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A new Texas law gets rid of water breaks for construction workers

Adán Juárez has worked in construction for 20 years. He said it's dangerous to work in extreme heat without rest.

AUSTIN, Texas — House Bill 2127 was recently signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott. It would bar cities and counties from passing regulations and overturn existing ones.

"The purpose of this bill is to eliminate a patchwork where every city has its own laws," said Josh Blackman, a constitutional law professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston. "They want a single set of laws statewide that businesses and people can rely on."

Bill supporters argue there are some local regulations that make it difficult for business owners to operate and harm the state’s economy.

"But the upshot of this bill is it now preempts or knocks out local laws governing workplace safety," Blackman said.

Blackman said the law is mostly governing business relations. It will limit local government’s ability to make rules on areas including agriculture, business, finance, insurance, labor, local government, natural resources, occupations and property, according to the bill.

"For example, here in Austin, there's a law governing water breaks and that likely now has no legal effect," Blackman said.

Blackman is talking about the City of Austin's Rest Break Ordinance. The local ordinance says no employee may be required to work more than four hours without a 10-minute rest break. 

Adán Juárez has worked in construction for 20 years. He said here in Austin, there are times when the temperatures already feels in the 90s at 6 a.m. 

"With this heat, by around 9 a.m., we already need a break," Juárez said. "And then, at around 2 or 3 [p.m.], we need another one ... We need to rest and try and cool off a bit. If we don't cool down, we can fall. We can faint."

Decades of experience means he's learned how to take care of himself in the heat. However, he's seen the devastating effect it can have. 

"You start to feel dizzy," Juárez said. "People start to vomit. You get chills. If you see someone unwell, you have to take them to the hospital. In this heat, people can get dehydrated."

He said water breaks are necessary, especially in this heat. 

HB 2127 will go into effect on Sept. 1.

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