Legislative Update - Jan. 23, 2021

The ULLCO Sentinel 

Fair Shot Webinar: Check out a roundtable/news conference to be held on the Texas AFL-CIO’s Fair Shot Agenda (Pandemic Edition) at 10 a.m. Monday, Jan. 25. Register here: http://bit.ly/2021Roundtable. A panel of working people will discuss how the pandemic has highlighted shortcomings in state programs that affect working people, many of whom have taken extraordinary risks to serve their communities. The Texas AFL-CIO Fair Shot Agenda, Pandemic Edition, may be found here.

You Could Hear the Crickets: The Legislature did not meet for the entire week, a rarity. It is not unusual for lawmakers to take extra time off as a contingent of members attend a presidential inauguration, but this time the long break stemmed mainly from the continuing threat of COVID-19.

A Dynamic Start: The inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and their first-day whirlwind activity drew high praise from the labor movement. Setting a new course within hours, Biden reversed Trump Executive Orders on the pandemic, on immigration, on job safety, on labor relations and on other key matters. The Texas AFL-CIO’s congratulatory message declared, “The sea change has begun,” as we looked forward to federal action to address a nation that is suffering on multiple fronts.

Budget: The initial versions of the most important bill of any legislative session — the two-year state budget — have been published. Bottom line: $251 billion to spend, more than lawmakers feared in the early months of the pandemic. SB 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, filed Thursday, is the Senate version. House Speaker Dade Phelan, who has not yet announced committee appointments, posted the Legislative Budget Board recommendations for the House. We are virtually certain the House measure will be HB 1 when filed

Holding the Line?: A key takeaway in early budget discussions is that legislative leadership intends to continue funding education reforms from last session. The Teacher Retirement System would get a boost in both budgets. Health care funding would also remain stable, but most other areas are not likely to keep up with inflation and population growth. Bob Garrett of the Dallas Morning News offers in-depth analysis.

Special Session: In most circles around the Capitol, putting those two words together is like uttering “Macbeth” in a theater. Jinx or not, the resignation of the Trump-era U.S. Census Bureau chief amid criticism over faulty data has legislators acknowledging that the late arrival of population figures will very likely cause the Legislature to return in the summer to redraw political districts. That doesn’t even take into account question marks regarding what the pandemic will do to the flow of legislation. It could be a long year.

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ULLCO will take positions on legislation as soon as next week. For now, check out some more labor-related bills filed to date:

Building Trades: Measures include HB 33 by Dominguez (broader path to college course credit for military experience, education and training); HB 263 (rest breaks for construction workers on governmental contracts); HB 610 and HJR 33 by Swanson (path to sue over certain local licensing rules); HB 633 by Morrison (use of data on prevailing wage rates; see also, HB 863 by Romero); HB 636 by Thompson (continue Texas Board of Plumbing Examiners); and SB 305 by Eckhardt and HB 776 by Walle (Workers’ Compensation mandate for construction workers).

Election Bills: Around 120 have been filed. Representative samples include: HB 32 by Fierro (voting outside a polling place); HB 35 by Swanson (would impose turnout requirement to pass bond issues); HB 49 by Fierro and others (restore straight-ticket voting); HB 76 by Meza and others (expand early voting by mail); HB 93 (designated on-campus polling places); HB 104 by Reynolds (electronic voter registration); HB 111 by Minjarez (automatic voter registration with issuance of driver license or ID card); HB 117 by Meza (ranked-choice voting in primaries); HB161 by Senfronia Thompson and SB 187 by Eckhardt (convict voting rights restored upon release from prison); HB 282 by Mary Gonzalez (independent redistricting commission); HB 329 by Cain (Secretary of State scan for non-citizens on registration lists); HB 479 by Jessica Gonzalez (electronic submission for early vote mail ballot); HB 482 by Jessica Gonzalez (extend receipt period for early votes by mail); HB 519 by Beckley (registration by personal appearance during early voting); HB 596 by Sherman (statewide Election Day as state holiday); SB 99 by Menendez (expand countywide polling place program); SB 155 by Perry (use jury disqualification lists to vet voter lists); and SJR 12 by Zaffirini (primary voting allowed for voters who will turn 18 by general election).