Conn. House debating paid sick leave bill

By SUSAN HAIGH/Associated Press
June 3, 2011 at 1:03 a.m.

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - The House of Representatives was expected to debate late into the night Friday - and possibly into the wee hours on Saturday - a bill that would make Connecticut the first state in the nation to require certain employers to offer their employees paid sick time.

House Republicans, the minority party in the General Assembly, had filed more than 100 possible amendments to the legislation, which the GOP claims is a burdensome mandate on employers that would kill jobs. Advocates say it's needed to help working families.

"Where else do we have that debate but this room? This is the last step," said House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, referring to how the Senate already passed the bill on a narrow 18-17 vote. Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said he will sign the legislation into law.

"Some people might say, 'Well, isn't this futile? What are you doing? And what's the point,'" Cafero said about the marathon debate. "You know what? To get corny about it, on Jan. 5 we raised our right hand and said that's what we're going to do. We have a right to debate those bills."

While House Speaker Christopher Donovan, D-Meriden, assured reporters that he had enough votes to pass the bill, Cafero said a lot of the support was "soft" and some unenthusiastic Democrats were bending to "inordinate pressure" from Malloy's office.

National advocates for paid sick days were closely watching the debate in Connecticut.

"This is a symbol of progress for the movement and the fact that Connecticut is taking the lead really does provide a model and hope for the country," said Vicky Shabo, director of work and family programs at the Washington, D.C.-based National Partnership for Women and Families.

Currently, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., have mandatory paid sick time. There's a similar requirement in Milwaukee, Wis., but it was recently pre-empted by state legislation. That move is being challenged.

Lawmakers in Massachusetts and California are considering paid sick days legislation, as well as municipal officials in Philadelphia, Seattle and Denver, according to Shabo's organization.

Connecticut's legislation affects businesses with 50 or more workers and targets the service industry, where many employees handle food and work with the public. Jon Green, executive director of the Working Families Party, a political group that has advocated for the bill, estimates that 200,000 to 250,000 workers would receive the paid sick days.

Donovan said he reminded his fellow Democratic House members that it was crucial they remain at the Capitol for the late-night vote, even though the debate could last hours. He was confident they'd be there to cast their votes.

"People know how important this is and that their vote is important," Donovan said. "It's a historic moment. They can say, here in Connecticut, we showed the United States that we should make sure businesses provide sick leave for people."

This marks the fourth year that advocates for paid sick time have pushed for a bill in Connecticut.

Under the bill, a worker would earn one hour for every 40 hours worked. Service workers in 68 occupations would be affected. The list includes varied occupations including food service managers, home health aides, janitors, cashiers, cooks, bartenders, crossing guards, dental hygienists, bellhops, bakers, computer operators, bus drivers and waitresses.

Day and temporary workers, as well as salaried employees, would be exempt from the bill. Also, the legislation was recently scaled back to exempt manufacturers and tax-exempt organizations from the mandate - part of an effort to secure enough votes to pass the bill.

Employees would be able to use the leave to take care for their own illness or injury, related treatment and preventive medical care, or for their child or spouse. A worker could use the time for reasons related to family violence or sexual assault.

The bill would also allow workers to file complaints with the state Department of Labor if they believe they've been aggrieved. The commissioner could impose civil penalties up to $100. The bill also would ban employers from retaliating or discriminating against employees who request or use the paid sick leave.

Joseph Brennan, senior vice president for public policy at the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said thousands of businesses that already offer their workers paid sick leave would be affected by the changes. Any disputes over sick leave are currently handled internally. Under the bill, the state could come in and start monitoring and enforcing how companies not even affected by this legislation run their sick leave policies, he said.

Brennan said that could discourage companies from offering sick leave and investing in Connecticut.

"It's just another negative mark against the state when you're trying to entice people to retain jobs here or bring new jobs here," he said.



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