News Roundup: Texas House Bills Seek To Limit Cities’ Authority Over Companies’ Employment Practices

Our daily look at Texas headlines.

By Becky FogelMay 1, 2019 1:06 pm

The Standard’s news roundup gives you a quick hit of interesting, sometimes irreverent, and breaking news stories from all over the state.

Texas House members are considering four bills Wednesday that would ban cities from regulating private companies’ employment practices, such as mandating paid sick leave. These bills, which were authored by Republican State Sen. Brandon Creighton of Conroe, already passed the Texas Senate.

Opponents of the measures have raised concerns that they would threaten local nondiscrimination ordinances that protect LGBTQ employees. That’s why former Fort Worth City Council member Joel Burns is against the bills. He’s one of nearly 200 people who signed up to testify before the House Committee on State Affairs.

“I helped draft the city of Fort Worth 2009 amendment to our 2001 nondiscrimination ordinance that expanded protections to transgendered individuals, both living in and visiting the city of Fort Worth,” Burns said during his testimony.

Those testifying in favor of the bills said the patchwork of regulations across the state was challenging for employers to navigate. That’s the point Chastity Perdue, founder of Staffing Texas, made to lawmakers.

“Consistent employment laws across the state help keep our economy strong and cuts red tape for job creators, and lets us employers focus on investing in their employees, their business and their community,” Perdue said during her testimony.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas has teamed up with a group of Michigan lawmakers to push for legislation to hold universities accountable for sexual abuse perpetrated by employees.

The bipartisan bill would apply to all universities that receive federal funding. They developed the legislation in response to the widespread abuse perpetrated by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar inflicted on hundreds of women and girls while he was an employee at Michigan State University.

The ALERT Act would require these institutions to submit an annual report to the U.S. Department of Education. It would need to certify that university leaders have reviewed all sexual abuse investigations involving employees reported that year.

Cornyn, a Republican, said during a press conference Tuesday that the goal of this bill is to improve accountability.

“University officials will no longer be able to turn a blind eye to these sorts of serious allegations,” Cornyn said.

The bill would also apply to sexual assaults that take place off campus.

State Rep. Joe Moody is fighting to keep his bill to reduce penalties for low-level marijuana possession alive this session. That’s after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick tweeted Tuesday that House Bill 63 would die in his chamber.

Still, the Texas House gave final approval to the bill Tuesday. It would make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a Class C misdemeanor – the same classification as a traffic ticket. Moody, an El Paso Democrat, addressed Patrick’s comments as his measure passed.

“Mr. Patrick has been tweeting about this bill instead of giving us the courtesy of talking to any of us here in the House,” Moody said.

Moody later said on Twitter that state Sen. John Whitmire, the chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, is going to see if he can get enough votes for the bill to get it out of committee and to the full Senate.

The city of Houston has selected Leslie Contreras Schwartz as its fourth poet laureate. Mayor Sylvester Turner made the announcement Tuesday. Contreras Schwartz is a lecturer at the University of Houston. She says her work examines narratives of those who are usually silenced, such as people living with mental health issues and sex workers. Contreras Schwartz will serve as Houston’s poet laureate for the next two years. Houston Public Media published one of Contreras Schwartz’s poems on its website.