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Governor Rick Perry recently signed a number of bills affecting Texas employers, including House Bill (HB) 274, which establishes a “loser pays” system to discourage frivolous lawsuits. At the signing, Governor Perry said the legislation “will help make Texas that much more attractive to employers seeking to expand or relocate from countries all over the world by allowing them to spend less time in court and more time creating jobs.” The legislation takes effect September 1, 2011.

UI bills. Governor Perry also signed several bills regarding unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. HB 2831 authorizes the Texas Workforce Commission to adjust the eligibility period for extended UI benefits as needed to take advantage of any available fully federally funded benefits. The legislation, which took effect upon signing May 28, will allow Texas to benefit from the federal government’s recent extension of 100 percent funding of extended UI benefits through January 2012.

In addition, Governor Perry signed Senate Bill (SB) 439, which stipulates that UI benefits will not be charged back to an employer who terminates a worker in order to reinstate a soldier upon return from military service, in compliance with the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994. The law takes effect September 1, 2011.

The Governor also signed SB 458, which amends the state labor code to clarify the definition of last employer of a person filing an initial unemployment claim. The bill attempts to close a loophole in prior law that allowed individuals who were terminated for misconduct or who left a job without good cause to avoid being disqualified for UI benefits by accepting brief temporary employment from which they were then laid off.

SB 458 defines “last work” and “person for whom the claimant last worked” as “the last person for whom the claimant actually worked, if the claimant worked for that person for at least 30 hours during a week; or the employer, as defined by Subchapter C, Chapter 201, or by the unemployment law of any other state, for whom the claimant last worked.” The law takes effect September 1, 2011.

Other bills. In response to reports that existing laws prohibiting the corporate practice of medicine made it difficult for smaller communities to attract and retain physicians, state lawmakers recently passed SB 894, which allows counties with populations of less than 50,000 to directly hire physicians. The law also authorizes designated critical access hospitals to employ physicians, as well as a hospital that is the sole medical facility in a community. The law took effect upon signing May 12.

Finally, the legislature passed SB 265 imposing more stringent training requirements on operators and employees of childcare facilities. The law will take effect January 1, 2012.

Further developments are on the horizon, as Governor Perry called a special legislative session May 31 to consider the state’s budget, including “measures that will allow school districts to operate more efficiently,” and legislation to contain healthcare costs.

Posted 12:14 PM

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