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We Mean Business in Texas
Austin Mask Update

Masks are Still Required in Austin-Travis County

by Brittany Long In Executive Order GA-34 (“Executive Order”), Texas Governor Greg Abbott lifted the statewide mask mandate, effective March 10, 2021. Shortly thereafter, the City of Austin and Travis County announced they would continue to enforce local rules requiring individuals to wear masks under certain circumstances and imposing penalties against businesses for failure to require individuals to wear masks on their premises. The City and County cited local health authority rules in support for its position that it could continue to enforce local mask rules, despite the Executive Order.

In response, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the City and County in an attempt to block the local COVID-19 mask mandate. On March 10th, District Judge Lora Livingston denied Paxton’s temporary restraining order, effectively keeping the local rules in place. An injunction hearing was set for March 26th.

On Friday, March 26th, the parties returned before Judge Livingston for a hearing on Paxton’s motion for temporary injunction. Judge Livingston denied the State’s request for a temporary injunction, leaving the local rules in place for the time being. However, the Judge agreed with the State’s attorney that these are “novel issues” and “there is not very much guidance despite recent litigation.”

The Texas Attorney General will likely challenge this ruling in the Texas Court of Appeals. In the meantime, the local mask mandates will remain in place.

As a reminder, businesses in Travis County and the City of Austin should continue to follow local rules, which extend beyond mask mandates and contain specific rules for construction sites. The City’s Stay Home, Mask, and Otherwise Be Safe Rules can be found here. Travis County’s rules can be found here.
 
We will continue to provide updates on this matter.
Employment
FFRRA Extended and Expanded but Still Voluntary
by Tony Stergio The recent massive COVID-19 relief package signed by President Biden on March 11, 2021, once again extended the FFCRA.  While the FFCRA remains voluntary for employers, private-sector businesses with fewer than 500 employees can continue to provide FFCRA leave through September 30, 2021, and collect tax credits. The tax credits are only available to employers if they uniformly provide FFRCA leave to all employees, without discriminating against certain categories of workers. For example, an employer would not be able to take the tax credit if it only made FFCRA leave available to office workers but not to employees in the field.
The FMLA leave allowed for all employees will reset on March 31, 2021.  Therefore, if an employer elects to give FFCRA leave, all employees are eligible for 80 hours of paid sick leave even if they previously used their FFCRA paid sick leave. Read More...
 
OSHA Ramps up COVID-19 Enforcement
by Tony Stergio OSHA recently launched a National Emphasis Program (NEP) related to COVID-19 enforcement. The program prioritizes inspections for employers that retaliate against workers who complain about unsafe or unhealthful conditions. Further, OSHA updated its Interim Enforcement Response Plan to prioritize the use of on-site workplace inspections where practical. Finally, the recently passed COVID relief plan will give OSHA the resources to investigate employers who are not deemed COVID-19 safe.  The COVID relief plan gives OSHA an additional $100,000,000 that can be used for such purposes.


Local Paid Leave Ordinances Struck Again
by Tony Stergio In 2019, Austin, San Antonio and Houston all established mandatory paid sick time provisions, but none of these ordinances are presently in effect, and will not likely go into effect.

Recently, the Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio became the second Texas appellate court to determine that a city ordinance requiring private employers to grant employees a certain number of sick leave hours for total hours worked is unconstitutional.  The San Antonio court, like the Austin court of appeals, held that when a municipality establishes a paid mandatory paid sick leave, the municipality has violated the Texas Minimum Wage Act.

The Texas Legislature is currently considering a bill that would address the controversial paid leave ordinances that these several Texas cities have passed. Senate Bill 14, if passed this legislative session, would prohibit municipalities from passing ordinances that exceed or conflict with state or federal law relating to employment benefits and policies. We will update you on Senate Bill 14 as it makes its way through the legislative process.
ARPA and Required Subsidies for COBRA
by Chuck Jeremiah Another major component of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARPA”), signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021, is the full subsidization for COBRA premiums of qualified individuals and their dependents for a six month period from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021. 

Generally, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (“COBRA”) applies to private employers with at least 20 employees, and provides for temporary continuation of group health coverage that would otherwise be lost due to certain life events (e.g. termination of employment), to covered employees, spouses and dependent children.  The employee bears full financial responsibility to pay COBRA premiums.  Relief will now be available to those struggling to pay these premiums and maintain coverage due to the hardship of COVID-19.

Specifically, ARPA allows certain individuals the opportunity to receive fully subsidized coverage for up to six months.  The subsidized premiums will be available for the period from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021. To the extent an employee’s COBRA eligibility period overlaps with that six month time frame, their premiums will be subsidized for the time period corresponding to that overlap. Read more...
HBJ Commercial Real Estate Panel Series April 8

Tune in to hear about the Future of Commercial Real Estate from Acho Azuike of DC Partners, Chip Colvill of Cushman & Wakefield, and Matt Damborsky of SKANSA.
 

Register here

Real Estate
Commercial Real Estate and "The New Normal" in 2021
by Katie Gourley To say that the Coronavirus pandemic has affected the commercial real estate market over the past year is an understatement. In March 2020, the battle cry heard round the world was “slow the spread,” and people quickly shifted from a life of collaborative office workspaces, happy hours, and Sunday brunch, to zoom meetings and dinners at home. Office buildings and retail centers quickly felt the impact of such a shift as demand plummeted almost overnight.

However, as we move further into 2021, the trademark fear and isolation of 2020 has begun shifting to an atmosphere of hope and optimism. In Texas specifically, vaccine availability continues to increase at rapid rates, allowing individuals to resume working, shopping, and dining in traditional public venues. While nobody is certain what this “new normal” will entail, there are certain trends painting an optimistic outlook for commercial real estate in 2021.

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021
President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 into law earlier this month. This Covid-19 relief bill expands federal assistance to renters, restaurants, and business owners, among others. Specifically, the Act allocates funding to various housing programs, including emergency rental assistance. In addition, the Paycheck Protection Program received $7.25 billion to continue helping to keep workers employed during the pandemic. Through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, restaurants may receive grants of up to $10 million from the Small Business Administration. Additional long-term, low-interest loans are also now available to small business owners across the country. Read more...
Construction

Andrews Myers Celebrates Women and Notorious RBG

by Sara McEown March has become a month in which we take an extra moment to celebrate women – and for our firm - especially women in construction.  March is home to National Women’s History Month, International Women’s Day (March 8), and Women in Construction Week (March 8-12).  During Women in Construction Week we loved seeing the women in our industry featured and donning their hardhats on company websites and social media.  Some may wonder - why should women get this special attention?  

One answer:  We have earned it

That is of course not to say that our male counterparts have not.  But history has shown that women have had to fight harder to get a seat at the table (or in our case, a hard hat and a hammer).  National Women’s History Month traces back to March 8, 1857, over 60 years before women would be granted the right to vote, when female factory workers staged a protest and marched through New York City over poor working conditions, fair pay, and voting rights. Over the years, March 8th became recognized as International Women’s Day by many countries and the United Nations.  Additionally, the month of March holds several important milestones in women’s history, including the passage of Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in all federally funded education programs, and the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.   Specific to our industry, March 8, 2021, marked the beginning of Women in Construction Week, Read More...
Bankruptcy
Buying Distressed Assets Out of Bankruptcy
by Lisa Norman The global pandemic and related economic challenges have resulted in a number of new bankruptcy filings. As a result, there are new opportunities for prospective buyers of distressed assets. This is especially true for those who recognize the advantages of buying assets out of bankruptcy.

A debtor’s assets can be sold as part of a business reorganization under chapter 11, or as part of a business liquidation under chapter 7. The sale of a debtor’s assets in a bankruptcy case requires approval by the bankruptcy court. The sale may be accomplished as part of the debtor’s plan of reorganization or the sale may be pursued through a motion filed under Section 363 of the Bankruptcy Code (a “363 Sale”).

Prospective buyers tend to find that 363 Sales present significant advantages. For example, in a 363 Sale (as opposed to a non-bankruptcy sale), the bankruptcy court will typically approve the sale of assets free and clear of liens and liabilities, except those the buyer agrees to assume or certain liabilities that run with the land. Read More...
2021 Texas Rising Stars

Seven Andrews Myers attorneys have been recognized among the top young lawyers in Texas by Thomson Reuters’ SuperLawyers

Mediation & Arbitration
Addressing the COVID-19 Trial Backlog: Is ADR the Solution?
by Manny Schoenhuber  According to the State's Office of Court Administration, an average of 186 jury trials took place each week in Texas before the COVID-19 pandemic. From March 2020 through January 2021, just 222 jury trials took place within the entire state. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Texas courts are scrambling for ways to dig out from under a staggering backlog of cases. In Harris County, for example, cases were already in a backlog due to Hurricane Harvey and have grown more than 35% during the pandemic.

While to a certain extent, virtual technologies have allowed courts to advance the administration of justice during a global pandemic, an immediate return to in-person trials remains doubtful. The courts now must address how to tackle the trial backlog COVID-19 has caused over the past year. There is a compelling argument that Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) may be the answer. Both mediation and arbitration are more promising than ever as alternatives to court trials in reaching a final resolution. Now may be the time for counsel and clients alike to strongly consider ADR to timely and more efficiently resolve their conflicts. Read More...
About Andrews Myers
Where to find Andrews Myers
04/05 - Patrick Hayes to Speak at South Texas College of Law
04/07 - SPONSOR AGC Houston CLC Cornhole Tournament
04/08 - SPONSOR HBJ The Future of CRE
04/09 - SPONSOR ASA-HC Spring Golf Tournament
04/14 - AGC Houston COBRA Subsidy Webinar with Tony Stergio
04/26 - SPONSOR ABC Houston Spring Clay Shoot
04/27 - HCA I-9 & Employment Verification Webinar with Tony Stergio
04/27 - DBE Training Lunch & Learn with Tony Stergio
04/30 - CCIM Historic Heights Bus Tour
Andrews Myers, PC
Founded in 1990, with offices in Houston and Austin, Andrews Myers, Attorneys at Law, is a corporate law firm and recognized market leader in Texas construction law.  The firm focuses on the concentrated disciplines of commercial litigation, construction, commercial real estate, corporate and business transactions, with additional emphasis on related issues including bankruptcy and insolvency, energy, employment and capital formation. A seasoned team of attorneys provides timely and cost-effective solutions to the most complex problems facing entrepreneurs and middle-market industry leaders throughout the state and the nation. For more information please visit www.andrewsmyers.com.
COVID-19 Updates
Andrews Myers attorneys have been tracking and updating the many changes that could effect you and your business throughout the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic. To see all of the articles and information you may have missed, please visit our dedicated COVID-19 page on the AndrewsMyers.com website. To subscribe to our newsletter, click here
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