Bad Bills in Texas Senate on Vouchers, Payroll Deduction Meet Bipartisan Resistance

Over the weekend and on Monday, bad bills in the Texas Senate promoting private-school vouchers and attacking your freedom to use payroll deduction met serious bipartisan resistance from grass-roots Texans. So did other measures, including an unfunded pay-raise proposal that would not deliver a real raise to teachers. Meanwhile, in the Texas House, opposition to vouchers, disdain for discriminatory legislation against transgender schoolchildren, and support for real action on school finance and teacher pay seemed if anything to increase.

The fight on all these fronts resumes Tuesday on the Senate floor and in House committees. You can keep playing your part in the battles by responding to action alerts and participating in online and phone-in campaigns to sway lawmakers. Current campaigns oppose private-school vouchers and the payroll-deduction attack—and support a proactive agenda of support for real pay raises, real relief from higher health-care costs, and real school-funding improvements.

The pro-voucher forces in the Senate won a preliminary vote Monday on their bill targeting special-education students, SB 2 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), by a vote of 19 to 12, with Republicans Robert Nichols of Jacksonville and Charles Perry of Lubbock voting no and only one Democrat, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville, voting aye. The bill faces a final vote in the Senate expected Tuesday and then can expect to receive a rough reception in the House, which has taken a dim view of vouchers and of the Senate’s attempts, as in SB 2, to hold other school funding hostage to its voucher agenda.

The attack on payroll deduction also met with bipartisan opposition in Senate committee on Sunday, with overwhelming grass-roots testimony from a hearing room full of teachers, correctional officers, police, state-agency workers, and others. They came to speak out against the effort in SB 7 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) to take away employee freedom to make voluntary payroll deduction of dues to the union or professional organization of their choice. These rank-and-file public employees thoroughly refuted false claims that payroll deduction has costs to taxpayers (all costs are chargeable to the receiving organization) and made it clear this bill is about one thing: suppressing the voices of public employees in education and other sectors whose viewpoints some politicians don’t like. Key witnesses supporting the attack on individual freedom of public workers to use payroll deduction were compelled to acknowledge that their real agenda is to squelch organized employee support for worker-friendly policies and that they ultimately want to do away with payroll deduction for first responders as well as teachers and others initially targeted by the bill.

John Whitmire
Sen. John Whitmire has hard questions for proponents of a payroll deduction ban.

Sens. John Whitmire (D-Houston), Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso), and Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) led the questioning that exposed the ugly, anti-freedom agenda behind SB 7. On the key vote that sent the bill on to the Senate floor, they were joined in opposition to the bill by Republican Sen. Robert Nichols.

Among Texas AFT members who came and spoke out strongly against SB 7 were Andy Dewey of the Houston Federation of Teachers, Shannon Schwarze and David Garza of the San Antonio Alliance, Traci Dunlap and Kasey Thigpen of Education Austin, Valarie Brown of Education Round Rock, and Education Austin President Ken Zarifis. We owe a big debt of gratitude to them and others who stood up for the individual freedom of employees to use their own hard-earned paycheck as they choose.  On Monday in conversations at the Capitol it was clear that lawmakers in the House were watching and duly impressed by the unexpectedly strong showing of resistance to SB 7 in Senate committee. The House is where similar legislation has been stopped twice before in prior legislative sessions.

The House is also where other bad Senate proposals may die as well in this special session, including the bill to discriminate against transgender schoolkids, SB 3 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), which likely will come to a Senate floor vote on Tuesday. Another faulty bill that could advance Tuesday in the Senate toward an uncertain fate in the House is SB 19 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), combining one-time teacher bonuses, an unfunded promise of a pay raise three years from now, and some one-time easing of harsh health-care cost increases recently imposed on TRS retirees. At last report Monday the word was that the phantom pay raise would be dropped from the bill, and a related measure that would merely have taken money from school districts and then handed it back to cover an unfunded pay-raise mandate appeared to be stuck in committee.

In the Texas House, things look better for education employees both active and retired. In House committees meeting this week Texas AFT is supporting bills to provide real, funded pay raises and retiree health-care relief for education employees, including HB 24 by Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo), a real pay raise of $1,000 for teachers, counselors, nurses, and librarians paid from the Economic Stabilization Fund (a/k/a the Rainy Day Fund). Another worthy bill is HB 151 by Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Terrell), which would tap the same funding source for a billion dollars to cut TRS-Care costs imposed on retirees. The House also is considering in committee an important school-funding bill, HB 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston); a prior version of the bill died last session when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (presiding officer of the Senate) hijacked it as a vehicle for his voucher legislation.
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