Following a brewing controversy over state agencies issuing “emergency leave” as a form of severance to outgoing employees, state leaders are taking action.
On Wednesday, Gov. Abbott and Comptroller Glenn Hegar issued a directive banning state agencies from using taxpayer money to provide severance packages to former employees under the state’s vague “emergency leave” law.
The practice came under scrutiny after investigative reports uncovered several state agencies had doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars of “emergency leave” as de facto severance to employees who had either stopped working or been fired.
“Pursuant to this directive, the use of emergency leave, administrative leave or other mechanisms to continue paying state employees who have ceased to work will be prohibited,” said Abbott and Hegar in a memo sent to state agency heads. “This directive will remain in place until the Texas Legislature has an opportunity to review this matter and enact legislation regarding the use of employee leave.”
While the directive will inhibit emergency leave from being issued to former employees for most agencies, other offices headed by statewide elected officials will not be legally required to comply. However, a direct snub of Abbott’s authority isn’t likely from the state’s other elected leaders.
Abbott’s memo comes shortly after State Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) and other members of the Senate Finance Committee looked into the issue at an interim hearing. After reviewing the impact of the widespread practice, Nelson and other lawmakers vowed to “tighten it up” next session when it comes to granting emergency leave to state employees.
Nelson’s colleagues across the Capitol rotunda seem to agree. House Speaker Joe Straus has instructed members of the House General and Investigating Ethics Committee to closely examine emergency leave practices that “appear contrary to the intent of the law.”
The fact that lawmakers are being responsive to public concerns is an encouraging sign of respect for taxpayers. State law already prohibits severance payments. The Texas Legislature should end the work-around of state agencies abusing “emergency leave” to pay employees who no longer show up for work.