SB13 advances to full Senate; teacher groups feel targeted

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The halfway point of this year’s Texas legislative session is close at hand and by last Friday’s deadline, lawmakers had filed nearly 8,000 pieces of legislation to be considered by the house and senate.

Most notable of these bill proposals are the so-called “bathroom bill,’’ creating sanctuary cities and revamping the state’s foster care system.

Yet Texas teachers are paying close attention to Senate Bill 13, which emerged from the Senate Committee on State Affairs two weeks ago on a 6-2 vote and was sent to the full senate and would stop payroll deductions to associations or unions for state employees, specifically teachers.

Exempt from the Republican-backed bill are firefighters, police and EMS personnel. Their dues can still be deducted, and educators say this smacks of targeting a group – teachers – which traditionally supports Democratic candidates.

Locally, Lindale ISD Superintendent Stan Surratt says this is a slap in the face of teachers.

“I know our teachers are very passionate about this,’’ he said. “It’s disrespectful to teachers and educators.’’

District 1 State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, was one of the six voting for the bill.

The Lindale News and Times contacted Hughes office last week and e-mailed questions to the senator, including what was his reasoning for backing the bill, did he think it unfair for police, firefighters and EMS workers to be exempt and did he think it had a better chance of becoming law this session than it did two years ago.

As of this week’s deadline, Hughes hasn’t responded to the e-mail.

During his State of the State address in January, Gov. Greg Abbott urged lawmakers to send the legislation to his desk.

“Taxpayer money shouldn’t be used to support the collection of union dues,’’ Abbott said.

Yet opponents of SB13 say taxpayers aren’t paying to administer the deductions because state statutes require organizations pay those expenses.

“You’re taking payroll deductions out of the bill, you’ve got to account for them, they have to be audited, you’ve got to package them up electronically and then you have to send them out to various different unions. So that’s actually more expensive than people recognize,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston).

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said it’s more of the same from Republicans.

“Well, here we go again,” Garcia said. It’s an attack on free speech, on unions and on people who don’t agree with you.”

According to a recent Senate Committee on State Affairs interim report, during the fiscal year 2016, the state comptroller’s office made more than $6 million in payroll deductions for more than 4,5000 state employees, but these figures represent people employed directly by the state, not teachers or other municipal employees.

“I just don’t understand the reasoning behind this bill,’’ Surratt said. “There’s no burden to local taxpayers whatsoever.’’

Texas is one of 27 right-to-work states in the U.S., meaning state employees can’t be required to join or pay dues to union organizations. Current state law allows public employees to voluntarily pay dues to union and non-union organizations by authorizing deductions from their paychecks, which makes the state the middleman in collecting those dues.

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