Legislative Update - Sine Die Edition

The ULLCO Sentinel

June 5, 2021 — #22

Sine Die Edition

You keep lyin' when you oughta be truthin'
And you keep losing when you oughta not bet\
You keep samin' when you oughta be a'changin'
Now what's right is right but you ain't been right yet
These boots are made for walkin'
And that's just what they'll do
One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you

—From “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” by Lee Hazlewood. The immortal Nancy Sinatra version: https://bit.ly/3uPxXpr. The not-so-immortal Megadeth cover: https://bit.ly/3uLndbK.

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‘A Third Statewide Disaster’ — The Texas AFL-CIO took stock of how the 87th Texas Legislature affected working families. “The session was more about narrow partisan brownie points and misplaced priorities than doing anything to help families get a fair shot to achieve their dreams,” Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy said. While labor scored some victories, Levy called the session “a third statewide disaster.” Lawmaking is not over, with at least two special legislative sessions promised by the Gov. Greg Abbott. The rundown of major issues: https://bit.ly/3yWxuVI

Taking a Constitutional — A large majority of the Texas House’s 63 Democrats killed SB 7, the nationally watched voter suppression bill, by walking out ahead of a final vote that would have sent the measure to the Governor’s desk. The busting of the House’s quorum — it takes 100 members to do official business — also took out other remaining bills on the Calendar, including SB 14, which would have blocked local governments from enacting protections for working people. Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy thanked “the courageous Democratic caucus for putting it all on the line to safeguard all Texans’ right to vote.”

Walkout Worked and Was Justified — Abbott said he would call a summer special session to consider the ULLCO-opposed elections bill, along with bail reform and other items of his choosing. Partisan accusations that Democrats didn’t do their jobs were undermined when: A) Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he didn’t blame Democrats for using the tool at their disposal to stop a major bill they opposed. (He placed that blame on House leadership.); and B) A prime Republican player on the election bill acknowledged some of the SB 7 provisions inserted at the last minute by a House-Senate Conference Committee need to go.

Unpaid Wages Claims Ahead for Lawmakers? — After the walkout, a miffed Gov. Abbott tweeted a vow to veto Article 10 of SB 1, the appropriations bill for 2022-23, to punish lawmakers for leaving their posts. If he proceeds, that would purportedly cut off pay for all legislators, except the $7,200 House and Senate members make in annual salary and the per diem expenses they receive are written into the Texas Constitution. Article 10, however, includes many employees who serve the public and could be cut off under such a veto on Sept. 1. It should be noted that the Legislature will again write the budget for the Governor’s Office in 2023. 

Legislatin’ on the Fly — Before walking out, Democrats highlighted two provisions of SB 7 that no one had discussed during extraordinarily long hearings on the bill. A piece that would have barred early voting on Sunday before 1 p.m. (four hours later than the current 9 a.m. limit) would have undermined the tradition of “souls to the polls,” in which Black church congregants vote en masse after services. A provision that calls to mind the big lie in 2020 would have dramatically eased the legal standard for overturning an election. 

State Employees Take Hits — SB 321, a ULLCO-opposed bill that will convert pensions for future state employees to a cheaper “cash balance” plan, passed in unusual fashion following the Democratic walkout when the Senate decided to accept a House amendment that it previously had rejected. The amendment will allow state employees, including legislators, to collect their pensions while continuing to work if they are at least 60 years old and have accrued the maximum annuity. Besides the set-up of a two-tier pension system, state employees went yet another session without a general pay raise.

Staving Off Worst Public Education Bills — Bright spot for public schools in Texas:  Lawmakers funded the continuation of last session’s school finance reforms in the appropriations bill. The Texas American Federation of Teachers played a leadership role in holding off or improving bills related to charter school expansion and the ability of the state to take over school districts. Lawmakers did pass a controversial bill taken off the national Republican agenda that seeks to dictate how teachers may incorporate slavery and racism into the civics curriculum. For a full rundown by Texas AFT, go to: https://bit.ly/3phPKo4.

Health Care — A strong effort to sign Texas onto tens of billions of dollars in federal funding available for expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act again fell short. A Supreme Court decision will soon reveal whether Texas is successful in trying to cut off ACA for all states. A narrower victory: HB 133, which will expand from four weeks to six months the Medicaid coverage available for services for women who give birth, made it to the Governor’s desk. 

Workers’ Compensation — SB 22, which creates a presumption that First Responders and Correctional Officers who contracted COVID-19 did so on the job, won final passage on the last possible day. Unfortunately, a similar bill covering nurses died in the Senate and bills to help other essential workers in the same fashion went nowhere. 

What’s Next — Only Abbott can set the date of the next promised special session and the topics to be discussed. When that special session emerges, the ULLCO Sentinel will come out of hibernation. Meanwhile, Abbott will consider whether to sign hundreds of pieces of legislation sitting on his desk. The period for signing, vetoing or letting bills pass without a signature ends on Sunday, June 20, Father’s Day. 

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The Basics

When do approved laws take effect?

That can vary. Generally speaking, new bills this year will take effect on Aug. 30, 2021 if the new law either specifies Aug. 30 or is silent on the subject. In some cases, the Constitution provides for immediate effect, but requires both the House and Senate to approve such measures by at least two-thirds on record votes. The Legislature may also postpone effective dates of new laws, sometimes for years, to provide additional time for preparation and notice.

What is the significance of Aug. 30?

The Constitution states that if the Legislature does not provide for immediate effect or another effective date, a signed bill takes effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session (technically, right after midnight of the 90th day after adjournment).

I’ve always thought the traditional default effective date was Sept. 1. What gives?

Sept. 1 is often written into bills as the effective date, perhaps because some measures take years to pass and Sept. 1 is the latest possible effective date for legislation, depending on the date the regular session began. If a bill has a Sept. 1 effective date, that’s when it starts.

What about Constitutional Amendments? 

The Governor has no formal role in amending the Texas Constitution but Texas voters must approve any such change. This time, eight proposed Constitutional Amendments that made the cut will be on the ballot Nov. 2, 2021.

Is there a one-stop place to look up the effective dates of bills? 

Yes, but you will have to wait a while. The Legislative Reference Library compiles that information some time after the Governor has acted. Check out the example from last session at this link: https://bit.ly/3wZvXMX.