House approves revised bill requiring paid sick days in RI

Patricia Morgan

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Rhode Island House of Representatives on Thursday night unveiled and quickly approved a revised bill to require most employers to offer paid sick days in Rhode Island, though the chamber is at odds with the Senate over the high-profile measure.

The House voted 56-14 to pass the bill shortly after the House Labor Committee advanced a revised version of it. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Aaron Regunberg, D-Providence, and has been the subject of months of behind-the-scenes negotiations. A handful of Democrats – Arthur Corvese, Jared Nunes and Thomas Winfield – joined the chamber’s Republicans in opposing it.

The revised House bill would require employers with at least 18 workers to offer three paid sick days in 2018, four in 2019 and five annually starting in 2020. Temp agencies’ employees would qualify after six months, and seasonal employees would qualify after five months. Municipalities, union construction companies and per-diem nurses would be exempt, as would companies that already have existing policies giving sick time.

“The bottom line is, if we vote for this, next year for the first time no Rhode Islander is going to have to choose between their health or their family or their job,” Regunberg said. He described the issue as involving “basic human dignity.”

Rep. Teresa Tanzi, D-Narragansett, described the revised bill as “a good compromise to show the businesses that it’s not such a high hurdle.”

Rep. Anthony Giarrusso, R-East Greenwich, expressed concern about the potential negative impact on Rhode Island businesses, citing the economic woes of Connecticut, which also mandates paid sick days. “What we do here has consequences,” he said. “I totally support that everybody should, but not every employer has the same means.”

The Senate on Wednesday passed a more expansive sick days mandate, sponsored by Providence Democrat Maryellen Goodwin – so the two chambers will now need to reconcile their differences in order to get a bill to the governor’s desk for her signature.

Goodwin said she could not comment yet on the House Labor bill Thursday night because she needed time to review the changes. Her bill requires four sick days in 2018 and five annually after that, and it exempts employers with eleven or fewer workers.

Rhode Island Working Families, a progressive advocacy group that has led the push for paid sick days, expressed support for the House bill after earlier warning against a watered-down compromise. “This legislation will bring relief to thousands of hardworking Rhode Islanders,” Georgia Hollister Isman, the group’s director, said in a statement.

Business interests were strongly opposed to the original sick days bill, and Elizabeth Suever, a lobbyist for the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, had indicated Wednesday they still had significant concerns about the Senate-approved legislation.

Suever gave a warmer reception to the House bill after it passed Thursday night. “The House paid sick leave bill is a significant improvement over the original bill in that it does not create any leave mandate for small businesses with 17 employees or less and gives greater latitude to businesses already providing paid leave to continue with their existing policies,” she said.

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.