Legislative Lowdown-Jan. 25, 2019

Today is Day 18 of the 140-day regular session of the 86th Texas Legislature.

  • Texas AFT called for a “timeout” on charter school expansion, a move that reveals a different picture for public education in the 86th Legislature. Over the last eight years, the labor movement has fought with allies to stop private school vouchers in the wake of major funding cuts for public schools. Now, legislative support for vouchers has tanked – voters have spoken – and school finance reform is a top priority.
  • Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro on charter schools: "We've seen unbridled expansion of charter schools - particularly the networks, or chains - which are taking millions of dollars out of our true public schools while they multiply by the dozens each year in our major cities. The result is a segregated system of schools with one side - the charters - allowed to discriminate against high-needs kids, such as special education students and English Learners that the public schools are left to serve. Meanwhile charters are also getting more money per student from the state. The damage being done both to our neighborhood schools and our state coffers signals an immediate need for a timeout on charter school expansion."
  •  Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, appointed committees that, by most measures, reflect the narrowed Republican majority of 83-64, with three more vacant seats all likely to be filled by Democrats. Democrats will chair 12 of the 34 panels. Key committees for working families are balanced based on the Nov. 6 election according to partisanship, geography and demographics. The narrower margins place a premium on bipartisan cooperation to pass legislation. See 86th Texas House lineup: https://www.house.texas.gov/committees/.
  •  The Texas AFL-CIO joined the Workers Defense Project, Equal Justice Center, Texas Building and Construction Trades Council, Central South Carpenters Regional Council and other allied groups in a news conference calling on the Texas Workforce Commission to drop a proposed rule that would automatically define workers at digital companies as “marketplace contractors.” Under the rule, workers would not get standard benefits like overtime, Workers’ Compensation, Unemployment Insurance, Social Security, Medicare. An e-mail from Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy to labor activists drew 126 formal comments against the rule, in addition to comments by the state labor federation, the National Employment Law Project and other allies. State Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth, objected to the agency’s attempt to rewrite law, pointing to the Capitol and declaring, “This is where the rules are made – in that pink building.” An agency spokesperson said TWC would consider the comments before proceeding. Opponents are threatening to sue if the rule is finalized.
  •  Here’s one reason the Texas AFL-CIO Fair Shot agenda now includes a plank on criminal justice. The blog Grits for Breakfast, which covers criminal justice issues, calculates that in 2018, cumulative jail time for Texans who cannot afford to pay the fines on Class C misdemeanors – offenses like speeding – amounted to 2,875 “bed years.” That’s $63 million in jail costs. As Grits for Breakfast notes, 40 percent of Americans would need to borrow money to pay a surprise $400 bill. The state labor federation is looking to change handling of minor offenses that affect the finances of working families disproportionately.
  •  Bad bill alert: HB 985 by Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, repeats an effort to bar state or local governments from using Project Labor Agreements on building projects. PLAs are voluntary agreements that set wage and benefit standards for all working people on major projects, often at the union level. PLAs typically are completed on time and at or under budget. Building Trades unions in the Houston region are trying to set up a PLA for rebuilding parts of the city that remain damaged after Hurricane Harvey. HB 985 would cut off any possibility of PLAs that could benefit taxpayers, working people and other stakeholders.