Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Saturday, April 05, 2003

Three Months Down,Two to Go - Where Things Stand In the Texas Legislature


Employment law issues are not the top item in this session of the legislature. Items such as Tort Reform (which of course could have a substantial impact on employment related litigation) and the budget deficit have taken top billing, as well as the attention of the legislators. Still some of the bills tracked here have begun to move, with the first handfull being passed by one house. For a full list of bills which were introduced see the March 16 Jottings entry, which has been updated through April 5th.

What follows are the bills which have at least had or are scheduled for their initial public hearing described by their current status:

Passed by One House of the Legislature

H.B. 1221 Barry Telford Prevents a chargeback to an employer's account if unemployment benefits are provided because the employer was called to active duty military service after January 1, 2003. Referred to Defense Affairs & State-Federal Relations. Passed by the House on April 3, 2003.
H.B. 1282 Brian McCall (R - Plano) This is not an employment bill, but an anti-spam one, so certainly one worthy of watching from at least my mailbox's perspective. Referred to Economic Development. Passed by the House on April 3, 2003.
H.B. 1819 Rene Oliveira(D - Corpus Christi) Allows unemployment compensation for those who lose their jobs because of a disaster declared by the Governor. Referred to Economic Development. Passed by the House on April 3. 2003.
S.B. 374 Tommy Williams (R - Woodlands). Limits liability of employer utilizing a staff leasing company to those items for which it has contracted to pay. Passed the Senate on March 20, 2003. Referred to House Committee on Economic Development.

Scheduled for Consideration This Week

H.B. 804 Charlie Geren (R - Fort Worth) Amends Texas minimum wage law to pre-empt any city ordinance setting a minimum wage. It does not apply to government contracts or tax-abatement agreements. In light of recent adoption of a living wage ordinance by Santa Fe, New Mexico, this bill may now get more attention.Referred to Economic Development. Placed on General State Calendar for April 7, 2003.

Scheduled for Hearing This Week

H.B. 826 Yvonne Davis (D - Dallas) Requires employers to turn over any abandoned wage payments to the State Comptroller. Referred to Economic Development. Scheduled for public hearing on April 9, 2003.
H.B. 945 Lon Burnam (D - Fort Worth) Would set a minimum wage for state and local governments. The minimum wage would be the higher of the federal minimum wage or one calculated based on the federal poverty guidelines. Based on the 2002 guidelines, the minimum wage would be $8.70. Referred to State Affairs. Set for public hearing on April 7, 2003.
H.B. 995 Ken Mercer (R – San Antonio). Expands the public whistle blower statute to also include protection from retaliation for reporting a waste of funds to an appropriate governmental agency. Referred to Government Reform. Scheduled for public hearing on April 8, 2003.
H.B. 1496 Burt Solomons (R - Carrollton) Establishes a study to review and propose legislation to strengthen the anti-abuse provisions of the unemployment compensation laws, including increasing collections of overpayments. Referred to Economic Development. Scheduled for public hearing on April 9, 2003.
H.B. 1684 Beverly Woolley (R – Houston). Amends the TCHRA so that the issuance of a right to sue letter by the EEOC would also trigger the 60 day deadline for filing a lawsuit under the TCHRA. This would be extremely helpful in making sure that lawsuits are timely filed and eliminate a major flaw in the current situation. Referred to Economic Development. Set for public hearing on April 9, 2003.
H.B. 2170 Burt Solomons(R - Carrollton) Sunset legislation concerning the renewal of the Texas Workforce Commission. Contains a number of substantive changes. Referred to Economic Development. Set for public hearing on April 9, 2003.
H.B. 2949 Reuben Hope (R - Conroe) Requires that a waiver of right to a jury trial use specific language and be in 16 point type. Part of the required statement is that the waiver is not required by law. Referred to Civil Practices. Public hearing scheduled for April 9, 2003.
H.B. 3160 Jaime Capelo (D - Corpus Christi) Would remove the restriction on subdivisions of the state from entering into collective bargaining agreements. Although this would not directly impact private sector employers, if it were to pass, it could improve the climate for unions in Texas. Referred to County Affairs. Public hearing scheduled for April 9, 2003.

Public Hearing Held, Now Pending In Committee
H.B. 50 Sylvester Turner (D – Houston) Mandatory leave for employees to attend school conferences, and penalties against retaliation for exercising that right. Referred to Economic Development. Public hearing on March 19, 2003 left pending in committee.
H.B. 152 Ron Wilson (D – Houston) Limits an employer's ability to obtain so called 'dead peasants insurance,' where an employer obtains a policy on lower paid employees with itself as a beneficiary. Referred to Insurance. Public hearing on March 10, 2003, pending in committee
H.J.R. 18 Suzanna Hupp (R – Lampasas) A constitutional amendment to grant a broad right of privacy. In California, a similar constitutional amendment was used as a basis for finding the constitutional right of privacy extended to non-government employers. Referred to State Affairs. Testimony taken on March 3, 2003. Still pending in committee.
H.B. 181 Jessica Farrar (D – Houston) Allows an individual who receives deferred adjudication to legally deny the arrest and prosecution, except for a subsequent criminal prosecution. This would impact information employers are able to obtain when hiring. The bill passed last legislative session, but was vetoed by Governor Perry. Correction of referral, now referred to Law Enforcement. Public hearing on March 17, 2003, committee substitute considered in committee, still pending in committee.
H.B. 281 Paul Moreno (D – El Paso) This is not technically an employment bill, but is likely to be one of the most talked about and contested non-financial bills of this session. It would make it a misdemeanor (punishable by a $100 fine) to talk on a mobile phone when driving, unless the car is stopped or the phone is operated without the use of either hand. Referred to State Affairs. Testimony taken on March 3, 2003, still pending in committee.
H.B. 328 Warren Chisum (R – Pampa) An attempt to allow employers the opportunity to obtain information from applicants about prior workers compensation claims and injuries. The legislation modifies the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act and the Texas Workers Compensation Act, but unfortunately can not shield employers from the Americans with Disabilities Act which prohibits such inquiries. Referred to Business & Industry. Testimony taken on March 4, 2003 still pending in committee.
H.B. 355 and H.B. 356 Harold Dutton (D – Houston) These are two education leave bills, similar to some of the amendments that have been suggested for the federal Family Medical Leave Act. One would require employers to give time off to employees to meet with teachers, counselors or principals; the other to attend certain school activities. The bills also create new causes of actions against employers for refusing to provide the time off. Referred to Economic Development. Public hearing on March 19, 2003, pending in committee.
H.B. 359 and H.B. 371 Harold Dutton (D – Houston) These two bills attempt to limit the use of mandatory arbitration. The first would prohibit arbitration of Texas Commission on Human Rights Act or Title VII claims, the second would prohibit mandatory arbitration until an employee had worked for an employer for at least 90 days. Even if these bills were to pass, if the agreement were covered by the Federal Arbitration Act, these restrictions would be pre-empted. Most, but not necessarily all, employment relationships will be covered by the FAA. Referred to Economic Development. Public hearing on March 19, 2003, left pending in committee.
H.B. 574 Jessica Farrar (D – Houston) Amends the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It would also protect anyone from being treated differently because of the sexual identity of individuals with whom the employee associates. Referred to Business & Industry. Public hearing on March 25, 2003, left pending in committee.
H.B. 624 Jose Menendez (D - San Antonio). Basically a refined version of Representative Moreno's H.B. 281 which prohibits use of mobile phones while driving. This version has more definitions, some exceptions for emergency calls, and a range of fines that increases if the violation occurs in a school zone. Referred to State Affairs. Testimony taken on March 3, 2003, still pending in committee.
H.B. 705 Burt Solomons (R - Carrollton) Provides a defense against a claim of negligent hiring for employers whose employees enter another's home for purposes of repairs or delivery of goods. The defense would only be available if the employer obtained a criminal record from the Department of Public Safety. The bill gives the employer the right to have that access. Referred to Civil Practices. Public hearing held on April 2, 2003, left pending in committee.
H.B. 1018 Mike Villarreal (D – San Antonio) Would provide a preference by state and local governments for vendors who were certified as family friendly by the Texas Workforce Commission for providing employee dependent care benefits. Public hearing on March 10, 2003, pending in committee.
H.B. 1045 Joe Deshotel (D – Port Arthur) Creates an alternative base period for computation of unemployment compensation benefits to remove a period of extended medical disability. Referred to Economic Development. Public hearing on March 12, 2003, pending in committee.
H.B. 1360 Aaron Pena (D - Edinburgh) Amends existing state law with respect to penalties for discrimination against national guard personnel, by removing the current cap on damages which was limited to six months pay, adding punitive damages and utilizing the caps applicable to TCHR claims based on number of employees, with a maximum of $300,000 for compensatory and punitive damages by employers with more than 500 employees. An interesting choice, since it will be hard to argue against increasing penalties against employers who discriminate against those who might be called to serve in the Iraq conflict. Referred to Defense Affairs and State-Federal Relations. Public hearing on March 20, 2003, left pending in committee.
H.B. 3462 Mike Villarreal (D - San Antonio) Amends the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act and the Workers Compensation Act to make it clear that an employee's immigration status alone does not bar him from being covered. Referred to Border and International Affairs. Public hearing held on April 2, 2003. Committee substitute reported favorably on April 2, 2003. Vote reconsidered on April 3, 2003 and left pending in committee.


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