Dallas sick leave measures raises the stakes at Texas capitol

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Days after the City of Dallas approved a city requirement for businesses to offer paid sick days, Texas lawmakers will likely take a step to reverse it. Four bills forming statewide rules on benefits, overtime, leave, and criminal history checks came before a select panel of lawmakers, the House Committee on State Affairs. 

The bills taken together would override local ordinances in Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio, which require businesses to offer employees six to eight paid sick days.  

A coalition of business groups called the  Alliance for Securing and Strengthening the Economy in Texas (ASSET) formed to push for statewide rules on businesses. It includes the legislative arms representing small businesses, retailers, gas stations, hotels, restaurants, contractors, and nearly a dozen other groups. 

Annie Spilman is the spokeswoman for the National Federation of Independent Business and accuses the city council members and mayors who put the rules in place of focuses too much on politics.

“It’s always done right during the election cycle. It’s a get out the vote and that’s all it is,” said Spilman, “It’s very much a manufactured crisis. These cities are just going rogue and they’re playing with real life here. And it’s not just about politics. It’s about actual small businesses.”

Dallas council approved paid sick leave last week; the citywide election in this Saturday.

Spilman tells KXAN the city policies are “really chipping away in what is now a business-friendly climate and why a lot of businesses have moved to this state. They’ve just thumbed their nose at what the state has worked very hard to do.”

That feeling was shared by even a prominent supporter of Dallas’s paid sick leave ordinance: Mayor Mike Rawlings. He worried lawmakers would look at their move as a “poke in the eye,” saying “Maybe we ought to feel good about it. Ok. But those folks are going to say here it goes again.” 

Wednesday morning, a large group of worker advocate groups held a protest and press conference against the measures. 

It included local leaders from Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas, who came to defend their policies. 

Dallas Councilmember Philip Kingston said, “It’s huge. It’s 1.3 million Texans who very clearly want paid sick days. If you’re going to tell me that you know better than I do about what my voters want, we’re going to have a very unfriendly discussion.” 

Progressive advocate groups – Grassroots Leadership, the Workers Defense Project, and the Texas Democratic Party – echoed the stance of local government leaders. 

“No Texan should ever have to choose between keeping their job and caring for a sick loved one,” said Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa, “With the new historic laws put in place by Austin, Dallas, De Soto, and San Antonio, it’s shameful that Republicans are trying to undo our progress.”

Earlier this legislative session, the effort was in one bill, Senate Bill 15, but that version was bogged down in controversy over non-discrimination ordinances. Instead, the bill author, Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, split SB 15 into four separate bills in order to avoid specific language on city non-discrimination ordinances. 

SB 2485 would prohibit local regulation of employment benefits. SB 2486 prohibits local regulation of scheduling and overtime compensation practices. SB 2487 prohibits local regulation of employment leave. SB 2488 prohibits local regulation of employment actions by private employers based on the criminal history record information – what’s commonly known as “ban the box” ordinances. 

The bills already passed the Senate. The last major step is passing the Texas House, then Governor Abbott’s signature. The Austin paid sick leave ordinance is currently held up in the court system. That process will not wrap up before the legislature leaves town memorial day. 

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