Paid sick leave goes into effect for Dallas workers, but Attorney General Ken Paxton vows to challenge city law in the courts

For many Texas workers, when illness or a family emergency strikes, there is little recourse to take time off if they want to stay employed. With no federal legal requirement for paid sick leave, individual employers or individual states decide workers’ allotment of paid sick days. 

On Aug. 1 of this year, the city of Dallas became the first in Texas—and potentially the South—to implement “Earned Paid Sick Time ordinance.” Passed by the City Council of Dallas, the ordinance requires private employers to provide an hour of sick leave per 30 hours worked, and caps the amount an employee can accrue depending on the size of the company.

In other Texas cities, these protections are currently in limbo. Austin’s ordinance is tied up in the courts, and San Antonio’s implementation date has been pushed back from Aug. 1 to Dec. 1, 2019. Austin’s ordinance was the first to be challenged by the Texas Association of Business, the attorney general, and other business groups, who cited difficulty in implementation across different cities, the minimum wage law, and the idea that this should be settled between the employer and employee as reasons for their opposition. 

During the latest legislative session, paid sick leave ordinances forced some state representatives to test their small-government philosophy of supporting “local control” with what Rep. Dade Phelan (R- Beaumont) called Texas’ “very pro-business” beliefs. 

One bill filed by Rep. Matt Krause (R- Fort Worth) to prohibit such local action, did not make it out of committee, and a consensus bill filed in both chambers with Gov. Abbott’s support was scuttled when it “became “poisoned” after its author, Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, stripped protections for LGBTQ individuals out of a revised version.”

With the end of the last legislative session and no laws against the city ordinances, Texas workers may be at the whim of the courts backed by Texas leadership. Attorney General Ken Paxton recently announced that he would join a lawsuit with ESI/Employee Solutions and LP and Hagan Law Group to fight the Dallas ordinance.

In a release, Attorney General Paxton said, “The Dallas City Council’s decision to enact this ordinance in the face of other legal challenges successfully stopping similar laws is yet another example of the lawlessness and disregard for working Texans that is becoming all too common among local governments in our larger cities. Not only would this ordinance harm the ability of Texans to find and keep jobs, it is a blatant attempt to silence the millions of other voters throughout our State who disagree with the agenda of urban elites, even after the courts have made it clear they cannot do so.”

For Texas workers, the question is whether the courts will protect them when the state Attorney General and Republican legislators instead fight for business interests, overriding city lawmakers.

Two commonly proposed legislative solutions follow mass shootings—red flag laws and universal background checks

As gun violence and mass shootings continue to cause fear and panic in Texas and across the country, citizens are calling for solutions from state legislators. But the language and implementation of proposed legislation is often misunderstood by constituents, clouded by partisan agendas and a seeming divide between the right and left. 

Understanding two of the most common proposals—red flag laws and universal background checks—can help constituents better demand action from their elected officials.

Red Flag Laws

The term “red flag law” refers to state legislation that prevents dangerous individuals from owning or possessing a firearm. 

These laws allow law enforcement to temporarily “confiscate guns from people found to be a danger to themselves or to others.” Though the law’s particulars vary from state to state this type of legislation allows for family members, friends, and/or law enforcement authorities to petition a state court to remove guns from individuals likely pose a threat to themselves or others. The gun restraint is often temporary, and put in place for a set amount of time. And a court petition doesn’t guarantee action; it simply allows a judge to rule based on available evidence at a hearing. 

During these hearings, the individual can respond to the accusation and defend themselves. If the judge rules that an individual is a safety risk to themselves or others, the judge can order a defendant to turn over their weapons within a determined period of time, which can only be extended with an additional hearing. Red flag laws exist in some form in 17 states that span the political spectrum in terms of Democrat and Republican control. 

There is currently no national red flag law or statute, though bi-partisan legislation could be announced soon.

Universal Background Checks

A universal background check refers to a background check for anyone seeking to purchase a gun. Though federal law requires background checks for guns sold through federally-licensed firearms dealers—including gun stores, pawn shops, and big box retailers—that does not include private transactions between individuals in person, online, and at gun shows. For licensed dealers or Federal Firearms Licensees (FFL), required background checks are run through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and later destroyed.

Although 90% of the public agrees that universal background checks are a good idea, no federal or Texas state law currently mandates those requirements. Texas does not require background checks for gun shows or selling online by private individuals or unlicensed vendors, which includes transferring the weapon from one owner to another

Gov. Greg Abbott has not publicly announced plans for specific legislation related to the spate of mass shootings in the state in recent years, but has said he plans to conduct round tables that allow for expert input soon.