RI Senate panel set to OK paid sick days bill, but business group wary

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A coalition of Rhode Island companies is expressing concern about a high-profile bill set to clear a Senate committee that would require local employers to provide paid sick days.

The bill – sponsored by Providence Sen. Maryellen Goodwin, the No. 3 Senate Democrat – would require employers to give their workers one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of 56 hours – or seven days – a year. The Senate Labor Committee is scheduled to approve it Wednesday.

Goodwin and Providence Rep. Aaron Regunberg, the bill’s House sponsor, have signaled their openness to a compromise with business interests wary of the new mandate, but it’s unclear whether such a deal has been reached. No revised legislation has been introduced.

Senate spokesman Greg Pare said Goodwin “is working on a compromise,” and he expected a revised bill to be introduced in time for Wednesday’s committee vote.

Elizabeth Suever, who has been leading negotiations over the sick leave legislation on behalf of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, declined to comment on where the talks stand. Earlier this month she had expressed hope for a deal, suggesting the bill should be amended “to protect those businesses already providing the benefit,” as well as those with fewer than 50 employees.

The Rhode Island Business Coalition, which represents various companies in the state, released an op-ed Tuesday urging senators not to pass the current version of the bill. “If this legislation passes, it would be the most onerous mandated paid sick leave policy for employers in the country,” the group wrote.

The letter went on to note that only seven states – including Massachusetts and Connecticut – currently have a similar mandate, and said none of them require seven days. The bill would “increase the cost of doing business and make Rhode Island less attractive for companies to locate or expand,” the group wrote.

Meanwhile, a coalition of groups that strongly support Goodwin’s legislation – including Rhode Island Working Families, various unions, AARP and Planned Parenthood – have continued to beat the drum for it to become law this year. They cite polls that show broad support for the policy and say it would provide nearly 170,000 more workers with sick days.

“It’s time to join the states across the country that are doing the right thing for families,” Georgia Hollister Isman, Rhode Island Working Families’ director, said earlier this month. “We call on Rhode Island’s elected officials to deliver a strong earned sick days bill to the thousands of families who need it this year.”

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook