BG Reads | News You Need to Know (March 1, 2019)



While it’s held up in court, Austin’s paid sick leave law comes closer to being undone by the state (Austin Monitor)

Texas lawmakers on Thursday advanced a bill that would prevent a city from requiring private employers to give their workers certain benefits, such as paid sick leave.

“This bill creates a statewide policy for consistent regulation by giving clarity to our private employers and prohibits local governments meddling in their business for paid sick leave, predictive scheduling and benefit policies,” Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) said before lawmakers voted Senate Bill 15 out of the Texas Senate State Affairs Committee.

SB 15 would unravel a City of Austin ordinance passed in February 2018, which requires most private employers to give workers six to eight paid sick days a year. That law is currently on hold, though, after a Texas appeals court ruled in November it violated the state constitution.

The City of San Antonio passed a similar law last year. Creighton called these ordinances “burdensome, expensive regulations."

Austin City Council Member Greg Casar testified against SB 15 at a public hearing Thursday.

“Just like the free market did not fix child labor and minimum wage on its own, I think the morality of people fixes many of those issues on its own,” said Casar, who championed Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance. “But in the cases where it doesn’t happen, we need to step up. And if the state would step up and give everybody a sick day than I don’t think the City of Austin would have to step up.”…

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See also:

BG Podcast - Episode 20: State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio)

BG Podcast - Episode 11: Meet James Hines, SVP of Advocacy and In-House Counsel, Texas Association of Business

BG Podcast - Episode 10: Policy Discussion Rob Henneke on Paid Sick Leave and Local Control

ASMP roadway project strikes a nerve (Austin Monitor)

The Austin Strategic Mobility Plan is already causing a stir in the community since being released Feb. 22. After a two-year process that allowed residents to comment on potential corridor projects, a handful of community members feel ignored by the final draft.

As the Transportation Department invited them to do, several city residents brought their concerns to the City Council Mobility Committee meeting Thursday afternoon. Among a variety of worries about the proposed transportation corridors’ effects on businesses, traffic and heritage trees, there was a common fear that the city is pushing projects through behind the community’s back.

One road project, in particular, caught the attention of West Austin Neighborhood Group board member and Save Muny advocate Mary Arnold. The road is a connector that would pave two general use lanes, a center turn lane, bike lanes, and sidewalks through what is now Lions Municipal Golf Course in Southwest Austin.

The golf course, which is also known as Muny and is owned by the University of Texas, is the center of ongoing debate about the value of preserving a historic golf course near the city’s urban core when the land could serve the community with housing and economic development. While the university is ready to put the land to more lucrative use, City Council has been negotiating ways to preserve the course, in part due to its history as the first Southern course to desegregate.

Arnold said the road, running northeast from Redbud Trail to Enfield Road, was “slipped in” between the public comment period and the ASMP final draft release. She said the West Austin Neighborhood Group was not consulted or notified about the project. “I’m very, very curious as to how this got in and why it was so late getting in.”

Arnold also suggested that other groups like Dove Springs Neighborhood Association may have received preferential treatment throughout the community engagement process…

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See also:

BG Podcast - Episode 36: The Austin Strategic Mobility Plan

Austin police could begin ticketing unsafe scooter riders (Austin American-Statesman)

The city of Austin will push for increased regulation of the swarms of downtown scooter riders and could empower police to issue citations to riders they deem irresponsible.

For scooter users, it likely means no more barreling down sidewalks at breakneck speeds or weaving through pedestrians in a manner a police officer might view as rising beyond annoyance to dangerous. So far, draft language for scooter citations requires riders to be “reasonable and prudent,” according to Jason Redfern, a parking enterprise manager for the Transportation Department.

It has been nine months since the city scrambled to create dockless electric scooter regulations after companies exploited a loophole in city code and began operating in Austin. Now, it’s time to update those rules, transportation officials said Thursday during a presentation to the City Council Mobility Committee.

“We are ready to start talking about modified legislation through (the Austin City Council) and to talk about how we move forward,” said Robert Spillar, director of the Transportation Department.

Spillar’s comments will likely give pause to the seven dockless companies active in Austin. Several of the City Council members at the meeting showed enthusiasm for a wide array of changes to local scooter regulations, including increasing operating fees to such companies as Lime and Bird to gain revenue for transportation infrastructure.

“I ... welcome the opportunity to accelerate building of our bike infrastructure capacity through fees,” Council Member Alison Alter said. “They are using our infrastructure for free right now.”

Other possibilities floated include greater penalties for riders who ditch scooters in certain areas and sanctions that could extend to the rental companies if their scooters and bikes are found in creeks and lakes. Transportation staffers expect to have an updated fee schedule available for review by March 28.

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Sweeping legislation takes aim at shock emergency room bills in Texas (Texas Tribune)

With more and more Texans seeking relief from shock medical bills, two prominent lawmakers — one Republican, one Democrat — are pushing far-reaching legislation that would bar emergency care providers from sending surprise bills to patients covered by state-regulated plans.

Typically, the unexpected and often confusing bills result when disputes between out-of-network doctors and insurance companies leave patients holding the bag — even if they had no choice in selecting their medical provider.

But now, state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, and Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, want to keep those disputes from spilling over onto patients' bills. They unveiled their bipartisan legislation at the Texas Capitol Thursday.

“Thousands receive unexpected and frankly unreasonable surprise medical bills every year,” said Hancock, the chairman of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee. “Enough is enough.”…

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In the Texas House, property tax legislation is being handled with a different speed — and tone (Texas Tribune)

City mayors extended an olive branch. Witnesses spoke uninterrupted. A House Democrat said he appreciated the “frame and tone” set by a GOP chair.

When the Legislature’s priority property tax reform bill was rolled out by a House committee Wednesday, it was met with a tenor and pace that differed markedly from the more contentious proceedings in the Senate.

Absent the quick tempo and heated exchanges that marked the upper chamber’s committee hearings on the legislation, a panel of state representatives deliberated its bill for nearly 12 hours, taking expert and public comments without proposing amendments. The proceedings were the latest sign of the lower chamber’s approach to the priority property tax package — which the chair of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee said they would “fully understand before we get into the debate and discussion.”

That, he said, “is how we have discussions in the Texas House.”…

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Senate Panel Votes To Confirm Texas Secretary Of State After Scolding From Federal Judge (KUT)

The day after a federal judge in San Antonio criticized Texas Secretary of State David Whitley’s effort to remove alleged noncitizens from voter rolls, a state Senate committee approved his nomination.

Gov. Greg Abbott appointed Whitley, his deputy chief of staff, to the position in December, but he needs Senate confirmation to keep the job as the state's top election official.

A Senate panel approved the nomination 4-3 along party lines Thursday. It now heads to the full Senate; Democrats there have said they will reject his nomination.

The vote took place a day after U.S. District Court Judge Fred Biery ordered Whitley to tell local officials to temporarily stop removing names from voter rolls. The judge also accused Whitley of creating a “mess.”

“It appears this is a solution looking for a problem,” Biery wrote. “Notwithstanding good intentions, the road to a solution was inherently paved with flawed results.”…

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Greg Abbott tells state agencies to continue to "follow the spirit" of Texas' open meetings law (Texas Tribune)

A day after the state’s highest criminal court struck down a key provision in one of Texas’ most important government transparency laws, Gov. Greg Abbott is calling on his appointees and agency heads to “continue to follow the spirit of the law.”

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday ruled that a slice of the Texas Open Meetings Act that makes it a crime for public officials to deliberate privately in small groups was “unconstitutionally vague.” That provision, which carried a potential fine and months-long stint in jail, had been in place for more than two decades.

“We do not doubt the legislature’s power to prevent government officials from using clever tactics to circumvent the purpose and effect of the Texas Open Meetings Act,” Presiding Judge Sharon Keller wrote for the majority. “But the statute before us wholly lacks any specificity, and any narrowing construction we could impose would be just a guess, an imposition of our own judicial views. This we decline to do.”

Now, amid concern from open government advocates and chatter about a possible legislative fix to the ruling, Abbott has made it clear that he expects all agency heads and appointees to continue acting transparently in their work…

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America’s cities are running on software from the ’80s (Bloomberg)

The only place in San Francisco still pricing real estate like it’s the 1980s is the city assessor’s office. Its property tax system dates back to the dawn of the floppy disk.

Like other cities, throughout the country, the shift from old-school servers to rented cloud storage has made it tougher than ever to fund upgrades. They can budget physical equipment as capital expenses, meaning they could issue bonds to pay for them. But cloud computing is a service, as the people selling it love to say, which means officials have to pay for it with operating funds—the same pool of money that goes toward addressing more tangible demands, such as parks and cops…

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Episode 36: The Austin Strategic Mobility Plan

(Run time - 22:53)

“A good land use plan is also a good transportation plan, and so they have to work hand in hand.” - Annick Beaudet

On today’s episode we speak with Annick Beaudet, A.I.C.P. - Assistant Director at the Austin Transportation Department (ATD) over Transportation Engineering, Transportation Systems Development Division, Special Events and the Active Transportation Division.

Annick and Bingham Group CEO A.J. Bingham discuss the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan (ASMP), Austin’s new city-wide transportation plan.

ASMP is the city’s transportation appendix to the 2012 Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, which outlines a vision of sustainable growth through 2039 (Austin’s 200th anniversary). It is a compilation of policies and actions to reach the city’s transportation targets with accompanying transportation network maps and tables. If adopted, ASMP will take the place of the outdated 2025 Austin Metropolitan Area Transportation Plan.

The city of Austin is asking for public comment on the ASMP final draft (see link below) through March, as well as providing staff presentations before the various city boards and commissions. 

Annick also updates on ATD’s progress towards a new street impact fee policy, an implementation tool integral to the ASMP…

Link to Episode 36

The Bingham Group, LLC is an Austin-based full service lobbying firm representing and advising clients on municipal, legislative, and regulatory matters throughout Texas.


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