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Time for talk is over (for now): Statewide paid sick leave bill clears Assembly panel

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The Assembly Labor Committee voted on statewide paid sick leave legislation.
The Assembly Labor Committee voted on statewide paid sick leave legislation. - ()

Just a few weeks after the Assembly Labor Committee delayed a vote on statewide paid sick leave legislation in favor of more testimony, the panel regrouped Monday and voted 6-3 in favor of advancing the bill.

Under the legislation as currently proposed, full- and part-time employees would earn one hour of mandatory paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, with a 72-hour-per-year cap for those working at businesses with 10 or more workers and a 40-hour-per-year cap for those employed at businesses with nine or fewer employees. Unless an employer chooses to provide it earlier, paid sick time would begin accruing 90 days after an employee’s hiring.

The committee had taken up the bill Oct. 9 but held off on voting, instead opting to listen to testimony from both sides of the issue. On Monday, additional testimony was kept brief.

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

“Workers should not have to choose between caring for their health and keeping their paychecks or jobs,” Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Voorhees), one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said in a statement following the vote. “Guaranteeing workers the ability to earn paid sick days would help ensure workers do not have to choose between their health and their economic security. New Jersey should be a leader in the fight for this common sense, pro-worker policy.”

The statewide bill has long been in the works, taking a backseat in the past year to similar ordinances drafted and passed at the municipal level in cities like Jersey City, Newark, East Orange and others. Proponents have said that a statewide bill is necessary to have a uniform approach to paid sick leave across New Jersey, rather than have it vary from municipality to municipality.

With momentum mounting for the measure at the municipal level, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus) said during the summer that the bill would be a priority in the current legislative session.

“New Jersey’s middle-class and working poor have waited too long for this basic step forward in worker rights,” Prieto said in a statement after the vote. “I support every local effort to adopt this pro-worker policy, but I also feel strongly that this must be a statewide policy. It’s this simple — earned sick leave means stronger families, stronger workplaces and stronger communities.”

While several major cities across the country have similar versions of the bill on their books, only Connecticut and California have statewide legislation currently in place.

“Earned sick leave is a sensible workplace policy that is good for business and will prove crucial to New Jersey’s economic future, stability and strength,” Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Jersey City), also a bill sponsor, said in a statement. “Workers who can properly take care of themselves and their families will feel secure in their jobs and be better employees. In addition to improving morale and reducing the spread of illness in the workplace, this legislation will also help employers with compliance and predictability.”

The bill before the committee Monday did feature several amendments, including a definition of a “benefit year” to mean a period of 12 consecutive months set by an employer during which an employee will accrue sick time in compliance with the bill, as well as a revision of the term “domestic violence” to instead be “domestic or sexual violence,” providing further clarification as to what constitutes either. The legislation also exempts construction employees under a contract pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement from falling under the “employee” definition and notes that no provision of the bill will apply to employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement until after that agreement has expired.

Business groups remain largely opposed to the measure, warning that it will have unintended negative consequences on employers.

New Jersey Business & Industry Assistant Vice President Stefanie Riehl said Monday that she believes the bill offers little flexibility under its mandate to employers seeking to be in compliance and, in turn, will drive costs up and potentially cause businesses to cut resources elsewhere.

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“Even with the amendments, those concerns still exist,” Riehl testified Monday.

In an expanded statement on Friday, Riehl said that she believes locally owned small businesses will “bear the brunt of this mandate.”

“Many small businesses are already struggling without being hit with another government mandate,” Riehl said last week. The state should focus on continuing to improve economic conditions so small businesses can stay open and provide jobs. Paid sick leave could unintentionally make it harder for businesses to grow and thrive.”

That sentiment was largely shared by Assemblyman Parker Space (R-Sparta), a committee member who voted “no” on releasing the measure Monday.

“Every time the state imposes another mandate, companies react by raising prices, reducing benefits or cutting jobs,” Space said in a statement. “This bill is another intrusion by the government into private sector decision making. Mandates like annual minimum wage increases and Obamacare already make it expensive to run a business.”

New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President of Government Relations Michael Egenton added that, while he has been appreciative of the “constructive dialogue” that has taken place between those on both sides of the issue, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done before the bill is palatable to the business community.

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