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Effort to create paid parental leave for Texans stalls in House committee

Rep. Penny Morales Shaw, D- Houston, talks to reporters on March 1, 2023 about her bill to create a paid parental leave program in Texas.
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
Rep. Penny Morales Shaw, D- Houston, talks to reporters on March 1, 2023 about her bill to create a paid parental leave program in Texas.

A measure that would establish paid parental leave for full-time workers in Texas has stalled in the state House of Representatives.

Rep. Penny Morales Shaw, D-Houston, told The Texas Newsroom that she was promised her bill would be heard by the House International Relations and Economic Development Committee.

However, Morales Shaw said committee chair Rep. Angie Chen Button, R-Richardson, has since walked back her commitment.

“Right now, as it stands, if the bill doesn’t get a hearing within the next week or so, it literally is just a dead bill,” Morales Shaw said. “We won’t be able to pass it and help all of the Texas families we had hoped to.”

The measure has bipartisan support, with multiple Republicans representatives listed as co-authors.

Button’s office didn’t return multiple requests for comment. When approached by The Texas Newsroom on the House floor this week, Button declined to comment.

Under House Bill 2604, the Texas Workforce Commission would be required to create a paid parental leave program.

Employers in Texas would be required to contribute an “amount equal to 0.15 percent of all wages paid by the employer during the calendar year” to the Texas Family Fund Program.

The money collected by the program would be used to give new parents up to $1,000 in replacement wages per week of absence.

The deadline for House committees to vote on bills is May 8. A failure to do so would likely kill the bill for the rest of the legislative session.

Momentum elsewhere

This session, Republicans have said they want to focus on Texas families.

That’s in part due to abortion restrictions implemented last session by the Republican-led legislature, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade.

Morales Shaw said her bill received the support of some Republicans because of this same sentiment, and because it's good policy.

“This was a bill specifically chosen right in line with all of our values — specifically the Republican-stated platform values,” Morales Shaw said. “This shouldn’t be a fight.”

But not all paid parental leave proposals are stuck in committee.

The Texas House of Representatives and Senate have respectively passed a pair of bills that could give state employees up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave.

The measures received overwhelming bipartisan support.

Amanda Posson, a senior policy analyst with the left-leaning think tank Every Texan, said that bill could help with the high attrition rate in state government.

“This is really a necessity — we are talking about parents who are giving birth or adopting and in most cases expected to show up to work the next day,” Posson said. “This is a huge advancement for our society and it’s great to see it.”

But Posson said the same benefit should be extended to all full-time employees in the state.

She said the proposal benefiting state employees would only impact about 140,000 people. That’s way less than the 13.5 million workers in Texas.

According to Every Texan, “74% of Texas workers do not have access to any form of paid medical leave and 64% do not have access to unpaid family medical leave.”

“This is a huge systemic gap in our system and I think the discourse has always been ‘the free market will solve the problem,’” Posson said. “But the free market hasn’t.”

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is the former Texas Capitol reporter for The Texas Newsroom.
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