- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 13, 2016

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Some Texas legislators have criticized giving ex-state workers weeks or months of emergency leave pay in place of severance pay or as settlements.

The House Committee on General Investigating & Ethics met Tuesday in Austin amid efforts to draft legislation to ban such practices that benefit workers leaving government.

Emergency leave was initially intended to provide a few days’ pay for bereaved employees. A state law gives the heads of agencies unrestricted authority to give emergency leave for any reason and however long they choose.

Gov. Greg Abbott on June 1 ordered Texas agencies to stop offering severance pay. Abbott’s decision followed reports that Attorney General Ken Paxton and Land Commissioner George P. Bush kept some ex-workers on the payroll at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars to taxpayers.

Bush’s office has defended the settlement agreements as a way of sparing the state from potential lawsuits from fired employees.

Severance pay is not allowed in Texas government, but Paxton’s office has said payments to former top aides were permissible under administrative leave policies.

Rep. Lyle Larson of San Antonio says too much ambiguity is allowed in awarding leave, and that it is being used as a bargaining chip.

“We should eliminate emergency leave, today,” Larson said.

State auditors are doing a survey of Texas agencies to track use of emergency leave.

State Rep. Joe Moody said he will request that the committee chairman John Kuempel subpoena Paxton to answer questions about the practice. Kuempel said that will likely not happen.

Lawmakers convene in January.




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