Whitmire's bill, Senate Bill 736, would force city officials and Houston firefighters to conduct an arbitration process to mediate any issues in instances where contract negotiations reach an impasse. The process would consist of a panel of three arbitrators—one selected by the city of Houston, one selected by the firefighters and one agreed upon by both—and would result in a one-year contract between the two entities.
“It is common sense for opposing parties to sit down at the same table. We are all in this together, and arbitration will prove to be one of the more effective tools,” Whitmire said in a Feb. 7 statement announcing the bill. “Our valuable first responders deserve our immediate attention.”
Houston's firefighters and the city have been without a contract since 2017.
“We are grateful to have the dean of the Texas Senate carrying this legislation,” said Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, in a Feb. 7 statement. “His bill will prevent the stalemate we have been dealing with for years from ever happening again. It makes sense for us. It makes sense for taxpayers. It works in other cities and can work here.”
A similar bill was introduced during the 2021 legislative session—House Bill 2087—but was not passed. In a statement released at the time, Houston's Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin opposed HB 2087, adding that the financial limits that come with being a revenue-capped city complicate the contract negotiation process.
"It should go without saying, but yes, I and Mayor [Sylvester] Turner agree that firefighters deserve a pay raise," Martin said. "But it has to be a pay raise that taxpayers can afford."
The following statement was issued to Community Impact on behalf of Turner on Feb. 7:
“Binding arbitration is not in the best interest of the city of Houston. It takes the budgeting process away from those who were elected by voters and are accountable to the citizens. It puts the city’s financial future in the hands of someone unfamiliar with the city’s budgeting constraints, challenges and the impact of their decisions. Furthermore, If SB 736 becomes law and Houston is required to go to binding arbitration, this would negatively impact the city’s credit rating.”