Keeping TABs
Thu November 15, 2007 8:39 am

The Texas Association of Business has posted its voting records for the House and Senate online. TAB represents employers, but the organization’s choice of issues to rank was not limited to strictly business issues. To its credit, TAB included several education bills in its evaluation of members’ votes. Good for them! TAB and Bill Hammond have taken their share of slings and arrows over the years, but you don’t often see special-interest groups taking the broad view. TAB used 15 bills in the House, 10 in the Senate. The organization considers an absence to be a “no” vote, which I believe to be unfair, particularly in the Senate, where members could lose 10 points for being in conference committee. The description of bills that were used to compile the House rankings appears at the end of the writeups. I’m going to treat the Senate differently from the House. Because of the low number of votes, and the high impact of the absence rule, I’m going to show the average (calculated by TAB) for the last four sessions. And I’m going to dock TAB 10 points for putting the 78th Legislature in 2004.

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Republicans with 100% Pro-Business Records
Aycock
Berman
Eissler
Flynn
Gattis
Harless
Harper-Brown
Macias
Patrick

Democrats with 70%+ Pro-Business Records
Farabee 80%
Rose 80%
R. Cook 73%
Garcia 73%
Hopson 73%

Republicans with below 80% Pro-Business Records
Pitts 79%
Solomons 79%
Laubenberg 73%
McCall 73%
Merritt 73%
Phillips 73%
Haggerty 67%
Hughes 67%
Jones 57%

Democrats with below 50% Pro-Business Records
Alonzo 47%
Anchia 47%
Y. Davis 47%
Herrero 47%
Hochberg 47%
Hodge 47%
Leibowitz 47%
Mallory Caraway 47%
Miles 47%
Oliveira 47%
Rodriguez 47%
Thompson 47%
Vo 47%
Burnam 40%
Coleman 40%
Escobar 40%
Farias 40%
Gallego 40%
Pierson 38%

SENATE

Average support for business by Republicans over four sessions or less

Williams 97% (three sessions)
Fraser 91%
Brimer 90% (three sessions)
Estes 90% (three sessions)
Hegar 90% (one session)
Nelson 88%
Jackson 87%
Averitt 86%
Carona 85%
Eltife 85% (two sessions)
Seliger 85% (two sessions)
Shapiro 84%
Harris 84%
Duncan 84%
Janek 83% (three sessions)
Deuell 80% (three sessions)
Nichols 80% (one session)
Patrick 80% (one session)
Wentworth 74%

Average support for business by Democrats over four sessions or less

Uresti 50% (one session)
Watson 50% (one session)
Lucio 46%
Whitmire 45% (60% for the 80th Legislature, the only D to top 50%)
West 44%
Hinojosa 43%
Ellis 41%
Van de Putte 38%
Zaffirini 37%
Shapleigh 27%
Gallegos 20% (three sessions; not rated in 2007 due to health complications)

Description of House Votes

Vote 1 General Appropriations HB 1

Motion to Adopt the Calendars Committee Rules for House Floor Debate

HB 1, the 2007 General Appropriations Bill, sets the state budget for the following biennium. The process that ultimately results in the state budget is a difficult and time-sensitive procedure, often requiring additional rules to guide productive debate.

Businesses can breathe a sigh of relief with this bold yet cautious budget. In the end, HB 1 provided a good balance between taxpayers and government. The Appropriations Bill for the 2008-2009 Biennium meets the needs of Texas in a manner that respects taxpayers by setting aside $3 billion that will maintain property tax reductions. It also places $7 billion into reserves for the state to have available for appropriations next session, which will benefit government in the event of an unexpected economic downturn. HB 1 could not have been crafted so successfully without rules.

The vote occurred on the motion to adopt the rules for debate of the General Appropriations Bill, as established by the calendars committee. A vote for the motion was a vote with TAB. HB 1 passed both chambers of the Legislature and was signed by the governor.

Vote 2 Unemployment Insurance Benefits HB 550

Third Reading and Final Passage

HB 550 reduces the requirements that victims of family violence or stalking must show to be eligible for unemployment benefits. Prior to HB 550, the law required three forms of evidence of domestic violence to demonstrate eligibility for unemployment benefits: an active or recently issued protective order documenting that the employee is a victim of family violence or stalking, a police record documenting that the employee is a victim of family violence or stalking, and a physician’s statement or other medical documentation of family violence against the employee. This bill reduces the requirement to one document and does not require an individual to engage law enforcement authorities to address the situation. Because doctors or other medical professionals are not in a position to require action by the individual, the claimant should be required to show other actions being taken with law enforcement authorities.

In addition, an amendment was added to HB 550 that extends unemployment benefits to an employee for a terminally ill spouse. Unemployment benefits are traditionally available to claimants who are available for work, but through no fault of their own are unemployed. If an employee has to care for a spouse and has to leave their job to do so, he or she would be unavailable for work.

The vote occurred on third reading and final passage. A vote against passage was vote with TAB. HB 550 passed both chambers of the Legislature and was signed by the governor.

Vote 3 Telecom Infrastructure Fund HB 735

Motion to Table Amendment #3

HB 735 repeals the Telecom Infrastructure Fund (TIF). The TIF was designed to provide telecommunications services to remote parts of our state. Where years ago, these areas were isolated from the rest of Texas, today, they are well-connected via standard and high-technology.

The financing for TIF came from a 1.25% tax placed on the bill of every telephone line residential, business, and mobile phone assigned in Texas, often double-taxing telephone consumers. In recent years, however, TIF revenue has been redirected for uses that have nothing to do with telecommunications or technology. As a result, by repealing the TIF, HB 735 ensures that Texans do not continue paying the tax.

House Amendment #3 would have required the comptroller to reimburse telephone service providers, which in turn would be required to reimburse customers individually for the TIF taxes they had paid since January 2007. Such a program would have required unanticipated man-hours on both the comptroller’s office and telephone service providers, turning an otherwise simple tax repeal into an unmanageable process.

The vote occurred on the motion to table Amendment #3. A vote for the motion to table was a vote with TAB. The motion to table prevailed. HB 735 passed both chambers of the Legislature and was signed by the governor.

Vote 4 Return-to-Work Pilot Program for Small Employers HB 886

Third Reading and Final Passage

HB 886 ensures that an employer is reimbursed for modifying a workplace for an injured worker by establishing a pre-approval process in which there is a guaranteed reimbursement of expenses to the employer. Prior to the passage of HB 886, an employer could be reimbursed up to $1,500 for such modifications, but there was no guarantee that the modification would be approved by the Division of Workers’ Compensation. Small employers sometimes cannot afford to make modifications and/or risk the modifications being disapproved.

The pre-approval process will encourage more employers to participate in this program, which will greatly aid the employee, while giving the employer the ability to make changes with little or no out-of-pocket expenses. TAB believes that this legislation will have a positive impact on an injured worker’s return-to-work transition.

The vote occurred on third reading and final passage. A vote for passage was a vote with TAB. HB 886 passed both chambers of the Legislature and was signed by the governor.

Vote 5 Intensive Reading Program in Public Schools HB 1270

Third Reading and Final Passage

Texas students, from primary through high school, consistently show low results when tested on reading and language skills. HB 1270 creates a pilot program for intensive reading and language intervention, for the purpose of increasing skills of reading comprehension and language proficiency. The pilot program as established is accessible to school districts with students who have failed the reading portion of the former TAKS test.

Fewer and fewer employees enter the Texas workforce with more than the basic reading skills. The pilot program established by HB 1270 will help working Texans of tomorrow improve their critical reading and comprehension skills, which will improve their abilities and increase their opportunities to be successful members of the workforce.

The vote occurred on third reading and final passage. A vote for passage was a vote with TAB. HB 1270 passed both chambers of the Legislature and was signed by the governor.

Vote 6 State Wellness Program HB 1297

Third Reading and Final Passage

HB 1297 creates a state wellness program to improve the health of state employees and reduce expenditures on health care costs, particularly those caused by preventable illnesses. The establishment of a model program also will improve the efficiency of government by helping decrease sick time and leave taken by employees.

Wellness programs have shown to be effective ways for employers to reduce health care costs. By some estimates, every dollar invested in wellness programs can yield returns ranging from $3 to $6 on that investment.

The vote occurred on third reading and final passage. A vote for passage was a vote with TAB. HB 1297 passed both chambers of the Legislature and was signed by the governor.

Vote 7 Closing the Jones Act Loophole HB 1602

Third Reading and Final Passage

HB 1602 addresses rampant lawsuit abuse against Texas dredging companies in four South Texas counties. Due to the nature of Texas ports, dredging is a vital industry in our state. Without it, our ports quickly become impassable to ships carrying cargo.

The passage of this bill gives seamen the same options as most Texans who are allowed to sue a corporate defendant in the Texas county where their principal place of business is located or in the county where the alleged injury occurred. In addition, the impact of this legislation will be positive for continued economic growth in Texas.

The vote occurred on third reading and final passage. A vote for passage was a vote with TAB. HB 1602 passed both chambers of the Legislature and was signed by the governor.

Vote 8 Use of Technology by Public Schools HB 1632

Third Reading and Final Passage

HB 1632 would have continued the success of the technology immersion pilot project, which was passed by the Legislature in 2003. HB 1632 would have expanded the pilot project to include new types of learning technologies that would engage students in education. HB 1632 also would have allowed the project to follow students as they move to new campuses, bringing learning technologies to high school campuses in participating school districts.

Technological advancements do not just make personal life more efficient; they improve the way countless businesses perform day-to-day operations. When students become more proficient with a wide variety of technologies, they will have an easier transition into jobs that depend on technology. As a result, extending the pilot project could have helped businesses reduce the need for technology training.

The vote occurred on third reading and final passage. A vote for passage was a vote with TAB. HB 1632 passed the house, but died in the Senate Committee on Education.

Vote 9 Autism Coverage Mandate HB 1919

Motion to Reconsider

HB 1919 expands a mandate for certain treatments of brain injuries and a new mandate for the treatment of autism.

Employers in Texas are free to offer coverage for as many treatments and ailments as they can afford. Every mandate raises the cost of insurance, forcing many employers to drop coverage altogether. The goal of the Legislature should be to make health care coverage more not less affordable. HB 1919 will cost small and medium-sized businesses that provide health insurance approximately $150 million in increased premiums over the next five years, forcing some to quit offering any employee health care benefits at all.

The vote occurred on the motion to reconsider the vote by which the motion to suspend all necessary rules to consider the conference committee report passed. A vote against the motion was a vote with TAB. The motion prevailed. HB 1919 passed both chambers of the Legislature and was signed by the governor.

Vote 10 Ultraclean Energy HB 3732

Motion to Adopt Conference Committee Report

HB 3732 creates the Advanced Clean Energy Project Grant and Loan Program to encourage the development of advanced clean energy projects that produce reliable and affordable electric power in an environmentally protective manner.

Texas has one of the largest state economies in the nation, with much of its income coming from energy-intensive activities and industries. Our industries have substantial power needs now and will continue to use significant power in the future. HB 3732 provides incentives to ensure that we have a diverse, clean, and reliable source for electricity in the future for Texas residents, businesses and communities.

The vote occurred on the motion to adopt the conference committee report, an important procedural step in passing the bill. A vote for the motion was a vote with TAB. HB 3732 passed both chambers of the Legislature and was signed by the governor.

Vote 11 Environmental Compliance History HB 3960

Motion to Table Amendment #3

HB 3960 would have repealed the current law on the state’s current environmental compliance history process. The current compliance history program at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) uses an arbitrary process which is inflexible, resourceintensive, and generally meaningless.

Amendment #3 would have required TCEQ to consider notices of violation basically incidences of alleged, not proven, violations before issuing an environmental permit, amendment or renewal. Environmental compliance history and issuance of permits, amendments and renewals, should be based on real infractions, not incidents that are still under investigation.

The vote occurred on the motion to table Amendment #3. A vote for the motion to table was a vote with TAB. HB 3960 passed the house, but died on the Senate Intent Calendar.

Vote 12 Texas Emission Reduction Program SB 12

Motion to Instruct the Conference Committee

SB 12 expands technologies and uses for two programs critical for the state in its efforts to achieve compliance with the federal Clean Air Act, particularly in the Dallas/Ft. Worth and Houston/Galveston/Brazoria areas. SB 12 also increases funding for the Texas Emissions Reduction Program (TERP) for issuing grants for the reduction of diesel emissions and extends the program until 2013.

The vote occurred on the motion to instruct the conference committee, a procedural vote which would have prevented the bill sponsor from stripping out harmful amendments in the committee. A vote against the motion to instruct was a vote with TAB. SB 12 passed both chambers of the Legislature and was signed by the governor.

Vote 13 Ten-Percent Cap on College Admissions SB 101

Third Reading and Final Passage

SB 101 would have leveled the playing field for in-state college admissions by placing a cap on the number of automatic admissions for public colleges and universities in Texas.

Current state law requires that students who graduated in the top-ten percent of their high school class be automatically accepted by the college of their choice with no exceptions. These students often seize their opportunity to attend a flagship institution, which is causing enrollment at the state’s major universities to swell beyond capacity. As a result, flagships are often not accepting applications beyond those from students who are automatically accepted under the top-ten rule.

The top-ten rule, while well meaning, is holding back students who attend the most competitive high schools in Texas, who may have excellent grades, but who fall a fraction short of the top-ten percent of their class. This prevents many of our brightest minds from getting the education they desire. As a result, many students must relocate their talents to locations outside of Texas for education and career opportunities. This deprives Texas business of some of their best potential employees.

The vote occurred on third reading and final passage. A vote for passage was a vote with TAB. SB 101 passed both chambers of the Legislature, but no agreement on the final version could be reached in the conference committee, where the bill died.

Vote 14 Surplus Revenue in the Unemployment Compensation Fund SB 679

Third Reading and Final Passage

SB 679 addresses the problem of surplus revenue held in the Unemployment Compensation Fund, which pays for unemployment insurance benefits in Texas.

Due to the insolvency of the fund earlier this decade, the state financed its debt through an unemployment obligation tax paid by employers. In 2007, the amount available in the Unemployment Compensation Fund exceeded the amount needed to pay off the debt each year. Therefore, SB 679 proposed that the surplus revenue each year be used for paying off the future debt and it further authorized the Texas Workforce Commission to credit employers based on a formula calculating their contributions toward the employer-paid funds. This allows money to be returned to the employers who contributed it in the first place.

The vote occurred on third reading and final passage. A vote for the bill was a vote with TAB. SB 679 passed both chambers of the Legislature and was signed by the governor.

Vote 15 Health Care Information Transparency SB 1731

Third Reading and Final Passage

SB 1731 is a major step in expanding consumer access to health care information. The legislation requires a Consumer Guide to Health Care website to be administered at the Department of State Health Services and the Board of Medical Examiners. In addition, it requires additional disclosures to help protect consumers against the practice of balance billing.

Transparency in the costs of health care services is critical in helping make appropriate and cost-effective health care choices. With employers being a major payer of health care in this state, it is critical that the state continue to legislate policies that will reduce the cost of health insurance.

The vote occurred on third reading and final passage. A vote for passage was a vote with TAB. SB 1731 passed both chambers of the Legislature and was signed by the governor.

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