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Assembly panel takes testimony on paid sick leave, but does not vote

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Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt is sponsoring the statewide paid sick leave bill in the Assembly.
Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt is sponsoring the statewide paid sick leave bill in the Assembly. - ()

The Assembly Labor Committee turned its attention to statewide paid sick leave legislation Thursday, drawing testimony from business owners and groups on both sides of the issue.

Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Voorhees), the bill’s sponsor, announced at the start of the committee hearing that the day’s purpose was solely to gather testimony, and no voting on the legislation would take place.

“This continues to be just the beginning phase of earned sick leave,” Lampitt said.

The bill, as currently proposed, would permit full- and part-time employees to earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. There is a 72-hour-per-year cap for businesses with 10 or more employees and a 40-hour-per-year cap for businesses with nine or fewer workers. Employees would begin accruing sick time 90 days after being hired unless an employer chooses to begin providing paid sick days beforehand.

The push for statewide paid sick leave legislation, long in the works, comes on the heels of similar ordinances drafted and passed at the municipal level in cities like Jersey City, Newark, East Orange and others.

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Lampitt stressed that, in light of municipalities taking it upon themselves to enact paid sick leave ordinances, a statewide bill is needed in order to provide a “seamless” policy between all of them. She added that another goal is to create a floor from which businesses can offer and look to increase sick leave benefits to their employees.

“What we don’t want to do is, we don’t want to say the requirement is it,” Lampitt said.

New Jersey Citizen Action Executive Director Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, who also serves as the spokeswoman for the New Jersey Time to Care Coalition, testified that “everyone’s health is at risk when people are forced to go to work sick.”

“We need a strong statewide bill that will cover all New Jersey workers,” Salowe-Kaye said.

Business groups largely lined up in opposition to the measure, questioning its financial impact and potential for imposing added regulations and mandates on employers.

“No business wants to lose good workers,” New Jersey Business & Industry Association Assistant Vice President Stefanie Riehl said in submitted written testimony. “So when companies can afford to provide paid sick leave, they do. For those that do not, it’s most likely because they cannot afford it. Hitting these companies with a paid sick leave mandate will make it harder for them to stay in business and ultimately cost the state more in lost jobs and closed businesses.”

Laurie Ehlbeck, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said that most of her organization’s members are small business owners that fear a paid sick leave mandate could adversely affect them and their workers.

“Unfortunately, they tell me that current benefits they offer their employees might have to be changed,” Ehlbeck testified.

Michael Egenton, senior vice president of government relations with the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, suggested that a “third-party, no-stake-in-the-game group” be tasked with looking into how dire, if at all, the state’s paid sick leave situation really is.

Egenton added that he’s concerned the legislation may force employers to not hire another needed worker or reduce hours when necessary.

If passed, New Jersey would join Connecticut as only the second state in the country to have a statewide paid sick leave mandate.

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