Connecticut moved closer to becoming the first state in the nation to require some employers to offer paid sick time to employees when the Senate passed a measure Wednesday that will apply to service businesses with more than 50 employees.
The 18 to 17 vote followed a six-hour debate after which the supporters in the Senate gallery erupted with applause.
Under the measure, employees would accrue one hour of sick time for every 40 hours worked. They could begin using that time after working 680 hours and will not be able to use more than five days per year. The bill was amended to exclude employees who work for YMCAs or in the manufacturing sector.
Supporters of the measure say it will stop employees from going to work sick to avoid losing pay, which in turn will prevent them from passing their illness along to other employees or patrons.
The bill’s proponent, Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia said, “I am very proud that Connecticut is in the lead on this issue.”
However, opponents of the bill said the fact that the 49 other states have opted against requiring paid sick days is evidence that it’s a costly and job-killing idea. Throughout the session the bill has become symbolic of government intrusion into the business community.
Sen. Tony Guglielmo, R-Stafford, said that’s due in part to the state’s troubled economy and a sense of elitism at the state Capitol.
“I think they’re tired,” he said of business owners. “The economy’s been so tough, they’re really getting battered. They see friends of theirs going out of business all the time and this is just one more thing. Why can’t we leave this alone? It is symbolic in a way.”
Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, R-Somers, said its impact in Somers, Stafford and Union will likely be limited to a school bus company and one or two restaurants. But she said the measure is a bad idea for Connecticut.
“I firmly believe that any legislation that makes us less attractive to businesses is a mistake,” she said.
Both Guglielmo and Bacchiochi said that mandating paid sick days is one of many concepts advanced by the legislature this session that hurts employers.
The Connecticut Council of Small Towns placed the measure on a list of new unfunded mandates it opposes.
Somers First Selectman Lisa Pellegrini the bill is bad news, especially for companies in border towns like hers.
“Basically what this is doing is adding more stress. They’ve increased the sales tax. Gas is at a premium. Liquor prices are at a premium. We’ve just opened the doors a little bit wider into Massachusetts and said ‘Go ahead.’ And Massachusetts is waiting there with open arms and saying, ‘Come on in.’”
Stafford First Selectman Michael Krol said it won’t help small businesses in his town.
“If you’re talking 50 employees, you’re talking about people like the Big Y that are mostly minimum wage or just above. How is this going to affect them?” he said.
But Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said it is unfortunate that the measure has become a “lightning rod” for that sentiment. Kissel, who has long supported that measure, said he agreed the legislature has passed a number of measures destructive to businesses but said the paid sick days bill does not have to be the symbol of that idea.
“I am hoping beyond hope that the administration and legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle will all work together for the best ends of our constituents, and debates regarding implementers and other things do not spill in to this debate,” he said.
Sen. Gary LeBeau, D-East Hartford, said the fiscal impact the measure would have on businesses would be limited. In the long run it may actually save money by reducing turnover, he said.
LeBeau compared the concept to health insurance policies offered by employers. Companies develop systems to share with employees the costs of health insurance, he said. There is nothing in the measure to stop businesses from doing the same with paid sick days, he said.
Prague said the cost to businesses would amount to around a tenth of 1 percent of companies’ gross income.
Senate Republicans filed over 100 amendments in advance of the debate. They called six of them before the measure passed at 6:30 p.m.
Last week when the bill’s passage through the Senate was uncertain, Malloy spoke with senators who were on the fence, urging them to support the measure. After it cleared the chamber the governor released a statement applauding their decision.
“I applaud the 18 senators who voted for this bill. This piece of legislation is a reasonable compromise that represents good public policy. It exempts industries where appropriate, it ensures that the benefit won’t be abused, and most importantly, it protects public health. It shouldn’t be the case that people who are frontline service workers – people who serve us food, who care for our children, and who work in hospitals, for example – are forced to go to work sick to keep their jobs. It’s my hope that the House of Representatives will take up this piece of legislation, pass it, and I can sign it into law,” he said.
Joe Brennan, senior vice president of public policy for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, an organization strongly opposed to the measure, said it may have been Malloy’s influence that pushed the bill through.
“Prior to that intervention we felt pretty confident we had enough votes to stop it. After that intervention we did not have enough votes. It appears it did sway a couple people. There were some people that voted no consistently on this bill in the past that voted yes this evening,” he said.
Brennan said CBIA will be fighting for every vote in the House in an effort to stop the measure, which he said has gotten a visceral reaction from businesses.
“They do not think it’s the place of the state to micro-manage their businesses,” he said.
The bill will now move to the state House of Representatives.