Texas State Agency Employees Win Paid Parental Leave, But Which Workers Were Left Out?

From Amarillo or Brownsville, dedication to our state’s children and families unites Texans across backgrounds. During the 88th regular Legislative Session, both Republican and Democrat lawmakers identified paid parental leave as a priority policy solution. A select few pro-family and economically sensible lawmakers from diverse places like Jacksonville, Flower Mound, Montgomery County, and Houston answered their communities’ calls for action and put Texas families first by supporting paid time off to care for a newborn baby or recently adopted child.

Most employers in Texas do not offer paid parental leave to their workers. 

  • 74% of working Texans – 10.8 million workers – do not have access to paid family leave. 
  • 64% of Texas workers do not even have access to unpaid leave.

Texas’ enormous paid leave gap means families of all backgrounds suffer unnecessarily due to lost wages at birth/adoption that cause financial instability, a lack of bonding time with their child, and billions lost in statewide economic activity. The National Partnership for Women and Families estimated that if Texan women participated in the state’s labor market at the same rate as countries with paid leave there would be $19.1 billion more dollars in earned wages statewide. The bottom line: lack of paid parental leave is costing all of us. 

What Did Lawmakers Do for Texas Parents and Families?

Lawmakers took some steps to solve the statewide gap in paid parental leave during the 88th regular Legislative Session:

  • Passed SB 222: This bill gives state agencies and executive branch employees access to 8 weeks of paid leave for birthing parents and 4 weeks of paid leave for non-birthing parents. Based on Texas’ Comptroller data approximately 137,000 state employees will now have access to the paid parental leave benefit. Senator Robert Nichols (R) of Jacksonville filed SB 222 and Rep. Will Metcalf (R) of Montgomery County filed a similar bill in the House. 
  • Unfortunately, SB 222 left out approximately 186,000 state university and college workers – as colleges and universities do not uniformly provide paid parental leave to their employees. The University of Texas at Austin – the state’s flagship institution of higher education – does not provide any paid parental leave to its employees. Every Texan found that the state workforce is currently experiencing unprecedented attrition at 22.5% with some agencies experiencing more than 40% turnover. Paid parental leave is a benefit that can mitigate workforce turnover. 
  • The Texas House of Representatives now provides its staff with 12 weeks of paid parental leave. Speaker Dade Phelan enacted this rule at the beginning of the 88th Legislative Session for House staff only. 

What Lawmakers Didn’t Do:

Lawmakers missed the opportunity to pass statewide paid parental leave for all workers. Despite receiving bipartisan support, The Texas Family Act (HB 2604) filed by Rep. Penny Morales Shaw (D) of Houston did not get a committee hearing

  • If passed, The Texas Family Act would have given approximately 9 million workers access to paid parental leave and provided every full-time worker with up to 12 weeks of paid leave capped at a weekly wage replacement of $1,000. 
  • The act would have established the Texas Family Fund: an affordable, publicly administered program funded through a 0.15% employer payroll contribution.
  • Additionally, Texas’ small business owners could offer a competitive benefit at a significantly more affordable rate than a private insurance program. You can read more about the benefits of a publicly administered paid parental leave program for small businesses here. 

What’s Next? Texan Families Are Worth Paid Parental Leave

Paid leave is a popular policy among Texans of all backgrounds. A poll conducted in 2020 shows 79% of Texans support creating an insurance plan to provide paid family medical leave to employees, and 75% of Texans support paid sick and family leaves. In 2023, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee also passed paid parental leave bills for state employees and public school teachers.

As of July 2023, 16 states and Washington, DC  have enacted paid family medical leave programs. If Texas’ most powerful elected officials – including Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Patrick, and Speaker Dade Phelan – are going to promote Texas as a family values state, then they must ensure lawmakers enact policies that build prosperity for families of all backgrounds. Making sure parents can take care of their newborn babies without fear of losing food on the table is the first way to put Texas families first.

Paid parental leave is a sound economic policy that aligns with Texas’ strong values for freedom and family. Texans aren’t free if we cannot afford to care for newborn babies or recently adopted children. Every Texan will continue the fight for paid leave policies during the legislative interim. We ask you to join us!

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