When the private sector does not address a major issue, the public sector will often step into the vacuum and do it. The construction industry has been slow to embrace the principles of social responsibility and sustainable value, focusing instead on whatever it takes to be lowest bidder. As a consequence of this, government is adopting policies that reshape the rules for the industry.

Now that it’s been given the green light by the the Austin City Council, a new program will launch in the coming weeks to expedite permitting for construction projects including "living wages" for large commercial projects.

The Austin Business Journal described the program this way:

After paying the additional fees, residential, mixed-use and small commercial projects can join the expedited permitting program with no extra hurdles. However major commercial projects — at least 75,000 square feet or $7.5 million in value, with no residential uses — must submit to oversight by a third party, such as the Workers Defense Project through its Better Builder Program.    Read more » about Austin Prepares to Launch New Expedited Building Permit Program

Following high-profile immigration raids and a shift in the enforcement stance of the federal government, there have been reports around Texas over the last week that some construction workers do not feel safe reporting to work.

It may all be a matter of perception, given that President Trump has described the raids as a wide “military operation” while the Department of Homeland Security portrayed the recent enforcement actions as fairly routine. But that perception can be a reality for the industry if there is fear among a large percentage of the workforce that they may be rounded up on jobsites.

“The Texas (and national) construction industry has been suffering a workforce shortage for many years now,” said Phil Thoden, President of AGC Austin. “In fact, the latest AGC of America survey conducted in 2016 found that 74% of Texas contractors are having trouble filling craft worker positions, and that number has been consistently high for several years.”   Read more » about After Immigration Raids, Construction Firms See Mixed Reaction Among Workforce

President Trump's hastily arranged ban on foreigners traveling to the United States from select countries sparked protests, invited a court fight, and helped make the case for large-scale immigration reform - even if that last result was not a consequence he intended.

During the campaign and in defending his most recent immigration actions, Trump repeatedly has made the argument that we need to know who is here and what their intentions are toward the United States. On that, he could not be more correct.

But instead of governing in precisely the way that Republicans for years criticized President Obama - issuing executive orders only to have them quickly and aggressively challenged in federal court - President Trump could seize the moment of a unified GOP government in Washington and work with leaders in his own party to enact a meaningful and lasting solution. Without giving anyone a free pass, the time is right to identify and tax those who are now living in the shadows.    Read more » about Trump's Immigration Actions Underscore Need for Reform

A proposal aimed at making it even more difficult than it already is for organized labor groups to operate in Texas is one step closer to reality. Senate Bill 13 would make it illegal in this "right to work" state for the members of certain groups to have their union dues immediately deducted from government paychecks. Under Texas law today, no person can be required to be in a union as a condition of employment. In other words, all union membership in Texas is voluntary. 

On a party-line vote this past week, the Texas Senate State Affairs Committee sent the bill to the full Senate for consideration. But in a state government controlled by Republicans, who generally support the idea, the measure still faces an uncertain future because – please excuse the cliché – the devil is in the details. Read more » about Anti-Union Measure Advances in the Texas Senate

Sheral Keller, the director of the Office of Workers’ Compensation Administration at the Louisiana Workforce Commission (OWCA), has written an article in which she explains how worker misclassification and payroll fraud have directly harmed Louisiana employees and taxpaying citizens in past years, and how in 2017 the OWCA Fraud Unit and the Office of Unemployment Insurance (UI) plan to work together to combat these unscrupulous and illegal practices.  The article was published in the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report and in the first quarter 2017 edition of 10/12 Industry Report.  The article includes numbers from the past two years:

“In 2016, the Fraud Unit investigated 790 allegations of fraud, with 20 having been referred to the Attorney General’s Office.  Successful criminal prosecutions resulted in restitution of $1,233,875 from nine employers and $391,018 from 11 employees.  While these numbers are impressive, they represent only the tip of the iceberg of the fraud committed in our state, mostly by employer misclassification.

“In 2015, audits of 1,068 companies by UI identified approximately 19,956 people misclassified as independent contractors rather than as employees (2016 numbers were not available at press time).  Consequently, the agency billed $1,496,778 in unemployment insurance taxes that employers owed based on the underreporting of $100,818,591 in taxable wages.”   Read more » about Louisiana Director of Workers’ Comp Admin Outlines Plan to Fight Payroll Fraud

Through their various trade associations, construction executives from all over Texas are letting state lawmakers know what they think about issues that impact the industry. The Texas Construction Association, the Associated Builders and Contractors of Texas, and other groups have compiled lists of reforms and proposed changes to state laws that they hope will be enacted during this legislative session. As you may know, the Texas Legislature only meets in regular session for five months every two years. 

There are some fairly complex policy questions involved, which is part of why lawmakers must first hear from those who are directly affected before any changes can be made during a limited time frame. 

This past week, I had the honor of speaking to contractors gathered in Austin for the Texas Construction Association’s bi-annual Walk on the Capitol. I've been pleased to be part of this great event for three legislative sessions in a row. This session, the TCA has prioritized reforms to the state’s lien laws, worker misclassification legislation, and other things.    Read more » about Construction Executives Weigh in on Issues at the Texas Capitol

After an increase in construction related deaths, the New York City Council is poised to consider a raft of proposals aimed at increasing safety on jobsites throughout the largest city in America. Crane safety is on the minds of council members as is the oversight of smaller jobsites. 

If this package is passed, there would be stricter monitoring of “troubled actors” and increased penalties for lawbreakers.

More details from a site called Crain's New York Business:

The legislation, called the Construction Safety Act, is led by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, but some elements could face resistance from Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has ambitious goals for housing development and has clashed with construction-worker unions. The mayor has already expressed skepticism with one of the council measures, a bill to require training programs for construction workers.   Read more » about New York City Council Moves to Crack Down on Construction Site Safety

As the Texas Legislature convenes this week in Austin to make and revise the state’s laws over the course of the next five months, the associations representing the commercial construction industry are on the same page about quite a few issues they'd like to see lawmakers address. Unless otherwise ordered by the governor, Texas lawmakers only meet once every two years for 140 days in a regular session.  

Construction Citizen reviewed the legislative priorities published by the Texas Construction Association, the Associated General Contractors Texas Building Branch and the Associated Builders and Contractors of Texas. The groups are working together on a push to simplify the state's lien laws, but have different takes on things like reining in labor unions and they’ll each be on guard for any immigration-related initiatives. On that last point, the groups would like to ensure fairness for the construction industry if the Texas Legislature acts on mandatory E-Verify for example.    Read more » about Texas Commercial Construction Industry Sets Priorities for the Legislative Session

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