The mandatory sick-pay bill that cleared the state Senate by a smidgeon this week is well-meaning but misguided. It will hamper Connecticut's effort to improve its anti-business reputation. It will unfairly impose the new mandate on some businesses and exempt others. It will cost the state jobs at a time when more than one out of every 11 people here is unemployed - above the national rate.
The bill's passage, however, looks likely as it heads to the mostly Democratic House. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has pledged to sign it. That would be a mistake for a state that ranks among the worst in job creation.
The mandate would require businesses with 50 or more employees to provide up to five days of sick pay per year and to carry over unused sick days. (Workers can't accrue more than five.) The Senate took pity, however, on YMCAs, manufacturers, day laborers and other temporary workers. Indeed, the list of those exempted from the requirement is long enough to make the bill's public-health mission dubious.
The bill means to give sick restaurant workers and harried parents time off to recuperate and care for children. No longer will wait staff with pneumonia sneeze in your salad, supporters say. But the legislation will probably end up putting some wait staff out of work while doing nothing for public health. San Francisco's paid sick-leave ordinance, hailed as a model, has had no effect on the number of employees who come to work sick, according to a respected study.
The bill is unfair in selectively targeting the mid-sized service industry - the retailers, eateries, hair salons and other enterprises struggling to survive in the toughest economic environment since the Great Depression, while giving a pass to YMCAs and manufacturers. (So much for state Sen. John Kissel's argument that it could protect the kind of workers killed by the flu pandemic in 1918.) It would hamstring job growth at the very moment Connecticut needs to create incentives, not impediments. How many businesses will now hire more than 49 employees?
Supporters say the cost to employers will be small. Then why exempt YMCAs, which argued that they would have to lay off employees if subjected to the mandate?
It is hard to see why the burden should fall mostly upon service industries. Lawmakers who think that the local retailer has an easier time making payroll than the YMCA needs to visit a few town centers and see the empty storefronts haunting them.
This bill would make Connecticut the first state to require paid sick leave. It would send the clear message to the nation that Connecticut, despite the governor's boast, is not open for business.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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