Senate committee reports out bill against city sick leave laws

Dallas City Council

A day before the Texas Senate’s State Affairs Committee moved quickly to pass a bill that would snuff out local paid sick leave ordinances, a Dallas City Council member requested that his council vote to create one.

Philip Kingston, an early supporter of the sick leave ordinance passed in Austin last February, sent a memo to Dallas Mayor Michael Rawlings giving 30 days notice for the issue to be put on a meeting agenda for a vote. The Austin ordinance triggered a lawsuit and the filing of multiple bills in the current legislative session.

Like the Austin ordinance, Kingston’s proposal would require all large businesses in Dallas to pay employees for up to 64 hours or eight sick days a year; small employers would be required to pay for up to 48 hours.

Kingston is reviving an effort to pass sick leave that fizzled in July when a petition drive to gather nearly 54,000 signatures needed to put the question to a citywide vote fell short by fewer than 900 signatures.

Calls left with Kingston and Rawlings to comment on the call for a vote and its timing were not returned before this story posted.

The request for the Dallas City Council to revisit paid sick leave comes as Senate Bill 15, filed by state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, was approved by the State Affairs committee Thursday on a 5-1 vote. It took less that three weeks from the time it was filed for the bill to make it through committee. A companion bill, House Bill 1654, by state Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, is still in committee.

The Texas Monitor contacted both Creighton and Goldman Friday, but had not heard back from them before publication.

A 3rd Court of Appeals panel ruled in November that sick leave ordinances passed in Austin and San Antonio violated the Texas Constitution. The panel upheld an injunction blocking the ordinances and sent back to district court a lawsuit opposing the ordinances filed by an arm of the conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation on behalf of major business organizations.

Given the ruling by the appellate panel, it is unclear if the city of Austin, where the lawsuit was filed, will go through the court process again.

The Senate committee vote followed more than three hours of testimony from people on both sides of the sick leave issue, including Greg Casar, the Austin City Council member and former labor organizer who drafted that city’s ordinance; representatives from national labor organizations; and state business organizations and owners.

“Just like the free market did not fix child labor and minimum wage on its own, I think the morality of people fixes many of those issues on its own,” Casar told the committee. “But in the cases where it doesn’t happen, we need to step up.”

Business leaders and owners have said that complying with such ordinances would result in lost income, lost jobs and, in some cases, closed businesses.

The bills clearly have the support of legislative leaders. Gov. Greg Abbott told The Texas Monitor last April that he supported legislation regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit. House Speaker Dennis Bonnen signed an amicus brief in support of the suit. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick named halting local paid sick leave ordinances one of his priorities.

“I really commend the Texas Senate for taking the lead on this legislation,” Rob Henneke, the lead attorney in the lawsuit opposing Casar’s ordinance, told The Texas Monitor. “I think it is time for the legislature to define the lane for cities to stay in with regard to how businesses deal with their employees.”

The timing of the Dallas ordinance revival is odd, Henneke said, repeating his oft-made contention that such ordinances are a product of pressure from national labor groups.

“I think what you are seeing with the Dallas council are people succumbing to this political pressure from outside of Texas,” he said.

Four of the other 13 Dallas council members signed Kingston’s memo in support of a vote.

“The real importance of this is to protect the poorest and most vulnerable workers in our economy, the single mothers working service jobs,” Kingston told WFAA-TV last February.

Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].


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