A bill aimed at ending a stalemate in labor negotiations between Houston firefighters and the city will head to the Texas Senate after winning committee approval in Austin.
Senate Bill 736 requires that an independent and neutral third party be appointed to be an arbitrator when negotiations between the city and the firefighters break down.
Democratic State Senator John Whitmire, who is running for Mayor of Houston, sponsored the bill. He said it’s necessary to avoid stalemates in a department that is down more than 400 firefighters. Two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate will be required for it to become state law.
"Since 2017, Houston is down more than 400 firefighters, while demand for emergency fire and medical services has doubled," Whitmire told committee members in his appeal for the committee's vote. "Houston firefighters put their lives on the line every day and are vital to the safety of the citizens of Houston. The Houston Fire Department is at a breaking point, and it is past time for the city to come to the table and negotiate a new contract for our dedicated firefighters."
Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association President Patrick M. "Marty" Lancton called the bill "the solution” to prevent stalemates from occurring.
"It works in other major cities, and it can work in Houston too," he said in his testimony before the committee.
The measure is among the first bills of the 2023 legislation session to be forwarded from committee to the Senate floor for a vote.
Matt Thomas contributed to this report.