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Paid Sick Leave Bill Clears First Hurdle In The State Senate

Daniela Altimari

May 26, 2011

By the slenderest of margins, a controversial measure requiring companies with 50 employees or more offer paid sick days to their workers cleared its first hurdle in the state Senate today.

By a vote of 18 to 17, the Senate approved the bill and sent it to the House of Representatives. The chamber had previously approved an amendment that changed some portions of the bill, but it is a likely harbinger of a vote on the underlying proposal that is expected later this evening.

One Republican, Sen. John Kissel of Enfield, joined with the Democratic majority to support the proposal while five Democrats -- Sens. Gayle Slossberg of Milford, Paul Doyle of Wethersfield, Bob Duff of Norwalk, Joan Hartley of Waterbury and Andrew Maynard of Stonington -- voted no.

Sen. Edith Prague, the measure's chief proponent in the Senate, brought the bill to the floor just before 12:30 p.m. She noted that no other state has passed such a law, although several cities, including San Francisco and Washington D.C. mandate paid sick time. "I am very proud that Connecticut is in the lead on this issue,'' she said.

Under the proposal, each employee would earn one hour of paid sick time for every 40 hours worked, with the number of days capped at five per year. An amendment proposed by Prague would exempt manufacturing firms and non-profits such as the YMCA.

Some business leaders have tried to crush the effort, calling it an expensive mandate that will kill jobs. But proponents say it's a public health issue as well as a matter of fairness.

Sen. Gary LeBeau said the bill was limited in scope yet would go far in protecting workers who fear losing their jobs should they fall ill.

"Unemployment compensation was not a popular idea,'' said LeBeau, a Democrat from East Hartford. "Workers compensation was not a popular idea...businesses said 'Oh this will be harmful, this will kill us.'

"Well, it's our duty I believe to balance off the good of society versus the good of any particular segement of society. I think this is quite doable,'' LeBeau added.

But Senate Republican Leader John McKinney, a critic of the measure, said the bill will hurt businesses. It is, he added, another example of meddling by arrogant lawmakers who think they know better than businesses people how to run a business.

And he noted the inconsistencies inherent in carving out exemptions for businesses with less than 50 workers, municipalities, manufacturing firms and YMCAs. Such exemptions undercut the public health argument put forth by proponents.

"If you go to a restaurant with less than 50 employees, your health is not protected,'' McKinney said,

McKinney said it was telling that New York City considered such a proposal but rejected because it was too great a burden for business.

The debate is expected to last for hours, reflecting the passions of both sides. Republicans had filed a whopping 119 amendments to the measure, although it is unclear how many of them will be called.

The vote, when it comes, is expected to be extremely close.

The Senate had been expected to take up the measure yesterday, but the debate on a bill that allows undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at the state's public colleges lasted for nearly nine hours, deferring the sick days discussion to this afternoon.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is a staunch supporter of the bill and has said he will sign it should it reach his desk.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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