Voting along party lines, a Senate committee Thursday approved a bill that would stop state agencies and local governments from processing automatic paycheck deductions for many public employee union members.
There was no discussion prior to the State Affairs Committee’s 6-2 vote, with state Sens. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, opposed.
Republican state Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, who had expressed skepticism toward Senate Bill 13 during Monday’s committee hearing, was absent with an illness and did not vote.
SB 13 would not apply to unions serving police, firefighters and emergency medical services personnel but would block automatic payroll deductions for others, including teachers, jailers and child-protection employees.
Estes had questioned whether it was inconsistent to allow dues collection for some unions and not others. “What’s the difference? Seems like, if this is a great thing, it’s great for everyone, isn’t it?” he said.
The bill’s author, state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, replied that unions serving first responders “don’t get involved in business issues that I’ve ever seen. … They don’t generally interfere with the business entities of the state of Texas.”
Republicans and supporters of the measure, including the National Federation of Independent Business, say the government should not be involved in collecting dues for unions or private associations. Democrats and union members say the measure is an attempt to weaken unions, particularly those representing teachers, that oppose some GOP priorities.
In 2015, a similar bill, also by Huffman, passed the Senate on a party-line vote but never got out of committee in the House.
During Monday’s hearing, Huffman acknowledged that the bill is not a money-saving measure because there is little to no cost for the deductions.
“However, it is time for the government to get out of this,” she said. “Most states have eliminated this practice because government should have no official role in labor unions, trade unions or associations.”
State Sen. Jose Menéndez, D-San Antonio, said he was aware of no public official who has complained about the practice and suggested the bill was a problem in search of a solution.
“I don’t see how this improves the situation for Texans,” he said.
In the House, state Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston, filed a similar measure, House Bill 510. No action has been taken on that bill.