Legislative Lowdown-Mar. 1, 2019

Today is Day 53 of the regular session of the 86th Texas Legislature. 87 days to go.

  • After a three-hour hearing that featured mainly opposition, the Senate State Affairs Committee quickly voted 5-1 along party lines to advance SB 15, a Death Star bill aimed at killing off local rules that improve workplace benefits. If that sounds bad, the committee also erased language from the measure that would have protected anti-discrimination ordinances.
  • SB 15 is a top priority of the business community, but when the panel changed the bill, at least two business spokespeople emphasized they were supporting the original version that retains anti-discrimination ordinances.
  • The labor community was well-represented. Among witnesses testifying against both the attack on important workplace benefits and against the state power grab from elected officials who are closest to the people: Texas AFL-CIO Legislative Director René Lara; David Alley, President of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 716 in Houston; Leonard Aguilar of the Texas Building and Construction Trades Council; and Jeremy Hendricks of the Laborers Union. Several allies testified against the bill, along with business owners who provide earned paid sick leave and believe it should be a universal requirement.
  • Do Something!: Please politely ask your senator to vote "NO" on SB 15 and preserve local workplace benefits. Call 1-833-417-4260 to reach the appropriate office.
  • The Senate Nominations Committee voted 4-3 to advance the confirmation of Texas Secretary of State David Whitley, despite the announced opposition of all 12 Senate Democrats, which is enough to sink the nomination. Gov. Greg Abbott declared on a radio program that he believes some Democrats will change their minds and help confirm Whitley. Abbott also poured out the head of the Department of Public Safety, blaming him for the tens of thousands of naturalized citizens included on a bogus list released by Whitley along with a suggestion that mass illegal voting had occurred. The nomination is now eligible for Senate consideration at any time, placing a premium on which senators are on the floor. The Texas AFL-CIO opposes Whitley’s confirmation and believes the state’s release of the list and threats of prosecution amount to voter suppression.
  • Earlier in the week, a San Antonio federal judge ordered the state not to subject anyone to a proof of citizenship process or purge them from the voter rolls while he considers the case. U.S. District Judge Fred Biery called the state’s method of checking for illegal voting “ham-handed” and “threatening.”
  • The Senate Finance Committee voted 15-0 to advance SB 3, which would raise teacher pay by $5,000 a year. Our Brothers and Sisters in Texas AFT endorsed the bill with reservations. Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro says an across-the-board pay raise should include non-teaching public school employees. He also noted that even $5,000 a year would not bring teachers to the national pay average. The Texas House leadership has announced a completely different approach on school finance that would result in localized teacher pay hikes.
  • In a positive and possibly unprecedented signal of shifting winds, the House International Relations and Economic Development Committee opened its deliberations with an agenda consisting of only wage-related bills that the United Labor Legislative Committee had endorsed. The bills would raise the minimum wage, promote equal pay for women, strengthen enforcement against wage theft, and prevent employers from demanding to know about an applicant's wage and benefit history ahead of hiring. See last week’s “ULLCO Positions” in The ULLCO Sentinel #8 for more details on the measures, all of which were left pending by Committee Chair Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas.
  • The Texas AFL-CIO participated in a Capitol rally calling for justice on immigration issues, including repeal of the “Show Me Your Papers” law known as SB 4. The rally was led by Workers Defense and other allies. On a related front, a think tank co-founded by media CEOs Michael Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch placed a price tag on any decision by Texas to repeal in-state college tuition for DREAMers: $400 million. The Texas AFL-CIO has defended the Dream Act, but legislation to repeal it has been introduced. See Austin American-Statesman account: https://atxne.ws/2SujMmq
  • In the “Huh!!??!!” Department, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn quoted reviled Italian strongman and Hitler ally Benito Mussolini to make a point about socialism. That was a whopper of a Twitter mistake, as suggested by Huffington Post: “The quote seemed more than a little unusual given that Mussolini had abandoned socialism and embraced fascism before he seized power in Italy. The unusual tweets caused the name "Mussolini" to trend on Twitter on Sunday, and many people wondered why Cornyn was highlighting the thoughts of a friend of Hitler's....”

ULLCO Positions

  • ENDORSED HB 28 by Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth, which would enact protections against misclassification of employees as “independent contractors” in public works contracts.
  • OPPOSED HB 983 by Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, and the identical SB 473 by Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, a repeat effort by the non-union construction industry to prevent state or local governments from entering into Project Labor Agreements on major construction projects. PLAs have proven to be outstanding vehicles for delivering giant projects on time and on budget while providing working families strong pay and benefits.
  • OPPOSED HB 1670 by Rep. Stan Lambert, R-Abilene, and the identical SB 621 by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, which would abolish the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners, transferring regulation of plumbers to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. 
  • ENDORSED HB 750 by Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston, and the identical SB 163 by Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, which would require workers’ compensation coverage by contractors and subcontractors in the construction industry.
  • ENDORSED SB 1106 by Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, which would update and strengthen the plumbing code used by the Board of Plumbing Examiners to regulate plumbers in Texas.
  • ENDORSED HB 596 by Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston, which would permit an elected retiree to serve on the board of the Employees Retirement System of Texas.