The Harris County Commissioners Court is considering a new paid leave policy for the county’s 16,000-plus employees who may have been victims of a crime.
Under a proposal introduced by Commissioner Rodney Ellis (D-Precinct 1), the county will form a committee to develop a policy for providing employees with 15 non-accrued paid days off if they are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, violent criminal attacks, and other “critical incidents.”
Ellis stipulated that the policy should not require any documentation, “such as doctors notes, court records, or incident reporting that could further victimize and traumatize the employee in need.”
During the discussion, Commissioner Jack Cagle (R-Precinct 4) said he had questions about creating multiple classes of sick leave policy. He also asked for fiscal notes and analysis of potential legal concerns since as a public entity, the county might be obligated to publicly share reasons for an employee’s extended absence.
Commissioner Steve Radack (R-Precinct 3) said that while he agreed with the idea of putting together a committee to study the issue, he could not accept Ellis’ stipulations for 15 days paid leave with no required documentation.
Cagle requested an amendment to state that the committee would study the issue and consider Ellis’ specifics “or any other elements that they deem appropriate.”
He also clarified that there would be another vote prior to creating an actual policy.
Cagle joined Ellis, Commissioner Adrian Garcia (D-Precinct 2), and Judge Lina Hidalgo in voting for the proposal as amended, while Radack voted against it.
Radack told The Texan that the policy as proposed by Ellis was “absurd” and possibly illegal.
“The most under-reported crimes are rape, sexual abuse, abuse of children, and domestic abuse, but by not requiring documentation, this policy does not encourage victims to report the crimes.”
As a former Houston police officer and county constable, Radack said that many victims of these kinds of crimes need counseling and law enforcement intervention to protect them from further abuse.
“Encouraging victims to report is key to preventing more crimes. This is not a way to fight crime.”
Radack had read Ellis’ critical leave policy proposal at a U.S. District Court hearing on the county’s controversial bail bond settlement the day before.
In a phone interview with The Texan, Radack stated that he’d brought the proposal to the bail bond settlement hearing to highlight Ellis’ acknowledgment in the first paragraph that there had been a “staggering increase of both domestic violence incidents and homicides in Harris County.”
He wanted to highlight the issue that while many domestic violence incidents are Class A misdemeanors, the pending bail bond settlement calls for most misdemeanor arrestees to be “promptly released” and with less than $100 bail, which Radack said could create a dangerous dynamic for alleged victims.
Commissioner Ellis, also a proponent of the terms of the bail bond settlement, said during the commissioners court discussion that he had modeled his paid leave proposal on policies adopted in Westchester County, New York, as well as Seattle’s King County.
Westchester County requires even private employers to offer a similar policy, but does maintain the need for documentation.
Ellis also noted that such critical leave policies had been adopted in crime-heavy Puerto Rico.
Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Cypress, Texas. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.