Legislative Lowdown-Mar. 22, 2019

Today is Day 74 of the regular session of the 86th Texas Legislature. 66 days to go.

  • The emergence from the House Public Education Committee of HB 3, this session’s major school finance reform vehicle, included the outstanding news that merit pay provisions have been dropped from the bill. The Texas American Federation of Teachers has waged a long battle against tying teacher pay to controversial standardized tests. "The rejection of merit pay sends an important signal that educator salaries should not be tied to standardized tests never intended for that purpose," Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro said. HB 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, is on track for consideration by the full House.
  • The Texas AFL-CIO is a leading player in a broad progressive coalition opposing SB 15, the death-star attack on the ability of local governments to improve workplace benefits through such vehicles as earned paid sick leave, fair-chance hiring and rest breaks for construction workers. Now the broader business community has entered the fray. Opposition took on a new dimension when a Senate committee stripped the bill of language that would have protected non-discrimination ordinances. This week, the American Society of Association Executives, which consists of lobbyists for major business interests, announced its opposition to the bill, stating, "ASAE is opposed to legislation that would harm Texas's reputation as a welcoming state. Any legislation that would weaken protections for LGBTQ workers would have severe economic consequences in the form of lost jobs, investments and event bookings throughout the state."
  • Do Something! Our coalition’s opposition to SB 15 has helped delay Senate consideration of the measure. If you have not already called your senator to ask for a “NO” vote on SB 15, here again is the number: 1-833-417-4260.
  • At a hearing on a ULLCO-ENDORSED bill that would require prison temperatures to be maintained between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice made the astonishing claim that equipping all prisons with air-conditioning would cost $1 billion. The author of HB 936, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, called the estimate an “exorbitant, disingenuous number.” There is evidence to back up Canales – an August 2018 Texas Tribune article that put price tags for equipping two prison units in the $2 million to $4 million range apiece. Texas has approximately 75 prisons and jails (out of 104) that lack a/c. It’s hard to imagine how the math gets remotely close to $1 billion. The health and safety of AFSCME Correctional Officers, as well as prisoners, are at stake. See: https://bit.ly/2CyCdnc
  • Charter schools were already having a deservedly poor legislative session – lawmakers have become more skeptical that state funds are well-spent in an arena that produces far more duds than successes – before bad national publicity connected to Texas hit. Southwest Key, already a target of wrath over conditions in “baby jails” for immigrants seeking asylum, has starved its charter schools while sitting on tens of millions of dollars, The New York Times reports. While raccoons and rats invaded East Austin College Prep and the school had no cafeteria, the company required the charter school to use its “non-profit” services, raising new questions about why the state has funneled $65 million to the charter schools over the last decade.
  • Good news: ULLCO-ENDORSED HB 48, which would create a state database of employers who are found to have committed wage theft, has cleared the House International Relations and Economic Development Committee on a 9-0 vote. Bad news: ULLCO-OPPOSED HB 985, which would outlaw state funding for Project Labor Agreements, cleared the House State Affairs Committee. HB 985 would destroy a powerful potential tool, never tried in Texas, for building major construction projects on time and on budget while guaranteeing a fair deal for working families. Next step for each bill: the House Calendars Committee and a possible spot for floor debate.
  • Our allies at Workers Defense held a successful “We Build Texas” Lobby Day at the Capitol, advocating for better working conditions for construction workers, improved immigration policy and better policies for low-wage workers in general. The event culminated in a mock boxing match featuring a young woman and a rubber suit-bloated avatar of the fat cats. See the rally (and the boxing match just short of the 1 hour, 23 minute mark): https://www.facebook.com/WorkersDefenseProject/videos/2045238559114263/

ULLCO Positions

  • ENDORSED HB 741 by Rep. Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, which would inform injured workers under the Workers’ Compensation system that they have a right to choose the doctor who treats them;
  • ENDORSED HB 1529 by Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, which would extend the statute of limitations for sexual harassment complaints filed with the Texas Workforce Commission;
  • ENDORSED HB 618 by Rep. Neave, which would void arbitration and non-disclosure agreements in sexual assault and harassment cases;
  • ENDORSED HB 2279 by Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, which would expand protection against sexual harassment in the workplace;
  • OPPOSED SB 9 by Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, an omnibus election bill that does many things (including expansion of the jurisdiction of the attorney general) that on balance could discourage voting;
  • ENDORSED HB 362 by Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, which would fund local acquisition of voting equipment;
  • ENDORSED HB 529 by Rep. Rick Miller, R-Sugar Land, improving the process of renewing appointments as volunteer deputy voter registrars;
  • ENDORSED HB 1463 by Rep. Jessica Gonzalez, D-Dallas, and the similar HB 1691 by Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston, which would establish joint primary elections in the few counties that still do not have them;
  • OPPOSED HB 2504 by Rep. Drew Springer Jr., R-Muenster, which would increase Texas Secretary of State filing fees for certain offices;
  • OPPOSED SB 29 by Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, which would restrict local governments from lobbying at the Texas Legislature;
  • OPPOSED SB 30 by Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, which would dictate specifics of ballot language requirements for bond proposals;
  • OPPOSED HB 2657 by Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, which would enact unnecessarily stricter requirements for funding soundness in public retirement systems;
  • OPPOSED HJR 75 by Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, which proposes a constitutional amendment prohibiting use of state funds to help pay for the obligations of local retirement systems;
  • OPPOSED HB 2662 by Rep. Dennis Paul, R-Houston, which would require an election for a local government to pay down pension obligations;
  • OPPOSED SB 2428 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, which would authorize defined contribution plans for the Employees Retirement System and Teacher Retirement System, instead of the defined-benefit plans that now exist. The measure could transfer all investment risk to future retirees and prospective retirees;
  • ENDORSED HB 2396 by Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, which would reflect accumulated interest on retirement calculations when a municipal retiree resumes employment;
  • ENDORSED SJR 60 by Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, which would increase the amount the state may contribute to the Employees Retirement System;
  • ENDORSED SB 456 by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, which would also authorize a higher state contribution to ERS;
  • ENDORSED HB 3662 by Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston, which would expand the board of trustees of the Teacher Retirement System, including higher education representatives in the process;
  • ENDORSED HB 4101 by Rep. Terry Meza, D-Irving, which would end the waiting period to receive Employees Retirement System benefits;
  • ENDORSED SB 1862 by Sen. Menéndez, which would raise the ceiling on state contributions to ERS;
  • ENDORSED SJR 55 by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, which would provide for use of the Rainy Day Fund to fully fund the Employees Retirement System and Teacher Retirement System;
  • ENDORSED SJR 4 by Sen. Menéndez, which would increase the minimum amount the state may contribute to the Teacher Retirement System or Employees Retirement System;
  • OPPOSED SB 1098 and 1100 by Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway and HB 2829 by Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, bills of a similar bent that take aim at rates and other matters involving City of Austin Utilities, which has been targeted by legislation in the past. The public utilities in Austin and San Antonio charge lower rates than private providers and contribute to their communities;
  • ENDORSED SB 1219 by Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, which would require posting of information on preventing human trafficking at transportation hubs;
  • ENDORSED HB 1770 by Rep. Armando Martinez, D-Weslaco, (identical companion is SB 1064 by Sen. Pete Flores, R-Pleasanton), which would add utility crews to the list of vehicles that may not be passed when emergency lights are flashing;
  • ENDORSED HB 918 by Rep. James White, R-Hillister, an innovative bill that would provide released inmates with documentation of work experience they have acquired while serving a prison sentence and other documents one needs to obtain employment;
  • ENDORSED HB 936 by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg (identical companion is SB 321 by Sen. Menéndez), which would require the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to maintain temperatures in prisons between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit;
  • ENDORSED HB 1979 by Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, which would prohibit confinement of inmates in facilities operated by private vendors;
  • ENDORSED HB 2448 by Rep. Reynolds, which would set up a strategic plan for encouraging employment of Texans who are released from prison;
  • ENDORSED HB 2744 by Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, which would grant women in prison access to any educational or vocational program that is offered to men;
  • ENDORSED HB 3227 by Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, which would grant women in prison access to any programs that are offered to men;
  • ENDORSED HCR 33 by Rep. White, a resolution opposing enactment of laws that automatically suspend a Texan’s driver license over any drug-related offense, an approach currently dictated by federal policy;
  • OPPOSED HB 2129 by Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, which would extend the Texas Economic Development Act for 10 more years all the way to 2032. The law authorizes tax breaks for private businesses that establish or grow a presence in Texas. The Amazon second-headquarters competition has highlighted the excesses of a system that rewards wealthy corporations for doing what they would do anyway, often without promised jobs materializing;
  • OPPOSED HB 2438 by Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, which would specifically extend authorization for economic development tax breaks for 10 more years, also to 2032;
  • ENDORSED HB 1855 by Rep. Rhetta Bowers, D-Rowlett, which would further restrict work hours for teenagers under age 17 who attend public schools in Texas to encourage sufficient study and sleep time;
  • ENDORSED HB 4127 by Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, the “Healthy Texas Act” that would take dramatic steps toward offering health coverage to all Texans;
  • ENDORSED HB 326 by Rep. Lina Ortega, D-El Paso, which would create a strategic plan in the Texas Secretary of State’s office for increasing voter turnout;
  • ENDORSED HB 1419 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, which would allow convicted felons to vote after they are released from prison;
  • ENDORSED HB 2075 by Rep. Neave, which would allow candidates to use their maiden names when they run for office. Whether they can do so now is unclear;
  • ENDORSED HB 3252 by Rep. Alma Allen, D-Houston, which would publicize time, date and place of state party conventions through written notices at polling places during early voting. Such notices are now required only on Election Day;
  • OPPOSED HB 3376 by Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, which would provide for judicial review of ballot proposition language ahead of an election;
  • OPPOSED HB 3576 by Rep. Klick, which would require individualized investigations of eligibility to register to vote. The bill could open the door to voter suppression operations; and
  • ENDORSED HB 9 by Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, which would improve pensions for retirees in the Teacher Retirement System, including a one-time “13th check” of up to $2,400.