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Friday, March 1, 2019 by Audrey McGlinchy

While it’s held up in court, Austin’s paid sick leave law comes closer to being undone by the state

Texas lawmakers advanced a bill on Thursday that would prevent cities from requiring private employers to give their workers certain benefits, such as paid sick leave.

“This bill creates a statewide policy for consistent regulation by giving clarity to our private employers and prohibits local governments meddling in their business for paid sick leave, predictive scheduling and benefit policies,” Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) said, before lawmakers voted Senate Bill 15 out of the Texas Senate State Affairs Committee.

SB 15 would unravel a city of Austin ordinance passed in February 2018 that requires most private employers to give workers six to eight paid sick days a year. That law is currently on hold, after a Texas appeals court ruled in November it violated the state constitution.

The city of San Antonio passed a similar law last year. Creighton called such ordinances “burdensome, expensive regulations.”

Austin City Council Member Greg Casar testified against SB 15 at a public hearing Thursday.

“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,” said Casar, who championed Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance. “But in the cases where it doesn’t happen, we need to step up. And if the state would step up and give everybody a sick day then I don’t think the city of Austin would have to step up.”

The bill would also prohibit cities from regulating how private employers consider a job candidate’s criminal history. In 2016, Austin passed a rule prohibiting employers from checking a job candidate’s criminal history until the final round of hiring – although the city failed to enforce this law for two years because it feared the legislature would overturn it.

Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) asked Casar why he thought cities had the right to pass such laws, saying the result is a patchwork of laws that could burden some employers.

“Should we all just go home and you run the city, or run the state? I just don’t get it,” he said.

“The patchwork issue is a problem if you’re wiping out these protections for people,” Casar responded. “If to avoid a patchwork issue we were to have a statewide law that guaranteed everyone a basic minimum of sick days, I would be supportive of that.”

The bill could now come to the full Senate for a vote.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated how SB 15 would affect a city’s ability to pass laws about how employers consider a job candidate’s criminal history. This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT.

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