Legislative Lowdown - Jan. 11, 2019

Today is Day 4 of the 140-day regular session of the 86thTexas Legislature.  

  • The House unanimously elected State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, to the speakership. Speaker Bonnen will preside over the House, appoint committees, make parliamentary rulings and otherwise exercise major influence on the course of the session. The Senate is presided over by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who was reelected statewide on Nov. 6. Senators pass along the Senate President Pro Tem position via seniority, and this session’s turn goes to Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. Watson may preside in the absence of Patrick. Rumors flew wildly when Patrick missed the first day of the session to meet with President Trump at the White House, but Patrick said he intends to remain in office for as long as he can.

  •  Lawmakers are in the early stages of organizing for consideration of bills. The House and Senate each adopted rules of operation. Changes in the House rules were notable for working families in at least two respects. First, jurisdiction over labor unions shifts from an economic development committee to the House Business and Industry Committee (whose membership is also rising from seven to nine members.) Second, the House adopted a requirement that lawmakers and those around them take training on prevention of sexual harassment, also incorporating within the rules a process for addressing complaints. In an instant, the Senate adopted rules nearly identical rules to those of the last session, with no specific provision on harassment.

  • The House and Senate will meet in joint session Tuesday, Jan. 15 for a key ceremonial event – the Inauguration of Gov. Greg Abbottand Lt. Gov. Patrick. Regular legislative business resumes Wednesday. Patrick usually appoints committees near the start of the session, so it would not be surprising to see committee assignments next week. House members are in the process of formally requesting committees, and Speaker Bonnen is expected to finalize appointments later this month. 

  • The Texas AFL-CIO posted a formal comment opposing a Texas Workforce Commission rule that would redefine “employment” by declaring workers at companies that operate exclusively via digital platforms to be “marketplace contractors.” That status could deny some gig economy workers who currently qualify as employees major benefits like employer contributions toward Social Security and Medicare, overtime pay, Workers’ Compensation and Unemployment Insurance, along with participation in health care, pension, paid sick, holiday leave and other important benefits.

  • Political appointees shouldn’t get to declare the gig economy a separate world in which workers take on all the risk and a business’s obligations to workers vanish,” Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levysaid of the Workforce Commission rule. “When it comes to the needs of working families, it does not matter whether customers enter via the front door, the mail box or a computer.” Levy said the state federation will take the rule to court if it is finalized. 

  • Do Something! You may e-mail comments against the rule to [email protected]

  • A day before the legislative session began on Tuesday, Comptroller Glenn Hegar’s revenue estimate added to optimism that lawmakers will have the resources to enact a worthwhile school finance reform measure – by bipartisan accounts, the highest priority assigned to the legislative session.Hegar projected the availability of approximately $119.1 billion in state funds for appropriations, as against $110.2 billion in the previous two-year budget. An essential ingredient of any school finance fix from labor’s viewpoint: a teacher pay raise.

  • Another essential for the session is a general state employee pay raise. The Texas Tribune reports the state auditor calculated a state employee turnover rate of nearly one in five in the last budget year. Brother Seth Hutchinson of the Texas State Employees Union said, "You'll ask any state employee, 'Did you expect to get rich working for the state?' and they'll tell you no but they still expect to be able to live and pay rent and take of their families and they're not able to do that right now." Read more: http://bit.ly/2D5ygFb

Programming Note: Next week, the Texas AFL-CIO will present a legislative agenda built around providing all workers in Texas a fair shot at better lives. A news conference has been scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 17 at Texas AFL-CIO headquarters. The event will be live-streamed on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Stay tuned.

 A Couple Interesting Bills

ULLCO has not yet taken positions this session on legislation, but here are a couple bills of interest to working families filed recently:

HB 701 by Luciowould penalize call centers that take government subsidies to open only to send jobs they had promised to create and maintain overseas. The bill is being watched closely by the Communications Workers of America;  

 HB 742 by Yvonne Daviswould require at least a two-person crew on trains. SMART and BLET have made the bill a major priority over several legislative sessions.