New debate on sick leave raises old questions

When Connecticut in 2011 passed its first-in-the-nation law requiring some companies to provide paid sick leave, it was accompanied by dire predictions from business groups about what it would mean for state companies and their ability to compete.

But, like most of the rest of the nation, the state has emerged from the recession with some solid years for job growth. Over the course of 2014, the unemployment rate dropped a percentage point, landing at 6.4 percent in December. The health care and hospitality sectors, both of which were a focus of the debate over sick leave, have led the way in new jobs.

Those facts alone settle the debate for supporters of the sick-leave law like Lindsay Farrell, executive director of the Connecticut Working Families Party.

"The Department of Labor has seen steady job increases, and that's not negotiable. That's just data," she said.

Last year, Massachusetts and California joined Connecticut and 15 other jurisdictions nationwide in requiring some form of paid sick leave. Connecticut's is considered among the most stringent, with many classes of workers excluded and businesses with fewer than 50 employees exempt.

The idea could be going national. President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address last month, urged Congress to address the issue. "Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave," he said. "It's the right thing to do."

But with a Republican-controlled Congress opposing nearly all the president's initiatives, experts see little chance of such a bill passing. Instead, the push may go, as have other controversial issues before it, state by state. By one count, 17 states have pending sick-leave legislation.

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