Tech Training for Building Trades Eyed, Rail Projects Threatened
Texas Construction News from Virtual Builders Exchange
Posted: 1-12-2017, 3:28 p.m.
by Adolfo Pesquera
Austin (Travis Co.) – Bills affecting contracts and the selection of building materials were introduced for the upcoming legislative session, and a proposed pilot education program would encourage more high school students to pursue the construction trades.
In addition, a bill designed to obstruct the expansion of commuter rail in the Dallas-Forth Worth Metroplex would have far reaching effects on transportation plans across the state.
Senator Juan Hinojosa, Dem.-McAllen, introduced Senate Bill 154, which proposes that the Texas Workforce Commission establish a career and technical education workforce specialist pilot program. It would provide career services to students at public high schools in three regions of the state. Its focus is to steer more students toward technical training and/or apprenticeships in high-demand skilled occupations. While not exclusive to the building trades, it does have language that includes them.
Texas Senator Juan Hinojosa, Dem.-McAllen
The regions would be determined by TWC in consultation with the Texas Education Agency, but at least one pilot program site must be in an urban area and one in a rural area. At least one workforce development specialist would provide services in each region.
Career services must include guidance and counseling on high-demand, skilled occupations in this state, including “middle skill jobs,” educational and training opportunities for those occupations, including:
Opportunities offered by employers, public junior colleges, public state colleges, or public technical institutes.
With respect to high-demand occupations in the building trades, any related courses of instruction offered by career schools or colleges, or available apprenticeships.
The bill provides TWC discretion in determining which specific trades it should emphasize when high school students. The Workforce Commission must report to the Legislature by Jan. 1, 2021 an assessment of the effectiveness of the pilot progam in directing students toward employment in high-demand skilled occupations, and its recommendations for improving the pilot program and expanding the pilot program statewide.
Obstructing Commuter Rail Construction
Senator Konni Burton, Rep.-Fort Worth, is no friend of commuter rail. She has introduced S.B. 385, which would require that no political subdivision would be able to accept Texas Department of Transportation funds or federal funds for the construction, maintenance, or operation of a commuter rail or other passenger rail project without taking the project to the voters.
The governing body of each municipality in which a station or track segment of the project is located or proposed to be locate would have to hold an election.
That’s not the end of it. If the political subdivision authorized to use federal funds has not begun construction before the fifth anniversary of the election, “each municipality in which a station or track segment of the project is located or proposed to be located” would have to hold a second election.
Burton is an ally of Empower Texans, an anti-rail organization that campaigns against all publicly funded passenger rail projects on the premise that they should not be subsidized by the taxpayer. Empower Texas has been specifically targeting TEXRail, a new 27-mile commuter rail being planned to provide service between downtown Fort Worth and DFW International Airport.
However, the wording of the bill would make it extremely unlikely that new rail projects would ever be launched anywhere in the state. The Lone Star Rail District (LSTAR) proposed a commuter line from Georgetown to San Antonio in Central/South Texas.
LSTAR failed because Union Pacific Railroad backed out of a tentative agreement to cede its right of way. But the municipalities along the route were able to approve their portion of the project by a vote of their respective city councils and metropolitan planning organizations.
The cities of Dallas, Houston and Austin all have passenger rail systems that cross municipal boundaries, or will in the future as their systems expand.
Construction Contracts Law
Disclosure of Labor Law Violations:Rep. Terry Canales, Dem.-Edinburg, introduced House Bill 665. It would require that a state agency or political subdivision would not be able to contract for goods or services unless the contractor certifies in writing that the contractor has not admitted guilt or been found guilty or liable within the preceding five years in a judicial or administrative proceeding of a “repeated or willfull violation” of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, the state’s Chapter 61 or 62 Labor Code, or any similar statute or regulation governing the payment of wages.
Collective Bargaining:Senator Kelly Hancock, Rep.-North Richland Hills, and Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, co-sponsored bills–S.B. 452 and H.B. 648, respectively–that appear to protect collective bargaining efforts where state-funded public work projects are concerned.
An institution awarding a public work contract funded with state money, including the issuance of state guaranteed debt, may not:
Prohibit, require, discourage, or encourage a person bidding on the public work contract, including a contractor or subcontractor, from entering into or adhering to an agreement with a collective bargaining organization relating to the project.
Discriminate against a person described by Subdivision (1) based on the person’s involvement in the agreement, including the person status or lack of status as a party to the agreement, or willingness or refusal to enter into the agreement.
This section may not be construed to prohibit activity protected by the National Labor Relations Act … or permit conduct prohibited under the NLRA.
Notification on Contract Changes:Senator Judith Zaffirini, Dem.-Laredo, introduced an amendment to existing law for notifying the Legislative Budget Board. This appears to be an effort to bring update an existing law and reduce paperwork by limiting notifications through increases in the threshholds.
A contract for a construction project would trigger notification if the amount–including any amendment, modification, renewal or extension, exceeds $1 million, instead of the current $14,000.
A state agency, including an institution of higher education, would notify the Board if a contract for professional services exceeds $100,000, instead of the current $14,000. This doesn’t include contracts for physicians or optometric services.
The notification for consulting services would be triggered at $50,000, instead of the current $14,000.
Protectionist Legislation on Construction Material Commodities:Rep. Yvonne Davis, Dem.-Dallas introduced H.B. 770, which would require construction projects involving state funds, state aid, “and governmental entity projects” use U.S. made iron, steel and manufactured goods. The bid documents provided to all bidders and the contract would include this requirement.
There is an exception where the type of iron, steel or manufactured good is not produced in the United States in sufficient and reasonably available quantities, or where the U.S. made product is more than 15 percent above the cost of a foreign made alternative.
Adolfo Pesquera (Reporter/Editor) is a veteran news journalist. He has worked for Hearst Corp., American Lawyer Media, News Corp and Freedom Communications. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines across the USA. He is a journalism graduate of UT-RGV. He writes, edits and creates digital pages for VBX.