Austin has a long history of abusing local control, but its recent push for mandatory paid sick leave may end up being the straw that breaks the camel’s back. That much is evident by what’s happening at the Capitol.
What exactly is unfolding? Maybe something big. But first a brief bit of history.
In February 2018, the Austin City Council voted 9-2 in favor of a policy that would have forced Austin businesses [with 16 or more workers] to give their employees up to 64 hours of paid sick leave annually. The ordinance sparked a fierce public backlash from small business owners, who warned of dire consequences. And it eventually led to a lawsuit being filed by the Texas Public Policy Foundation on behalf of those who believed the burden to be too great.
The lawsuit found success and in November, the state’s Third Court of Appeals ruled that Austin’s mandate was unconstitutional, and blocked the ordinance from taking effect. And while that should have been the end of it, it wasn’t.
That’s because Austin isn’t alone. Today, San Antonio has a very similar ordinance on the books and Dallas came close to passing its own version last year. And neither of those cities fall under the Third Court’s jurisdiction, meaning it would probably take a long and costly court battle to get them to back down.
So a statewide solution is needed. But the fix shouldn’t only target mandatory paid sick leave. The ideal reform is much broader than that.
A few years ago, Gov. Greg Abbott summed it up well when he said that Texas needs a “…broad-based ban on regulations on the local level unless and until certain standards are met.” A blanket ban like this would preempt most onerous local ordinances that interfere with the employee-employer relationship — a relationship that thrives the most when it’s left between private parties. In situations where new laws are needed, then those ought to be enacted at the state level, not done in piecemeal fashion locally.