law books and gavel

Five New Texas Laws You Should Know About

5 New Texas Laws and Lawsuits to Watch

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  • Vision Zero initiative could impound cars for those without licenses
  • Uber, Lyft, Face Lawsuit After Pulling Out of Austin
  • Lawsuit Says Austin Rental Ordinance is “Illegal”

All is quiet at the Texas state capital in Austin, TX. But there are a few state laws you may have missed from last session, as well as a string of ordinances under consideration from Austin City Council. These laws could affect your practice, or just your day-to-day. Read on to keep up with the latest legal information on ordinances and laws that affect Austin, Texas.

Vision Zero: Austin Police Department Seeks to Target Unlicensed Drivers

Austin police are looking to amend city traffic regulations to allow officers to impound a vehicle (without making an arrest) if the driver is on the road without a license or with a suspended one.
Austin police presented the proposal during the Public Safety Commission’s monthly meeting. There was no majority vote from commissioners to adopt the measure, however the City Council will likely take up the issue in October or November.
Police officers would be able to impound a vehicle for one of the following reasons:

  • A person without a driver’s license was involved in a crash.
  • A person without a driver’s license was stopped for a traffic violation and has been convicted of two prior moving violations
  • A person without a driver’s license was stopped for a traffic violation and is driving with a license that has been suspended for drug offences, driving while intoxicated, or for having committed multiple violations.

There are also two items to note: even if the driver is not the owner of the vehicle, officers could still impound the vehicle. Officers would be focusing on people who do not have a driver’s license or who have a suspended license. The measure would not affect people with an expired driver’s license.

Critics of the proposal say that it would unintentionally affect immigrants to the United States. The critics worry that it could be an additional hardship for those living in poverty. In Austin, a tow company charges people $218.30 if they pick up the vehicle on the first day. If picked up on the second day, the tow companies charge an additional $21.65 for every extra day the vehicle is in storage.

Did Uber, Lyft Violate Labor Law When They Pulled out of Austin?

Uber and Lyft pulled out of Austin on May 9 following the failure of Prop 1, which would have allowed the companies to conduct their own background checks and bypass the city’s fingerprint-based background check requirement. When Uber and Lyft pulled out of Austin, about 10,000 drivers lost their jobs.

Beyond the highly publicized and contentious debate around fingerprint-based background checks was the real impact that the decision would have on drivers for Uber and Lyft.

The lawsuit: the cases, filed on behalf of Austin-area residents Todd Johnston (a former Uber driver) and David Thorton (a former Lyft driver) claim that the companies violated the 1988 Federal Labor law. Companies are required to provide at least 60 days notice before a mass layoff. If a company fails to notify employees of a layoff of 100 people or more, the employees are entitled to up to 60 days of back pay and other benefits.

Lawsuit argues that drivers are employees: The ride-hailing apps have long argued that their employees are “independent contractors,” and therefore not entitled to protections awarded to employees of a company. However, in April Uber agreed to pay up to $100 million to drivers in a California and Massachusetts class action lawsuit that stated that Uber owed the employees reimbursement for gas and mileage and withheld tips. The lawsuit charged that Uber had misclassified the drivers as independent contractors. Under the agreement of the settlement, the drivers would remain independent contractors, but be allowed to seek reimbursement for expenses.

Lawsuit Says Type II Rental Ordinance is “Illegal”

A lawsuit has been filed by the Texas Public Policy Foundation against the city of Austin saying that the short term rental ordinance is “illegal.” The short-term rental ordinance includes measures such as:

  • A curfew on when residents can be outside the rental property
  • Limits the number of guests that may stay at a property
  • Property is subject to inspections
  • Only 3% of housing in an area can be registered as a “Type II rental”

In February, City Council decided to stop issuing “Type II rentals” – a rental agreement for property owners who rent out their property for less than 30 days at a time. City council members such as Kathie Tovo cite concerns that the practice could be pricing out Austinites from housing.

The ordincance and lawsuit have become a battleground between short-term vacation rental company HomeAway and some members of Austin City Council.

Austin City council has stated that the city’s lawyers are prepared to defend the ordinance in court.

What You need to Know About Austin’s New Tenant Relocation Ordinance

As of Sept. 1, 2016 some apartment and mobile home tenants displaced by new development may be eligible for assistance from the city of Austin.

Critics say that the city’s 2016-2017 budget does not contain sufficient funds to support the new program which could cost the city as much as $1.6 million. City officials plan to gather funds through a Tenant Relocation Fee Fund.
Developers must pay a tenant relocation fee if they are requesting a rezoning or land use approval. They must also pay a fee if they propose a planned unit development (for example, may include shops on first floor and housing above) in place of an existing multifamily development.

The city would use payments to administer assistance to those that are displaced by new development. Developers who fail to meet requirements of the ordinance can receive a fine of up to $500.

Who is eligible under the new city ordinance?

  • Tenants must have a household income at or below 70 percent of the median family income.
  • Mobile home park residents must have an income at or below 80 percent of the median family income.
  • A tenant must live in a multifamily building with five or more residential units or mobile home parks in order to be eligible.
  • Amendments have been proposed that tenants be in good standing with the terms of their lease in order to qualify.

In addition, developers must provide notice to the tenants 120 days prior to submitting an application for a building or demolition permit. A mobile home park requires 270 days notice prior to applying for a demolition permit. Failure to meet these guidelines could result in a fine.

Austin Officials Are “Banning the Box” on Background Checks

In March of 2016, Austin City Council made it easier for people previously convicted of a crime to apply for jobs in Austin. The “ban the box” measure prohibits companies from asking job applicants about their criminal histories until the applicant is well into the hiring process.

The law will be the first “ban the box” measure in Texas. The law is designed to help those who have a criminal record still find employment. Supporters of the law show that because racial minorities are often incarcerated at higher rates, job applications that require a criminal record upfront can disenfranchise them.

More than 100 U.S. cities and 19 states have similar provisions that delay criminal background checks until later in the hiring process

Some say that “Ban the Box” laws mirror U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission fair-hiring recommendations. The commission requests that an employer consider the gravity of a criminal offense before denying someone employment.

Some business leaders worry that the ban will cause local employers to spend more time filling jobs.

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