Legislative Update - May 14, 2021

The ULLCO Sentinel

Weekly Labor Update on the 87th Texas Legislature

May 14, 2021 — #19
17 Days to Go in Regular Session

Baby, I sure wish I could lend you a hand
But plumbing's one thing I don't understand
It's true (Haven't got a clue)
be be be baby, I can tell you've got a big problem
When I flush the john, then your shower goes on
(Baby) Now watcha gonna do?
If Drano's a joke and your plunger is broke
Baby, call the mensch with a monkey wrench
(Baby) He'll be there for you

—From “The Plumbing Song” by “Weird Al” Yankovic, in honor of passage of HB 636, the Board of Plumbing Examiners bill. https://bit.ly/2RRJ4k3

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Grim Reaper of Legislation in the House — The Texas Legislature’s deadline days have begun. House bills that did not win passage by Friday’s adjournment of the House cannot become law in their current form. The  House will turn full attention to Senate bills starting Monday. This was the first major gong toward an all-out bell-tolling on Wednesday, May 26th, when both the House and Senate end new debates on bills unless they muster extraordinary majorities. After that, the final five days of the legislative session are devoted to reconciling differing versions of bills that have passed each chamber. 

Plumbers Flush With Success — ULLCO-backed HB 636 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, which continues operations of the Texas Board of Plumbing Examiners, passed the Senate on a 28-2 vote and is headed to Gov. Greg Abbott for a likely signature. The board nearly died in 2019 after a failed effort to transfer its duties to a different state agency. On close votes, Senate sponsor John Whitmire, D-Houston, staved off amendments that could have complicated passage of the bill. The United Associated of Plumbers & Pipefitters and the Southwest Pipe Trades Association, working in coalition with non-union plumbers, led a clear message: Regulation of plumbers’ licenses protects the health and safety of Texas.

Big Win for Nurses — A bill to afford nurses stricken with COVID-19 a clearer path to workers’ compensation coverage passed the House on a 116-24 vote. HB 396 by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, was championed by National Nurses United and ULLCO to establish a presumption that nurses contracted COVID-19 on the job and are thus eligible for workplace illness benefits. Other bills would do the same for First Responders and Correctional Officers. “HB 396 is the least we can do to recognize the heroism of nurses who put their health and lives on the line to treat Texans who suffered through COVID-19,” Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy said. HB 396 now moves to the Texas Senate.

Railroad Bill on Track — A ULLCO-backed bill that promotes safety of equipment at rail signal crossings headed to the Governor’s desk following unanimous approval in the Texas Senate. HB 1759 by Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, addresses cars, rolling stock and other equipment that moves on railroad tracks. The measure had the support of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET). 

Medicaid Expansion Dies Again — Texas Senate debate on a Medicaid administration bill featured party-line rejection of an amendment by Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, that would have expanded Medicaid for working poor Texans to draw tens of billions of dollars in federal funding under the Affordable Care Act. The vote was 13-17, replicating a similarly close vote in the House on the same subject during the budget debate. ULLCO supports more health coverage in Texas, which has the highest percentage of uninsured residents of any state. Still on the table: the recent White House rejection of a Trump administration deal that allowed Texas to draw down federal funds without expanding Medicaid. Also, Texas continues to try to get the U.S. Supreme Court to kill the entire Affordable Care Act.

‘Helmets to Hardhats’ — A bill that can help steer military veterans into registered union apprenticeship programs won final passage in the House and is on its way to Gov. Greg Abbott. SB 337 by Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Burleson, sponsored in the House by Rep. Alex Dominguez, D-Brownsville, permits the Texas Workforce Commission to award grants (subject to appropriations) to non-profit organizations that help veterans and active military make transitions to civilian employment. “We hope many of these apprenticeships will be with Texas Building & Construction Trades unions, which provide unrivaled — and paid — training for productive livelihoods that build Texas,” Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy said.

Corporate Tax Breaks Take a Hit — The death of ULLCO-opposed HB 1556, a bill that could have extended and worsened “Chapter 313” school property tax breaks for multi-billion dollar corporations, bodes well for future debates on why Texas taxpayers should subsidize companies for locating in Texas — even when it’s clear they would have come here anyway. In its original form, HB 1556 would have weakened policing of whether companies that take tax breaks actually provide the number and quality of jobs they promise. The bill’s death — product of an unusual coalition of progressives and right-wing Republicans — won’t make the program of taxpayer subsidies go away; other legislation to extend the life of the program for two years remains alive. For background, check out a Houston Chronicle investigation: https://bit.ly/3tGbx9I.

Farm Workers Lose Out on Decent Housing —  HB 195 by Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, fell victim to a 61-68 vote on the last day the House could pass bills. The bill would have given zip to state enforcement when migrant farm workers are provided deplorable housing. News accounts have shown workers sleeping on doors, tires or whatever is available, sometimes exposed to the elements. While the strong run for this year’s version of the bill ends, the long battle to treat migrant farm workers with dignity continues. 

Don’t Mess With Texas Pensions — The fight to stop SB 321, a ULLCO-opposed bill that would convert the Employees Retirement System to a cheaper “cash balance” plan for future state employees, was the subject of an excellent discussion on Monday’s “Labor Live at 5.” Hear Tanisha Woods of AFSCME Correctional Officers and Frank Netscher of the Texas State Employees Union (TSEU) in conversation with Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy and Secretary-Treasurer Leonard Aguilar regarding the Senate-approved bill, which could be set for floor debate in the House in the coming days.

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The Basics

 What is “chubbing”? 

“Chubbing” takes place when lawmakers stretch out floor discussions or debates late in the legislative session through proposed amendments, points of order, speechifying, vote verifications (in the House), or other delay tactics. The practice occurs when end-of-session deadlines are in sight.

Why do legislators “chub” bills?

The true targets of chubbing are not always obvious. Long debates on a bill late in the legislative session are often actually aimed at bills that are scheduled for later on the Calendar. When the big deadlines arrive, all such bills that haven’t been debated turn into pumpkins. Betting pools have been known to form on which bill will be at the top of the un-debated list when the clock strikes midnight.

How does chubbing differ from a filibuster?

Chubbing can take place in the House or Senate and can involve teams of lawmakers working together to slow things down. A filibuster takes place only in the Senate and involves one Senator’s holding the floor for extended speaking to oppose a particular bill. Filibusters are rare; we’ve never seen a regular legislative session that lacked chubbing.

Why is it called “chubbing”?

We don’t know. The Texas Legislative Reference Library reports the legislative usage may well have originated in Texas, but its origins are murky. Could it be related to a fish? https://bit.ly/3vYjFDS The river-dwelling chub is in fact related to the word “chubby,” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, which also cites references to a “chub” as a "lazy, spiritless fellow; a rustic, simpleton; dolt, fool" or a “a Jolt-head, a great-headed, full-cheeked Fellow”. https://www.etymonline.com/word/chubby.

How do I recognize when chubbing is happening?

Just this week, Scott Braddock of Quorum Report offered a strong definition on Twitter: “The thing about great chubbing is it’s difficult to tell when it started but it’s obvious when it’s been going on for a while.”

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Bill Positions

The United Labor Legislative Committee:

OPPOSED HB 4507 by Rep. Mike Schofield, R-Katy, which would apply any changes to federal voter registration laws only to federal elections. The measure appears to anticipate the possibility that a version of proposed federal voting rights reforms will become law. If that happens, this bill would go as far as possible under the Constitution to limit the effect of such reforms, joining a list of other bills that would make it harder to vote.