AUSTIN - During his State of State address, Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) laid out four emergency items he wanted lawmakers to tackle during the 85th Legislative Session, along with a host of other legislative priorities.
"While we are cleaning up government, we should end the practice of government deducting union dues from the paychecks of employees," Abbott said.
On the surface, the Governor's request seemed simple.
The state spends taxpayer dollars to deduct dues for professional organizations and unions for its employees. That includes first responders, teachers, even parole officers. The unions and associations lobby on members' behalf at the Capitol and often offer insurance, legal protection and training.
During the legislative session, the bill got a lot of pushback.
"SB13 is intended to silence teachers," one educator told lawmakers during a committee hearing.
In February, educators from across the state traveled to the Capitol to testify against the bill, saying it would take away one of the benefits the state provides them.
They also told lawmakers they felt like targets because the proposed legislation exempted collecting dues for first responders. Even first responders said it wasn't fair.
"Do not discriminate against teachers," Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday told lawmakers. "I think it's, it's horrible that we're even sitting here having this conversation."
The bill passed in the Senate, died in the House, but remained a priority for the governor. So when he called lawmakers back for a special session, he put ending the collection of dues on the agenda.
Senator Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) and Representative Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) will author bills to end the practice.
"I just don't think it's a good use of taxpayer dollars to collect those dues for people when in this day and age we have auto draft," Isaac said.
"Even if we're spending the littlest amount of money, it's money our taxpayers shouldn't be on the hook for," he added.
The Comptroller's Office says the state spends an "insignificant" amount of money to deduct the dues. That's state-speak for less than $1 million.
"I want a smaller, more efficient government and if we're spending $10 or $100 or $999,000 to do this, it's too much," Representative Isaac said.
Isaac said his bill will exempt first responders.
"They could be making a decision to help somebody and then ultimately be sued. So it's more about insurance and protection for them,' he explained.
"The last thing I want is any of our first responders to hesitate, even for a split second about providing care or protecting somebody because of the threat of a lawsuit," Isaac added.
But the feeling among many teachers remains the same. Isaac is already getting negative feedback about his intention to file the bill; perhaps a sign that this issue again will come with a fight at the Capitol.
Opponents of the issue point out that Section 659.108 of the Texas Constitution allows the state to withhold a fee from employees for withdrawing dues and argue rather than doing away with the practice, the state could start imposing a collection fee.
The special session starts July 18.
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