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Key House Leader: Union Dues Bill is Dying

State Rep. Byron Cook confirmed that he does not plan to schedule a vote on legislation that would end automatic payroll deductions for union and non-union dues of most public employees.

Byron Cook speaks at The Texas Tribune Festival on Sept. 20, 2014.

Updated, Saturday, 10:55 a.m.:

State Rep. Byron Cook confirmed Saturday that he does not plan to schedule a vote on legislation that would end automatic payroll deductions for union and non-union dues of most public employees.

"I don't see how we can," Cook told the Tribune, reiterating his belief that Senate Bill 1968 came over from the Senate too vulnerable to challenges on the House floor.

Cook first made the comments about not planning a Saturday vote to Quorum Report.

Original story, May 22:

A late-blooming anti-union bill will probably die in the House State Affairs Committee this weekend, according to the chairman of that panel.

Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, said the bill came over from the Senate in a form open to a procedural challenge on the House floor, and arrived too late to remedy that and other problems. Legislation has to be out of committee by midnight Saturday to remain eligible for consideration. That seems unlikely, he said Friday afternoon.

Senate Bill 1968 would end automatic payroll deductions for union and non-union dues of public employees, with an exception for certain police, fire and emergency medical personnel. Cook said he was concerned that teachers in his rural district would be hurt by the legislation, suggesting that the exemption should include more than just those first responders.

Unions and other employee associations argued against the bill, saying it would burden their members and devastate some of their groups. Business groups led by the Texas branch of the National Federation of Independent Business strongly support the bill, saying some of the labor groups antagonize and harass private employers in Texas.

Democrats and Republicans took sides, too. All of the Senate’s Republicans voted for the bill, and all of the Democrats voted against it. Conservatives inside and outside the Capitol contend that most of the employee groups strongly favor Democrats and that anything that hobbles those groups also hobbles the Democrats. Other conservative supporters, like Americans for Prosperity and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, generally don’t like payroll deductions for any groups, including charitable ones.

If the legislation dies, it’s sure to engender a political debate about who killed it. The Senate acted on it two weeks ago — about two weeks after it was eligible for a vote. In the House, Democrats blocked Cook’s attempt to call a hearing early this week. They acquiesced the next day, but he opened it to less than two hours of public testimony. That hearing exposed the passions on both sides — 207 people registered to testify — and prompted some to say they had not had sufficient opportunity to express their opposition. 

Cook's committee met late Friday to vote on Senate Bill 19, a major ethics bill, and other legislation. SB 1968 didn't come up, but supporters remained hopeful and opponents were nervously optimistic it would fail. 

“We are encouraged by reports of the demise of SB 1968, but will remain vigilant to protect the economic freedom of all public employees until the last gavel falls,” said Becky Moeller, president of the Texas AFL-CIO.

Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.

Disclosure: The Texas Public Policy Foundation is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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