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Deadly Texas heat wave intensifies concerns over controversial new law

The National Weather Service is forecasting highs over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in several Texas cities for at least the next week.
Deadly Texas heat wave intensifies concerns over controversial new law
Posted at 6:11 PM, Jul 01, 2023

Texas summers are notoriously scorching, but this year's triple-digit temperatures are relentlessly tormenting large areas of the state.

For many residents, their work takes place outdoors, encompassing various jobs such as road and building construction, landscaping, and maintenance.

"One of our apprentices yesterday, I was talking with him about this, and he said that the experience was like being cooked," said Jay Malone, Political and Communications Director at the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation.

And come September, they may not get mandated water breaks—all because of a state law designed to take control from local governments.

That’s because Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill called HB 2127, which supporters believe will eliminate a patchwork of legal regulations that bog down businesses.

One of the specific targets is the minimum standard for breaks in workplaces.

"There's people that are really suffering. And instead of taking action to expand protections to make sure that the state is meeting the needs of residents, they spent the last session rolling back protections," said Malone.

SEE MORE: Why is Texas so hot right now? A heat dome — and it could grow

For example, Dallas and Austin have their own laws for water breaks of at least ten minutes every four hours so outdoor workers can hydrate and protect themselves from the sun. Between 2011 and 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says at least 42 Texas workers died from heat exposure. Worker’s unions say the numbers may be higher and think the new law will put more people in danger.

"We believe that the numbers are a lot higher for fatalities, but they also don't reflect the number of hospitalizations, the number of people that, you know, had heat exhaustion and had to leave the job site as a result," said Malone.

Responding to the criticism, a spokesman for the governor says: "Ensuring the safety of Texans is a top priority as our state experiences high summer heat. This bill is consistent with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) standards regarding safe work practices and will not inhibit people from taking water breaks." 

The new law overrules existing local labor standards and will prevent new ones from being enacted.

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