Gov. Abbott takes aim at paid sick leave rules in San Antonio, Austin
BY ALLIE MORRIS, AUSTIN BUREAU
AUSTIN — A bill backed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott would likely kill San Antonio’s ordinance that requires private employers to provide paid sick leave to workers, as well as blocking any future policies like it.
Abbott has been touting the legislation at recent speeches before business groups, setting up the latest clash over a local control matter that pits state lawmakers against Democrat-backed initiatives in Texas cities.
“Paid sick leave is a great business strategy,” Abbott told the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce last week. “But it should be used as a strategic mechanism by businesses at their own discretion. It should not be mandated by government.”
Cities such as Austin and San Antonio have passed sick leave ordinances. But a state appeals court found Austin’s policy unconstitutional in November, following a legal challenge by business groups that drew support from Attorney General Ken Paxton.
San Antonio’s ordinance took effect Jan. 1, but enforcement isn’t set to begin until this summer.
City spokesman Jeff Coyle said the bill would undo the paid sick leave ordinance, which was adopted by the city council in August after a petition drive and has since drawn pushback from local business groups.
“We have begun a process locally of studying potential revisions to the ordinance in an attempt to find common ground among the many stakeholders affected by the ordinance,” Coyle said in a statement.
He didn’t elaborate on any possible changes, but said a committee of the city council met last week and will start gathering input from businesses, labor groups, employees and others affected by the policy.
An estimated 4.3 million Texans, roughly 40 percent of the state’s workforce, don’t have access to paid sick time, according to a June report by the liberal Center for Public Policy Priorities. Employees without the benefit are more likely to show up to work ill or let sick children go to school, the report found.
The bills filed by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, and Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, would block municipalities and counties from enforcing employment policies that conflict with state or federal law.
“It concerns me that city, by city, by city, that we have a patchwork,” Creighton said, who added that such a regulatory patchwork would make Texas less economically competitive.
No federal law requires employers to provide paid sick leave, though at least 10 states do, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
An estimated 39 percent of workers in San Antonio and 41 percent in Dallas don’t have access to paid sick leave, according to the CPPP report. Certain jobs — including food service, construction, farming and fishing — are less likely to provide their employees with paid sick time, the report said.
Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said the state shouldn’t play the role of an “appellate court for city councils.”
“If the state wants to have a meaningful discussion about having a paid sick leave statute, that will respect rights of workers and provide a framework for all employers to follow, that’s what is in the prerogative of state Legislature to do,” he said. “If this becomes more a vehicle to overturn a local decision, I don’t think that’s our best function as a state government.”