Legislative Debate Over Mandatory Paid Sick Leave Heats Up

The debate over whether private employers should be required to provide paid sick leave benefits to their employees is heating up in the Legislature, as the session draws closer to its end, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

While a bill to overturn San Antonio's ordinance requiring sick leave pay for full time employers has already passed the Senate, two alternative bills in the house would make the local requirement state law.

State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) talked of coming down with chicken pox as a child, and the pressure it put on his single mom.

"Her choices were to either stay home with me more, or to take me to work, and it wasn't the kind of job where you could take your kid to work, so they fired her."

The House bill would require one hour of sick pay for every thirty hours worked by a full time employee.

Rene Lara of the Texas AFL-CIO says the bill would not only help sick employees and their families, but would also help consumers. A study shows that 63% of Houston restaurant workers have gone to work sick, frequently with a communicable disease that can be spread to other workers and to customers.

"They need to be able to address illness, and employers in this state can afford to provide that," Lara said.

Jonathan Lewis with the left leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities, agreed.

"Employees at restaurants are serving food to customers or cooking while they are sick, because they don't have access to paid sick leave."

The House bill would only apply to employers with 50 or more full time workers.

Free market advocates say pay and benefits should be negotiated between an employer and an applicant, not mandated by the government in a 'one size fits all' policy.

Employers in San Antonio say they don't object to the concept of paying sick leave, but the local ordinance would create a new taxpayer funded city bureaucracy which would be empowered to look through the books of small employers, and to 'investigate' claims of denial of sick pay, which will require companies with two or three employees to hire lawyers and accountants to deal with 'audits.' Some employers say they will be forced to lay off all of their workers under the San Antonio ordinance.

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