86th LegislatureIssuesState HouseTaxes & SpendingHearing on Employment Ordinances Draws Small Business Support and LGBT Activist Opposition

LGBT and small business advocates flooded the State Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday to weigh in on bills aimed at standardizing business regulations.
May 2, 2019
The State Affairs Committee needed overflow seating for the flood of attendees that arrived at yesterday’s hearing. The bills laid out were SB 2485-2488. All four create uniform statewide policies regarding benefit packages (2485), scheduling practices (2486), paid sick leave (2487), and criminal history inquiries (2488) between employers and employees that would prohibit locally-imposed business ordinances.

Supporters of the legislation, particularly small businesses that cross city lines, routinely complain about having to juggle and comply with multiple city-imposed regulations on these issues in addition to state regulations that at times may conflict with a mandate enacted by a municipality.

All four bills were supported by members of the Alliance for Securing and Strengthening the Economy in Texas (ASSET).

Lucy Nashed, Vice President of Government Relations at McGuireWoods, spoke with the Texan on ASSET’s behalf, “It’s the Legislature’s responsibility to make sure Texas’ regulatory and economic policies are consistent and streamlined in order to grow jobs, not hamper job growth.”

However, many LGBT activist organizations and community members see the current language in these bills as a threat to municipal non-discriminatory ordinances (NDOs).

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The oldest NDO in Texas was established in Austin in 1982. The city voted to protect residents from housing discrimination based on sexual orientation.

One panel of witnesses comprised both supporters and opponents of the bills. The four members of the witness panel were Justin Bragiel, Trusha Patel, Samantha Moot, and Cathryn Oakley.

“The most important thing is…city to city predictability between regulations such as wages, scheduling, etc,” said Bragiel, General Counsel at the Texas Hotel Lodging Association.

Patel added, “I own a small business with only a handful of employees. We need state consistency.”

Samantha Moot, interim executive director of Equality Texas, an organization that advocates for LGBT Texans and their families, focused on how these bills would affect their way of life:

“These bills would undercut local NDO’s…this vulnerable community’s only legal protection from discrimination is on the line.”

Cathryn Oakley, the state legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign testified, “It might technically remain illegal to fire someone for coming out, but it wouldn’t be illegal to force them out of their job by giving them the least desirable shifts or denying them benefits.”

Representatives on the committee weighed in as well. Rep. Richard Raymond (D-Laredo) had a standing question for each person that testified this morning in support of the four Senate bills.

“Would you support language in these bills that would allow the protection of a NDO?” Raymond repeatedly asked.

The video below shows Shelby Sterling, a policy analyst with the Think Local Liberty project, testifying in favor of the bills. She received lengthy questions from the Chairman of the State Affairs Committee, Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Orange), Raymond, and then a question about the Austin economy from Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin).

“Movement of SBs 2485-88 shows how serious the Texas legislature is about protecting the rights of employers and employees. Passage of these four bills will put an end to overreaching local ordinances and give freedom of negotiation back to the people that should have it: employers and employees,” said Sterling.

Ellen Troxclair, a senior fellow with the Think Local Liberty project and a former Austin City Councilwoman, also testified in favor of the bill. Before being dismissed, however, Raymond gave her a lengthy cross-examination as depicted in the video below.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation, which backs the Think Local Liberty project and supports policies aimed at preventing a patchwork of local and state regulations in employment practices, said that they do not have an official position on whether the bills should include NDO provisions.

After nearly five hours of additional testimony last night, the State Affairs Committee added NDO language to SB 2486. It was approved by a 10-2 vote and now awaits a hearing and discussion on the House floor.

SB 2485, 2487, and 2488 have been left in committee as pending.


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Tony Guajardo

Tony Guajardo is a reporter for The Texan. He has been involved in politics since the fall of 2012 when he served as an intern for the now-retired U.S. Congressman Charlie Gonzalez (D-San Antonio). He is a native of Fort Worth, Texas and graduated from Texas A&M University.