HOUSTON - A judge ruled Wednesday that Proposition B is unconstitutional because it violates at least two provisions of state law.
The measure was approved by Houston voters in November and required that the city’s firefighters be paid the same as their police counterparts.
Here is a look at Wednesday’s developments and what’s next.
Harris County District Court Judge Tanya Garrison said in her ruling that Proposition B violates provisions of both the Texas Local Government Code and the Texas Constitution. She said that her ruling can be appealed.
Houston City Attorney Ronald Lewis said the judge decided that Proposition B violated the collective bargaining provisions of state law.
“Firefighter pay must be based on private sector firefighter pay,” Lewis said, citing Chapter 174 of the Texas Local Government Code. “Prop B says firefighter pay must be based on Houston police officer pay. Houston police officer pay does not equal private sector firefighter pay. It’s not the same thing.”
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the ruling takes effect immediately.
You can read Garrison’s entire decision here.
Will layoffs happen?
Turner said that the ruling helps keep the city on solid financial footing, meaning layoffs and demotions of firefighters and municipal workers are no longer needed to balance the city’s budget.
Nearly 700 firefighters received either pink slips or demotion notices within the last month.
Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña concurred with the mayor, saying there will be no changes in apparatus but the consolidation of some support functions may still happen.
The mayor said with the ruling, there would be no need for layoffs.
"There will not be a need to lay off municipal workers; there will be no need to lay off firefighters, and we can bring back the cadets," Turner said.
Turner said the city is open to giving firefighters a raise that the city can afford.
"This provides the entire city an opportunity to kind of recalibrate, to reset, and the goal is to work with everyone," Turner said. "Are firefighters deserving of a pay raise? The answer is, 'Yes.' Is this administration committing to offer a pay raise to them? The answer is, 'Yes.' Are there going to be any layoffs? No."
What do the unions have to say?
Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, said in a written statement that the union will appeal the ruling.
“The court’s Prop B ruling is a disappointment, but our fight for what’s right is far from over,” Lancton's statement read in part. "Two courts have ruled on the constitutionality of Prop B – one for, one against. We certainly will appeal this ruling.”
That appeal happened later Wednesday afternoon.
Joe Gamaldi, president of the Houston Police Officers' Union, which was one of the parties involved in the Proposition B lawsuit, said in a statement that the law has prevailed.
"This gives us all an opportunity to put this unfortunate, yet avoidable, chapter in Houston's history behind us," Gamaldi's statement read in part. "We have an opportunity to stop the costly lawsuits, stop the litigation, stop the rhetoric and work out a deal because ultimately that is what our community wants."
Gamaldi said he's hopeful the two sides will come together.
"Hopefully, the fire union will sit down with the mayor and work out a reasonable pay raise, one that doesn't bankrupt the city but also brings them in line with their market counterparts," Gamaldi said.
Turner said he will continue to push for firefighter raises of at least 9.5%.
“They are deserving of a pay raise that the city can afford,” Turner said.
Turner said there is still a lot of work to be done now that the ruling has been made.
"We're waiting to see what the legislature does. The session is not scheduled to end until the end of this month, and then we have to factor in what we've already paid out. So those are just some logistics that we need to work on," Turner said.
Peña said that the changes set in motion by Prop B have to be rolled back using an ordinance. He said he will write up a new ordinance to invalidate the previous one.
The chief said that while consolidations in the department are still a possibility, they will not happen by July 1. He said the three-shift restructuring of the department is not off the table.
Peña said that the city’s human resources department will work to bring back the cadets who were training at the fire academy until they were let go.
The Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association Wednesday afternoon appealed Garrison’s ruling.
What do the mayoral candidates have to say?
After the ruling, Tony Buzbee issued this statement:
"The smugness with which the Mayor announced the court’s ruling further reinforced my belief that he has a personal vendetta against Houston’s firefighters. He thinks he has won the battle, but the truth is he has lost the war. The firefighters will ultimately get the raise we all voted for, one way or the other. We will not allow this mayor to use taxpayer money to pay his former law firm to use legal tricks to defy the will of the voters. If you are a politician in this town and you are supporting this mayor, you best jump ship. Your photo ops will be used against you very soon. If you are a donor, you might want to invest in someone else. If you do business with the city and you are a Turner campaign donor, get ready to be turned out. Change is coming!”
After the ruling, Bill King issued this statement:
"Sylvester Turner's continued attempts to overturn the will of the voters is an affront to democracy. No elected official should thumb their nose at the voters.
"Today’s ruling is hardly a final resolution of the issue. It assures the city and its first responders will continue to be locked in litigation for years, which will cost millions of taxpayer dollars, continue to sap morale and divide this city.
"Sylvester Turner has been negotiating in bad faith with the firefighters from day one. Had he simply agreed to binding arbitration in the summer of 2017, all of this would have been avoided. His handling of the firefighter pay dispute is the epitome of failed leadership."
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