RI House, Senate to vote on mandated paid sick leave after committee passage

The House Labor committee approved the paid sick leave legislation Friday evening.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A bill to require Rhode Island employers to give workers paid sick leave is scheduled to be voted on by both chambers of the General Assembly during Tuesday’s special legislative session, after being left in limbo during the regular session because of the budget standoff.

The House Labor Committee voted to pass the earned sick time bill Friday, sending it to the House floor for a full vote on Tuesday.

The legislation, championed by progressive advocates and labor groups and introduced in the House by Rep. Aaron Regunberg, had been repeatedly amended throughout the year during negotiations with business leaders, who had concerns about the impact on employers.

The new compromise version released on Friday would apply the mandate to businesses with 18 or more employees, higher than Regunberg’s initial proposal but still below the 50-employee figure some business leaders had requested.

The legislation would allow workers to accrue up to three paid sick days in 2018, four in 2019, and five days every year after that.

“It’s a compromise,” said Regunberg, D-Providence, whose original bill called for seven days of paid sick leave per year. “We wanted to make sure that businesses and employers, and especially small businesses, had protections.”

Regunberg said the amended legislation makes it clear that while businesses with fewer than 18 employees won’t have to provide paid sick time, they’ll still have to provide unpaid, job-protected sick time.

“We’re going to guarantee for over 100,000 Rhode Islanders that that awful choice between your family’s health and your paycheck … that could be a thing of the past, and folks can breathe a sigh of relief,” Regunberg said.

John Simmons of the Rhode Island Business Coalition said while his group does not support mandatory sick leave, he found the compromise version to be “respectful.”

“If it’s going to happen, this is a way that was respectful of business,” Simmons said. “The implications, the consequences for business, we feel this is respectful of that.”

Simmons was particularly satisfied that employers who already choose to provide paid sick leave would not be subjected to the requirements under the bill.

The Senate had passed its own version of the bill back in June, which would have applied the mandate to businesses with 11 or more employees. The Senate sponsor of the bill, Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, said Friday she was “very pleased” that a compromise was reached, even if the bill was not as robust as should would have liked.

“While the compromise legislation doesn’t help as many workers as I had initially hoped, it will provide paid sick leave to 100,000 Rhode Islanders who don’t have it now,” she said in a statement.

A spokesperson said the Senate would vote on the House version of the bill on Tuesday.