Six weeks shy of its scheduled implementation, Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance — the first of its kind in Texas — might be on the ropes as attacks on it ramp up.
Oct. 1 was to be the day it took effect, mandating that nearly all employers in Austin provide paid sick days to their employees. However, a state appeals court ruling placed the ordinance on hold Friday, as Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and a conservative think tank recorded their first victory in ongoing legal challenges.
The ruling came just one day after those cheering paid sick leave mandates celebrated the passage of an ordinance in San Antonio similar to the one the Austin City Council approved in February.
In response to both Friday’s ruling and the action of San Antonio’s City Council, State Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, renewed his vow to create legislation to undo such ordinances.
“It only makes me more determined to do it,” Workman said in response to San Antonio’s action. “I predicted this would happen, and it has. Dallas has tried, and San Antonio has now done it, so we will be there as soon as possible to keep other cities from doing that.”
On Monday, Workman told the Statesman the court ruling underscores his efforts.
“I’ve spoken to a number of my colleagues, and when the time comes, we will be able to get co-sponsors and co-authors,” Workman told the American-Statesman.
Workman said a parallel bill will be filed in the Texas Senate. Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, appears to be a likely candidate to carry the companion bill.
“I stand ready to introduce legislation that protects the rights of business owners and the best interests of the Texas economy,” Campbell said in a news release issued after the passage of San Antonio’s ordinance.
She did not respond Monday to a request for comment.
Campbell also took the lead in filing an amicus brief that called for the 3rd Court of Appeals to strike down Austin’s ordinance. Twenty-nine other state lawmakers, including Workman, signed off on her brief.
Supporters of paid sick leave cite research that shows giving sick days to employees prevents the spread of illness in the workplace, reduces turnover and saves employers money by minimizing lost productivity. Detractors respond that mandating paid sick leave increases costs to business owners and slows business growth.
Under the ordinance, workers would earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to a total of 64 hours, or eight days a year. Small businesses with 15 or fewer employees have a paid sick leave cap of 48 hours (six days).
The ruling Friday did not strike down Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance. Judges made no decision on the merits of the law, which challengers say is pre-empted by state laws regarding the minimum wage. The ruling merely prevented the law from taking effect as the appeals court reviews arguments.
The court set a Sept. 6 deadline for the city of Austin to file its arguments. The city’s lawyers had been seeking delays in the case, and Robert Henneke, general counsel for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, characterized those efforts as the city dragging its feet in an attempt to have the law in place before the appeals court could strike it down.
“The (judicial) process should not be used as an offensive weapon,” Henneke told the American-Statesman.
He is representing the Texas Association of Business and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, as well as several other businesses and groups, in the lawsuit against the city.
In a statement, the city of Austin’s legal department responded:
“The Court has not yet made any ruling on the validity of the city’s earned sick time ordinance. Friday’s order was made in response to the state asking for a temporary delay to implementation. We look forward to the appellate court addressing the merits of the trial court’s original ruling, which was in favor of the city.”