Legislative Update - Feb. 12, 2021

The ULLCO Sentinel

Feb. 12, 2021 — #6
108 Days to Go in Regular Session

“We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others, the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men's labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name — liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names — liberty and tyranny.”
—Abraham Lincoln, born this day in 1809, from an address in Baltimore, April 18, 1864. 

Another Short Work Week:
Continuing pandemic precautions, the House met Tuesday and Wednesday, while the Senate met only on Tuesday, neither doing much in the way of substantive action. Both chambers adjourned until Tuesday, Feb. 16. The House and Senate are expected to begin referring to committees (upon “first reading”) thousands of bills that have already been filed. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick indicated he will unveil a list of Senate priority bills next week. The House Appropriations Committee is expected to dive into its work on the 2022-23 state budget, a process that is well under way at the Senate Finance Committee.

Good Omen for State Employee Pensions: A bipartisan majority on the Senate Finance Committee appears to believe it is time to shore up the Employees Retirement System, which provides pensions to retired state employees. In 2019, the Legislature made improvements to the Teacher Retirement System, and the sentiment at a hearing this week was that it is now ERS’s turn. GOP senators joined Democrats in acknowledging that a traditional pension is part of the bargain for state employees, whose salaries do not match private-sector employees doing similar work. See: http://bit.ly/375rbmf

Call Center Bill: The Communications Workers of America is again taking a lead union movement role in supporting a bill that aims to discourage the export of U.S. call center jobs. CWA reports HB 1634 by Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, would create a public list of “bad actors” who outsource more than half their jobs overseas. Those companies would not be eligible for state-funded tax breaks or other subsidies. CWA has supported similar bills in past Texas legislative sessions, in other states and in Congress. 

Paxton on Hot Seat —A bipartisan grilling of indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton during a budget hearing by the Senate Finance Committee brought out a list of sore subjects. Among them: the disposition of a 10-figure settlement of a lawsuit over opioids that seems to be in the offing without legislative participation; large raises for upper-level personnel in the AG’s office; hiring of high-dollar outside lawyers for an antitrust lawsuit against Google; and a frivolous lawsuit by Texas seeking to upset presidential election results in other states. Paxton also said he had “official business” at the White House while spending taxpayer dollars on the same trip in which he spoke at the infamous Trump rally that preceded the insurrection and invasion of the Capitol. See: http://bit.ly/377PSPb

More Details on Probe of Paxton — The Texas Tribune reported that an updated lawsuit by whistleblowers who left Paxton’s office alleges that in exchange for Paxton’s use of his office to help an Austin real estate developer, the developer helped Paxton remodel his house and gave a job to a woman with whom Paxton allegedly had an affair. The FBI is reportedly investigating. See: http://bit.ly/3rL0vzo

The Basics — Companion Bills

What is a companion bill?

Think identical twins, not just friends. If a House member files a bill, the identical measure filed by a Senator is the companion bill. And vice versa.

Are bills that do exactly the same thing but have slightly different language companion bills? 
No. Even if they have the same purpose, a bill that differs by even a comma is not a companion bill. (By the way, sometimes commas make a gigantic difference.)

Why file identical bills in each chamber? 

Doing so can speed passage. Say the House approves a bill that has a companion in the Senate. When the Senate author seeks passage, he or she may “substitute” a companion House bill in the debate, making it possible for the Senate to pass the House measure and send it to the Governor’s desk. So companion bills provide more potential pathways and potential time savings for a bill to become law.

How can I tell a bill is a companion bill without having to read and compare each word of the House and Senate bills?

Texas Legislature Online does the work on this at https://capitol.texas.gov. When you look up a bill, the bill history has an option to check on whether any companion bills have been filed. TLO will even show where a member of the same legislative chamber has filed the identical bill.

Positions on Bills

The United Labor Legislative Committee this week took positions on dozens of bills affecting working families. ULLCO: 

ENDORSED six minimum wage bills: HB 60 by Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City and the identical HB 731 by Rep. Jessica González, D-Dallas (raise to $15 an hour); HB 250 by Rep. Terry Meza, D-Irving ($15 an hour for most school bus drivers); HB 615 by Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin (cost of living adjustment for minimum wage); HB 383 by Rep. Leo Pacheco, D-San Antonio ($12 an hour); and HB 224 by Rep. Lina Ortega, D-El Paso (restore local authority to raise minimum wage);
ENDORSED HB 1446 by Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin and its companion, SB 506 by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, which would set up expansion of broadband services in Texas;
ENDORSED HB 1634 by Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, which would  regulate call centers with an eye toward keeping jobs in Texas;
ENDORSED HB 47 by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, which would establish a presumption of job-related coverage for school district employees who contract COVID-19;
ENDORSED HB 108 by Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, which would require charter schools to follow the same rules as public schools when suspending or expelling students;
ENDORSED HB 450 by Rep. Mary González, D-El Paso, and the somewhat different HB 438 by Goodwin, each of which would tighten loose rules with regard to creation of charter schools or their expansion;
ENDORSED HB 672 by Rep. Armando Martinez, D-Weslaco, and the identical HB 625 by Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston, which would install a cost of living adjustment for pensions under the Teacher Retirement System;
ENDORSED HB 733 by Rep. Jessica González, D-Dallas, which would boost state assistance to school employees’ health coverage;
ENDORSED HB 81 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, which would enable a campus turnaround plan to permit the campus to operate as a community school;
ENDORSED HB 944 by Mary González, which would require State Board of Education approval to expand charter schools;
ENDORSED HB 97 by Hinojosa, regarding charter school admissions of students with disciplinary records;
ENDORSED HB 256 by Rep. Philip Cortez, D-San Antonio, which would require school district employment policies to address bullying of teachers by parents;
ENDORSED SB 257 by Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, which would provide for additional personal leave when a public school employee tests positive for a disease that is the basis for a disaster declaration;
ENDORSED SB 104 and SB 106 by Menéndez, which, respectively, would raise the state’s contribution to the Teacher Retirement System and establish a cost of living adjustment;
ENDORSED HB 342 by Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston, which would require Texas prisons to maintain temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit;
ENDORSED HB 507 by Meza, which would prohibit confinement of inmates in private prisons;
ENDORSED HB 550 by Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, and the somewhat different HB 1251 by Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos, D-Richardson. HB 550 would prohibit retaliations against whistleblowing state and local employees, while HB 1251 would protect whistleblowers by making it a Class C misdemeanor to disclose their names without their consent;
ENDORSED HB 599 by Rep. Carl Sherman Sr, D-DeSoto, which would set up biennial reviews of the life expectancies of prisoners and correctional officers;
ENDORSED HB 637 by Canales and the identical HB 1498 by Martinez and SB 107 by Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Burleson, which would provide benefits if a public safety employee contracts a disease that is the basis for a disaster declaration;
ENDORSED HB 815 by Goodwin, which would increase longevity pay for state employees;
ENDORSED HB 917 by Hernandez and companion SB 620 by Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, which would enable appointment of a retiree to the board that oversees the Employees Retirement System of Texas;
ENDORSED HB 1240 by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, a health and safety measure that would strengthen enforcement of failure to comply with an order from a fire marshal;
OPPOSED a series of bills that would diminish public employee pensions by Rep. Gary Gates, R-Richmond, including: HB 1028 (require Employees Retirement System to establish for new employees a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan to replace the current traditional defined-benefit pensions); HB 1437 (require ERS to enact a hybrid retirement plan); HB 1438 (require ERS to enact a cash balance plan); and HB 1439 (offer lump-sum benefits under ERS that would amount to less, actuarially speaking, than employees have actually earned).
OPPOSED SB 482 by Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, which would set up a study of converting ERS and the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) to a defined contribution plan;
OPPOSED HB 101 by Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, which would create lawsuit liability against cities for failing to honor immigration detainer requests;
OPPOSED HB 540 by Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, which would bar local governments from requiring labor peace agreements as a condition of entering into a contract. Such agreements can help a project come in on time and on or under budget;
OPPOSED HB 638 by Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, which would effectively preempt the ability of cities to reduce police, fire and EMS budgets under any circumstances;
OPPOSED HB 749 by Rep. Mayes Middleton, R-Wallisville, and its companion SB 234 by Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, which would prohibit local governments from using public funds to lobby the Legislature in the interest of local voters;
OPPOSED HB 1215 by Rep. Cecil Bell Jr., R-Magnolia, which would enable Texas to nullify federal laws that it deems to be unconstitutional;
OPPOSED HJR 72 by Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, and companion SJR 27 by Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, which even in a deadly pandemic would bar rules that limit religious services in any way;
OPPOSED SB 182 by Schwertner, which would give private utilities a potential foot in the door to enter the markets of municipally owned utilities, which by and large have low rates for consumers; 
ENDORSED HB 872 by Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, which would protect the confidentiality of individual customer data from advanced utility metering;
ENDORSED HB 886 by Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston, which would enable local governments to regulate rental and leasing of housing;
OPPOSED HB 233 by Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, which would exempt small locales from rules that assure the quality of building products, materials and methods; 
OPPOSED SB 518 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, and its identical companion, HB 633 by Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, which would change rules for calculating prevailing wage rates to make them lower;
OPPOSED HB 899 by Rep. Mayes Middleton, R-Wallisville, which would prohibit disciplinary action against license-holders for their failure to comply with emergency management plans;
OPPOSED HB 1021 by Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, which would make it harder for regulatory authorities to find that executive compensation at a utility is not “reasonable and necessary” under the law;
ENDORSED HB 692 by Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Temple, which would strengthen the rules regarding retainage (a percentage of the cost of a construction project held by a governmental entity pending completion);
ENDORSED HB 965 by Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, and the identical companion SB 338 by Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Burleson, which would create uniform standards for school district construction projects; and
ENDORSED SB 291 by Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, which would require posting of name and contact information for a developer, along with a brief description of any commercial building project. 
ENDORSED HB 143 by Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, which would expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, along with the similarly themed HB 171 by Bernal and its Senate companion SB 118 by Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas. Add to this honorable list HB 389 by Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, and its twins, HB 398 by Rep. John Bucy, D-Austin, SB 38 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and SB 119 by Johnson; HB 509 by Rep. Michelle Beckley, D-Carrollton, would expand Medicaid to the level at which federal matching funds are available;
ENDORSED proposed constitutional amendments to expand health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act, including: HJR 23 by Israel and the identical HJR 9 by Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, HJR 24 by Bucy, SJR 11 by Zaffirini, SJR 14 by Johnson, and SJR 15 by Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston; 
ENDORSED a set of related bills: HB 107 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, and its companion, SB 141 by Johnson, which would extend Medicaid eligibility for women for at least a year after the last month of a pregnancy; similarly, HB 133 by Rep. Toni Rose, D-Dallas (and the identical HB 98 by Rep. Lina Ortega, D-El Paso, HB 146 by Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston, and SB 121 by Johnson) would start the one-year period specifically at either delivery or miscarriage; HB 414 by Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston, would continue coverage for 24 months after the last month of pregnancy; and
ENDORSED HB 264 by Rep Philip Cortez, D-San Antonio, which would establish an employee grievance procedure at the Health and Human Services Commission and Department of Family and Protective Services.