Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton revs up fight against paid sick leave rule

by Sydney Greene, The Texas Tribune

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at the Texas Federation of Republican Women Convention in Dallas on Oct. 19, 2017. Laura Buckman for The Texas Tribune

Less than a week after a conservative think tank sued Austin over the city’s paid sick leave ordinance, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has thrown the state’s support behind the suit, calling the ordinance “unlawful.”

According to a statement, Paxton filed court papers with a Texas state district court in Travis County on Tuesday. He argues in the filing that setting the minimum wage, which includes the minimum amount of paid time off, is a decision strictly entrusted to the Texas Legislature.

“The Austin City Council’s disdain and blatant disregard for the rule of law is an attempt to unlawfully and inappropriately usurp the authority of the state lawmakers chosen by Texas voters and must be stopped,” said Paxton, a Republican.

The Austin City Council passed the paid sick leave ordinance in February. The rule requires most private employers to allow their workers to accrue 64 hours, or eight days, of paid sick leave per year. Small businesses with 15 or fewer employees could provide 48 hours, or six work days. The ordinance is scheduled to go into effect on Oct. 1.

Paxton said the Texas Minimum Wage Act enacted by the Legislature was a “single, uniform policy for the entire state” — and made no requirement of employers to provide paid time off. He also said the law prevents cities from passing a different rule because they disagree with the state law.

Paxton’s decision to intervene in the lawsuit continues the trend of conservative politicians in Texas attempting to strike down city regulations they view as overly obtrusive. Local control battles have flooded the state since Republican Gov. Greg Abbott entered office and have ranged from issues like plastic bag bans to ordinances regulating who can cut down certain trees.

The lawsuit was originally filed by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, along with a number of business groups. The conservative group’s general counsel, Robert Henneke, told reporters on a call Tuesday that Austin was violating “Texas state law and infringes on the rights of Austin businesses.” He added that businesses were already being forced to deal with the impact of the ordinance — and wanted to act quickly with the lawsuit before the next legislative session.

The author of the ordinance, Austin Councilman Greg Casar, has criticized the suit, calling the Texas Public Policy Foundation an “extremist organization” that wants to “keep working people down.”

“If the big business lobby talked to anyone besides their expensive attorneys, maybe they would understand why working parents sometimes need to take a sick day,” Casar said in a statement on Tuesday.

Disclosure: The Texas Public Policy Foundation has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here