HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — All month long, many in Texas have been dealing with the blistering heat that at times reached triple digits.
And now, a bill signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this month is drawing criticism from Harris County leaders because it takes away local rules mandating water breaks for construction workers.
Judge Lina Hidalgo called on construction workers to organize to push back against the bill some said targets workers.
House Bill 2127 puts sweeping limits on local regulations. Hidalgo said it’s a crushing blow to workers, especially since Texas has one of the highest rates of heat-related deaths for workers.
"Instead of stepping up to protect our workers who contribute to an industry that’s critical to our economy, our state leaders have made it even more dangerous. This is just one example of the state’s long history of encroaching on worker’s rights," Hidalgo said.
A spokesperson for Abbott released this statement: "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."
According to Hidalgo, at least 42 workers died in Texas between 2011 and 2021 from heat exposure. Supporters of the bill said it reduces red tape for businesses to keep them from being bogged down with over-regulation.
The law goes into effect Sept. 1.
Harris County Commissioner’s Court unanimously approved overtime funding for teledeputies to help law enforcement respond to critical calls faster.
It's a one-time payment of $1.7 million that will go towards freeing up deputies to respond to the most violent crimes. Deputies in the unit will handle low-priority calls on the phone that do not require a deputy to go to the scene like some welfare checks, lost property or other disputes where life or property is not at an immediate risk to free them up for more critical calls.
The plan is to reduce response times from about 14 minutes to 10 minutes.
"This will reduce response times, increase public safety, and not only will they help reduce response times for all priority 1 and 2 calls," Precinct 4 Commissioner Lesley Briones said. "That is the goal, but it will also specifically be targeted to helping to get to calls of domestic violence sooner."
There's a shortage of Harris County deputies, and commissioners are hoping this will help.