Paid Sick Days An Issue Again

By Amanda Falcone

Hartford - One day into the legislative session, Rep. Selim G. Noujaim is already crafting his argument against a measure that would require businesses to give their employees paid sick days.

"We cannot let this bill go through," Noujaim, a Waterbury Republican, said at a meeting of the legislature's labor and public employees committee Thursday. He noted that the issue came up only 24 hours after lawmakers and the governor agreed that job growth was their top priority.

Businesses are already having a difficult time, he said, and another mandate is not the best way for the state to retain businesses and help them thrive.

No bill requiring paid sick days has been drafted yet, though such a requirement is being considered by the labor committee. Noujaim, however, is anticipating future debate, and Sen. Edith G. Prague, D-Columbia, co-chairwoman of the committee, confirmed his fears.

Legislation requiring paid sick days will be her "top priority" this year, Prague said, noting that businesses do not benefit from making ill employees go to work.

Germs can spread, health care bills will rise and a sick worker is rarely productive, she said.

The debate over paid sick days is not new. In 2009, a bill that would have required businesses with 50 or more employees to give workers six sick days was amended and then passed by the state House of Representatives. It was never brought up in the Senate.

In 2008, a similar bill passed the Senate but did not come to a vote in the House.

Although past bills have failed, Prague says she expects this year to be different.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell could be an obstacle — she opposes the concept.

The Connecticut Business & Industry Association also opposes the bill and will continue to lobby against it, said Kia Murrell, assistant counsel for the association.

In today's economy, business is unpredictable and more mandates could harm the state and make businesses less competitive, she said.

"Things like that threaten to push people off the edge when they are just hanging on," Murrell said.

Backing the legislation is Connecticut Working Families, a union-backed political party.

A spokesman, Joe Dinkin, said his group is cautiously optimistic this year and will continue to push the issue.

While Prague believes requiring paid sick days makes sense, she said the recent H1N1 scare reinforces the need for such a law.

A similar bill requiring paid sick days is making its way through Congress, and several members of Connecticut's delegation are pushing for its passage.