For 140 days every two years, lawmakers, their staffs, armies of lobbyists, activists, journalists, and others descend on the Texas Capitol for the regular session of the legislature. What some call lawmaking could just as easily, and perhaps more accurately, be named "bill-killing." That's because, as one insider recently put it to me: "That system is designed to kill things, not pass them."
The legislative issue we're watching most closely at Construction Citizen is worker misclassification. The problem, sometimes called "payroll fraud", has been a real scourge in the construction industry. University of Texas researchers recently found that more than 40 percent of the workforce is misclassified and there are now competing visions for how the state might address this. Senator John Carona, R-Dallas, has filed a bill that the industry seems to be happier with than the version filed in the House by Representative Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont. Deshotel's bill is similar to one he filed the last time lawmakers got together two years ago. That proposal did not pass. The difference this time seems to be that this is no longer seen as a left vs. right or a Democrat vs. Republican issue.
"There are some people, particularly small business owners, that simply don't know any better, and they would do right if right was better defined," Carona said. "The most serious aspects involve large operators in our state who know perfectly well the difference and artfully choose to go this direction to give themselves a competitive advantage."
Deshotel’s bill includes a fine of $5,000 per misclassified worker on second offenses, but he says that’s “an arbitrary number” that he’s more than happy to negotiate. “What’s important is not the exact amount of the fine. What’s important is that the law is enforced. If the fine is a million dollars, and it’s not enforced, then none of this matters,” Deshotel said.
For some perspective on how all this might play out, I turned to our veteran of past legislative battles: Jim Kollaer.
"The heat is about to be turned way up," Kollaer said. "The deadline for filing bills is the 60th day of the session, and this year that's March 8th, just around the corner. Bills are being drafted, sponsors are being recruited, and lobbyists and special interest groups are lobbying or educating to persuade the legislators to insert their favored language into the bills they are most interested in."
After that bill filing deadline, Kollaer said the real wrangling will begin. "Of the likely 5,000 bills drafted and submitted in both houses, only 1200 - 1400 will emerge to go to Governor Perry's desk for his signature, and that is another story."
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