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Louisiana's GOP lawmakers stall paid sick leave requirement

Melinda Deslatte
The Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) " Republican state lawmakers Thursday rejected a proposal that would require many Louisiana businesses to provide paid sick leave to their workers, in a debate heightened by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The proposal by New Orleans Rep. Matthew Willard, a Democrat, was killed by the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee in a 10-5 party-line vote. Republicans voted in a bloc against the measure, saying they opposed placing a financial mandate on businesses.

Willard cited the coronavirus outbreak in Louisiana, one of the nation's early hot spots for the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus, as a key example of why paid sick leave is needed, saying it could help mitigate the virus's spread.

Willard said 41% of Louisiana workers don't receive any paid sick days at their jobs. He said employers should discourage people from coming to work if they're sick, so they don't risk infecting others, particularly with the highly contagious coronavirus. But he said many employees can't afford to take an unpaid day off.

'I'm not OK with forcing our workers to make that decision,' Willard said.

His bill would require an employer with 20 or more workers to provide paid sick leave for all full-time and part-time employees, at a rate of one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Employers with fewer than 20 employees would have to allow unpaid sick leave. Businesses would have to provide a maximum of 40 hours of sick leave a year, the equivalent of five days of work.

Willard said the change would have guaranteed paid sick leave to about 71% of Louisiana's workers.

Business organizations opposed the proposal as a mandate many employers can't afford, and Republican lawmakers called the requirement a government overreach.

'There's a fine line I feel you cannot cross, and that is into the private sector. If they value their employees, they'll work that out,' said Rep. Dodie Horton, a Haughton Republican. 'It's government intrusion into the private sector.'

Horton recommended Willard ask the city of New Orleans to do a sick leave requirement locally " only to learn that Louisiana law prohibits municipalities from enacting their own policies.

Twelve states have passed laws requiring paid sick leave for workers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. None of them are in the South.

Willard suggested the sick leave policy could save businesses money. He said having fewer sick employees showing up to work could stop the wider spread of illness and missed days. He also argued employees would be more loyal to their workplaces, cutting down on business turnover and the cost of advertising for and training new employees.

Rep. Jason Hughes, a New Orleans Democrat, said the COVID-19 outbreak highlighted the importance of grocery store workers, restaurant workers and others who 'showed up' at jobs despite the risks.

'What better way to say thank you than to do something meaningful and long-term?' he said.

House GOP leader Blake Miguez, of Erath, said Congress passed a paid sick leave requirement for businesses involving workers who take time off because of the coronavirus, with tax credits to help offset the cost. But Willard said it doesn't apply to all workers and expires at the end of the year.

Dawn Starns, Louisiana state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said her small business organization is pushing Congress to end the virus sick leave provision sooner.

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House Bill 832: www.legis.la.gov

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte