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Commissioners approve state-mandated changes to leave policy

Friday, September 3, 2021 by Seth Smalley

Three bills were signed into law during the past legislative session that will change or add to existing leave policies for county employees. House Bill 1589 provides seven days of paid leave for public officers and employees engaged in certain types of military service; House Bill 2073 provides quarantine leave for firefighters, peace officers, detention officers and emergency medical technicians; and Senate Bill 1359 gives the option of mental health leave to officers who endure traumatic events on the job.

“That would include the Sheriff’s Office, each of the constables, county attorney, district attorney and park rangers,” Shannon Steele, Travis County benefits manager, said of SB 1359, at Tuesday’s meeting of the Commissioners Court.

HB 2073, which makes quarantine leave possible, also mandates reimbursement for quarantine costs for “reasonable lodging, medical service and transportation.”

“Each of these policies was created or reviewed by the Auditor’s Office or County Attorney’s Office and we would recommend the adoption of these policies for fiscal impact,” Steele told commissioners.

She added that the fiscal impact to the county of implementing the policies is currently unknown. “The quarantine leave, for example, with the provision for the reimbursement of lodging, we would have to determine later on the need base of how that could be funded.”

“We basically have to do this because it’s state law now, correct? It’s not like we can choose not to do this?” Commissioner Brigid Shea asked.

“Correct,” Steele replied.

Several commissioners expressed dismay over the state grilling the county over increasing costs when the increases are often the result of trying to implement state mandates without state funding.

“We should ask for some type of fiscal note on this. The Legislative Budget Board should have put a fiscal note. We should basically keep a running tab of things that the state dreams up and then has us pay for,” Commissioner Jeffrey Travillion said.

Travis County Intergovernmental Relations Officer Julie Wheeler pointed out HB 2073 will expire simultaneously with the county’s ability to spend federal Covid-19 funds, reducing costs. Wheeler also told commissioners she could get them the fiscal notes for the bills in question.

Shea moved approval and Travillion seconded. The motion passed unanimously.

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