Legislative Lowdown-Feb. 22, 2019

Today is Day 46 of the 140-day regular session of the 86th Texas Legislature.

  • All 12 Democrats in the Texas Senate announced they oppose the confirmation of David Whitley as Texas Secretary of State. That is one more than would be needed to stop confirmation and force Whitley to leave the post no later than the end of the legislative session. Whitley drew condemnation from voting rights advocates when his office released a list of around 95,000 voters or registrants with a suggestion that some might have voted illegally as non-citizens. The list was also sent to the Attorney General for potential prosecution. Tens of thousands of those Texans have been shown to be naturalized citizens who should not have to re-prove eligibility.
  • Unanimity in the Democratic caucus developed after a news conference yesterday by nearly three dozen progressive organizations opposing Whitley’s confirmation, including the Texas AFL-CIO. Some of the organizations on the list had never opposed a gubernatorial nomination before. 
  • The Texas AFL-CIO today posted a news release quoting Secretary-Treasurer Montserrat Garibay: “The Senators who have announced opposition to the confirmation of David Whitley as Texas Secretary of State understand voter suppression when they see it. The Texas AFL-CIO thanks them. We also thank the many allied organizations that are standing up for voting rights. We need a Secretary of State who will rescind the bogus voting advisory and encourage every eligible Texan to cast a ballot.”
  • Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, left ethics experts “slack-jawed,” the Texas Tribune reports, when she filed SB 860, which seems geared to change the law undergirding the indictment of her husband, Attorney General Ken Paxton. Sen. Paxton wants to create a “regulatory sandbox” that would explicitly allow the alleged behavior that prompted criminal charges against the AG. The measure was one of the first bills filed by Paxton, a freshman senator. “It sounds like one of the more blatantly unethical acts I’ve seen recently. That’s just ridiculous,” ethics lawyer Randall “Buck” Wood told the Tribune. Read more: https://bit.ly/2GNtG0m 
  • The state leadership plan to let taxpayers demand an election when a local government raises taxes 2.5 percent – down from the current 8 percent – was flailing amid reports that most of the Texas Senate has not committed to the number. House Democrats announced a different tax relief approach – raising the homestead exemption. The 2.5 percent proposal doesn’t reduce taxes but raising the homestead exemption would do so as soon as it takes effect. Democrats also proposed features for school finance legislation. See Texas Tribune:https://bit.ly/2T8lTkp
  • Add SB 875 by Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, to last week’s introduction of bills that would stop local governments from enacting most any workplace benefit for working families. The bill would bar “fair chance hiring” ordinances that prevent employers from asking about criminal history records at the start of the hiring process. Organized labor has supported such ordinances, which do not require employers to hire someone with a criminal record. 

ULLCO Positions

  • Eight bills – including two proposals to increase the state minimum wage – will be heard 10 a.m. Monday, Feb. 25 in the House International Relations & Economic Development Committee drew ULLCO support. The Texas AFL-CIO will take part in social media coverage. Also, Do Something!: If you are in Austin, you can formally sign up in favor of the bills (no testimony necessary). See: https://bit.ly/2GGsEnt

ULLCO ENDORSED:

  • HB 48 by Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, which would create a state database of employers who are penalized for wage theft;
  • HB 83 by Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth, which would define when failure to pay wages that are due would trigger mandatory Texas Workforce Commission penalties;
  • HB 106 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, which would protect employees who complain about unpaid wages from employer retaliation by enabling employees to file lawsuits to seek damages and reinstatement;
  • HB 194 by Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, which would raise the state minimum wage to $15 an hour;
  • HB 287 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, which would attack unequal pay for women by enacting a state version of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Under current law, many women who find out they are being paid less than men for the same work are unable to seek redress because it is too late to file a lawsuit – even though they had no way of knowing they were underpaid;
  • HB 290, also by Thompson, which would gradually raise the state minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and raise the floor of what employers must pay to tipped employees;
  • HB 393 by Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, which would bar employers from asking about wage and benefit history during the hiring process. The bill would also permit applicants to obtain a pay scale for the job in question; and
  • HB 399 by Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston, which would extend from six months to one year the period in which a worker may file a claim for unpaid wages with the Texas Workforce Commission.