Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is asking Texas State Senators to study a variety of issues ahead of the next legislative session. It is common practice for the Senate’s presiding officer to issue what are called “interim charges” to committees. These “charges” are basically a list of subjects that lawmakers may wish to act on in the next legislative session.
But in this case, Patrick has omitted an issue that’s caused consternation for the business community including the construction industry: Government-mandated paid sick leave.
As Construction Citizen readers who have followed this are aware, cities like Austin and Dallas passed ordinances in the last couple years requiring private companies to provide paid sick leave to employees. As adopted by the city council, Austin’s rules would require businesses to give employees one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked up to 64 hours. Employees could use the time on themselves or to take care of a family member. Any unused time could be carried over to the next year. Employers found to be in violation could face fines up to $500.
Those ordinances face court challenges from groups like the Texas Association of Business as well as the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
“Austin and Texas business leaders know how to run their businesses and can do so more productively without over-reaching regulations that stifle the economy and cost jobs,” said Jeff Moseley, CEO of the Association of Business. “We needed to move quickly and stop any bleeding that might occur from this ordinance … it's overreaching, and it's hard-hitting to small employers,” he said when they filed suit.
In the meantime, business leaders had hoped the Texas Legislature this year would ban cities from being able to establish such employment regulations. But during the 2019 legislative session, the issue was derailed when Lt. Gov. Patrick allowed it to become embroiled in the culture wars.
The original version of the legislation specifically said that local nondiscrimination ordinances – including protections for LGBT Texans – would not be banned. But Texas Senate leaders abruptly changed their minds about that, and a hastily written version dropped that language.
“The Lt. Governor may have put aside ‘the bathroom bill,’ but he is still coming after LGBTQ Texans. Dan Patrick’s fingerprints are all over this stealth attack,” said Samantha Smoot with Equality Texas at the time. “The new language would leave nearly six million Texans currently protected by non-discrimination ordinances vulnerable.”
Indeed, multiple Capitol sources confirmed that Lt. Gov. Patrick faced pressure from groups like Texas Values to alter the legislation and turn it into a culture fight rather than a straightforward business issue.
House and Senate Republicans disagreed about whether those specific protections for LGBTQ Texans should be included and the legislation died.
The fact that Lt. Gov. Patrick has avoided the topic in his interim charges may mean he is frustrated with some business groups who criticized the way he handled all this. He may want to drop the idea altogether. His full list of interim charges is here.
There is also the fact that disgraced Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, who announced his retirement amid a scandal, may have poisoned the well when it comes to “local control” issues by spewing vitriol against city and county governments. Many conservative Republican state lawmakers have distanced themselves from his comments, despite the fact that they often disagree with local officeholders like mayors and county judges on policy matters.
None of this necessarily means that the issue of paid sick leave cannot be addressed in the 2021 session of the Texas Legislature. But if business leaders want lawmakers to tackle it and other employment regulations, they’ve got a lot of work ahead of them.