By: Dallas Morning News Editorial Board
What’s more cliche than an empty promise in campaign season?
A progressive bloc of Dallas City Council members delivered just that to city’s poor Wednesday, sitting on a moral high horse and thundering demands of equality and fairness at — well at whom exactly?
Led by mayoral candidate Scott Griggs and council member Philip Kingston, the council voted 10-4 to give City Hall the power to force all businesses in the city to offer paid sick leave to employees.
If the ordinance goes into effect, it would see the city manager gain subpoena power over the employment records of private businesses to ensure compliance with the new employment rules. A $500 fine — just enough for a big business to be indifferent to and for a small business to be hurt by — is the threatened punishment.
The vote was not based in reality, however — something all 10 council members should have known as they delivered an empty symbol to a council chamber filled with activists for organized labor, democratic socialists and a group that raises funds to provide abortions to low-income women.
No one should begrudge an employee for taking a day off when sick. And offering such flexibility is both the decent thing to do and often good for business. Happy and healthy employees are better employees. The question is what role a municipal government should play in requiring that, and whether it doesn’t risk killing jobs instead of protecting workers.
The state of Texas appears pretty clear that a city lacks the power to enact such an ordinance. Austin and San Antonio already went down this path. A state appeals court pitched out Austin’s ordinance. The case is pending with state Supreme Court now, with grim prospects. The Legislature, meanwhile, looks poised to act this session to ensure that this latest progressive impulse of the state’s largest cities is curtailed, giving deeply conservative legislators another reason to cut off local control.
So what was this about in the end? The sick leave ordinance will almost certainly never help a single employee.
What it does signal is that a bloc of Dallas politicians is embracing a sharply progressive agenda that is out of step with most Dallas residents and that could hurt the city’s ability to prosper into the future.
In 2015, the council passed a mandatory rest break ordinance requiring businesses to give 15-minute breaks to employees. Predictably, the ordinance has gone unenforced because the city has no real means to enforce it, just as there is no funding to enforce the sick leave ordinance. It is hard to see it not as a way to truly help the working poor but to rally political forces. And it’s chilling to imagine what City Hall’s subpoena power over a business’s records could mean in a charged anti-business political environment.
The same bloc of council members isn’t done. They are eager to force a higher minimum wage on businesses across Dallas, something our suburban neighbors can’t wait to see, knowing any small business that can flee our borders for theirs will do so.
This is to say nothing of District Attorney John Creuzot’s announcement that he will not enforce prosecution of certain petty thefts in a city where residents are increasingly fearful of crime reasserting itself in neighborhoods.
The goal appears to be to gather political strength rather than build political consensus for ideas that make life better for everyone in Dallas.
This editorial was written by the editorial board and serves as the voice and opinion of The Dallas Morning News.