They Are Back! What The 78th Legislature Has In Store For Texas Employers

01/29/2003

The beginning of every legislative session is spent on organizational matters. With new leaders in both the Senate and House,  the 78th session of the Texas legislature which convened in Austin earlier this month is no exception.

Although no significant legislative action has been taken, members of the legislature have filed a number of bills which, if they were to pass and become law, could have a significant impact on the employment practices of a broad range of Texas employers.

Here is an overview of those bills presently on file and awaiting assignment to committee, and the sponsoring member.

H.B. 50 Sylvester Turner  (D – Houston) Mandatory leave for employees to attend school conferences, and penalties against retaliation for exercising that right.

H.B. 105 Norma Chavez  (D - El Paso)  Provides for unemployment benefits, without charge to an employer's account, if an employee is forced to leave employment because of domestic violence.

H.B. 126 Lonnie Burnam (D - Fort Worth) Requires parity for mental illness in disability insurance policies sold in state of Texas.

H.B. 152 Ron Wilson  (D – Houston)  Limits an employer's ability to obtain so called 'dead peasants insurance,'  where an employer obtains a policy   on lower paid employees with itself as a beneficiary.

H.J.R. 18  Suzanna Hupp  (R – Lampasas) A constitutional amendment to grant a broad right of privacy. In California, a similar constitutional amendment was used as a basis for finding the constitutional right of privacy extended to non-government employers.

H.B. 181  Jessica Farrar (D – Houston) Allows an individual who receives deferred adjudication to legally deny the arrest and prosecution, except for a subsequent criminal prosecution. This would impact information employers are able to obtain when hiring.  The bill passed last legislative session, but was vetoed by Governor Perry.

H.B. 281  Paul Moreno (D – El Paso) This is not technically an employment bill, but is likely to be one of the most talked about and contested non-financial bills of this session.  It would make it a misdemeanor (punishable by a $100 fine) to talk on a mobile phone when driving, unless the car is stopped or the phone is operated without the use of either hand. 

H.B. 328  Warren Chisum (R – Pampa)  An attempt to allow employers the opportunity to obtain information from applicants about prior workers compensation claims and injuries. The legislation modifies the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act and the Texas Workers Compensation Act, but unfortunately can not shield employers from the Americans with Disabilities Act which prohibits such inquiries.

H.B. 355 and H.B. 356  Harold Dutton (D – Houston) These are two education leave bills, similar to some of the amendments that have been suggested for the federal Family Medical Leave Act. One would require employers to give time off to employees to meet with teachers, counselors or principals; the other to attend certain school activities. The bills also create new causes of actions against employers for refusing to provide the time off.

H.B. 359 and H.B. 371  Harold Dutton  (D – Houston)  These two bills attempt to limit the use of mandatory arbitration. The first would prohibit arbitration of Texas Commission on Human Rights Act or Title VII claims, the second would prohibit mandatory arbitration until an employee had worked for an employer for at least 90 days. Even if these bills were to pass, if the agreement were covered by the Federal Arbitration Act, these restrictions would be pre-empted. Most, but not necessarily all, employment relationships will be covered by the FAA.

H.B. 379  Harold Dutton (D – Houston)  Requires employers to allow employees to review their personnel files. Similar legislation has been offered for several sessions. It would make failure to comply by the employer an unfair employment practice, which is treated as a violation of the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act.

H.B. 570 Fred Brown  (R –Bryan)  For non-subscribers to workers compensation, the bill would cap liability at $250,000 for work place injuries to employees. In order to qualify for the cap, the employer must have insurance meeting certain limits.

H.B. 574 Jessica Farrar  (D – Houston)  Amends the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It would also protect anyone from being treated differently because of the sexual identity of individuals with whom the employee associates.

S.B. 33  Judy Zaffirini  (D – Laredo) Establishes a right to leave to attend certain school functions for employees.

S.B. 61 Judy Zaffirini  (D – Laredo) Modifies the existing law on criminal background checks for nursing home employees and applicants.

S.B.137  Rodney Ellis  (D- Houston) Prevents employers from obtaining 'dead peasant's insurance.'

For more information, please contact one of the lawyers above or any member of the employment and labor group of Haynes and Boone, LLP.

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