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How the Legislature's Paid Sick Time Debate Has Blown Up Into a Battle on LGBTQ Rights 

click to enlarge Sen. Brandon Creighton meets with constituents. - TWITTER / SENCREIGHTON
  • Twitter / SenCreighton
  • Sen. Brandon Creighton meets with constituents.
It could have remained a borderline-wonky debate over employee benefits — a legislative exercise where business and labor interests quibble over details of employment law.

Instead, it's fast becoming a firestorm.

Thanks to a last-minute wording tweak, Senate Bill 15 — the proposal that would bar cities like San Antonio from requiring private employers to offer paid sick leave to workers — now faces a growing outcry not just from labor groups but also the LGBTQ community and some business interests.

Here's the issue. The bill's original version included language saying it wouldn't undo local rules that prohibit employers from discriminating against LGBTQ workers. But when Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, its author, introduced the measure to the Senate State Affairs Committee in late February, he substituted a version without that clause.

The response from LGBTQ advocates was swift. Groups including Equality Texas and Human Rights Campaign issued statements blasting the reworked proposal, and critics have likened it to the divisive, anti-transgender bathroom bill championed last session by Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

SB 15 now will be a focus of LGBTQ groups as they convene on the capital Monday for their annual Advocacy Day. It will also be front and center as Texas Welcomes All and Texas Competes — two business groups that opposed the bathroom bill — pull together a March 27 lobbying event.

"My goal for (March 27) is to have a wall of businesspeople to send a message that we don't want this bill," said Angela Hale, a lobbyist and spokeswoman for Equality Texas. "The business community isn't just against the bathroom bill. We're against any discriminatory legislation."

Creighton's office was unavailable for comment Friday afternoon.

Texas is one of 26 states without statewide LGBTQ legal protections, meaning local measures such as the nondiscrimination ordinance San Antonio passed in 2013 are often the only protections available for gay, lesbian and transgender residents.

The six major Texas cities with nondiscrimination ordinances represent around 20 percent of the state's total population, according to Equality Texas.

Prior to the current legislative session, Patrick said he had no plans to restart a fight over the bathroom bill. However, civil-rights advocates said Patrick, who presides over the Senate, has adopted a new anti-LGBTQ strategy, which includes championing bills like SB 15 and SB 17, a proposal that would let people in licensed professions deny someone services based on their “sincerely held religious belief.”

The end result is that SB 15 now appears to face longer odds than it did before Creighton moved forward his substitution.  

"If they were concerned about passing something on paid sick leave this session, that was not the way to go," said Carrie Hoffman, a labor attorney for law firm Foley Gardere LLP in Dallas. "It's hard to see the LGBT community, even in a red state like Texas, letting that stand."

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