87th LegislatureState HouseState SenateState Restriction on Local Government Employment Regulations Falters Again in the Texas House

For the second time in four months, the legislature's bill tamping down on local government employment ordinances failed in the Texas House.
September 2, 2021
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The Texas legislature’s attempt to restrict local governments’ ability to insert themselves into employment negotiations between private employers and their employees faltered once again in the Texas House.

After a lengthy floor fight, the second of its kind on this legislation, Sen. Brandon Creighton’s (R-Conroe) Senate Bill (SB) 14 was torpedoed by a point of order from Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso).

A point of order is a parliamentary maneuver used to expose a bill’s procedural flaws, and Moody’s alleged that SB 14 strayed from the language specifically provided in the governor’s special session proclamation.

An hour later, Phelan ruled the point of order valid and sustained the challenge. Specifically, Phelan ruled that the bill exempts municipal and county employers from the application and thus could apply to other public employers. But the agenda limited its application to private employers and employees.

However, the limited legislative precedent available from 1997 shows that courts have ruled that the governor’s special session proclamation items it is neither “necessary or proper for the Governor to suggest in detail the legislation desired.”

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This esoteric conflict, however, may hold broader implications for how the legislative process has passed legislation in this facet before.

Moody said after his successful maneuver, “Glad I was here to take care of vulnerable Texas workers.”

Carried by Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford), the bill’s sponsor during the regular session too, SB 14 was remitted back to the State Affairs Committee after the chair’s ruling.

But that came at the back end of a six-hour floor debate over the bill.

“What we’re trying to do with this legislation is bring consistency and standardization to businesses,” King said, pointing to the complications a hypothetical business operating in Tarrant County that has over 40 different municipalities would face from numerous different employment regulations.

“We cannot have a hodgepodge of regulations across every city in the state, we need a uniform set of regulations at the state level.”

King stuck to his consistency argument throughout the hours-long floor debate on the bill. That messaging differed starkly from the main theme during the last iteration of SB 14 debate — namely that local governments had no business inserting themselves in contracts between private employers and their employees.

The legislation prohibits local governments from establishing their own employment regulations for private businesses separate from those already established by the state and federal government such as those set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

It does not preclude cities from setting employment regulations for themselves or companies that enter voluntary contracts with the city or its subsidiaries, nor does it affect nondiscrimination ordinances.

King pointed to similar state preemptions of local policy like this past session’s House Bill 17 that prohibited localities from prohibiting certain fuel sources — such as when Berkley, California outlawed the use of natural gas-generated electricity for its power grid.

Another example is the attempted ban on fracking started by the City of Denton back in 2014. Months later, the state legislature issued a statewide prohibition on fracking bans.

More recently, the bill’s authors have in mind ordinances passed more recently such as Austin’s Better Builder Program that was pushed by the progressive worker center Worker’s Defense Project.

Governing priority for any construction business that operated within the city, that ordinance required things like a higher-than-state-floor minimum wage, increased compliance fees per square footage, and a company-provided health care benefit. The city also has a mandatory water break policy.

Other large cities in Texas have similar policies.

Those watching the SB 14 debate experienced déjà vu all over again as House Democrats offered a flurry of amendments trying to establish carve-outs for a host of different ordinances, many of which were non-discrimination focused.

State and federal laws and caselaw already prohibits discrimination in a variety of manners, but House Democrats stated their amendments were meant to be a “belt and suspenders” supplement to those regulations already in place.

None were adopted, unlike last time during which one amendment prohibiting discrimination on the basis of hair color or type was approved by the body. Another adopted back then would have exempted ordinances requiring rest or water breaks.

One particular amendment that received ample discussion was Rep. Armando Walle’s (D-Houston) proposal to carve out 10-minute water break policies from the SB 14 prohibition. That also failed.

This time, however, the author was not pressed for time up against a ticking deadline. The pressure to compromise to get a version through was not there.

But after the point of order, SB 14 is no closer to passing into law than it was at the end of the regular session and the error must be corrected before it can pass through the legislature during the coming third special session — which seems likely to begin in mid-September.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.