Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Opinion | As Texas swelters, state Republicans are cruelly cutting water breaks

Opinion | As Texas swelters, state Republicans are cruelly cutting water breaks


The start of summertime in Texas has been scorching. Along with a swath of the southern and central United States, Texas is trapped under an oppressive “heat dome”: a weather phenomenon that occurs when air pressurizes over an area or region and heats up as it descends toward the ground. Humidity has intensified the effects of record high temperatures across the state; Corpus Christi, situated along the Gulf Coast, reached an unofficial heat index of 125 degrees.

As the heat dome continues to bake Texas, officials advise residents to drink plenty of water and remain indoors if possible. However, a new state law might prevent construction workers and other outdoor laborers from staying hydrated in the hot sun. The Texas Regulatory Consistency Act broadly prohibits local municipalities from creating legislation that does not align with state law; effective Sept. 1, it would nullify local regulations that mandate water breaks. This act is part of the larger push by the Republican-led state government to gain control over Texas cities, most of which are Democratic strongholds. Republican state Rep. Dustin Burrows, an author of the bill, lauded the elimination of what he called “onerous and burdensome” regulations from progressive municipalities, claiming that these local laws hamstring businesses and stunt economic growth.

For years, Democratic-run cities including Dallas and Austin established regulations mandating 10-minute water breaks every four hours for construction workers. But these laws are likely to be repealed this fall, leaving it up to employers whether to provide those breaks. There is also worry that the vague wording of the act would allow state Republicans to neutralize an array of other local ordinances, such as those that ban fracking, protect employees from predatory lending and outlaw hair discrimination in the workplace.

Texas Democrats have labeled the act the “Death Star Bill,” and aptly so. The Texas Regulatory Consistency Act has lethal potential. Though Republican officials argue that safe working conditions, including necessary water breaks for employees, are already guaranteed by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, statistics suggest otherwise. Texas ranks first among the states for the highest number of employee deaths related to heat. Extreme heat is one factor that makes construction work the most dangerous profession in Texas; estimates range from three to seven construction workers dying each week in the state.

The peril posed to construction workers would have the worst impact on minority communities. Six out of 10 construction workers in Texas are Latino, creating the potential for this new bill to exacerbate the disproportionate rates at which Black, Brown and Indigenous people die of heat-related deaths every year.

For Republicans, the Texas Regulatory Consistency Act furthers their campaign to assert dominance over local Democrats. But for Texas construction workers, many of whom come from vulnerable populations, this law risks fatalities that could be easily prevented by a few cups of water twice a shift. Texas Republicans are threatening to deny the basic human needs of construction workers to gain advantage in a political tug-of-war.

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Members of the Editorial Board and areas of focus: Opinion Editor David Shipley; Deputy Opinion Editor Karen Tumulty; Associate Opinion Editor Stephen Stromberg (national politics and policy); Lee Hockstader (European affairs, based in Paris); David E. Hoffman (global public health); James Hohmann (domestic policy and electoral politics, including the White House, Congress and governors); Charles Lane (foreign affairs, national security, international economics); Heather Long (economics); Associate Editor Ruth Marcus; Mili Mitra (public policy solutions and audience development); Keith B. Richburg (foreign affairs); and Molly Roberts (technology and society).



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