Texas judge strikes down law that would ban city-mandated water breaks

Dive Brief:

  • A Texas judge has ruled unconstitutional a law that would ban some local ordinances in the Lone Star State. On Aug. 30, State District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble of Travis County sided with the city of Houston, which had filed suit against the state earlier this summer, claiming the law signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in June overstepped his powers.
  • Most notably for contractors, the Texas Regulatory Consistency Act, named by some opponents as “The Death Star Bill,” eliminated mandatory water breaks in cities such as Austin and Dallas. Supporters of the law claimed it would reduce cumbersome and varied rules across the state, but Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner called it a “power grab” by the state legislature.
  • The state has appealed the decision to the Texas Supreme Court, the Texas Tribune reported. The law was supposed to go into effect Sept. 1.

Dive Insight:

In addition to eliminating water breaks, the Texas law would have nullified city ordinances like requirements for employers to provide workers with paid sick leave, and, for example, in Harris County, a $15 minimum wage for workers on county construction projects and safety training. 

Nasty record heat this summer killed more people in Harris, Fort Bend and Montgomery Counties than in any of the previous five years, according to ABC13 News. Houston is within Harris County.

Meanwhile, OSHA still lacks an enforceable federal heat standard, which likely will remain the case for some time, as developing one takes years. Nonetheless, the agency issued a national emphasis program in April 2022, pushing the credo of “Water. Rest. Shade.”

Julie Su, acting secretary of labor, said during a virtual press conference Thursday the Department of Labor has been rebuilding its own workforce under the Biden-Harris administration. The agency sets federal standards, but states like California, Colorado, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington have additional standards that go beyond OSHA’s guidance.

Su said she has toured the country and spoken to small businesses about heat hazards.

“Most employers across the country want to do the right thing … they comply with standards,” Su said. “Employers who understand that the best investment they can make is an investment in their workers do well.”

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