Politics

Governor Abbott Issues Order Cracking Down On Emergency Leave Abuses

The directive follows revelations that at least five state agencies had used the leave policy to pay off employees who had resigned or been terminated.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Wednesday issued a directive banning all state agencies from using emergency leave as severance pay for former state employees.

The emergency leave policy is designed to provide pay for state employees dealing with a death in the family or a serious illness. But investigative reporting by The Dallas Morning News and The Houston Chronicle has revealed at least five state agencies have used such leave to pay off workers who have resigned or been terminated.

The agencies involved include the Office of the Attorney General, the Texas General Land Office, the Texas Department of Agriculture, the Teacher Retirement System, and the Water Development Board.

“Once this began to look like it was a systemic problem and not just a rogue agency or two, it was pretty inevitable that the governor was going to act and try to get in front of it, particularly given that the Legislature was getting involved,” says James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

Members of the Texas Senate Finance Committee, meeting in mid-May, vowed to tighten up the state’s emergency leave law.

“Obviously we’re going to have to come [up] with some top-down guidelines, because these leaves were not common sense,” said Sen. Paul Bettencourt of Harris County, one of the senior Republicans on the committee.

House Speaker Joe Straus issued his own statement. Straus expressed his concern about state agencies abusing emergency leave and wasting taxpayers’ money, and he indicated he would support legislation to halt the practice.

“I think what the governor wants to do is get ahead of the curve here, send this clear signal to the legislature that we’ve got to stop this – I don’t think he’s going to have a lot of opposition there – and need it before the November election,” says Bob Stein, professor of political science at Rice University. Stein says that the governor may be concerned the scandal, if allowed to fester, could hurt Republicans in down-ballot races this fall.

Click here to view video from the Texas Senate Finance Committee.

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Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media’s coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments across Greater Houston. Before taking up his current post, Andrew spent five years as Houston Public Media’s business reporter, covering the oil...

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