Legislative Lowdown-Mar. 28, 2019

Today is Day 80 of the regular session of the 86th Texas Legislature. 60 days to go.

Do Something! SB 621, a ULLCO-OPPOSED bill that would abolish the State Board of Plumbing Examiners and potentially compromise the licensing process for plumbers, is eligible for debate on the Senate floor as soon as Monday. Contact your Senator and ask him or her to OPPOSE SB 621: https://bit.ly/2uwPE06

We’re sending the Sentinel a day early this week to address office logistics. The Texas House has approved its version of a 2020-21 state budget 149-0 after a tame debate that nevertheless provided a read of sorts on the priorities of each of the state representatives. HB 1 is the one bill that must become law, sooner or later. The Senate is expected to substitute its version of the budget in relatively short order, leaving plenty of time for negotiations toward the finish line by a House-Senate conference committee.

In the context of the Texas House, a “boring” debate on the appropriations bill hadn’t been seen in years and might be viewed as a sign the body is laser-focused on top priorities of the session. The unions that watch the budget the closest are generally upbeat. The House added $9 billion for public schools over the next budget cycle, a step in the right direction albeit with details to follow. Unions representing state employees and teachers praised funding for pay raises and shoring up of pension systems. Many contentious amendments were either withdrawn or sent to “Article 11,” a purgatory of contingent funding from which only a tiny percentage of items ever emerge. 

Rep. John Bucy, D-Austin, succeeded in getting a record vote on a proposal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which would bring tens of billions of federal health care dollars to the state. The amendment failed on a 66-80 party-line vote, with Democrats 10 votes short of a majority (one Democrat was absent to be with a family member who was taken off life support). On another amendment of concern to working families, lawmakers voted 83-62 to cut $18 million in film incentives that are used to lure major productions to Texas. While that money was transferred to a program that helps post-partum mothers, other states have outspent Texas on film incentives. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees has a long-term mission to make Texas competitive for major productions and the jobs that accompany them. The union plans to fight to restore the funding.

A battery of corporations held a news conference to oppose the current version of SB 15, a death-star measure that would cut off the ability of local governments to enact improvements in workplace benefits. Companies like Apple, Dell, Facebook and Paypal opposed the bill over a Senate committee’s decision to remove language protecting non-discrimination ordinances. The companies also opposed another dozen bills seen as attacking the LGBTQ community, saying they would brand our state as unwelcoming and cost Texas business. The Texas AFL-CIO has opposed SB 15 in all its forms because it would do away with local earned paid sick leave ordinances, fair-chance hiring, rest breaks for construction workers and other local workplace initiatives that carry strong voter support.

The New York Times and Texas Observer posted exposés showing that a Silicon Valley lobbyist all but wrote a proposed Texas Workforce Commission rule that would automatically define digital workers as “independent contractors.” The definition would cost such workers Unemployment Insurance coverage and set a precedent for losing a wide range of other benefits. E-mails between a member of the Commission and the lobbyist showed a stream of communication about the proposal after the commission had denied any outside influences had occurred. State Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth, said the agency lied to him about the use of a lobbyist and called for the agency to abandon the rule. The Texas AFL-CIO joined Romero and the Workers Defense Project at a news conference continuing opposition to the pending proposal.

Meanwhile, the National Employment Law Project released a report detailing how Handy and other digital firms that lobbied the Texas Workforce Commission activated a state-by-state strategy to establish “independent contractors” as the legal norm for their companies – denying benefits to workers in a sector of the economy that is expected to grow dramatically. See the report: https://bit.ly/2HXlLhr

The Texas Senate unanimously approved SB 12, which boosts funding to the Teacher Retirement system and offers a “13th check” to retirees of up to $500. The bill by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, would upgrade pensions, which currently average just $2,078 a month, with one-third of retirees receiving less than $1,000. An even stronger version of the bill, HB 9, is pending in a House committee.

ULLCO Positions

ENDORSED HB 2101 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake (identical companion bill is SB 1168 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo), which would tighten regulations on reroofing contractors;

ENDORSED HB 2439 by Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, (identical companion is SB 1266 by Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway), which would bar a governmental entity from prohibiting a product that meets a code it has adopted;

ENDORSED HB 2588 by Rep. Phelan, which would authorize grants by the Texas Workforce Commission to encourage veterans to sign up with apprenticeship programs;

OPPOSED SB 1342 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, which would let the Texas Workforce Commission use wage data other than from surveys or the U.S. Department of Labor to calculate prevailing wages;

OPPOSED SB 197 by Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, which would require state contractors to participate in E-verify to authorize employment;

OPPOSED HB 413 by Rep. Kyle Biedermann, R-Fredericksburg, and OPPOSED the very similar SB 576 by Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper, which would repeal the Dream Act. The Dream Act authorizes in-state tuition for Dreamers, immigrants who have lived in Texas almost all their lives and contribute greatly to our state;

ENDORSED HB 264 by Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, which would set up a Department of Public Safety report on border crime and border security;

ENDORSED HB 2266 by Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas (identical companion is SB 672 by Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio), which would repeal SB 4, the anti-immigrant “Show Me Your Papers” law approved in 2017;

ENDORSED HB 265 by Rep. Blanco, which would add to law enforcement reports whether an inquiry as to immigration status was made;

ENDORSED HB 445 by Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, which, in addition to places of worship, would allow a local entity or campus police department to refrain from cooperating with federal immigration officers on school property, at colleges and universities, or at hospitals and clinics;

ENDORSED HB 1217 by Rep. Lina Ortega, D-El Paso, (identical companion is SB 166 by Sen. José Rodriguez, D-El Paso), which would repeal SB 4 provisions related to law officers questioning immigration status at any stop;

ENDORSED SB 167 by Sen. Rodriguez (identical companion is HB 3811 by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio), which would repeal a portion of SB 4 that was found by a judge to violate the free speech of local officials;

ENDORSED SB 168 by Sen. Rodriguez, which would repeal a portion of SB 4 providing for removal from office of local officials over enforcement of federal immigration laws;

ENDORSED HB 67 by Rep. Gonzalez, which would require collection of data on unaccompanied minors kept in immigrant detention facilities;

ENDORSED HB 855 by Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston, which would create a committee on licensing standards for immigrant detention facilities;

ENDORSED HB 1765 by Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, which would tighten standards for child-care facilities that detain unaccompanied minors;

ENDORSED HB 2485 by Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, which would require investigations of abuse and neglect in immigrant detention facilities;

ENDORSED HB 3740 by Rep. Ina Minjarez, D-San Antonio, which would license immigrant detention facilities;

ENDORSED HB 3664 by Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, which would limit detention of unaccompanied minors to 20 days;

ENDORSED SB 498 by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, which would allow a commercial landlord or tenant to vacate a lease if the property is being used for prostitution or human trafficking;

ENDORSED SB 72 by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, which would create a human trafficking prevention coordinating council;

ENDORSED HB 2768 by Rep. Martinez Fischer, which would provide in certain circumstances for issuance of an occupational driver license to drivers whose licenses have been suspended;

ENDORSED HB 1219 by Rep. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, which would ratchet up required levels of health coverage for education employees;

ENDORSED HB 426 by Rep. Alma Allen, D-Houston, which would raise benefit payments by the Teacher Retirement System;

ENDORSED HB 43 by Rep. Hinojosa, which would bar discrimination in admissions by open-enrollment charter schools based on discipline history;

ENDORSED HB 636 by Rep. James White, R-Hillister, which would add open-enrollment charter schools to the list of entities that must disclose interested parties in contracting;

ENDORSED HB 92 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, regarding requirements when a campus turnaround plan results in creation of a community school;

ENDORSED HB 326 by Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston (companion bill is HB 197 by Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City), a pay raise proposal that includes teachers, librarians, school counselors and nurses;

ENDORSED SB 95 by Sen. Menéndez, D-San Antonio, another teacher pay raise bill;

ENDORSED SB 96 by Sen. Menéndez, which would limit standardized state testing to tests required by federal law; and

OPPOSED HB 1133 by Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, which would relax public school class size limits in early grades to allow for use of average class sizes rather than the current limits for each class.