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Featured: Texas Department of Public Safety troopers, wearing their traditional “Texas Tan” uniforms and cowboy hats with their patent leather gun belts, showed up on Friday, March 3, 2017, along with other South Texas law enforcement professionals for the groundbreaking of the multi-million dollar Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence, located at 4300 S. Cage Boulevard in Pharr. The upcoming campus is a collaboration between South Texas College, the City of Pharr, the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo School District, and the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). “The facility will benefit the region by adding additional programs in public safety, law enforcement, border security, and fire science. These programs provide college level certificates and degrees for public safety and law enforcement professionals in the Rio Grande Valley,” said Mario Reyna, Dean for Business and Technology at STC. “Furthermore, this center will be able to accommodate the professional continuing education courses required by all law enforcement officers. The spectrum of courses offered will cover all the needs of our region. Traveling to College Station or San Antonio for specialized training will be a thing of the past.”

Photograph By ALEX RÍOS

Texas Department of Public Safety troopers, Texas Rangers and other DPS commissioned officers, such as Criminal Investigations Division Special Agents, Texas Capitol Security, and other personnel within the Texas Highway Patrol, would earn overtime pay on a daily basis under legislation by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, Rep. Rick Miller, R-Sugar Land, and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen. House Bill 483 by Miller/Canales and Senate Bill 297 by Hinojosa, which are identical in language, would change Section 411.016, Government Code, to allow DPS, which is a state police force, to calculate overtime for eligible staff – including its Homeland Security Division and Counterterrorism Division – based on working more than eight hours in a 24-hour period, according to the bill analysis of both measures. The two bills would benefit officers because it would allow them to take sick leave or other types of leave without risking the loss of earned overtime. As DPS officers move to a standard 50-hour work week, they will develop a reasonable expectation of paid overtime based on the standard schedule. “In order to increase protection for our citizens, DPS often has its troopers on duty for up to 12 hours a day, which is 48 hours during four days of a five-day, eight hour a day, workweek. ” Canales explained. “But currently, if for whatever reason, any trooper who has worked more than 40 hours in four days is not available or not needed on the fifth day, he or she would not receive any overtime pay. That’s not fair. Our law enforcement professionals put their lives on the line for us every day.”

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DPS troopers, Texas Rangers, and other eligible Highway Patrol personnel would receive daily overtime pay protections while promoting public safety under plans by Rep. Canales, Rep. Miller, and Sen. Hinojosa

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

Texas Department of Public Safety troopers, Texas Rangers and other DPS commissioned officers, such as Criminal Investigations Division Special Agents, Texas Capitol Security, and other personnel within the Texas Highway Patrol, would earn overtime pay on a daily basis under legislation by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, Rep. Rick Miller, R-Sugar Land, and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

House Bill 483 by Miller/Canales and Senate Bill 297 by Hinojosa, which are identical in language, would change Section 411.016, Government Code, to allow DPS, which is a state police force, to calculate overtime for eligible staff – including its Homeland Security Division and Counterterrorism Division – based on working more than eight hours in a 24-hour period, according to the bill analysis of both measures.

The two bills would benefit officers because it would allow them to take sick leave or other types of leave without risking the loss of earned overtime. As DPS officers move to a standard 50-hour work week, they will develop a reasonable expectation of paid overtime based on the standard schedule.

“In order to increase protection for our citizens, DPS often has its troopers on duty for up to 12 hours a day, which is 48 hours during four days of a five-day, eight hour a day, workweek. ” Canales explained. “But currently, if for whatever reason, any trooper who has worked more than 40 hours in four days is not available or not needed on the fifth day, he or she would not receive any overtime pay. That’s not fair. Our law enforcement professionals put their lives on the line for us every day.”

According to the United States Department of Labor, the federal overtime provisions are contained in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Unless exempt, employees covered by the Act must receive overtime pay for hours worked over 40 in a workweek at a rate not less than time and one-half their regular rates of pay. There is no limit in the Act on the number of hours employees aged 16 and older may work in any workweek. The Act does not require overtime pay for work on Saturdays, Sundays, holidays, or regular days of rest, unless overtime is worked on such days.

Miller and Hinojosa filed this legislation in 2015, where it passed in the Senate, but died, along with hundreds of other important measures, in House committees because the five-month regular session came to an end before it made it to the 150-member House of Representatives for their review and approval.

For the current 85th Texas Legislature’s regular session, Canales is a co-author of HB 483, with Miller serving as the primary author. A c0-author is a legislator authorized by the primary author of a bill or resolution to join in the authorship of the measure. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives allow an unlimited number of coauthors on a bill or resolution. A coauthor must be a member of the chamber in which the bill was filed.

Hinojosa is the author of SB 297.

“I certainly would have voted for this overtime protection for our DPS troopers and staff had it made it to the full House of Representatives for our action, and that is why this time I became a coauthor of this proposal, so I can use my influence to help state law enforcement professionals get paid for working overtime in the performance of their vital, and more often than not, lifesaving duties,” said Canales.

Canales added that he is working closely with the House Committee on Appropriations, which has been assigned HB 483, “to get it out as quickly as possible so time doesn’t run out again.”

The 85th Texas Legislature convened (began) its 140-day regular session on Tuesday, January 10, 2017, and will adjourn (end) on Monday, May 29, 2017.

Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, are the two Valley lawmakers who serve on the House Committee on Appropriations, which has 27 state representatives as members. The House Committee on Appropriations writes the proposed state budget for review and action by the full 150-member House of Representatives.

Miller, who is also a member of the House Committee on Appropriations, said HB 483 and SB 297, which are identical in language and intent, would also protect other employee benefits for DPS troopers, Texas Rangers, and all other eligible DPS personnel who work more than eight hours a day.

“Any hours worked over eight in a 24-hour period are overtime and will allow our officers to take sick, compensatory or vacation time during the week without impacting their earned overtime,” Miller noted. “An example of why this bill is important – an officer who works 10 hours a day, Monday through Thursday, but is sick on Friday would not be eligible for any paid overtime under current law. However, if this bill is passed and we have the same scenario, the officer would earn eight hours of overtime.”

There are 4,323 commissioned Full Time Equivalent professionals in the DPS divisions who are eligible for overtime, according to Texas DPS officials. The total workforce for DPS, both commissioned personnel and non-commissioned personnel, is about 10,000.

Hinojosa pointed out that by allowing needed DPS staff to work more than eight hours per day, it saves Texas taxpayers about $60 million a year.

“The 10-hour workday was the equivalent of 654 full-time professionals. Paying for two hours overtime per day is substantially cheaper than having to recruit, train, pay and equip 654 new troopers on an annual basis, according to DPS leaders,” Hinojosa said. “The cost to recruit, train, equip and deploy a new trooper is approximately $198,000 the first year. If you multiply that by 654 new troopers, the cost is approximately $130 million a year, or $260 million for the biennium, which is how the two-year state budget is figured. Currently, DPS is paying approximately $142 million for overtime for the biennium.”

DPS personnel are working 12-hour shifts along the Texas border with Mexico – and longer than 10-hour shifts statewide as operations require, added DPS leaders.

Rather than have three eight-hour shifts, and in order to realize the substantial savings to taxpayers while increasing public safety, DPS has three 10-hour shifts a day, seven days a week, so additional officers are on duty during the most important times of the day and night, she added.

The three state lawmakers detailed the responsibilities of state troopers and Texas Rangers, and their importance to the protection of all Texans.

According to the DPS, which is state police agency:

• Highway Patrol Division Troopers enforce traffic laws and assist during emergencies;
• Highway Patrol Division Troopers apprehend traffic law violators, investigate most rural traffic accidents, recover stolen vehicles and stolen property, apprehend wanted persons, and assist other officers during emergencies;
• Highway Patrol Division Troopers provide education and information programs on traffic safety and crime prevention and control;
• Highway Patrol Division Troopers are responsible for security at the State Capitol Complex in Austin; and
• Highway Patrol Division Troopers enforce laws regulating weight, registration and other regulations governing commercial carriers.

The Texas Ranger Division is the primary criminal investigative branch of the Texas Department of Public Safety. The activities of the Texas Ranger Division consist primarily of conducting criminal and special investigations, apprehending wanted felons, suppressing major disturbances, protection of life and property, and rendering assistance to local law enforcement officials in suppressing crime and violence.

Programs under the direction and supervision of the Texas Rangers are:

• Border Security – Ranger Reconnaissance Teams (Riverine operations);
• Public Corruption investigations;
• Major Case investigations;
• Unsolved Crimes Investigation Program – Cold Case investigations; and
• Special Operations Group – Special Weapons and Tactics, Regional Response Teams, Crisis Negotiation Units, and Explosive Ordnance Disposal.

When these measures were first considered by state lawmakers two years ago, these representatives of the following groups showed up for the public hearing at the Capitol on Tuesday, April 21, 2015 before the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice:

• Gary Chandler, President, Texas Department of Public Safety Officers Association, who testified in favor of the bill before the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice;

• Steve McCraw, Director, Texas Department of Public Safety, who testified on the bill before the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice;

• Lon Craft, Director of Legislative Affairs, Texas Municipal Police Association, who registered as a witness in support of the measure, but did not testify before the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice; and

• Deborah Ingersoll, representing the Texas State Troopers Association, who registered as a witness in support of the measure, but did not testify before the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice.

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Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, represents House District 40 in Hidalgo County, which includes portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr and Weslaco. He may be reached at his House District Office in Edinburg at (956) 383-0860 or at the Capitol at (512) 463-0426.

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