Week In Review: Union dues tally, Speaker fight looming

Chris Marrou presents the most important Texas Monitor news this week.

Legislation could cut off union dues flow; teacher unions have brought in $200 million-plus since 2010

Teachers unions in Texas have collected at least $115.5 million so far this decade from educators and other school workers — and that figure is probably closer to $230 million.

This surprising figure comes from a Texas Monitor analysis of teacher association dues collected from all across the state. It appears to be the first that provides a detailed number to how much money teachers unions raise in Texas.

This will likely add fresh arguments to those fighting for and against legislation being debated in the Texas Legislature prohibiting state and local governments from collecting dues for public unions, dubbed the “paycheck protection” bill.

Read the full story here.

Is a fight gearing up for the House Speakership?

More than a dozen conservative Republican members this week asked that their caucus chairman allow the GOP members of the House to choose the next speaker for the session beginning in January 2019.

That means a possible challenge to current House Speaker Joe Straus, one of the longest-serving House speakers in Texas history.

The last time Straus faced a challenger was in 2015, which was also the first contested vote for speaker since 1975. Straus easily kept the powerful seat.

Read the full story here.

Ethics reform plans gather dust

Although Texas ranks among the bottom of the barrel for ethics laws and Gov. Greg Abbott has claimed major ethics reform as a priority, ethics legislation has not been pushed by the governor during the special session.

Rep. Sarah Davis, chairwoman of the House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics, called for more serious reform.

One loophole they hope to close is one that may benefit Abbott. While lawmakers cannot seek contributions from those seeking to benefit from legislation during the regular session, no such prohibition exists during special sessions.

Read the full story here.

Open records clash in Houston

A lawsuit filed this week is asking a Harris County District Court Judge to review the city’s conduct in withholding a slew of public records in connection with the city’s $48.4 million recycling contract.

The lawsuit alleges that Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner engaged in a pattern of secrecy to keep documents, including emails sent and received by the city’s Solid Waste Management Director.

Attorney Stewart Hoffer is representing former investigative reporter Wayne Dolcefino of Dolcefino Consulting, who was asking for records on behalf of recycling firm EcoHub. EcoHub is a company whose CEO said he believes that his firm was unfairly shut out of the bidding process for the city’s recycling deal.

Read the full story here.

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Trent is an award-winning editor and reporter, who has previously worked The Denver Post, The (Nashville) Tennessean, and the San Diego Union-Tribune. Most recently, he was the investigative producer for Houston’s KTRK-TV ABC-13. He was also the editor and founder of Texas Watchdog, a ground-breaking news group that paved the way for this project. Trent is a teacher of journalism skills, and has shown hundreds of reporters and citizen-journalists how to use public records, databases and journalism tools to keep a watchful eye on their own local government.