SB 132, on November 9, just weeks after Attorney General Ken Paxton began firing senior staffers in his office. The bill is similar to one that he filed last session, SB 1286.
That bill got no hearing in the Senate, but a House companion version, CSHB 1001 by Rep. Celia Israel, had two Republican co-authors and passed the House State Affairs Committee, before dying in House Calendars, the committee that decides which bills come to the floor for a vote.
Johnson’s SB 132, which is the essentially identical to Israel’s CSHB 1001, would require state and local governmental entities to develop and adopt an anti-retaliation policy. They would have to provide employees with a copy of this policy on their first day of employment, informing them of their rights.
The bill also directs the Attorney General’s Office to post on its website a summary of anti-retaliation protections for public employees.
The bill would also expand anti-retaliation protections to cover employees who report a crime to their boss or a higher supervisor, or to a human resources officer. The current Texas anti-retaliation law, Chapter 554 of the Government Code, only protects employees from retaliation if they file their report directly to a law enforcement authority.
Johnson (D-Dallas) isn’t trying to sell his bill as a measure that relates specifically to Paxton, but rather as a brush-up that would conform Texas law to federal anti-retaliation law. He told Honest Austin, “Under federal law, public sector employees are protected from job termination and retaliation on account of their reporting misconduct to their supervisor. But current Texas law protects ‘whistleblower employees’ only… if the whistleblower first notifies law enforcement. My SB 132 conforms Texas law to the wisdom of the federal approach to whistleblower protections.”
Paxton in October and November fired five senior officials, including several deputy AGs, after they reported him to law enforcement for allegedly violating laws against bribery and abuse of office. The allegations relate to measures that Paxton took to aid a campaign donor and real estate magnate, Nate Paul, who is under FBI investigation.
The state’s existing anti-retaliation law prohibits the firing of an employee for making a “good faith” report to law enforcement – whether or not the report results in a prosecution or conviction. Employees are entitled to a presumption in court that their removal was retaliatory, if it took place within a 90-day window of the criminal report.
Paxton fired his deputies within the 90 day window that affords them this presumption. That means that in an ongoing lawsuit filed by those employees, the burden of proof is on Paxton to show that he fired them for reasons other than their criminal complaint against him.
Johnson, a Democrat, joined the senate in January 2019 and is serving a term until January 2023. His district includes about a third of Dallas and half of Garland and Irving (map).
SB 132 is one of several bills filed by the Dallas lawmaker ahead of the new legislative session. He says the “cornerstone” of his agenda is SB 117, which would expand Medicaid access. Another healthcare bill, SB 120, would establish a high-risk reinsurance pool.
He is also author of SB 181 and SB 151, which deal with criminal justice matters, and SB 125 and 126, which deal with environmental matters.
This article originally appeared in
In the wake of a purge of high-level officials at the Texas Attorney General’s Office, the Texas Legislature will consider a bill to strengthen the state’s anti-retaliation law.
State Senator Nathan Johnson filed the bill, Honest Austin