Labor Legislative Update - July 10, 2021

The ULLCO Sentinel

Weekly Labor Update on the 87th Texas Legislature

July 9, 2021 — #23
Special Session Edition, Day 2

The thrill when we meet
Is so bitter-sweet
That, darling, it's getting me down;
So on your mark,
Get set,
Get out of town!

—From “Get Out of Town,” by Cole Porter. Ella Fitzgerald recorded the kiss-off classic in her customarily sublime style: https://bit.ly/3k2zir2.

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They’re Baaaack!: This special session edition of The ULLCO Sentinel is brought to you, though certainly not sponsored, by Gov. Greg Abbott, who called lawmakers back to the Capitol to consider voter suppression and other matters. For review purposes, the Governor has sole authority over the topics to be considered in a special session, also known as a called session. The ULLCO Sentinel will publish every Friday that the Legislature is in session, with a recap at the conclusion.

The Topics: Besides allegations that the top-billed subject is “election integrity,” Abbott opened the session to 10 other topics, including the ULLCO-opposed far-right-wing concocted attack on teaching the truth about slavery and race relations in our nation’s history, the ULLCO-opposed bill targeting transgender students in scholastic sports, funding for “border security” (presumably including a Texas-built wall), and an attack on social media companies that ban users for cause. A couple of topics have ULLCO support; Abbott saw fit to include a proposed “13th check” — a one-time bonus — for retirees in the Teacher Retirement System and has, as expected, placed the re-funding of the Legislature in the next budget on the agenda. To see the full list of topics, go to: https://bit.ly/3wil7AQ

Labor’s Role: The United Labor Legislative Committee, as always, will meet every day the Legislature is in session to discuss strategies for supporting endorsed bills and trying to stop opposed ones. At a meeting ahead of the special session, ULLCO representatives made it clear that the receding pandemic means more union members will show up in person at the Capitol to make workers’ views known. That vow produced union-led protests on the first day of the session and union actions around bills on which ULLCO has taken a position. The fight is steeply uphill in some cases, but it will be a fight.

See You in Court: The Texas AFL-CIO filed a lawsuit alongside Texas House Democrats seeking to overturn Abbott’s veto of Article 10 funding for the Legislature and associated agencies. Without further action by the Legislature or court intervention, the zeroing of the budget could take effect Sept. 1, affecting the livelihoods of more than 2,000 employees who are already suffering from uncertainty even as they carry out their duties to make the special session go. Besides the harm to employees caused by Abbott’s attempt at retribution against House Democrats whose walkout killed voter suppression and other bills, lawmakers have heavily emphasized separation of powers issues — the basic notion that a Governor and the Legislature lead co-equal branches of government and the Governor should not have the power to eliminate the Legislature’s (or, theoretically, the Judiciary’s) ability to operate with the stroke of a pen. Check out a Twitter thread by Democracy Forward that includes a news release that quotes Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy: https://bit.ly/3yJRMRc

New House Approach: Speaker Dade Phelan has formed an entirely new House Committee on Constitutional Rights and Remedies that, among other things, will consider the election bill and address separation of powers. Corollary: The House Elections Committee will not hold hearings on the omnibus election bill. The new committee is balanced with an 8-7 Republican majority, most of them lawmakers with long experience. Written in boldface: the House’s bipartisan concern over Abbott’s veto of legislative funding. Both the new committee and the Senate State Affairs Committee set hearings on the election bills for Saturday, July 10. See the members of the new panel: https://bit.ly/3yGqETd

AFT Vows to Protect ‘Honest History’: As the Texas Legislature considers further dictates on how teachers may take up questions of slavery and race relations while teaching U.S. history, the American Federation of Teachers vowed to defend teachers who run afoul of state laws and face penalties for what AFT President Randi Weingarten called “honest history.” Weingarten declared in a speech, quoted in the Washington Post, that “culture warriors are labeling any discussion of race, racism or discrimination as [critical race theory] to try to make it toxic…They are bullying teachers and trying to stop us from teaching students accurate history.” Read more: https://wapo.st/2UpOfsC

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The Basics

What’s so “special” about a special session?

For starters, special sessions have a less predictable rhythm and a more frantic pace than regular sessions. Regular sessions last 140 days, with orderly timelines and deadlines imposed by the Texas Constitution and legislative rules. In a special session, with its maximum duration of 30 days, the rules still apply but bills can be hammered into law within days or, in some cases, hours.

What may lawmakers consider?

Any topic that the Governor adds to the call of the session. Gov. Abbott started this special session with 11 topics, but notable and not so notable exclusions from the call may be added at any time. That creates additional political leverage.

Does the Legislature have to approve bills exactly as the Governor specifies?

No. Once a Governor opens a topic to the call, lawmakers have the discretion to pass legislation on that topic that does not adhere to the governor’s demands. For example, Abbott asked for a bill “identical” to the regular session’s SB 29, a ULLCO-opposed bill regarding trans-gender participation in public school and college sports. That “identical” piece really amounts to advice. The Governor cannot dictate the text or thrust of any bill, though he of course retains the power to veto bills he doesn’t like. 

Must the Legislature consider every topic listed by the Governor?

Again, no. Deciding what bills to send to the Governor’s desk is within the province of lawmakers.

What are the deadlines?

Rules in the House and Senate allow for speedier consideration of bills, with shorter procedural deadlines for taking up bills in committee and on the floor. Cascading deadlines in the regular session that prevent the House or Senate from considering bills after specified dates do not apply; the whole 30-day limit is available for debating and passing bills. And the whole thing can start over again, as many times as Abbott wants.

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ULLCO Bill Positions

OPPOSED SB 1 by Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, HB 3 by Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, and SB 31 by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock. SB 1 and HB 3 are the omnibus voter suppression bills that parallel SB 7 from the regular legislative session. SB 31 is a bill that would expand voter purges, which have a history of dropping eligible voters from registration lists.

ENDORSED HB 1 by Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, and SB 10 by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, which would appropriate funds for the Texas Legislature and associated agencies. ULLCO specifically stated that it will also continue to support the Texas AFL-CIO (and friends) lawsuit that would overturn Gov. Greg Abbott’s veto of legislative funding. More than 2,000 state workers, many of whom are members of the Texas State Employees Union, are scheduled to lose their paychecks on Sept. 1 if the veto is not overturned and if a fix-it bill doesn’t become law.

ENDORSED HB 85 by Rep. Glenn Rogers, R-Graford, and SB 7 by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, which would authorize a “13th check” supplemental payment to retirees in the Teacher Retirement System. ULLCO joined the Texas American Federation of Teachers in calling on Abbott to add to the topic of a cost of living adjustment for TRS retirees to  the legislative session. 

Placement