OP-ED: Texas legislature failed to help Main Street businesses recover from pandemic

Published 9:33 am Wednesday, June 16, 2021

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Annie Spilman
Texas director of the National Federation of Independent Business

Small business, the engine that drives this state’s economy, came out of this year’s state legislature OK — not great, not awful, but OK. Fair to middlin’.

Ordinarily, “OK” would be good enough, but this wasn’t an ordinary year. 2020 and early 2021 gave us a pandemic, the sudden collapse of the state’s economy, and a late-winter storm that broke our power grid and disrupted the supply chain.

Just “OK” doesn’t give small business owners a lot of confidence about where we’re heading.

The small, independent firms that employ most Texans did score some important victories in this year’s legislative session, though. We won much-needed tax relief, COVID-19 liability protections, and workforce development programs to help people find jobs and help employers find workers.

But our elected leaders let us down on one critical issue. They didn’t stop cities and counties from creating a patchwork of rules and regulations that make it even harder for small businesses to grow and create jobs.

Small business victories

As businesses have reopened, there has been concern over unwarranted lawsuits that exploit the already damaging effects of COVID-19.

To alleviate these concerns, the legislature passed Senate Bill 6. This COVID-19 liability protection bill extends liability protections for premises owners, product manufacturers, and health care providers during a pandemic emergency.

Other important wins for small business in this year’s session included:

  • House Bill 19, which provides liability protections for Texas’ beleaguered trucking industry. Over the past year or so, the industry has faced a driver shortage and frivolous lawsuits that are driving up insurance rates.
  • One of the biggest challenges facing small businesses now is finding people to work. According to NFIB’s latest jobs survey, a record 48% of small businesses have positions they can’t fill. This year, the legislature passed 10 bills to improve career and technical development programs in our schools. These measures will give people the skills they need to find a job — and help employers find the workers they need so they can fully recover from the COVID-19 downturn.
  • House Bill 1195 lets small businesses deduct forgiven expenses paid for with federal Paycheck Protection loans from their gross receipts taxes. The federal COVID-19 recovery act signed into law in December let employers deduct these expenses on their federal income taxes, but Texas law didn’t, and that wasn’t fair.

‘One-upmanship’ stops essential reform 

While the small business community is grateful for these legislative wins, owners are deeply disappointed by the failure of Senate Bill 14. This legislation would have stopped activist local officials from imposing their own set of employment rules and regulations.

Versions of the bill passed both the House and Senate with bipartisan support, but a final version never came up for a vote because of partisan politics and one-upmanship on totally unrelated issues.

My association, the National Federation of Independent Business, joined other business groups in pushing for legislation that would stop cities and counties from enforcing their own rules when it came to hiring, scheduling, leave time, and other benefits. These overreaching ordinances create confusion and drive up compliance costs.

Luckily, Governor Abbott is expected to call legislators back to Austin this summer for a special session to settle some unfinished business. Because it’s a special session, lawmakers can only address the issues spelled out in the governor’s order.

NFIB members are urging the governor to include the issue in his call for a special session. We believe it’s essential because while big corporations get most of the attention, small businesses account for most of the state’s employers and employ over half of the state’s workforce.

By creating an environment where small businesses can more easily grow and create jobs, the legislature would be helping everyone.

Annie Spilman is the state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, the nation’s leading small business advocacy organization.