A proposed Texas law focused on prohibiting cities from requiring businesses to offer paid sick leave and other benefits to their employees has instead become a fight over LGBTQ rights as a last-minute change to the bill threatens local antidiscrimination ordinances.
The bill, SB 15, written by State Senator Brandon Creighton (R), is just the sort of regulation-killing bill popular in the Lone Star State. In addition to its prohibition on cities enacting benefits rules, it limits cities from going beyond statewide rules on hiring and firing employees.
The goal was to get past “paid sick leave” laws in San Antonio and Austin. For example, Austin’s regulation — currently tied up in state court — requires private companies to pay for a minimum of six days leave per year for every employee.
SB 15 originally included one clause making it clear that the bill would not undo local ordinances against LGBTQ discrimination, but a version of the measure sent to the Senate State Affairs Committee near the end of last month removed that clause.
Related: Texas pastors file federal lawsuit seeking license to discriminate against LGBTQ people
Texas doesn’t have any statewide LGBTQ anti-discrimination protections at the state level, so the removal of that language from SB 15 opens the door to repealing LGBTQ anti-discrimination ordinances throughout the state. Six major cities in Texas — Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Plano and San Antonio — have such protections, making up roughly 20% of Texas’ population.
Many are crying foul over the change, feeling that the move was deceptive.
“SB 15 is a wholly unacceptable bill on its face, but the Senate State Affairs Committee has made it into an even more harmful proposition by removing specific language that would ensure that existing non-discrimination ordinances in some of Texas’ most populated cities are not undercut or eliminated,” said HRC Texas state director Rebecca Marques, via a press release.
Some activists have also pointed at Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s fight last year to get a Texas “bathroom bill” passed, perhaps noting the similarity between this move and the fight in North Carolina over HB 2. That bill superseded transgender protections enacted in Asheville, but was eventually replaced after vast public outcry — and a change in the Governor’s office.
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.
The new language would leave nearly six million Texans currently protected by non-discrimination ordinances vulnerable. LGBTQ Texans and allies fought hard for these protections and we intend to fight to keep them intact,” said Interim Executive Director of Equality Texas, Samantha Smoot, via a press release.
Creighton, meanwhile, is sticking to the altered text, telling the Texas Tribune that, “private businesses are best equipped to determine what benefits they can provide to their employees.”
SB 15 has passed the Senate State Affairs Committee in its revised form. It now goes onto the full senate. The House version of SB 15 has yet to go before committee, and their version still has the original language.