Legislative Lowdown-Mar. 15, 2019

Today is Day 67 of the regular session of the 86th Texas Legislature. 73 days to go.

  • The Legislature enters second gear as the half-way mark of the session arrives. The full House will begin voting on bills Tuesday and the Senate, which has already passed some major legislation, will accelerate action. Committees are already working wall to wall and more are likely to work into the evenings and nights as floor action takes up more of the day.
  • Do Something!!! Call your Senate office at 1-833-417-4260 and politely ask your senator to vote "NO" on SB 15, because Texas working families need basic benefits like earned paid sick leave, rest breaks in the summer heat, fair-chance hiring and equal justice in the workplace.
  • Do Something Else!!! Sign a petition to Build Houston Better in the long aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. The petition seeks strong wages and benefits in the recovery: https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/build-houston-better
  • Thousands of teachers and other school employees rallied at the Texas Capitol in favor of legislation that would make up some lost ground in funding public education in Texas. While the House and Senate are not yet on the same page with regard to teacher pay or school finance, the rally cry to “Fund Our Future!” helped set a standard for success. Dozens of lawmakers were introduced by the Texas American Federation of Teachers and Texas State Teachers Association hosts, but as per tradition, school employees delivered the keynotes. Helping lead the charge: national AFT President Randi Weingarten and NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.
  • Dozens of members of the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters came to the Capitol to oppose identical House and Senate bills that would do away with the State Board of Plumbing Examiners and place licensing under the catchall Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. HB 1670 by Rep. Stan Lambert, R-Abilene, and SB 621 by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, were left pending after union plumbers pointed up the value to public health and safety of having a dedicated board. Plumbers conceded the board needs resources to better meet the needs of a growing state, especially in response to the extensive damage caused by Hurricane Harvey. But on balance, they said, the board is the best mechanism for overseeing the steps toward developing the reliable Master Plumbers of tomorrow.
  • Representatives of the Texas Building Trades unions testified against HB 985 by Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, which would outlaw state-funded Project Labor Agreements in Texas. In the private sector and in the public sector in other states, PLAs have helped communities navigate complex construction projects that set strong wages and benefits, often at union levels, while coming in on time and on budget. Union members told the House State Affairs Committee that it makes no sense to take away a potential tool for building major projects before it has been tried. The bill was left pending.
  • With support from representatives of railroad unions, the House Transportation Committee considered HB 742 by Rep. Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, which would require a minimum of two people to run a freight train in Texas. The safety measure has struggled to get traction over several legislative sessions. Kamron Saunders of SMART and Gary Pedigo of BLET made the case that it is not enough to have a two-person crew requirement only in the collective bargaining agreement. Buttressing that argument, a railroad lobbyist said the companies may seek to reduce the requirement to one person. At least one rail executive wants to automate freight trains altogether.
  • The Senate confirmation battle over Texas Secretary of State David Whitley saw two new developments this week. First, Whitley’s office “inadvertently added” new names of naturalized citizens to its bogus list of people being checked for illegal non-citizen voting, the Texas Tribune reports. The office blamed a vendor. Second, the head of the Department of Public Safety took blame for data that led to the bogus list, the Dallas Morning News reports. The DPS head is not subject to confirmation, nor did he forward the list to the Attorney General or imply mass election fraud had taken place. ULLCO continues to OPPOSE Whitley’s confirmation.
  • The debate over SB 15, which could surface on the Senate floor as soon as Monday, took a turn as LGBTQ activists and advocates for cities announced opposition because of a Senate committee’s removal of language that would have protected local non-discrimination ordinances. SB 15, OPPOSED by ULLCO, is a death-star ban on local rules that improve workplace benefits. The Dallas Morning News runs the traps: https://bit.ly/2XW5DCH.
  • State Rep.-elect Ray Lopez will become the 150th member of the Texas House following his runoff win in South San Antonio’s HD 125, with labor’s endorsement. Lopez supporters achieved a runoff turnout of 9 percent – typical for an off-date election but well above the level of the first round, in which a Republican promoted by Gov. Greg Abbott and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn led the field. Unions in San Antonio and beyond worked hard to build labor turnout and Lopez successfully consolidated progressive support.

ULLCO Positions

  • ENDORSED HCR 19 by Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Corpus Christi, and HCR 25 by Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, each of which calls on Congress to repeal the Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision of the Social Security Act. Those provisions effectively deny the full benefits of Social Security to working people who have government pensions, including most teachers in Texas. Only Congress can fix this problem, which is why the Texas Legislature can do no more than consider resolutions.
  • ENDORSED SB 934 by Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, which would expand from 45 to 60 days the period in which an injured worker may seek judicial review of a workers’ compensation decision.
  • ENDORSED SB 935, also by Sen. Hancock, which would improve the processing of Workers’ Compensation cases when a military facility (for example, the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio) provides medical care to a patient.
  • ENDORSED HB 2242 by Rep. Hubert Vo, D-Houston, which would create a legal presumption that wage-earners are employees for purposes of Unemployment Insurance. The Texas Workforce Commission has proposed a rule, opposed by the Texas AFL-CIO, which would automatically consider employees of digital companies to be independent contractors who do not receive important workplace benefits. Identical companion bills are HB 2391 by Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston, and SB 1868 by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen.
  • OPPOSED SB 2429 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, which would authorize some cities to create 401(k)-style pension plans to eventually replace defined-benefit plans in municipal pension plans. As the labor movement knows all too well, such a move would place the entirety of investment risk in pension plans on the backs of working families, compromising retirement prospects for municipal employees.