Major business groups shaky on text change to sick leave bill

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Business and tourism leaders stood in the Texas State Capitol to decry a policy proposal they say targets LGBTQ Texans, drawing comparisons to the bathroom privacy bill that tore Texas politics apart two years ago. The lawmaker driving the bill says those leaders are being dishonest; his bill has nothing to do with bathrooms. 

Representatives from Amazon, Google, Facebook, and IBM penned a letter to leaders in the Texas House and Senate opposing legislative bills they dub as the bathroom bill 2.0, one of them is a priority for the upper chamber, Senate Bill 15 by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe. 

Senate Bill 15 would make it so a city or county could go no further than state or federal law in rules for sick leave or other benefits. The fight flared up when San Antonio and Austin required businesses to offer more paid sick leave to employees. 

The original version of the bill had specific language exempting city non-discrimination ordinances: local rules protecting LGBT Texans from discrimination in hiring, public accommodation, or housing. That language was removed during the committee process. It’s now pegged by business groups as anti-LGBTQ. 

It was at the last minute. They kind of slid that in. We weren’t really expecting that, said Jackie Padgett, from the Austin semiconductor company Silicon Labs. We’re trying to recruit from places like California and New York and people are not going to want to come to Texas if these discriminatory bills are going to be on the books in Texas.

Silicon Labs was neutral on the bill — now they oppose it. 

A spokeswoman for the Texas Association of Business did not respond to a request for comment on the change to SB 15. A spokeswoman for the National Federation of Independent Business says the group supports a bill making regulations uniform in the state while making sure it doesn’t impact anyone who wants to work in Texas free of discrimination.

Jessica Shortall with the group Texas Competes helped organize the press conference and opposition effort, saying it’s meant to reiterate the united, durable commitment of the Texas business community to building a Texas that is inclusive.

Chris Wallace from the North Texas Commission tells KXAN his group only opposes the bill because of the change in committee.

This is all not sitting well with the author of the bill, Republican Senator Brandon Creighton, who says it’s not his intent to get rid of local non-discrimination ordinances and that the business groups are being dishonest. 

This false rhetoric is irresponsible when the Texas economy is at stake, said Creighton. It is not new for groups to oppose legislation in efforts to justify their lobby retainers or increase fundraising, but this opposition is anti-business and flat-out dishonest. 

Creighton points to an internal memo from the City of San Antonio attorney his office obtained saying SB 15 would not alter or impact San Antonio’s non-discrimination ordinance. 

The bill cannot impact a non-discrimination ordinance, is only applicable to private employers and promotes predictability for Texas job creators, said Creighton.

The positions of those groups is wrong. It has nothing to do what we’re talking about here, said Rob Henneke from the Texas Public Policy Foundation — who supported the original bill and still supports the bill.

The purpose, scope and focus of the bill has not changed. That focus is to preempt cities from interfering with the employment choices of private employers and employees, said Henneke.

The leader of the Texas Senate, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick supports the bill.

Senate Bill 15 will protect Texas’ businesses from local officials who want to tell business owners how to run their companies, wrote Patrick’s spokesman Alejandro Garcia, The vast majority of business leaders in Texas know they have no greater ally than Lt. Gov. Patrick who is helping lead the fight to ensure the Texas economy remains number one in the nation and among the strongest in the world.

The House version, however, still has specific language exempting non-discrimination ordinances and Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, has said in the past that he will not pass a bill similar to last session’s bathroom bill. 

Texas Lawmakers have until the end of May to pass bills into law. 

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