Legislative Lowdown-April 5, 2019

Today is Day 88 of the regular session of the 86th Texas Legislature. 52 days to go.

Do Something! Write your legislators on urgent labor issues: https://bit.ly/2FWDVO1

Following a debate notable for unprecedented solidarity on the need to improve the school finance system, the Texas House voted 148-1 to approve HB 3, a measure that attacks inequities built over decades and disburses $9 billion of new money into the system. Under an amendment by Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, HB 3 also would guarantee at least $1,850 a year more to all public-school employees; that amount could go higher at the discretion of local school districts. Lawmakers pulled together to adopt consensus amendments and withdraw divisive ones. The bill next moves to the Senate, which has previously approved separate legislation that would deliver $5,000 raises, but only to teachers and librarians.

ULLCO has not taken a position at this time on the school finance bill, HB 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston. As is customary for huge bills with many moving parts, ULLCO might weigh in when the final direction of the bill becomes clear. But our affiliates at Texas AFT were highly complimentary of the process and pleased that the bill does not expand charter schools or advance merit pay tied to standardized tests, bugbears from past attempts on this subject. (Private school vouchers are locked away in the attic this session, another result of the 2018 elections.) Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro said HB 3 “is a building block for what’s needed to keep funding the future of our state.”

On a 19-12 vote, the Texas Senate approved SB 621, which would abolish the Board of Plumbing Examiners and place regulation of plumbers in the Department of Licensing and Regulation. Unfortunately, the regulatory scheme under the bill appears to be weaker than current law and that could have a long-term impact on the safety of building projects. ULLCO, unions representing plumbers and the unions of the Texas Building and Construction Trades Council have OPPOSED the legislation, which now moves to the House, A House committee has already held a hearing on the bill, so the red warning light is flashing.

In a Thursday evening hearing, the Senate State Affairs Committee rocketed four bills cloned from SB 15 – the death-star attack on local workplace benefit ordinances -- toward a full Senate vote. Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, argued that SBs 2485, 2486, 2487 and 2488 have nothing to do with local non-discrimination ordinances and would not harm them. Creighton even produced a lawyer from the Attorney General’s office to make that case. But other experts took the opposite position. In light of the Texas Supreme Court’s propensity to side against working people in close cases, the likelihood that the bills would jeopardize any local workplace benefit is substantial. That is the position of a group of mainstream corporations, including Facebook, Amazon, Dell and other high-tech powerhouses. ULLCO remains OPPOSED to any and all permutations of SB 15, including the four bills listed above.

In the unforced error department, the Republican majority in the Texas Senate approved on a purely partisan vote of 19-12 a Senate Resolution to take “all means necessary” to secure the border. The measure, which doesn’t even go to the House, also declares the Senate “supports the President” in moving toward emergency action. Typically, such “advice to Congress” resolutions are worth no more than a place in the Congressional Record, best viewed as a giant dumpster for official rhetoric. More noteworthy: SR 535 by Rep. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, was co-authored by the rest of the GOP caucus and dropped on Democrats’ desk moments before a debate that lasted several hours as Democrats decried the clear violation of “senatorial courtesy.” To the outside eye, however, business in the Senate was back to normal the next day.

The Dallas Morning News highlighted HB 618, a ULLCO-backed bill by Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, seeking to void forced arbitration agreements in workplace sexual harassment and assault cases. In an attempt to move the bill through committee, Neave dropped a provision barring employers form requiring workers to sign nondisclosure agreements as a condition of employment. The bill, which still would take a step in the right direction in the #MeToo era, faces a steep uphill climb.

The Texas Workforce Commission will consider finalizing its proposed digital workplace rule next Tuesday, April 9. The rule would declare all workers at companies that dispatch jobs via algorithms to be independent contractors. The Texas Observer and New York Times have reported the agency all but copied a proposal by lobbyists for Silicon Valley companies, led by Handy, which sends unlicensed people into homes to take on various jobs. The Observer also reported lobbyists for Handy failed to register as required by law; the lobbyists have since registered and paid fines that were not even levied, though that may not be the end of the story. Among the unions opposing the rule at the agency: United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners. Union members from around the state opposed the rule during a formal comment period around Christmas time.

ULLCO-backed bills that would address appalling conditions in migrant labor housing in Texas received hearings this week in the House and Senate. The House Urban Affairs Committee considered HBs 40 and 50, each by Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth. HB 40 would study the problem and HB 50 is an omnibus bill to strengthen regulations. The companion bills are SBs 360 and 397 by Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, which received hearings in the Senate Agriculture Committee. A series of articles by the Austin American-Statesman featured laborers living in shipping containers and housing infested by scorpions, among other hazards.

ULLCO Positions.

ENDORSED HB 4150 by Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall (companion bill is SB 2375 by Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola), which would require safety and inspection reports from utility companies in Texas. The bill has the backing of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers;

ENDORSED SB 697 by Sen. José Rodriguez, D-El Paso (companion is HB 50 by Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth) and the related HB 40 by Rep. Romero (companion is SB 360 by Sen. Rodriguez), which would significantly strengthen regulation of migrant housing facilities. The latter bill would set up a study;

ENDORSED HB 495 by Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, fair-chance hiring legislation that would require employers to postpone consideration of criminal history in the hiring process until the applicant is invited for an interview or is conditionally offered employment;

OPPOSED SB 1891 by Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, which would place further limitations on the rate of growth of the state budget, regardless of economic circumstances or other factors. The Texas Constitution already demands a “pay as you go” system in which lawmakers may not spend more than the amount of funds deemed available by the Comptroller;

ENDORSED HB 63 by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso (companion is SB 156 by Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso),HB 335 by Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, HB 371 by Rep. Alma Allen, D-Houston (companion is SB 1847 by Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston), and HB 753 by Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, all of which would reduce criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana (with the caveat that for some unknown reason, state law continues to spell the weed “marihuana”). The measures fit into a Fair Shot Agenda that is looking to reduce the disproportionate effect of parts of criminal and civil law in Texas on working families and those living in poverty;

ENDORSED HB 850 by Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas (companion is SB 1250 by Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio), which would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression;

ENDORSED HB 1061 by Rep. Ina Minjarez, D-San Antonio, which would require employers to explain mandatory arbitration agreements to prospective employees before they are signed;

ENDORSED HB 20 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, which would allocate certain constitutional transfers of money to the Texas Legacy Fund, aimed at shoring up pension systems;

OPPOSED SB 957 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston (House companion bill is HB 2662 by Rep. Dennis Paul, R-Houston), which would require a local election any time a municipality issues bonds of $50 million or more to shore up local pension funds;

OPPOSED HB 2495 by Rep. Ed Thompson, R-Pearland, which would dictate that a company’s deployment of mandatory safety features on trucks may not be considered in determining whether a truck driver is an employee or independent contractor. ULLCO joins the Teamsters in opposition to this measure;

OPPOSED HB 281 by Rep. Mayes Middleton, R-Wallisville, which would bar use of public money by local governments to lobby the Legislature;

ENDORSED HB 342 by Rep. Philip Cortez, D-San Antonio (companions are HB 829 by Rep. Toni Rose, D-Dallas, and SB 637 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo), which would lengthen the period of continuous eligibility for children under Medicaid from six months to a year;

ENDORSED HB 1110 by Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston, which would establish a one-year period of continuous eligibility for women who give birth under Medicaid;

ENDORSED HB 542 by Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, which would add official Native American tribal documents to the list of acceptable identifications under the “voter ID” law;

ENDORSED HB 552 by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, which would require high schools to make voter registration application forms available on campus;

OPPOSED HB 21206 by Rep. Leo Pacheco, D-San Antonio, which would expand the distance markers in which electioneering is prohibited at polling places from 100 to 300 feet, the length of a football field;

ENDORSED HB 4545 by Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring (companion is SB 1229 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston), which would require school districts to publish school board and bond election results on their websites;

OPPOSED HB 4296 by Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, which would create a high school curriculum supposedly leading to licensure as a plumber. The United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters reports the measure would not provide the hands-on experience needed to prepare an apprentice for actual jobs; 

ENDORSED HB 3847 by Rep. Gina Calanni, D-Katy, which would require reasonable workplace accommodations for women who are pregnant or recently gave birth;

ENDORSED HB 572 by Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, which would allow Unemployment Insurance benefits for employees who leave the workplace as a result of sexual harassment;

ENDORSED HB 1575 by Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, which would require employers to provide sexual harassment training once every two years – two hours for supervisors and one hour for other employees; and

ENDORSED HB 2501 by Rep. Rhetta Bowers, D-Rowlett, which would provide up to four hours per year for an employee to attend academic or extracurricular events involving a child.