Last-minute changes to a bill being considered in the Texas Senate that would prohibit cities from requiring private employers to offer paid sick leave has San Antonio’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee asking the mayor to stand up for their rights.
The Mayor’s LGBTQ Advisory Committee said Senate Bill 15 is a threat to non-discrimination ordinances (NDO) across the state. It has issued a letter to the mayor and City Council, urging them to change the City’s stance on SB 15 as filed by state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe.
As originally filed, the bill would have prohibited cities from requiring private companies to offer its workers paid sick leave and other benefits. It also created a mandate preventing cities and counties from adopting local ordinances related to employment leave and paid days off for holidays.
Though the original text of the bill also stated it wouldn’t supersede local regulations prohibiting discrimination against workers, that language was removed when Creighton presented the bill to the Senate State Affairs Committee.
With that language left out, some say the bill could undermine a city’s ability to enforce local anti-discrimination laws and allow businesses to choose which of its employees are eligible to receive benefits. And because the bill does not explicitly protect NDOs, the bill could be used to limit or remove enforcement of the NDOs that currently protect LGBTQ+ persons from discriminatory employment practices, such as offering opposite-sex couples a benefit that it won’t allow it for same-sex couples.
The LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee released a statement saying the group feels the language in the bill not only threatens existing non-discrimination ordinances in cities such as Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, and El Paso, but it also would make it impossible to expand San Antonio’s non-discrimination ordinance in the future.
San Antonio’s non-discrimination ordinance went into effect in 2013 under Mayor Julian Castro. In Texas, five other major cities – Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, and Plano – have municipal NDOs, according to the advocacy group Equality Texas, which has said SB 15 “would gut non-discrimination ordinances that protect more than six million Texans in most major Texas cities.”
Last year, the San Antonio council approved a paid sick leave ordinance that required businesses with more than five employees to provide one hour of earned sick time for every 30 hours worked starting in August.
Legislation like SB 15 represents an attempt by some State officials to stop city-mandated paid sick leave ordinances around the state, such as those passed in both San Antonio and Austin. Gov. Greg Abbott has assured business leaders that the Legislature would take action against such measures.
“San Antonio City Council passed our NDO and paid sick leave ordinances after years of advocacy, hard work by citizens, and a coalition of civil rights groups- including LGBTQ+ organizations,” the advisory committee wrote in its letter to the mayor and council. “We need to keep these significant achievements intact, and not forfeit or municipal authority to lawmakers in Austin.”
Nirenberg responded to the LGBTQ Advisory Committee’s request by stating that his office was watching the legislation closely for legal clarity.
“I will defend our NDO,” he stated. “It was the first nickel of political capital I spent as a councilman and I will not let it be undone. Hate and inequality will have no place in San Antonio as long as I am mayor.”
The advisory committee’s recent letter also asked the mayor to take a global stand: “San Antonio should not be neutral about preserving human rights in other Texas cities. Although our NDO is currently more limited in scope, our city must show solidarity on the issue and oppose the pending legislation.”
The letter goes on to say the Texas House’s version of the bill, HB 1654, preserves NDO protections, and City leaders should advocate for those protections.
But the Texas Senate’s State Affairs Committee on Feb. 28 voted 5-1 to advance SB 15 and now the bill will be debated on the Senate floor.
Members of the LGBTQ Advisory Committee who signed the letter include Rev. Naomi Brown, Ginger Chun, Alexander Darke, Anel Flores, Daniel Graney, Jamie Hash, Barbie Hurtado, Rev. Dr. William H. Knight, Erick LaRue Macias, Chad Reumann, Luka Rios, Maria Salazar, Melissa Shiplett-Jupe, Ashley Smith, and David Solis.