Gov. Greg Abbott wasted no time getting behind bills filed this week that would prohibit cities from dictating pay and benefits guidelines, including mandatory paid sick leave, for Texas businesses.
All of the bills include language directed at paid sick leave ordinances passed in Austin and San Antonio but are also broad enough to block local governments from restricting how businesses negotiate with their employees over salary and compensation in other ways.
Greg Casar, the city council member who drafted Austin’s ordinance, called the bills “the latest effort by corporate special interests to harm the workplace rights of thousands of Texans.”
“The push for so-called preemption laws is backed by the Koch brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council, a membership organization of state legislators who favor limited government,” Casar posted on his Facebook site. “We’re not going down without a fight.”
Abbott this week said the option to offer paid sick leave should be left in the hands of businesses that otherwise could suffer under mandates they can’t afford. “Paid sick leave, for a lot of businesses, is a great strategy,” Abbott told an audience at a National Federation of Independent Business luncheon in Austin. “But it should be an option chosen by the business based on their strategy, as opposed to a government mandate.”
Three of the bills were filed on Tuesday. State Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, filed Senate Bill 15; state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels filed SB762; and state Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, filed House Bill 1654.
At their core, the bills would prohibit “any terms of employment that exceed or conflict with federal or state law relating to any form of employment leave, hiring practices, employment benefits, scheduling practices, or other terms of employment,” as it says in Creighton’s bill.
Campbell, who is also listed as a co-author on Creighton’s bill, said her proposal is a defense of autonomy for small businesses, many of whose owners have said paid sick leave ordinances would force them to reduce staffing or to close down.
“These regulations are egregious, with unnecessary costs to small business,” Campbell told The Texas Monitor. “We just need to let businesses do what they do best, and that’s create jobs and keep Texas the bright, shining economy it is.”
The uproar from business organizations over the Austin and San Antonio ordinances, which require businesses to provide up to eight paid sick days a year to each employee, resulted in a lawsuit filed in April by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for the American Future.
Abbott expressed his support for the lawsuit at the time and Attorney General Ken Paxton attached a plea in intervention.
A lower court upheld the Oct. 1 date for Austin’s ordinance to take effect, but the Texas 3rd Court of Appeals issued an injunction in August blocking it. In November, a 3rd Court of Appeals panel ruled Austin’s ordinance violates the Texas Constitution and sent the case back to district court.
The San Antonio City Council passed a nearly identical ordinance, but the city chose to hold off on implementing it until the the Austin lawsuit is decided.
Rob Hennecke, the TPPF attorney representing the Texas Association of Business, National Federation of Independent Business and several other groups that are plaintiffs in the suit, applauded the legislative efforts to block mandatory paid sick.
The bills would provide statewide uniformity on that issue and also prevent local governments from meddling in a variety of business transactions with employees, including salary, benefits and scheduling.
“The bills are complementary with the appeals court’s decision in that their scope preempts cities from interfering with employment practices in totality,” Hennecke told The Texas Monitor. “We could avoid the constant fighting over local governments going out of their lanes across the state of Texas.”
Annie Spilman, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said the Austin and San Antonio ordinances were passed with very little input from local businesses.
“When cities and counties lay their own rules on top of state regulations, it’s a nightmare for small businesses with mobile employees or operations in multiple jurisdictions,” Spilman said.
The bills will almost certainly benefit business at the expense of workers and their families, according to Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network. The network has been one of the major donors to Working Texans for Paid Sick Leave, the political action committee at the forefront of the paid sick leave movement in the state.
“It’s appalling to see legislators trying to stop even cities and counties from helping working families,” Miller told a reporter for the website TexasGOPVote. “Elected leaders in cities like Austin and San Antonio are trying to help working folks with reasonable, common-sense solutions, but these lawmakers are just making that harder.”
In a second statement, Casar said, “It is unconscionable that legislators are filing bills that not only double down on the ban to increasing the minimum wage, but also take away people’s rights to better benefits in general.”
Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].