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Texas Commercial Construction Industry Sets Priorities for the Legislative Session

As the Texas Legislature convenes this week in Austin to make and revise the state’s laws over the course of the next five months, the associations representing the commercial construction industry are on the same page about quite a few issues they'd like to see lawmakers address. Unless otherwise ordered by the governor, Texas lawmakers only meet once every two years for 140 days in a regular session.  

Construction Citizen reviewed the legislative priorities published by the Texas Construction Association, the Associated General Contractors Texas Building Branch and the Associated Builders and Contractors of Texas. The groups are working together on a push to simplify the state's lien laws, but have different takes on things like reining in labor unions and they’ll each be on guard for any immigration-related initiatives. On that last point, the groups would like to ensure fairness for the construction industry if the Texas Legislature acts on mandatory E-Verify for example.

Reform of the state’s lien law is a high priority for all of these associations because, as the Texas Construction Association put it, “Texas’ lien laws are considered by many to be the most burdensome and complex in the country and it is extremely difficult to navigate through those laws.” 

The lien law was originally intended to “provide a statutory remedy to secure payment for labor, materials, or machinery furnished in the improvement of property.” That good intention, the TCA argues, “has been lost, among other issues, the different notice requirements and deadlines placed on claimants to secure their lien rights.”

“Texas’ lien laws should be revised to make the procedures for perfecting and maintaining one’s lien rights straightforward, and compliance with those procedures should not be difficult, nor a stumbling block to maintaining lien rights,” the TCA said. “An early notice system, elimination of several confusing concepts unique to Texas, and providing for more timely and accessible project information, combined with a robust public Internet based system accessible by owners, construction companies, suppliers, lenders and title insurance companies will provide a modernization of an outdated, yet vital statute.”

The ABC agrees.

“Quite simply, the Texas Lien Law is too complicated,” the association said. That’s why ABC is working with AGC-TBB and TCA to develop a simplified approach that can be embraced by most stakeholders. “Of course, the devil is in the details and this project faces considerable barriers if a proposal is perceived to create a significant new disadvantage to any large stakeholder,” the ABC said.

ABC also listed neutrality in state government contracting as a top priority. It’s an effort to “protect merit shop contractors by preventing governmental entities from requiring the use of project labor agreements (pre-hire collective bargaining agreements) for projects using state resources,” ABC said. “The state would not be regulating labor practices (which is prohibited by the National Labor Relations Act) but acting in its capacity as a proprietor,” the group said. “Our goal is not to prohibit project labor agreements from being used by a contractor, but to prevent one from being required or prohibited by the governmental entity when state resources are being used.”

When it comes to potential E-Verify legislation, the ABC said that even though immigration is a “federal responsibility,” lawmakers in Texas are under increased pressure to act, even after the election of President-elect Donald Trump, who promised to make border security a priority in Washington. 

“Many ill-conceived proposals are introduced each legislative session.  Eventually, some may pass,” the group acknowledged. “ABC of Texas strongly believes that, if one of those is requiring the use of E-Verify, employers should be protected from their decisions made after using E-Verify. We call that concept ‘Safe Harbor,’” ABC said.

And of course, the issue of worker misclassification will once again be on the minds of those representing the industry before the legislature. Worker misclassification happens when companies improperly designate some or all of a workforce as independent subcontractors when by law those workers meet the IRS definition of employees and should be compensated accordingly. Given the fact that the practice is already illegal, the Texas Construction Association is calling for balanced enforcement of the law. "The state should provide better enforcement of the law to stop the violators, yet not impinge on those who properly use and classify independent contractors."

Here are the full lists of priorities of each of the groups.

The Associated Builders and Contractors of Texas’ priorities are here.

The Texas Construction Association’s list of priorities can be found here.

The Associated General Contractors Texas Building Branch priorities are available for download here.