What’s next for paid sick leave?

Rally for paid sick leave ordinance in front of City Hall, Feb. 2018.

Ever since February of 2018, when Austin became the first city in the South to mandate paid sick leave for employees, Republicans at the state level have promised that the law would be short-lived. And yet, the Legislature adjourned yesterday without taking action on the issue.

Paid sick leave ordinances in Austin, San Antonio and Dallas may survive, thanks in large part to the religious right. The Texas Tribune explains:

As originally filed, Senate Bill 15 by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, would’ve created a statewide framework for employment laws in the state. It included provisions saying cities couldn’t regulate certain benefits practices or enact rules on how businesses schedule their employees’ shifts.

But Creighton overhauled the measure in an upper chamber committee and stripped out a provision in the bill agreed upon by business groups and other stakeholders that explicitly protected city ordinances that ban workforce discrimination.

The bill then became ensnared in a fight over protections for LGBTQ workers and stalled in the Texas House. Creighton later filed four narrower bills, each aimed at accomplishing a slice of the original measure’s goals. But after those bills passed the Senate, a House committee reinserted the language explicitly protecting the nondiscrimination ordinances, and none of the four bills made it onto the House calendar in time for a debate by the full body.

Glorious. At first glance, this just seems like an example of extraordinary Republican incompetence. However, my sense is that the business community only got concerned about LGBT rights after significant pressure from progressive/LGBT rights activists who highlighted the fact that the proposed law could impact local anti-discrimination ordinances.

Granted, the paid sick leave ordinances aren’t in force today and may never be. That’s because a state appeals court ruled that they are already preempted by state law that bars municipalities from implementing a higher minimum wage than the state. Whether mandatory paid sick leave is covered by the minimum wage law is up for debate, and is likely to be decided by the state Supreme Court.

In the long-term, however, I believe the political winds are blowing in favor of paid sick leave. There are now three major Texas cities that have adopted the policy, which polls show is tremendously popular. Republicans are likely to lose more seats in the Legislature, if not lose control of the state House, in 2020, which will make it even harder in the next legislative session to pass an anti-paid sick leave bill.

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