Austin and San Antonio greatly expanded paid leave last year to include paid sick time. The state of Texas is seeking to nullify those prospects and halt future city efforts at employment policy in their tracks.

“The hostility of state lawmakers against cities and towns undermines our rights and our local democracies,” Austin City Council Member Greg Casar told Bloomberg Law Feb. 22. “It interferes with our ability to address the serious issues our communities face,” Casar said in an emailed statement.

Currently in Senate committee, the measure filed Feb. 14 by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R) is one of many in the growing stack of proposals at the Texas capitol to defang city-led efforts in the employment realm.

The city official offered the comments in reference to a legislative effort (S.B. 15) supported by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and small business groups that would bar cities from adopting ordinances or rules requiring employers to provide “anything of value that an employee receives from an employer in addition to monetary compensation,” according to the bill.

“If the state passes this law, millions of individuals who currently have the ability to earn paid sick time would lose that with one signature from the governor,” Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy told Bloomberg Law Feb. 21.

Raft of Proposals Challenging Cities

Austin and San Antonio passed sick leave ordinances in 2018. However, a state appeals court found Austin’s policy unconstitutional in November. Although San Antonio’s ordinance took effect at the start of 2019, enforcement isn’t set to begin until August.

Most recently in the quest to halt local ordinances in the labor realm, Sen. Donna Campbell (R) filed a Feb. 19 measure (S.B. 875) under which local governments would be prohibited from enacting ordinances that prevent employers from asking about criminal history records at the start of the hiring process.

Proponents of the drive at the capitol to stop the imposition of local labor ordinances include the Texas chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Ordinances Draw Small Biz Concerns

Efforts by local government to impose employment rules and ordinances will sow confusion brought by a patchwork of local ordinances, according to the Texas chapter of the NFIB.

The head of the NFIB’s Texas chapter told Bloomberg Law the imposition of paid sick time would create a negative ripple effect for employers that would result in increased costs for business, which could lead to the loss of other benefits.

“That’s exactly the point,” NFIB State Director Annie Spilman said Feb. 21. The chapter’s membership draws almost entirely from businesses with 40 or fewer employees.

The imposition of local government regulations interferes with the free market, while placing burdensome expenses upon their members, the NFIB official said.

“They’re going to do what they can to take care of their employees,” said Spilman. “It’s just not the government’s role to start dictating what an employer offers in their benefits packages,” she added.

City Council, Labor Concerns

Austin City Council’s Casar said he doesn’t buy the patchwork argument put forward by the bill’s supporters.

“Businesses both small and large deal with different city laws, tax rates, and health standards every day,” he said. “If this truly were a concern for state lawmakers, they would adopt a statewide standard that guarantees paid sick days or raises the minimum wage.”

“In the cases of both ‘Fair Chance Hiring’ and paid sick days, Austinites sent us a clear message that they wanted Council to do whatever we could to address their quality of life concerns,” he added.

Also in the raft of bills in the state-versus-municipality legislative scrum is a separate measure similar to S.B. 15 but goes a step further in setting limitations.

Lawmaker: City Ordinances Costly

Filed by Campbell Feb. 12, the bill (S.B. 762) touted as the Texas Small Business Protection Act would prohibit Austin, San Antonio, and other municipalities “from enforcing involuntary paid sick leave policies on small businesses, burdening them with unnecessary costs and threatening their ability to stay open,” according to a releasefrom the senator’s office.

Austin’s passage of paid sick leave is expected to cost local businesses $150 million annually in overhead costs, said Campbell, citing a study from the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

“City officials need to get their nose out of the private sector and focus on the public service function of local government like delivering drivable roads and providing clean drinking water,” said Campbell.

The AFL-CIO’s Levy said that approach would prevent Texas communities from passing ordinances to ensure construction workers get safety training or to ensure workers’ comp insurance for those in high-risk occupations when public funds are being used.

“Those protections would immediately go by the wayside if this bill passed,” said Levy, referring to S.B. 15, adding that efforts at the capitol in effect call into question the very existence of local government.

“We might as well just eliminate city councils and mayors and let the government run the whole thing,” said Levy, referring to state efforts. “But that’s not what we feel like should happen.”