Bill Giving Workers Paid Sick Time Spurned By Committee

BATON ROUGE (AP) — A proposal to give all Louisiana workers paid sick days was rejected by a Senate labor committee Thursday, leading one lawmaker to condemn business groups that opposed the bill for their "hypocrisy."

         During the meeting, lobbyists from the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and the National Federation of Independent Business both said their organizations were opposed to the paid sick leave bill, sponsored by Sen. Karen Peterson, D-New Orleans.

         Dawn Starns, Louisiana state director of NFIB, and Renee Amar, with LABI, both said they opposed Peterson's bill because they think it would be burdensome for businesses.

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         "They might reduce (employee) benefits, they might reduce (employee) hours and they obviously might increase costs to their customer," said Amar.

         Sen. Ed Murray interrupted the two and asked if they received paid sick leave — Amar said she thought so, Starns acknowledged she did — leading to a testy exchange.

         "The companies you represent are opposed to your own policy," said Murray, D-New Orleans. "The hypocrisy up here never ceases to amaze me."

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         Talking over each other at times, Murray and Starns traded barbs.

         "We have to be the voice for people who are out there in communities," Starns said. "Whatever my company does is not really a fair comparison to what the policy is that y'all are asking to put in at a state level."

         At one point, Starns invoked the subject of guaranteed equal pay for women, another hot-button issue supported by many Democrats but opposed by business.

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         "I'm not sure I get equal pay … I'm opposed to that too," Starns said.

         That seemed to flabbergast Murray who is sponsoring an equal pay bill and who responded: "You're opposed to being paid equally? I can't believe you just said that."

         Despite the lively debate, the Senate committee voted the bill down on a 3-1 vote, with committee chairman Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell, not casting a vote.

         Peterson urged lawmakers to approve the bill, which would have allowed employees to accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every forty hours worked, with a 52-hour cap on paid sick time.

         While many white-collar workers receive paid sick time, people who prepare food in restaurants, clean hotels or hold other low-wage jobs often don't. As a result, many go to work sick, which can be a public health risk, supporters of Peterson's bill said. Connecticut and Massachusetts have passed paid sick leave laws, they said.

         "Everybody gets sick," said Peterson, who estimates 700,000 Louisiana workers don't get sick pay. "People who are not working, they don't have this problem; (this is) for productive people contributing to the economy."

         – by AP Reporter Brian Slodysko

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