Legislative Lowdown-Feb. 15, 2019

Today is Day 39 of the 140-day regular session of the 86th Texas Legislature.

  • The long-expected state leadership assault on earned paid sick leave ordinances and other workplace benefits that local governments have enacted or might enact in the future has begun. SB 15 by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, and the identical HB 1654 by Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, would bar local governments from requiring employers to offer any workplace benefit, defined as “anything of value that an employee receives from an employer in addition to monetary compensation.” SB 15 was quickly referred to the Senate Natural Resources & Economic Development Committee.
  • Gov. Greg Abbott told the National Federation of Independent Business on that organization’s lobby day that he supports the corporate-backed rule-rigging measures. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick gave the Senate bill a low number, signaling a high priority. The Texas AFL-CIO, working as part of the Texas Coalition for Paid Sick Leave, pointed up that four million working people in the state have no access to the basic benefit of paid time off to take care of illnesses. Those working people have asked the local officials closest to them to take action, and Austin and San Antonio have responded with ordinances that are tied up in court.
  • Paid sick leave is a fundamental employment benefit but also a public health benefit. No one should have to choose between getting a paycheck and taking care of a relative, and customers should not face unnecessary exposure to the flu or other communicable diseases because working people handling their food or engaging in customer service have to show up or face financial ruin.
  • The bills are written so broadly that Texas courts might find they apply to public employee benefits as well as private ones. As filed, SB 15 and HB 1654 would not cancel anti-discrimination laws or contracts between a local government and a private employer. But the measures could undermine rest break ordinances, potential Project Labor Agreements, local public employee minimum wage floors and the like.
  • The Texas AFL-CIO called on the Senate to deny confirmation to Texas Secretary of State David Whitley. After a much-criticized appearance last week before the Senate Nominations Committee, Whitley this week sent a half-hearted letter of apology to the 181 Texas legislators in connection with a program that sent around 95,000 names to the Attorney General’s office and to counties for potential prosecution as non-citizen voters or registrants. Texas AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Montserrat Garibay, declaring “181 down, 95,000 to go,” called the apology inadequate against the damage that could have been done to tens of thousands of naturalized citizens. Whitley’s fate is unclear. So far, three Democratic senators (out of 12) have come out against his confirmation, the Dallas Morning News reports. Whitley would need at least two Democratic votes (or absences) to pass muster.
  • Talking Points Memo, a national news service, reports at least one Texas county sent notices demanding re-proof of citizenship to people on the Secretary of State list without providing a contact. See: https://bit.ly/2SVYJ0r
  • Do Something! Ask your State Senator to vote “NO” on the confirmation of David Whitley as Texas Secretary of State: https://bit.ly/2Gt5DVi
  • In the face of Texas’s stance at the forefront of efforts to kill the Affordable Care Act, two lawmakers are nevertheless trying to engineer a vote of the people on whether to expand Medicaid under the historic law. The Texas Tribune reports Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, and Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, are trying to move a constitutional amendment. Israel’s approach is to point up that without the tens of billions of dollars of federal money that participation in ACA would bring, more and more rural hospitals will close. This longest of long shots has merit, if not the votes. See: https://bit.ly/2DzLhph
  • A runoff election in Houston's Texas House District 145 is set for Tuesday, March 5. Christina Morales and Melissa Noriega have the joint endorsement of the Harris County Labor Assembly and Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation

 A couple of bills of interest filed this week:

  • HB 1575 by Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, would require Texas employers to provide two hours of sexual harassment training to employees at least once every two years. The state would provide a video that employers could use for that purpose.
  • HB 1855 by Rep. Rhetta Bowers, D-Garland, would strengthen workplace hours protections for 16-year-old workers (e.g., no more than five days of work in a week) and would bar late-night, early-morning hours before school days.
  • KLRU, the public broadcasting TV station in Austin, posted a superb video depicting the experience of Savannah Marvits, a star fifth-year Plumbers apprentice. The film captures the value of registered union apprenticeship programs beautifully: https://bit.ly/2GLiYYe

 ULLCO Positions

  • OPPOSED SB 15 by Creighton, HB 1654 by Goldman, SB 762 by Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, and HB 222 by Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth. SB 15 and HB 1654 are the leadership attacks on paid sick leave and other employee benefits. SB 762 is an even broader version of SB 15, with no exceptions. HB 222 takes aim only at earned paid sick leave ordinances.