A shortage of workers to fill open jobs is delaying our economic recovery as Texas continues trying to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, there is a way state legislators can help both employers and potential employees — not with taxpayer-funded stimulus checks, but by reducing the burden of government mandates on our private sector.

The Texas Senate has approved legislation that would prevent cities and counties from imposing local labor and employment mandates on private businesses. Instead, the businesses would continue to follow the numerous worker protection and employment laws set forth in state and federal law. The legislation to bar local mandates, Senate Bill 14, has begun to move through the Texas House, but with less than two weeks left in this year’s legislative session, it needs to pick up steam. The fate of this bill, after all, is directly tied to our economic success.

Here’s how: The passage of Senate Bill 14 into law will provide needed certainty for business owners — especially the many business owners who operate in multiple jurisdictions. Right now, cities and counties can pass their own mandates related to paid time off or predictive scheduling, for example, that conflict with or exceed state and federal law. Some of the mandates passed in Texas have been stopped in the court system, but others persist and threaten to create a patchwork of various rules that employers must follow.

This important debate comes as the Texas economy is clawing its way back. Tens of thousands of businesses closed over the past year, and many of them will stay closed. Those that stayed open or are now trying to come back face a new challenge: a lack of people willing to fill jobs. In a recent jobs report from the National Federation of Independent Business, a record 44% of all small-business owners reported having job openings they couldn’t fill. Perhaps it’s because some workers prefer enhanced unemployment benefits or because their skills do not match employers’ needs. Whatever the reason, it’s difficult to visit a community business these days without seeing some form of a “help wanted” sign.

Senate Bill 14 will make it easier to find that help by giving employers the flexibility and the certainty they need to provide the aggressive, tailored compensation and benefits packages required to compete for today’s worker. Fewer constraints from government mandates allow employers to shift resources into the areas of compensation that will help them fill specific jobs; it may be hourly wages for some or tuition assistance for others. Either way, businesses need the flexibility to respond to their unique needs.

Texas leaders have often and rightfully bragged about the role of a reasonable regulatory climate in our state’s private-sector success. Job-creators invest here because the regulatory burden is relatively light. Legislators can again demonstrate their commitment to this core principle of our state’s economic success by clearing these local regulatory hurdles of the way. The legislation would not affect county or municipal employees. We are simply talking about upholding private businesses’ rights to make business decisions — especially during uncertain economic times.

Senate Bill 14 offers a jolt to our economy in a way that is steeped in the free-market ideas that set Texas apart from other large states. Business owners, employees and customers are now looking to the Texas House to move this legislation forward so that our recovery can speed up and employers can have the tools they need to take down those “help wanted” signs and turn prospective hires into their employees.

ANNIE SPILMAN is spokesperson for the Alliance for Securing and Strengthening the Economy in Texas, a coalition of business organizations that advances policies that foster economic growth and allow the free market to operate without heavy government interference.

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