Legislative Lowdown - Jan. 4, 2019

Welcome to the 2019 edition of The ULLCO Sentinel. “ULLCO” is the United Labor Legislative Committee, the lobbying arm of the Texas AFL-CIO representing Texas labor unions and participating allies.

Today is Day Minus-4 of the regular session of the 86th Texas Legislature. Blastoff and the start of a 140-day clock takes place Tuesday, Jan. 8th, with the session running until Monday, May 27th, Memorial Day. 

  • Lawmakers have been pre-filing bills since Nov. 12, but a larger-than-usual incoming freshman class and some clear messages sent by the electorate have limited the numbers to about 1,000 (out of up to 7,000 expected by the filing deadline of March 8) as of this morning. A broad bipartisan consensus has developed around making school finance reform a top issue of the session, which is not to say there is anything approaching a consensus on a solution to the perennial public education predicament (see Ross Ramsey’s Texas Tribune take)

  • Thanks to a successful and pivotal Nov. 6 election, in part the result of an unprecedented union voter turnout that exceeded even the presidential-level overall state turnout, labor starts the 2019 session with more demonstrated support in the House and Senate than in at least a decade. Labor-backed candidates picked up 12 seats in the Texas House, which now stands 83-64 Republican, with two vacancies in Houston and El Paso to be settled or narrowed in Jan. 29th elections. The vacancy number today rose to three, according to the San Antonio Express-News, after State Rep. Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, took an appointment to a Bexar County Commissioners Court seat that became vacant upon the death of highly popular Commissioner Paul Elizondo, himself a former state representative. Labor-backed candidates flipped two key seats in the Texas Senate but lost a tiny-turnout special election earlier in the year, reducing the Republican advantage to 19-12.

  •  A fascinating analysis by a Republican political operative of the dramatic changes in who voted on Nov. 6th (hint: more progressives) may be found here.

  • At the 86th Texas Legislature, the Texas AFL-CIO will continue to promote a Fair Shot message on the issues that matter most to working people. The meta-test for ULLCO in every case is whether proposed legislation promotes a fair shot at better lives for working families. Examples of key issues: Fully funding neighborhood schools, better wages and benefits, expanded health care, justice for every working family, including immigrants, and improved access to voting. We will go into much greater detail as the session organizes.

  • Welcome Amanda Cavazos Weems to the Texas AFL-CIO. Sister Weems has joined the state labor federation as Field Organizer.

Featured Story

Texas AFL-CIO Legislative Director René Lara relays news that the Texas Workforce Commission has proposed an amendment to its Unemployment Insurance rules that could disrupt how Texas determines whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. Misclassification of workers as independent contractors costs employees basic benefits like Social Security taxes, Medicare taxes, paid sick leave, pensions, overtime pay and, yes, unemployment benefits. ULLCO has pursued legislation to make certain workers who meet the tests for being employees receive these and other basic benefits.

Lara reports the proposed rule would let employers designate workers as “marketplace contractors” – not employees – if the employer uses “digital networks” to conduct business, à la the ride-share companies Uber and Lyft. The Texas AFL-CIO is preparing a comment in opposition to the rule that points up how the approach would encourage employers to back away from obligations and risks that they assume in the employment relationship. The proposed deep bow to the “gig economy” also holds serious consequences for immigrant workers, who are already treated like a sub-class in workplaces around the state. The Texas AFL-CIO strongly believes it is not the place of a state agency to redefine “employment”; that is the job of the Legislature (which has adopted the common-law test of who is an employee) and, as appropriate, the courts. 

The proposed rule is in a 30-day comment period that ends Jan. 21. When the Texas AFL-CIO has finalized its comment, we will suggest a way for you to Do Something!  

A Few Interesting Bills

This space will ordinarily be used for bills that ULLCO has taken a position on. The categories below are on topics where ULLCO has a clear history of positions. The listed bills are examples for each subject, are not comprehensive and are among many bills to come. ULLCO’s support or opposition will almost always apply to identical bills on a subject.

Teacher Pay Raise – HB 118 by Martinez; HB 197 by Reynolds.

Minimum Wage Increase – HB 194 by Reynolds, HB 328 by Ortega, SB 161 by Rodriguez (repeal ban on local ordinances), SB 113, SJR 5 and SJR 22 by Menendez.

State Employee Pay Raise – SB 111 by Menendez.

Equal Pay for Equal Work – HB 287 by Thompson, SB 112 by Menendez, SB 160 by Rodriguez.

Wage Theft – HB 48 by Gonzalez, SB 162 by Rodriguez, HB 83 by Romero, HB 106 by Rodriguez, HB 169 by Canales and HB 399 by Hernandez.

Medicaid Expansion – HB 590 and HJR 40 by Israel.

Pension Cost of Living Adjustment Bills – HB 56 by Martinez; HB 398 by Hernandez; SB 92, 93, 94 and SJR 4 by Menendez; HB 425 and 426 by Allen.

And a couple clearly bad bills under longstanding ULLCO positions:

Local Control – HB 222 by Krause, which would repeal local paid sick leave ordinances.

Immigration – HB 413 by Biedermann, which would deny in-state tuition rates to Dreamers and other immigrants even though they reside in Texas.