Legislative Update - May 8, 2021

The ULLCO Sentinel

Weekly Labor Update on the 87th Texas Legislature

May 8, 2021 — #18   24 Days to Go in Regular Session

So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it's sinking

Racing around to come up behind you again

The sun is the same in a relative way but you're older

Shorter of breath and one day closer to death

—An apt description of the running clock on Texas legislation, repurposing Pink Floyd lyrics from the song “Time.” Piece of trivia: The album “Dark Side of the Moon,” which includes “Time,” has been on the Billboard 200 in 950 different weeks (as of a year ago), 736 of them consecutive; second place: “Legend” by Bob Marley and the Wailers, at 625. See: https://bit.ly/3uyxFny

Six feet under 

You make me wonder 

You wanna be undead 

So you can be hunted 

But whatever you're gonna do I'm gonna follow you

—From “Walk Like a Zombie” by Horrorpops. It’s time for vigiliance: This is the season in which “dead” bills come alive. https://bit.ly/2RtlFoJ

* * *

  Ominous Omnibus Voter Suppression Bill Clears Texas House — Despite formidable resistance from Democrats, SB 7, sponsored by Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Houston, won final passage in the Texas House on a 78-64 vote. Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, joined all Democrats voting in opposition. The House version of the bill differs substantially from the Senate version and now goes back to the Senate for further action. “SB 7 is yet another illustration of how this Legislature has chosen to divide, rather than unite, and to put a purely partisan political playbook ahead of the people of Texas,” Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy said in a statement.

  “Purity of the Ballot Box” — Democrats scored a rhetorical win of sorts when Cain agreed to remove bill language describing the goal of achieving “purity of the ballot box.” The change of heart  came after Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, asked Cain if he understood the historical connotations of the “purity” phrase, which was associated with long-term post-Reconstruction effort to keep Black Texans from casting ballots. Cain said he had inserted the “purity” language because it is part of the Texas Constitution.

  How Will SB 7 Change Elections? — The truth is, we don’t know. To move the bill along, the Republican majority in the House accepted some Democratic amendments to the bill, but the final version will likely be written by a House-Senate Conference Committee. Background on what comes next: https://bit.ly/33mM36m.

  State Employees Rise Up on Pensions — A quickly called 7:30 a.m. hearing in the House Appropriations Committee on SB 321 — which would convert the Employees Retirement System to a cheaper “cash balance” plan for future employees — could not deter dozens of union members from testifying against the bill. Members of the Texas State Employees Union, AFSCME Correctional Officers and other unions raised new questions about the conversion, arguing that the system can be shored up actuarially without shortchanging future employees. The proposal for a two-tier system emerged from the committee Friday, boosted by powerful state leadership support. The House has also passed a bill calling for ERS to study both conversions and changes to the current system — before lawmakers settle on a “cash balance” choice that has not been thoroughly vetted.

  Pro-Worker Unemployment Bills Gain Altitude — Despite more than 4 million Unemployment Insurance benefit applications during the pandemic and well-publicized problems with a system that has been starved for decades, it is always difficult to move measures to improve the system. So it was cause for some celebration when the Texas House approved two key measures: HB 3697 by Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston, which would provide benefits when a parent has no choice but to leave work to care for a minor child; and HB 157 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, which would lift up Shared Work, an underused program that lets employers reduce work hours and, at the same time, provides partial benefits to employees to make up for the lost time. The bills moved to the Senate.

  Object Lesson in Bill Resurrection — SB 29, the ULLCO-opposed bill that would mandate that trans-gender students participate in scholastic sports based on the gender assigned at birth, appeared to have died Tuesday when the House Public Education Committee could not muster the votes to send the measure to the full House. By Friday, however, an altered version of the bill got another chance and cleared committee. It bears repeating that no problems — not one — have been reported with existing University Interscholastic League oversight of the issue. ULLCO will continue to participate in this important human rights fight as the bill moves to the House Calendars Committee, where it may be set for floor debate. The Texas Tribune offers strong background: https://bit.ly/33rgtnW

  Due Process for Firefighters — The House unanimously approved ULLCO-backed HB 1973 by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, which would provide a “Bill of Rights” for firefighters facing disciplinary action. Hat tip to the Texas State Association of Firefighters, which has pursued this bill for several legislative sessions. Now with momentum, the measure would, among other things, require a city to provide a signed complaint to an accused firefighter and would supersede any contrary provisions in labor agreements.

  Tax Breaks for Giant Corporations — The Texas AFL-CIO signed onto a  document opposing continuation of so-called “Chapter 313” tax abatements, which allow giant corporations to skip school property tax payments while providing reimbursements to school districts that leave no incentive for school boards to hold the companies accountable. From the document: More than half the revenue giveaways go to shareholders outside Texas. Relevant bills are HB 1556 by Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, and HB 4242 by Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas, both of which were on Friday’s House Calendar. See the document: https://bit.ly/3eqfqef.

  First Responders in Pandemic — SB 22, the ULLCO-backed and Senate-approved bill establishing a presumption that First Responders and Correctional Officers who caught COVID-19 did so on the job, cleared the House Business and Industry Committee and appears to be on its way to the House floor. The bill would make it substantially easier for working people who took on a high level of risk in the pandemic to qualify for Workers’ Compensation benefits.

  CROWNing Achievement — HB 392, the ULLCO-backed CROWN Act that would prohibit discrimination based on hair texture or protective hairstyle associated with race, won unanimous passage in the House State Affairs Committee and is now in the House Calendars Committee, which sets the schedule for House floor debates.

  What’s Ahead — For the first time this session, the Texas House will meet Saturday. The Senate, which passed the large majority of its priority agenda earlier in the legislative session, took Mother’s Day weekend off. On Tuesday, the House Business and Industry Committee will consider SB 2099 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, a ULLCO-backed bill that would require the Texas Workforce Commission to set up reliable leave-a-message methods for Unemployment Insurance applicants. On Wednesday, the Senate Transportation Committee will hear HB 19, a ULLCO-opposed bill giving trucking companies new protections against liability for collisions involving company truck

The Basics

  Okay, the bill I despise has been voted down or missed a key deadline. Should I rest easy?

  Not on your life or the bill’s life. The Legislature has all sorts of ways to revive seemingly “dead” legislation, and it can happen in the blink of an eye.

  What do I have to watch for?

   A common way for dead bills to walk like a zombie is through the amendment process. If a surviving bill’s caption (the title that says what the bill is about) takes in the same subject-matter, it is possible for a lawmaker to add his or her “dead” bill as an amendment to a different bill during floor debate. This has been known to happen in a matter of seconds, sometimes with little or no explanation. 

  Any other ways to resurrect bills?

  With sufficient support in committee or on the House or Senate floor, anyone who voted against a bill can call for a revote. Sometimes a lawmaker will even vote against a bill that is going down for the sole purpose of having an opportunity to make a motion for reconsideration.

  What about “must-pass” bills that die?

  That can be a different story. If a top leadership priority fails, the Governor has the option of including the subject in a special legislative session. Occasionally, those sessions have been called shortly after the 140-day regular session. Saving grace: Almost nobody wants this.

  Are there any controls on dead bills coming to life?

  Certainly. The vast majority of dead bills stay dead. For starters, lawmakers usually don’t want to take on dead bills as amendments out of fear they will weigh down and defeat their legislation. Also, the rules of the House and Senate allow for procedural challenges if an amendment strays from a bill’s subject-matter, something that generally gets policed as the session nears an end. Last but not least, legislation is a long-term process: Lawmakers know that when bills die — even painfully — there’s always next time.

Positions on Bills

  As we enter the final legislative rush, the United Labor Legislative Committee took action on three bills this week. ULLCO:

  OPPOSED SB 1968 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, which in the guise of a Family Educational Relief Program” would establish a statewide private school voucher program. Such a program would move your tax dollars from neighborhood public schools to unaccountable private and religious schools. The bill received a hearing Thursday in the Senate Education Committee;

  OPPOSED HB 3691 by Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, a community-based foster care bill that would expand privatization with regard to the Department of Family and Protective Services; and

  OPPOSED HB 571 by Rep. Gary Gates, R-Richmond, which would establish a “bundled pricing” program that is shorthand for cheaper, less effective health coverage for state employees.