you the story of Dave Amalfitano, a journeyman wireman from Wilmington, Del., Local 313. He suffers from polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disorder that causes cysts to grow on the kidneys, inflating them to many times their normal size. 

  His diagnosis, which killed his father and afflicts his brother as well, requires a kidney transplant. There is no other medical solution. Without it, he'll be tied to a dialysis machine until he dies. 

  So Amalfitano reached out to everyone he knew. When that failed to turn up a match, last summer he asked his business manager, Doug Drummond, to put up an appeal for a kidney donor on the union hall's marquee. Local news coverage turned up dozens who were willing to undergo blood tests looking for a match, but none were successful. 

  When the Electrical Worker called, Amalfitano hoped to reach a wider audience, but the odds were still stacked against him - until Robert Vargas, a complete stranger, called. 

  "I put myself in his shoes," Vargas said after seeing the story on the back page of the union newspaper. "I don't know what my family would do without me, so I called Dave and told him, 'If I'm a match, you can have my kidney.'" 

  Vargas is a member of Chicago Local 9, a husband and a father to a 3-year old daughter, Mia. He chalks his chance encounter with Amalfitano's story to a higher power. "God wanted me to read that story," he said. "I don't read the paper very often. I was brought to that page." 

  After speaking to Amalfitano, he connected with a University of Maryland hospital caseworker and started a battery of tests, parting with almost 20 vials of blood to see if he and Amalfitano were compatible. 

  "The results came back and our blood was a perfect match," Vargas said. "I'd been telling people the entire time, if I pass, it's for a reason, and now I know that reason is to save Dave and to help him live a long, healthy life with his kids." 

  Now, Vargas just needs to complete a physical, which he'll do partially in Chicago and partially at the University of Maryland, and then doctors will schedule the surgery. 

  "Dave and I talk almost every day now," Vargas said. "We've become really close over the course of this, and I'm hopeful that the next steps happen quickly so we can get him back up and running." 

  The major obstacles now are financial. Vargas is the sole provider for his family, and could lose up to two months of work between doctor's appointments, the surgery and a four-to-six-week recovery. 

  For Amalfitano, things have been hard since a medical complication forced him to quit working early last year. Despite an outpouring of generosity from members of Local 313 and the Wilmington community, he is in over his head financially. COBRA health insurance payments have been crippling, and the home he shares with daughter Anna, 15, and twin boys, Matthew and Leo, 13, has fallen into foreclosure. 

  "We'll be OK," Amalfitano says, "but Rob can't make this enormous sacrifice of giving me a kidney unless we figure out a way to make up for the wages he'll lose so he can keep taking care of his family. If we can raise enough to help save my house at the same time, that would be amazing."...

  You can donate to help Dave and Rob at

  Read more:

4. The United Labor Legislative Committee yesterday OPPOSED SB 488 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston (companion is HB 3332 by Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin), which won Senate approval on Wednesday. SB 488 goes too far in addressing the issue of unclear ballot language for city charter changes and other propositions. The measure would place the Secretary of State, a political appointee of the governor, in the position of reviewing and potentially rewriting ballot language if he or she deems a city's language to have been "indefinite" and "uncertain." Given the level of partisanship and city-bashing we are seeing from some statewide officeholders, it is not difficult to imagine a situation in which a hypothetical Secretary of State rejects ballot language for reasons having nothing to do with rhetoric. The bill is one of many power grabs from local governments pending in the Legislature.

   ULLCO ENDORSED HB 2061 by Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville (companion is SB 876 by Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills), a bill that improves some procedural processes in workers' compensation cases, and ENDORSED HB 2057 by Oliveira (companion is SB 877 by Hancock), which would make political subdivisions that do not carry workers' comp insurance potentially liable for attorney fees. 

5. The AFL-CIO joined in opposition to the Trump White House's effort to discard a pending Obama-era rule that says your financial advisor must always act in your best interest.

   The "fiduciary rule" would replace a long-standing situation in which advisors could sell you investment vehicles based in part on how much it would make them in commissions.

   The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has denied one effort to junk the rule, which has been postponed until June 9. Until then - and if the rule is ultimately trashed - it's a great idea to insist that your financial advisor pledge in writing to act exclusively in your fiduciary interest at all times.

   In the meantime, labor is denouncing a "retirement ripoff":

  American workers will lose $46 million in retirement savings each day the Obama-era fiduciary rule is delayed by the Trump administration, critics say.

  The AFL-CIO and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) released a "Retirement Ripoff Counter" on Wednesday, which tracks how much money American workers lose each moment the fiduciary rule is delayed.

  "That money matters - it's the difference between retiring with dignity and fighting to stretch every dollar as far as it will go," Warren said.

  The Labor Department's fiduciary rule prohibits financial advisers from providing advice that does not benefit clients to those who are saving for retirement.

  Currently, these "fiduciaries" must provide retirement savers with good advice, but they may steer clients toward second-tier products in an attempt to make more money for themselves. The fiduciary rule blocks this practice, requiring retirement financial advisers to act in the best interest of their clients.

  "That's not too much to ask," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said. "We pay them, and they should work for us."

  Read more:

6. The Organization of American Historians has awarded our friend Max Krochmal its 2017 Frederick Jackson Turner Award for his book Blue Texas: The Making of a Multiracial Democratic Coalition in the Civil Rights Era.

   Congratulations to Prof. Krochmal, who teaches at Texas Christian University and has been a featured speaker at several labor events. As noted here before, the book focuses on labor's role in building the coalition that advanced civil rights in a state that has always skewed conservative. Among the featured players in building that coalition: former Texas AFL-CIO President Hank Brown.

   Join us in congratulating Max on his Facebook page: