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Connecticut legislators first to pass paid sick leave bill

By Leigh Remizowski, CNN
  • Connecticut becomes first state to pass legislation requiring paid sick days
  • State House of Representatives passes bill 76-65
  • Many business leaders think will be financial burden on companies

(CNN) -- Connecticut legislators approved a bill that will require most employers in the service sector to provide paid sick days to their workers, making the state the first in the country to pass such legislation.

A 76-65 vote by state legislators ended a long debate in the state House of Representatives shortly after 3 a.m. Saturday, according to House Speaker Christopher Donovan.

"This is a historic moment and a very common-sense moment," said Donovan, a Democrat. "People get sick and there should be some way that they won't lose pay or lose their job if they get sick."

The bill mandates that service-sector employers with more than 50 employees provide paid sick leave to workers. Employees get one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked. To qualify, they must have worked at least 10 hours per week during the previous quarter.

The state Senate passed the bill in May and it is expected to be signed by Gov. Dannel Malloy before going into effect at the start of 2012.

"This is good public policy and specifically good public health," Malloy said in a statement. "Why would you want to eat food from a sick restaurant cook? Or have your children taken care of by a sick day care worker? The simple answer is -- you wouldn't. And now you won't have to."

Not everyone hailed the vote as a historic moment for Connecticut. Officials at the Connecticut Business and Industry Association released a statement calling the legislation a "blow to our economy and Connecticut's business community."

"It significantly raises the cost of doing business for many companies," said CBIA senior vice president of public policy Joseph F. Brennan in the statement.

State House Republican leader Larry Cafero called the bill "anti-jobs" and said it would encourage employers to lay off workers to get under the 50-person mark.

"It is a bill that has businesses greatly concerned," he said. "It is like the last straw; they're hanging on by their fingernails."

But Vicki Shabo, director of work and family programs at the National Partnership for Women and families, thinks otherwise. Her Washington-based nonprofit organization provides support for local movements around the United States working to enact paid sick leave legislation.

"The cost of providing a sick day is less than having a worker show up sick and not be productive and spread their flu or stomach virus to their co-workers or customers," Shabo said. More often than not, she added, workers don't end up using all their sick days.

San Francisco was the first city to pass mandatory paid sick leave legislation in 2006. Washington and Milwaukee followed suit in 2008.

"It's a real public health issue," Shabo said, adding that more than 40 million workers in the United States do not have paid sick leave.

Both California and Massachusetts have similar legislation pending, Shabo said.

With the bill passing in Connecticut, Donovan hopes it will encourage other states to follow in its footsteps.

"It's an important signal to the other 49 states," he said.